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Strategic and Tactical Problems in the Lowell Public Schools

Our schools are not as supported as they claim to be, or as technically advanced as they should be.  One well-placed person asked, rhetorically “Can business help us out?”  What did he mean?  I think that he was posing a question that we all have, how do we make this the best school system by reaching out to people who do not have an interest, a direct interest, in our educational system.  Some businesses do reach out to the professionals in the School Department.  WCAP and the Lowell SUN are two of them.  There are businesses who try to capture the students at the well-situated Lowell High School.   Some of them cater to the students being released at 2PM on Kirk and Merrimack Streets.    We have a very good practice of graduating students who  go on to colleges and universities.  With two colleges in town, we luck out.


One thing about Lowell is that Lowellians dream.  They dream amazing dreams.  One of the most notable dreamers was my brother-in-law, Paul Tsongas.  He came up with the Lowell National Park funding, the Lowell Plan, the Lowell National Park, and other things that few of us saw coming, like the Lowell Lelachuer field.  People still  come up to me to say that he made a reality out of his ideas.  I believe that he did.  All of us have our dreams.  Perhaps the biggest dream is the Lowell educational system.

When it was started, in 1826, Theodore Edson went into a feud with Kirk Boott who saw few formative reasons for having a school system.  Boott said that Edson was a dreamer.  Edson went to the people who ran the Merrimack Mills and got the large corporation, whose owners had “deep pockets” (money) to build a school house on the grounds and give the children a place to study.  It was an amazing feat.  Frank (Francis liked to be called that) Lowell helped engineer the school system.  He died a few years too young.

Lowell’s schools were part of the school’s pattern of change.  Edson built a school system that was, at first, not well liked.  It passed its permanent vote by about three votes by the men who ran the mills.  It passed by eleven votes shortly thereafter.  Edson threw that vote into Boott’s face.  Boott was not amused.   Strangely enough, Boott’s  last action was to pass in his chaisse, St. Anne’s Church, and lift his right hand as a sign of disgust, at which time, people viewing him saw him fall off of the chaisse, fall into the mud under the horse-drawn vehicle, and breathe his last.  It was a telling moment.  He refused to have his body buried in his town, but it was removed to Charlestown where it was buried.

Under the presidency of Theodore Edson, the city of Lowell saw its school department grow in multiples.   Early School Committeemen were members of great Lowell families.  Perhaps one of the most prominent was that associated with Frederic Greenhalge later in the century.  Greenhalge, like Benjamin Butler and Paul Tsongas, was elected to a statewide office.  He became Governor but was heard to say as he grew older, that he wanted to be remembered as a Lowell Schoolcommitteeman.  That was where he saw his greatest moments.

Lowellians have always been very interested in politics.  It was no accident that Edson did not want to go on to political office.  But, many people have gone on to higher office after obtaining the office of Schoolcommitteeman.  One who was happy to be on the Committee was  notably  Clement Gregory McDonough, among others.  I am friends with McDonough’s sons, especially Shane.  They are very proud of their father, who served in WWII, and on the Lowell School Committee.  Mr. McDonough believed in neighborhood schools, and while  it looks like few of us can believe in that school program now, it certainly had its day.  I mean, we can say we believe in it, and people always will believe in it, but it is not “part and parcel” of our efforts to have a school system that is not functioning as a diverse unit.

The simple fact is that too many people of a certain race live in Lowell and in just one section of it.  The Cambodian community lives with me in Ward 4 and Ward 8.  We will not get Neighborhood Schools until the city is integrated.  Having the bulk of 27,000 people in one part of the city is bad for that effort.

So, like the Greeks, the Irish, and all of the other  people who called Lowell home, the Cambodians need to be assimilated into Lowell’s diverse culture.  They need to buy real estate in other sections of the city.  When they acheive a balance, they will be introduced to neighborhood schools.  It is too bad that neighborhood schools cannot come about by edict.  We are considered to be an aberation, we, the  court says in its recent voting rights case, are bigoted.  I have Cambodian neighbors on all sides of me.  I do not feel like I am a bigot.  But Ward 4 has to deal with integration with finesse.

