People ask me, rather infrequently, « What is excellence in education? » Lowell is ranked somewhere around two hundred sixty third of all of the schools and school systems in Massachusetts. Yes it is. But it has the potential of being excellent, and it has been there \\before. Not recently, but it has been there. What is excellence in education? It is the idea of excellence, not necessarily the reality of it.
Lowell once was in the top ten tiered school systems in the state. Granted, that distinction stopped around the year 1900, but the excellence was there. One thing Lowell enjoyed was the first evening school, which was well-attended. In the 1880’s, facing a great deal of criticism, Lowell built new schools. These were referred to as the « jewels in the crown » of Lowell’s educational program. They included the Bartlett School, the Varnum, the Butler, the Pawtucket Memorial, the Moody School, and others.
People came to Lowell to learn from the best. A teacher in that day could become a teacher if they passed the lower curriculum. But, there was no dearth of people coming to Lowell’s school system. And, the mill girls went to the evening school to stay abreast of their learning.
As I said, people once moved to Lowell to be near its excellent educational structure. A look at the Kindergartens showed Lowell had kindergartens long before the surrounding towns. It was an academic time.
Students learned from the curriculum set by Lowell’s tough School Committee. Frederic Greenhalge was the elected governor of the state, but he said close to his death that he enjoyed his time as a Lowell School Committeeman more than any other office he was elected to, and that included Congress and the governorship
. Under Theodore Edson, the first School Committee President, the School Committee put into action the first extensive curriculum, which included Kindergarten to the twelfth grade. It was a massive undertaking. They used a number of curriculums, including those that promoted academic ones. Now, we can use those curriculums that were used years ago. Academic curriculums were used to promote learning and history. Shakespeare was always used in the curriculum. So were others. Science was always taught, and it was always the foremost Science; for instance they taught evolutionary science.
Interest in Lowell’s schools continued on through time and dropped off after the First World War. Up until that time, people paid to send their students to Lowell High School. I believe that it is time to shoot for the stars again. We (Lowell) established, in 1857 the Carney Medals for academic excellence in boy’s and girl’s studies. Girls at that time could not even get themselves recognized in the legal system. They could not vote. They lost their children in a divorce situation. The men got the family. Why is that important? It just shows how male-oriented the legislative and judicial system could be.
I think it is time that we shoot for excellence in education once again. It is time to crawl past two hundred sixty third and claw our way back up. We have a wonderful curriculum department and great teachers. We need to live and study in the best light. We have a good new Superintendent. It is time to keep him busy. Enough excuses, let’s get to work.
I mean enough excuses. Whenever I mention our low standing to people, inevitably someone will point out our lower scores due to the types of students we furnish. Some students are ELL, some are ESL, some are severely challenged, and some have individual disabilities. We should be able to help them and continue to teach the average students in a way that challenges them, and requires effort and hard work. I had family members who were individually challenged, but they did well thanks to a mother and father who did not let them down. Let us get the mothers and fathers involved. I appreciate that some parents hold on to two or three jobs just to get by but somehow we need to get a mentor in homes and teach new lessons to the students. We should have phone banks and paid teachers willing to put in some overtime to reach students with homework questions after hours. Phone banks, tutoring, and other methods will not “break the bank.” We have to be frivolous but fantastic. That is not an easy thing to do.