Running for School Committee in Lowell

Life is funny.  My first, second, and third memories were formed in a farm town in Iowa called Cosgrove.  It was in the eastern part of the state.  There were twenty-seven people in town, and I, like John Mellancamp, can say I was born in a small town.  In my case, I did not stay in one.  The twenty-seven people included a priest and eight nuns.  Later in my young life, that priest heard my first confession and the nuns taught me the Baltimore Catechism.  This had a very powerful hold on me and they shared in that hold.  There were four or five homes in Cosgrove, Iowa, and an  active school of which my father was Superintendent.  The youngest Superintendent in Iowa.  He had twelve students in the high school, as I recall, and he had a school yearbook.

Right at this moment in time, I have determined that he was a pretty good Lowell School System Superintendent.  After having rifled through his papers, I have come to the conclusion that he was a good administrator.  He certainly was imaginative and active.  Some things he tried did not work, but he never stopped trying.

I grew up with relationships with teachers and reporters.  Teachers did not know how to treat me so they simply went for discipline.  I remember that one school system in and around Chicago went in for harsh discipline of recalcitrant students, including myself.  My father argued in the affirmative of the practice.  I just listened to his conversation with the reporter from the local newspaper.  A woman who did not believe in heavy discipline had taken a principal to court.  My father told the reporter, “Well my son, Jim, has  been disciplined at home and school and it did not bother him.”  It actually some of it did bother me, but I never told him.  You could not argue that point with the School Superintendent, and that thing was basically done throughout the midwestern area.

Anyway, except for these youthful  incidents, I lived quite comfortably.  And my father rescinded his support.  It was just a passing thing.  I only was severely disciplined infrequently and   he realized that it was a cruel practice, and I came to the conclusion that I would never hit my own children.  I never did.  I broke the string of the entire issue.  My analyst was proud of me.

Life in Lowell was good.  My father ran for School Committee and beat his nearest competitor, Kay Stoklosa, by more than five thousand votes.  Kay joked with me about that when she came in first in the School Committee the year my father came in first in the City Council race.  While he was Superintendent there was a great deal of controversy about whether or not he would receive tenure.  He did not get it.  I had spent the latter part of the last year of his superintendency writing religiously to the Lowell SUN about his finer points.  They printed most of my articles as they were, which was nice.  Most of my articles were in favor of my father’s tenure.  He was worth supporting.  Years later I found that he had saved those Letters to the Editor and proudly displayed them.  It was good.  I had no idea that he was proud of me but he wrote a note and a poem that said just that.  It was a pretty good poem.  It was a pleasant surprise.

I can say unequivocally that Lowell was not Cosgrove, Iowa, but my wife and I found a home in Lowell  that was more like Cosgrove than you might think.  It is next to a Catholic Church, as it was in Cosgrove, and it is close to an elementary school.  It is within walking distance of Cupples Square, while Cosgrove was close to the local IGA grocery store.  Lowell is the fourth largest city in Massachusetts and it was a political dynasty for some politicians like my brother-in-law Paul Tsongas.  Paul even made it political enough to use its leverage to be elected County Commissioner from a smaller population base than that in Cambridge.  At the time, everyone said that was an impossibility. It was not.

I have decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and run for School Committee.  One woman at Mass on Sunday told me that at least she would vote for me so I have one vote.  That is a start.  Hopefully I can get a few more people  to vote for me and I will be happy.

I had intended to write this blog about the Lowell Public school system between 1890 and 1900.  I have not written in a while  This is my first blog in a couple of months.  It feels good, but I must say that I probably do not have the good health to go door-to-door, but I can do visibility and in a family of nine children I believe that I can mount a good door-to-door brochure drop a couple of times.  I can try to do both, but I have a stint with heart disease and a stint with nonHodgkins lymphoma.  My health is my major concern.  I will do plenty of visibility and postcards.  I do not really like people coming to my house to campaign so maybe there are people like me out there and it will not  matter so much.  Time will tell.

My signs and bumper stickers will say, “Continuing educational excellence,” as a  bow to my father’s love of this city and this school system.  Hopefully, I can continue in his love of what was his job and his first elected office.  Again, time will tell.  That saying kind of represents my father, because in fairness to his legacy, I have come to the conclusion that he was a good Superintendent.  If I could come anywhere close to the job he did in the School Committee I would not be letting him down.  I do not really believe that I could win, but I can dream.

So, I believe that we need to focus on the School Committee this year.  My wife asked me why I would run and the answer is fairly simple.  The current School Committee has made it difficult for Lowell to garner talented and reasonable people to apply for the Superintendency  because, what good applicant would want to serve a city that gives their Superintendent a contract and strips him of it in the middle of the contract?  I would not apply, and I can guarantee you that my father would not have applied.  I would not be living here.  He applied because he was following a superintendent named Vincent McCartin who had thirty years in the job.  My father looked at that and concluded that this was a city that valued its educational system.  The current School Committee  cannot say that.

We had a good acting superintendent in Jeanine Durkin but she was convinced not to stay.  Why, I do not know, but the newspaper said it had something to do with comments made by the School Committee.  I do not know what the comments were but I do know that Jeanine had the verbal backing of Connie Martin, who, I believe, was on the wrong side of the Superintendent’s issue but who believes firmly in the right, as she is made to see the right, and would not back someone  who was inferior.  Neither would I.  I believe that Jeanine is the perfect person for the job,   I still do.  I am glad she got it, even if it is for a few months.

I heard that persons on the School Committee did not know how to read a line item budget.  I grew up reading my father’s line item budget and I was an auditor at both Wang and Jordan Marsh Company.  That experience will be very handy in budget sessions.  I have relative and relevant experience as a businessman and an auditor.  I have taught American History for fifteen years, and English for three, and I was a principal for two years.  As an auditor I found a million dollars in lost revenue for Wang in its maintenance efforts with the PC systems.  Wang was, unknowingly, giving customers free maintenance on its smaller systems.

I also ran a landscaping business that did very well until it gave me a heart attack and a pacemaker.  That was not fun.

Well that is me.  I currently substitute for the Lowell Public School System and I know a lot about the schools, including why the high school has a problem with ventilation.  It is not rocket science.  It is obsolescence.  As a candidate, I would like to form a Committee on Teaching to doctor me on faculty issues, a Committee on Business and its place in our curriculum, and other active groups to teach me things I do not know.  I have a book in publication on the History of the Lowell Schools  from 1826 to current times.  It is due out soon.  Thank you.