So, anyway, that is the clutter around us.  We are considered bigoted without so much as a speaking part in the voting rights case.  I would have argued for keeping the voting structure the same.  Veasna Nuon came in first, Sokhary Chou came in tenth,  Dominick Lay is a good School Committeeman, Rady Mom is safely in a good seat in the State House.  I would argue that we integrated successfully.  Probably, the judge would not have heard me because it looks like his mind was made up.

So, that’s me on Sunday, August 4th. in 2019.   I do not have any power and whatever influence I have has been used up.  I had a wonderful time going door-to-door yesterday, and my vision seemed keen.  I would like to thank the people of Belvidere for their efforts on my behalf to get signatures for the rest of the week.  They were wonderful.  One person got mad at me because I was pro-downtown on the High School question.  But he kept coming back and we had a nice discussion.  I wish everything went so well.

So that’s me.  Not really talking about strategic and tactical problems in the Lowell schools.  I apologize for the title.

Continuing Excellence in Education

  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.

Running for School Committee III

I think that my best ideas come to me when I am shaving.  There is something about getting rid of that morning beard that just makes things come into focus.  Writer Jack London, one of my favorites, used to tape twenty vocabulary words per morning on the mirror in his bathroom and recite the words until he was satisfied that he had gotten a handle on them.  One morning, I was thinking about all of the hoopla that goes with a small thing, like running for the School Committee.   You do something because your conscience says that you should do it, for myriad reasons, and you turn over a thousand “new leafs.”

I am puzzled by the chagrin associated with running for a relatively small office.  In my opinion, wanting to do it is a good enough reason for igniting the flames of political necessity and make a stand on issues of the day.  I told my Campaign Manager that I was going to run a different campaign.  I was going to publish small newsletters that answered many of the basic questions associated with why you run.  I was going to use my voice to enunciate things that needed to be clarified.  I was going to control the amount of money that was spent, and spend less than the average campaign.  We both looked on this as a good tactic.  Things could only get brighter. Right? Well not exactly.  People use their own measurements for analyzing a run for office.  How many people attended your fundraiser(s)?  How many signs did you put out?  How much money did  you raise?  Those types of questions.

Well, not enough people attended my one fundraiser and I came to the conclusion that that was my fault.  I did not phone people and ask them to come.  I did not realize that you had to do that.  Signs deserve their own analysis and I am going to try to stick to that a little later in this blog.  How much money did you raise?  Well, more than I expected, that much is certain.  I had enough to print my literature.  I had enough to print my signs.  I had enough to pay off my debts.  All in all, I was pleased with my fundraising.  I need to have another soon, and I intend to do that.  Something literally “homey” as it will be about having a fundraiser in the confines of my house.  Hopefully, people with want to see how I live and come for what I hope is a good time.  The last time we had a big party at home was when my daughter, Chloe, graduated from college.  We had many people here on that day.  My good friend, Gerry Durkin, was the man of the hour because, without his help, that graduation would not have happened.  He guided me through UMASS-Lowell’s many contretemps and Chloe was the winner.

But back to signs.  I remember when Councillor and Mayor Murphy put up over seven hundred in one campaign that bordered on the most intelligent effort in local campaigning up until that time.  At the current cost of $12.00 per sign and the cost of putting them on their Erector Set legs, which was about $8.00 per set,  the cost of one sign is about twenty dollars.  Putting out a sign costs roughly $20.00.  When the campaign is finished the signs are generally recycled, if you have an environmentally savvy candidate and the $20.00 cost is lost in the wind.

