A Few Good Words About a Good Man

I have spent years joking about my father, Dr. Wayne R. Peters which is not fair. George Anthes once pointed out that I poke fun at Dad and tell stellar stories about him on “City Life” television. George had a point, and much of that is true. Dad and I used to talk about his father, my grandfather, Albert Frederick Peters, and he was a very successful blacksmith with a second grade education. And that was true. But Dad always pointed out that his father was a better man than he was, and Dad relished the chances he had to talk about his father. There is a picture of my grandfather on my mantle with the inscription on the back, which says “He was a great blacksmith.” Despite his second grade education, his family was very proud of him, And I am very proud of my late father.

In the past few months I have written about my father, but not often enough. When he left Harvey, Illinois, which is next to South Chicago, to be in Lowell, he had an incredible career. Lowell diminished his record a bit. What mattered is that he came to Lowell with specifics that made his three year time period in Lowell important but Lowell tarnished his record. Dr. Joel Boyd, EdD. wants to serve more than the three years my father was given. He seems, to me, to admire Superintendent Vinnie McCartin more for his thirty years than he does for his record. When my father took over he had some huge problems to make the system credible. Close to one-third of the faculty consisted of Permanent Substitutes, including some wives of School Committeemen. Strangely, my father later became good friends with some of them. It was not uncommon to see these people at my house on Pine Street.

Dad had to rid the system of those Substitute Teachers who refused to return to colleges. It took him two years and cost him the Superintendency, But he did it, knowing he was never going to be a lifetime Superintendent like Vinnie McCartin. The Lowell “SUN” backed him for tenure but he never got tenure. The School Board uniformly dismissed it. He got some modicum of revenge, He was elected to the School Committee. I want to spend a little time talking, not poking fun at, Dr. Wayne R. Peters. Everybody called him Doctor.

I personally remember him visiting Lowell High School to find additional classrooms, to take pressure off of the classrooms. He found, as I recall, thirty three total. In two buidings.

Lowell’s educational system was in dire need of reform. One thing I remember clearly. My father was looking for classroom space and he stumbled on an overnight bedroom for the custodians. They were supposed to be cleaning up the building for the daily usage. What he found was a room used for sleeping by the custodians. The room was supposed to be used for an office. He had the beds ripped out that very day and reported what he had found.

He was doing the best he could, which was very good. He found over one hundred thirty uncertified teachers. School Committee members watched him try to get teachers certified by having them take part-time courses at local colleges. Many did not want to go back to college. He offered to help get certification and keep positions open if he could, but some Substitute Teachers just did not want to go back to school and he replaced them with teachers who had certification at the state, not the city level.

Many refused that avenue, and most wanted him to turn the other way when certification was the issue. The current Superintendent does not have to worry about one-third of his teachers being uncertified because of Dr. Wayne R. Peters. It cost my father his job, but he was very proud of his tough stand on this important issue.

I can say, if Dr. Boyd had to clean house to get rid of uncertified teachers. it might have altered his desire to be in Lowell. No Dr. Boyd, no Paul Georges, no UTL, and no state certification. The pressure on the Superintendent was incredible.

In his words, let’s look at what he did. In 1972, Wayne Peters notified this School Committee that his proudest moment was getting every teacher fully certified.

He wrote in his assessment, “…in the Lowell schools of which I am particularly proud,

  1. Complete certification of all Lowell teachers by September of 1972. Beginning in 1936 and until 1969 more than 130 uncertified, ill-prepared, and therefore illegally employed “permanent substitute” teachers worked in the Lowell School system each year,” His state contact was David Fitzpatrick of the Bureau of Certification at the Massachusetts Department in Boston.
  2. He wanted the rehabilitation of thirteen school buildings. The great majority of working school buildings were over one hundred years old. He wanted then demolished and replaced. You may not remember them, but I do. I have pictures of some of them. The person driving this at the state level was Mr. Lawrence Fitzpatrick, no relation to Mr. David Fitzpatrick above.
  3. He wanted to see the lowering of pupil-teachers ratios “throughout the Lowell School Department.”
  4. The adoption of a Ten Year Building Plan calling for the construction of an addition to Lowell High School,

This was a Superintendent who realized that the funding for the ten year building plan was not going to be paid for by the state, It was the responsibility of the school system at that time. He did not want to see the school system ‘break its bones’ on a building plan that was solely the responsibility of the city. He was only in Lowell for three years as Superintendent, but as a School Committee member he saw the state take baby steps in the massive building plan. I can say, as a father and Superintendent, he was very careful about money.

I remember one incident that infuriated the custodians. He enlisted a group of citizens, as volunteers, to rebuild the Library from scratch. I had the opportunity to help build that Library; and we did such a good job that it lasted through the superintendency of Dr. Karla Brookes Baer. The state gave the money to move the library to the basement of the 1893 building. Later, it moved to the current location. That is in the 1983 building, where one room is named after Dr. Wayne R. Peters.

So that is a somewhat small microcosm of the system. Dr. Wayne Peters was denied tenure despite the fact that the Lowell “SUN” endorsed him. He moved his superintendency to Holbrook, MA. He stayed there for seventeen years. It was Lowell’s loss. He commuted to Holbrook and lived in Lowell. He ran for School Committee, garnering a tremendous 5,000 vote total in front of the second-place finisher, Mrs. Kay Stoklosa. Kay and my father met frequently at our Pine Street house, as I recall.

I think Dr. Joel Boyd, EdD should not be inclined for Vincent McCartin’s thirty year legacy. McCartin was basically a politician, not an educator. Dr. Boyd should shoot to be like Wayne Peters, not surprisingly, but I believe that Peters did more in three years than McCartin did in thirty. I lived through those days and answered the phone when Mr. McCartin called my father to tell him he got the job in Lowell. It was a time of great excitement. I love going through my father’s papers and knowing his legacy. He was very special and he was right for Lowell.