The past two weeks have been rather Hellish in our educationally historic town of Lowell, Massachusetts. Some politicians made a change that I believe was set by politics, not education. They fired the Superintendent. There were the usual reasons, like “he does not report to the School Committee if he needs some type of change.” There were a number of people who spoke on his behalf, in fact no person spoke against him. He had the parents of educationally challenged students speak, and he had the town’s higher class speak on his behalf, too. It came to naught, through an angle legal in Robert’s Rules of Order. The School Committee attacked the Superintendent’s handling of the budget and on a slim majority, carried their day by a vote against the Superintendent of 4 to 3. A four was to send the Superintendent packing, a three was not enough to overcome the four. Obviously, these four persons acted in conjunction with one another. When the fourth vote was called a loud voice said, “See you later, Bill.” The persons firing the Superintendent continuously used the phrase, “for just cause.” There was no just cause here, just politics.
I made a note to myself that day that there was no just cause. A simple fourth vote, given by the Mayor who always starts his statement with “In my x amount of years in education,” My father appointed him to first administrative position, and when he was alive he told me that had been one of a handful of mistakes. The Mayor managed to open up the historical perspective without actually capturing the history of the school system. I intend to find my father at fault in this matter, but I have to pray to him first. He passed away five years ago.
Anyway my father was the last man who lost his Superintendency in Lowell. Losing a superintendency is like taking a full hit to the gut. You never get past it. My father went onto other pursuits but there is nothing like the thrill of being the head of a school system. There is an electricity to it. There is a light to it. It totally occupies your time. You are literally in charge of thirty thousand children.
Someone in the outer limits of that feeling asked what it must feel like. I graduated high school the year that my father was denied tenure and you are so full of uncertainties, that you begin to believe those lies the politicians are aiming at you. They are mistaken, of course. One person asked me if you could compare what he deemed to be the uncomparable dismissed Superintendent with any others who had the same type of resonance in their repertoire. Could we get, and could we keep a man who genuinely loves the position. Had we ever had anyone like the dismissed Superintendent? I had to say that the answer was yes we had. My father woke up in the morning embracing school. In that way he was like the superintendent. Dr. Khelfaoui faced every day like it was a challenge. My father faced everyday in Lowell as if it was a challenge. In that way the two were alike. It was not uncommon to see Dr. Khelfaoui visiting the Sullivan School at all times of the day.
In that way, he was like my father. In energy he was like my father. Perhaps he had more of a problem with budgets, but his strength was in his treatment of each school, each teacher, and each student. We have a School Committee that is divided. Seldomly will they find a Superintendent like this. He invited me into his office once a month to televise the “Superintendent’s Sessions.” During all of those meetings the School Committee and staff were open to participating. In twenty four sessions not one complaint against the Superintendent was made on television. If Connie Martin and Jackie Doherty had a problem, don’t you think it was the majic of television that they should have grasped and sat in one of those twenty four shows to lodge complaints against the Superintendent? They knew about the show, they had been on it repeatedly. They could have been welcome in the show. Not one person in the School Committee asked to be on in order to ask questions of the Superintendent. So, Gerald Nutter, William Samaras, Connie Martin, and Jaqueline Doherty missed the ship. I would say they missed the boat but this one was so big, it literally would have been a ship. Think about it, twenty four shows, not one complaint, but this man was to be released. I hope we get a good School Committee next time. Politics is no game for the students, or the “kids.”
My father stayed in Lowell and ran for School Committee two years later. He beat his nearest competitor by over 9,000 votes. That means that over 9,000 people “bulleted” on the School Committee. It was the most commanding lead in the history of Plan E politics. Dad got the city to vote him in and show how loved he was by the lead he received. Salah Khelfaoui will never get that opportunity. The School Committee knew when it hired him that he was a resident of Chelmsford. But, I would bet that he is open to as good a run as my father had. Show them what direction you are coming from by voting against the four who used Robert’s Rules of Order to throw out a total gentleman.