Let us say that one of the School Committee challengers put most of his effort into getting signs on lawns.  Now, I could go back and put an equal amount of effort into getting my signs on lawns, and instead of costing $20.00 for each sign, it cost $40.00 because I went out and got signs on many of the lawns he had already hit.  There are, of course, six slots in the race for School Committee.  A well-fashioned lawn would be able to hold six signs at 20.00 dollars each.  That totals out to a whopping $20.00 times six persons, or $120.00 per fully stocked lawn.  If people did 100 signs each, it would cost each campaign $2,000.00 to keeping up with the next door sign holders, the Jones’ as it were.  Six signs per lawn costs $120.00.  All of those 600 signs would cost $12,000.00.  Just to wage a full sign campaign.  After all, no one would question whether or not it was prudent to have signs for each of their six candidates.  It would be deemed prudent.

What’s my point?  Well let’s go back to Mayor Murphy.   He put out over 700 signs at $20.00 each.  That totals out to, and I believe that I have this right, $14,000.00 in signs for his campaign.  That is a lot of money.  A person putting out 100 signs would spend $2,000.00.  Money that may have gone into an analysis of the best books available to hedge against reading problems.  Money that might have gone towards a new and better study of mathematical equations.  Something new in Social Studies, perhaps.  A new site for a new television studio.  Something that turns a loss into a gain.

Signs don’t vote, they say.  But actually, they do.  Not the signs themselves but the people who put signs on their lawns do vote.  And, it is probable that they vote for the people whose names are on their lawns.  So we emphasize signs, to the point that we must de-emphasize them.  There are nine people running for each seat, and only six of them will win.  Wouldn’t it be nice if each of those people determined that they would be better off financing something that will make a difference in each classroom?

I question why many of us are enamored with our chances?  Many candidates are running to get on the ballot.  Some are running because they are running for love of the children.  Some are running to make a change.  The voter has the difficult task of determing which candidate is running for which reason?  My doctor told me that it would be difficult because I am doing an issues campaign.  I forgot that, in the sign wars, cost does not matter.  The guy or gal who gets the most signs up wins.  I have been fairly successful in getting my signs up.  Maybe that is good for me.

Running for School Committee – Step One

If I was one of the School Committee members at this time, I would have voted for Stacey Scott, Ed.D.   In point of fact he did a marvelous job on his interview, I thought and I was at his interview.  I listened to the other two from the comfort of my home, but I felt that his knowledge of his subject was so far superior to the others that I thought that they had no choice but to vote for  him.  Most  School Committee members may disagree with me on this take.

There were quite a few points that he made that I thought were good.  For instance, during the interview questioning of individual members of the School Committee he said that he was, “…wanting to visualize the voices of the community.  The School Committee should be his back-up,” he said.  “They should act as my support.   I am a good planner, I love to plan.”  Dr. Scott, experiences in Dracut notwithstanding, was, in my opinion,  the best interviewer and the best prepared.   He deserved one vote, anyway.  To be honest I would have been that one vote.  I liked his diversity, his message, and his style.  I do decry his premature leaving of the Dracut superintendency, but I have to believe that he probably had fairly solid reasons for it.

Each interview was an hour and forty-five minutes.  I had to watch the last two on television, and I praise the members of the School Committee for their determination to go through the one hour and forty five minute sessions that happened three times.  I felt, as did the School Committee that Dr. Boyd was well-prepared, perhaps too much seeing as how he crashed the School Committee meeting on the previous Wednesday.  It is just personal pique, but I believe that once you get your interview, that you stay away from the members until you have your final one hour and forty-five minute chance.  Instead of being viewed as a man with different tastes, he was treated like a conquering hero in that meeting.  That puzzled me.  The meetings of the School Committee are often in Executive Session, but in this case the regular meeting was wide opened for a studied disruption which was probably as innocent as his effort(s) could have been.

So, that is my take on the interviews.  After the very good  interviews by the first two interviewees, the third person was good but in my opinion was swimming in the wrong pool and was dismissed; much as Dr. Scott was dismissed by the subsequent unanimous vote.  A friend of mine asked me how the Committee picked three candidates with varieated weak spots, which he dismissed as being a sign of the times.  We do not necessarily expect our candidates to be strong.  Sometimes, just being there is  enough.  We make fun of their inconsistencies, but we do not really expect them to measure up.  That is the America we have forged for ourselves currently.

I have found that running for the School Committee, is challenging and seldomly boring.  In my traversing the city’s streets, I have received a lot of “Good lucks” but not one negative thusfar.  I know that is bound to change,  but for right now, it is personally gratifying.  I will not be able to complete all of the streets that I want to but I have to say that Belvidere has been very satisfying.

Anyway, I want people to understand where I am coming from, and that is that I am very glad that this School Committee took the time to follow-up an embarassing cessation of one Superintendent’s contract with a desire to make sure that such a pattern does not happen again.  I hope that the new Superintendent does not leave too soon, as some feel is his wont.  I want this person to be hardworking, interested in our system and our unique heritage, and able to direct with strongness and vigor, our daily turmoils.  He should be able to work with the School Committee.  And, he should be able to work with the city,  Maintenance of effort would be equally important.  What most people to not realize is that the School Committee now has one major job, they are the people who hire and fire the Superintendent.  We have seen them do one, it is now our job to see them do the other.

I think that they have.  I hope that I do not have the job of firing or hiring a new Superintendent.  This time, I believe that almost all of us want this Superintendent to be good.  We can hope.  More than that, we can help.  We can get involved with our children’s education by taking them to  sporting events, academic events, and other things too numerous to mention.

I hope to see many of you at School Committee meetings.  Attorney Greenhalge equated his years with the School Committee in the past as a healthy effort which mirrored his years as Governor of the Commonwealth.  If a man who was Governor can do that, we can too.

Lowell’s Schools from 1890 to 1930

The strangest thing that I noticed in the study of the period was the introduction of a lock on the Minutes Books.  A very secure lock was placed on all books written from 1910 to 1936.  Obviously, the information in the book was guarded and secret.  There are repeated references to Executive Sessions and the need to keep certain people out of the  public eye.  And they could lock the books.  It must be  a fact that they did keep people from reading the Minutes of the Meetings during this time.  I have not read further minutes past this 1936 time period  but it does not take much of an imagination to come to the conclusion that these locked books were used in the period past 1936.

There is a great deal that we know, and it is noted that the handwritten tomes of earlier periods were replaced by typed books, giving much more information to the reader.  There is so much information that it is almost impossible to read through the Minutes.  Their information was closely guarded, as the locked books can attest to.

Sometime around  the late 1880’s, many fine school buildings were finally completed.  The new high school, which was financed for fifteen thousand dollars, was completed by 1893, at which time the new City Hall and Memorial Hall, which contained a library, were completed.  In the high school, a third floor hall, named “Coburn Hall” after a  past School Committee member, held up to one thousand students, under the eye of a solitary teacher, who sat on a perch above the many students.  “Coburn Hall” was still in place when I began my studies at Lowell High School, my father turned the hall into six classrooms.  That is how large it was.

The Moody School, the new Bartlett School, the  Varnum School, the Butler School, the Pawtucket Memorial School, and other smaller buildings were completed by 1890 or so.  Lowell was buzzing.  Even President Taft said he was going to attend the first Indianapolis-style race track for cars which was in Pawtucketville, and which was held in 1911.  The high school was not large enough for its population, and the 1922 building took care of the influx of students.  The students would hold students in relative comfort for the next sixty years.   The Locks and Canals Corporation told my father that the school department could not build air tunnels in their air space and they told him that they owned the rights to the air above the canals up to the heavens.  We spent some time talking about that and the fact was that we would have to go to court to get access to that air space.  That was the first and last time my father had been told that argument.

In Lowell, at this time,  the Directors of the Greek community opened a Greek school.  Teachers at the Greek school would teach in Greek and English.  The new Greek Academy, patterned after other private schools, would be regimented.  But the high school would not be omitted from regimentation.  An educator named William Dauncey was to give examinations to students “for admission to the high school.”  Standardized testing has begun in Lowell.

The city was growing, and had seventeen schools organized  by twenty eight instructors.  At the time a comparision was  made to Charlestown which had 9,000 inhabitants with one thousand five hundred eight one students; compared to Lowell’s two thousand three hundred students who were supported by the city’s schools.  The head of the high school would become the Master of the high school.

At about this time, John Alden Williams summed up parts of Islam by saying “If we judge, then we shall be judged.  When we condemn, we insure condemnation for ourselves.  If we forgive, we may be sure of forgiveness.”    This is just a  brief respite, a change of some past and current mores.

The following is taken from the School Committee of the City of Lowell; Standing Committees from January of 1890 to January 2, of 1899.”

The curriculum of the Training School included Nursing.  The new Committee on Schoolhouses and Hygiene (led by a Mr. Cummings) appear before the City Council and ask for an appropriation of $15,000.00  for a new high school,”  We already covered this amount previously.  The School Committee also asked for raising “The American flag over the high school building,” when it was completed.  It is interesting to acknowledge the oversight of the City Council over the construction money for the new high school.

In these minutes, the books were financed.  The Colburn School in Lowell lends six rooms to the Training School.  Strangely enough, Substitute Teachers were given a hearty raise for the year of twenty five dollars each.  This amount was called to the attention of the full board.

During this time, the Head of the Training School, Mrs. Dewey, was authorized to employ her Assistant Principal, Mrs. Radcliffe…:to employ themselves to observe the work of their pupil teachers when they acted as substitutes and to “report on the details of the work.” (ibid.)  There was an examination, as at the high school, for admission not only to the Lowell High School, it was suggested that the Superintendent hold an examination for certificates to lower grades and subsequently examination for the school and the Training School.

The Committee was entreated that there were requests for four out of Lowell’s  student population that they be accepted to LHS, despite the fact that they had not passed the minimum seventy percent on the standard examination.  Mr. Greene, on the Committee, passed a motion “that it was voted that the matter be referred to the Superintendent with full powers.”  The Superintendent stated that five, not four had already been accepted.  He had determined somehow, that they were qualified.

The School Street School, bought Scudder’s Short History of the United States’ for the Evening School.

In addition, the Highland School received copies of the ‘People’s Encyclopedia,’  Lowell’s schools got “the goods.”  Dr. Gerry missed a great many meetings.  Some students were not permitted to graduate.  No more than twenty five students were admitted for the graduation class.  Three teachers, identified as Edward Simpson, A.W. Hodge, and John J. Tobin were hired.   They received Certificates to Teach.  They had to fill out a written application.  In a motion by Mr, Greene again, it was voted that Miss Richardson, teaching at the Sycamore Street School be transferred to the Edson School and be replaced by Miss Bersi.

In an interesting aside, in April 1891, Mr. Coburn’s Motion stated that Attendance should be required,  although people over the age of 18, should be ineligible.  Only one person, Stella Cosgrove, could not get her teaching certificate because of her age.  In the meantime, Mr. Harrigan filed a  motion that there be fifty scissors for every grammar school for their sewing program.

A high school committee oversaw the high school and purchased writing books for the high school.  It was also learned that there was a Cheever Street School.  There is no information on it except for the fact that it existed.

I learned that the high school principal was a Mr, Coburn, after whom the previously mentioned Coburn Hall was named.  There were many substitutes hired.  The high school committee said that it should contain 8 members from each Ward and two at-large.  In other economic and finance news Mechanic’s Hall was hired by students at $12 per week.  Twenty five dollars was used for the purchase of music for LHS.  It should be noted that at this time people’s love of music was not caused by radios or record players,  they had not been invented as of this time.

The Training School Committee purchased Cyclostyle bicycles were purchased hundreds of bikes for the students.  Bikes were the only way to quickly get around the city.  Horses were the bicycles main competitors.

The schools ordered:

“Century Dictionary” for LHS

Supplementary reading took place by Principal Coburn

Miss Dewey’s books supplemented book purchases for the school’s library

Buy Kindergarten material at $5.00 for teachers who ask for it

“Hawthorne’s Wonder Book” for 8th grade classes

“Birds and Bees” was purchased for the 7th, grade

‘Scudder’s Tables and Folklore’ for the 6th. grade

Books could be ordered in September.

The Dover Street Kindergarten successfully asked for a new schoolhouse.  They were moved to the brand new Moody School.  In the meantime, the Chairman of the School Committee and the Superintendent were told to be “fitting up the office.”

All of these improvements were designed to be implemented between 1890 to 1899.

The School Committee Race and My Health

I have been giving a great deal of thought to the issue of what purpose  there is to me running for School Committee if my health is in such poor condition.  It is not in such poor condition because it is watched closely by some of the best doctors in New  England, at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington.  My Primary Care Physician came into my room a few weeks ago and said that he had spent twenty minutes reading my chart.  He said that was a very long time for that activity.

So, that apparently was a long period of time.   I have heart disease, but it never stops me from substituting or doing anything except those things that would tax me too much.  I cannot golf, for instance, and I walk too aggressively with my cane.  Incidentally, the cane is there for balance and for no other reason.  Some of my medicines cause a problem with dizziness,  That can make me fall, and because I am on blood thinners for clogging of the arteries, I might fall and hit my head.  I have fallen but that has not meant  that it will never happen again.  So they keep me on Warfarin, to monitor me.  No problem.

I also have branch bungling on the left side of my heart.  I therefore cannot join my brother Tom in running the Marathon in Boston.  No sweat, because I do not have a desire to do that.  I had a heart attack a few years ago when I lifted a trailer that was stuck to the hitch and strained my heart, so I am on a pacemaker.  It is working well, by the way.  I have  cancer, the same type but a different strain than the one that caused my brother-in-law Paul Tsongas such problems.  It is under control, but cannot go into remission because of the type it is, but it is dormant.  Thank God for small favors,

In addition I have Parkinson’s disease, the type that Michael J. Fox has to battle.  He is doing well with his, and is on medication, and I am doing well with mine and am also on medication.  I tell the kids I am substituting that they do not get me nervous, I just have  Parkinson’s.  They seem to like the fact that I am honest about it.  I just learned last week that my kidneys are failing.  Every week seems to be a new problem.

I have not, until now, made a habit of complaining about my health, or lack thereof.  I asked my doctors if I am healthy enough to run for School Committee.  Uncategorically, they have said a resounding yes.  Some question my sanity, but one even offered to help me out.  He is a local doctor.  I had him as a student years ago.  That one made me feel good.

So I can do it, I want to do it, and I will try.  That is the best I can do.  As I said, I am backed up by a bunch of specialists.  The twenty minute read I talked about earlier is something that I enjoy knowing.  It shows that my doctors take me seriously.  As I said in the original statement, I do not coddle my illnesses.  They are just things that I have to deal with, and I do.  Hopefully well, but if I was really worried about my illnesses, I would not be substituting.  That is a very stressful job.  I have learned to deal with it.  I have to say something very good about substituting.  It invigorates the soul.  The students, or scholars as they were called two hundred years ago, constantly test you, but they do it with humor and a sense of purpose.  I have literally been on a tour of all of the schools in Lowell, basically, and there is a sense of purpose in each classroom.  Sure, sometimes you have a bad day, but your payment comes in a smile, or a scent of knowledge

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.

A Few Christmas Thoughts

I did not grow up in a perfect household, but then again, who does?  I remember Christmas’s with a child’s wonder, first how that little man could visit every house in the world in one night, and later how my parents could engage us for 24 hours on the 25th. of December in such a total way.  I tell my substitute teaching students about the fact that I had the principal or Superintendent to deal with after a horrific day at school.  They cannot believe that their fathers are not the closest thing to their own schoolyard stories of each day.  Mine seemed more there, if that was possible.   I also like to tell them that I can outroar any of them because I grew up with eight brothers and sisters.  I can easily out roar any of them, I tell them.  Sometimes they get to find out why I say that.

Anyway, when we were very small children our parents decided on one Christmas that the best way to give us presents was to build or sew them themselves.  So they did.  After a day in Omaha, Nebraska at our wealthier cousins house, one of us was heard to say on the ride home, “I sure can’t stand using their toys, I can’t wait until we get home with our own stuff.”  (Something like that).  It made my parent’s day, to  say the least.

My father was the youngest, at twenty-six years of age, Superintendent in Iowa.  His previous claim to fame had been to teach in Barnum, Iowa, where I was born, and take nine players on the Barnum High School baseball team, to Des Moines where Barnum outplayed every school in Iowa and won the state championship.  With just nine boys, none of whom would ever be able to sit out a bad inning because there were actually no back-up players.  He loved telling that story to his first two sons, who were kind of askance in the baseball area.  Tom and I could not  play passable baseball.  Tom was a lot better than I  was, and he let me know it.

Later, in probably our proudest moment with our father, until Lowell, he went to Chicago, actually a town right out of the famous South Side, he tackled a superintendency that was riled with problems related to civics and the relationship between whites and blacks, as we were known in those days.  We were just some kids from Iowa, and we were thrown into the depths of the debate.  One of us came out a liberal, while the other came out a conservative.  We still are those two diametrically opposite men.

My father was told that one of his schools was unbalanced as far as civil rights was concerned.  One school was one hundred percent black.  He took my younger brother Charlie, an elementary school pupil, to the Riley School in Harvey, Illinois and placed him in that school.  He was written up all over Chicago for that one.  In a very positive way, but nevertheless, written up.  Charlie was, of course, not African-American.  He was a good friend to a number of new friends, however.

Once, my best friend, who, as my grandfather from Iowa asked, “Is he Greek?”  “No, Grandpa, he is black,” was with me as we went to my house to play chess.  I was not very good, but I tried.  My friend usually beat me.  The editor of the local newspaper saw the two of us in our living room playing one another and wanted to print a story about how my parents were the “Real McCoy,” as they used to say every so often.  My father convinced him that I was just with a friend, not a white friend or a black friend.  Just a friend.  That friend and I went camping together in Iowa later that year.  In one day we caught fourteen freshwater fish.  That was our personal record.  My friend became an expert on President Herbert Hoover because we visited Hoover’s Library in West Branch, Iowa.  He had become very interested in Hoover while spending a day at the site.  He knows more about Hoover than I do.  He is still my best friend, and lives in Kentucky.  And, he is still African-American.

Anyway, on the sad day of Martin Luther King’s killing, we spent time together. We eventually became part of the groom’s party at our mutual weddings.  That was when my grandfather asked that question.  He could not understand that my best friend, other than my wife, was not white.  I loved him, he was my grandfather.  But on this, he was horribly wrong.

Later, my father would convince me that he was  the most aggressive Superintendent in Lowell’s recent history.  I have an article in the SUN that stated that my father called in the federal government over a practice in the Lowell that discriminated against the poor.  George Kouleheras had an argument over engaging the feds.  My father pointed out that, if the truth be told, the poor were more in need of the school’s services than the wealthy.  This after he had defeated his highest ranking opponent in the School Committee race by 4,621.  Bullet voting would be his Christmas present in 1975.

George Anthes recently asked me why I told stories about Paul Tsongas but not as many about Wayne Peters.  First, I guess I would have to acknowledge that I knew Wayne Peters better.  There are more stories about him to tell.  Fishing in the Midwest is a constant.  Fishing stories abound with Paul too, but I fear the audience would not have the same level of familiarity with Paul and maybe some of the stories would overlap or be redundant.  Also, the audience is probably more interested in stories about Paul than my father, and I am a storyteller.  So I do tell stories about my father.  I remember when we dedicated the LHS Library Computer Room for my father and I had many stories to tell.  It was fun.  And, I believe people liked that press for that day.  My father proved himself to be of some interest, not the least to George who ended up saying a few nice words about my father as one of the speakers.  I will intersperse my comments about Wayne Peters with my comments about Paul Tsongas.  As I have often told people, there is not a huge difference between being the son of the School Superintendent and the brother-in-law of the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.  In  both cases you have to watch what you say and who you are saying it to.  It is pretty much the same level of pressure.  The School Superintendent because he is your father and you have to do your best everyday.  The Senator because he is a family member and you, likewise, have to do your best everyday.

When Vicki and I started dating, I was not wildly popular with the Tsongas family.  But Paul did his best to accept me, and I remember many Christmas’s where he and I would sit by the dining room windows at Mansur Street and look out at the snow falling on the large yard.  Paul and I would talk, and from that would come many of my principles.  Do not hit your children was one of them, and the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have others do onto you, was another.  Paul was like a brother to me and I was in the Tsongas family since my wedding, on June 7, 1975.  A total of forty three wonderful years where I got the chance to be a member of a very influential family.  What Mr. Themo Tsongas did not see in me, Paul did.  And, he made those things count.  Christmas was a time for Niki to construct some of the best meals and parties that I had ever been to, and it was tremendous.  Niki is still one of my best friends.

So that is me on Christmas.  An Iowan who got to settle in Massachusetts and enjoy himself tremendously.  A school Superintendent’s kid who got to accompany Paul Tsongas to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. and meet the many guards who Paul would later befriend because they were good people and they protected their many Senators.  A teacher who enjoyed tremendously his teaching and his summers on Cape Cod.  There, Paul was himself and he told me a great many things about myself that could not be blown off.  I have, like Jimmy Stewart, had a wonderful life and I have enjoyed it tremendously.  And I remember well the day that I answered the Cape Cod telephone and a voice said, “Is Paul there, this is Bobby Orr.”  Life is sweet.



Cutting the Contract of Salah K

I am  back.    I took a month off to refresh my internal batteries.  I have 560,4200  replies to my blog, quite an accomplishment given that I blog on the condition  of the  Lowell Public School system in its early  days.  I think that it’s nostalgic for some readers.  It is for me  too.

Anyway,  it is  nice being read.  Google tells me  that I have been read by a million people and they raised my  blogging  fee.  So much for success.

My focus this week is on cutting the contract for the Superintendent.  In my opinion, he was a   breath of fresh air in the system in which he was the Superintendent.   It is older news now, and I have covered it so why continue to pursue it?  Because he was, I believe, summarily discharged without a hearing.   Now he has sued and he, I feel, has a chance to collect from a school system  that is in the red.  I cannot blame Salah Khelfaoui for protecting his legacy.  As I have stated before, he was not a high finance Superintendent.  He was a one-on-one Superintendent who worried about the curriculum maybe more than the finances.  The board took his job without worrying about what he was here for, and who he was going to help.  He was treated badly.  I can openly state that he told me that he would sue if he was released by this School Committee.  I had issues with Superintendent Khelfaoui, it was not all golden, but my problems pale in comparison to what was handed to him.  Visions of King Herod ordering Saint John the Baptist’s head come to mind.  The School Committee tried to get his side of the story, but only after he was released.

There are a few problems here.  The School Committee failed to see how degrading their methods were so he felt, I believe, that he had no options left – he had to go to court to clear his name.  His replacement cannot be the result of a national search because of the type of job he had.  He was protected by a contract, he had just gone through a review and was given good grades by the persons who voted to let him go.  Superintendents are an interesting bunch, it was my father’s job and there are few who can be a Superintendent without flinching.  No current Superintendent wants to go to a city which just ran their current superintendent out of town on a rail.  No good superintendent wants to go to a city which offered a contract, broke it, and stopped continued employment.  If we knew that about a business position, it would be difficult to find a replacement even in the business world.  In the world of American education, it is even more difficult.

So, no superintendent worth his salt wants to go to a district that did not honor their contract.  They would rightfully think that what the “Fab Four” did was going to happen to her or him.  Those people are the ones who pushed the Superintendent away.  They  include the only two women who  both voted to let the Superintendent go.  There are only two women on the School Committee and they voted to release the Superintendent.  In my opinion, both of them lowered their special status when they voted to fire the Superintendent.

As I said, I had an-on again off-again relationship with the Superintendent.  But overall, I had a very good relationship with this man.  He was the star of the “Superintendent’s Sessions” on my show, “Peters’ Principles.”  The four people on the School Committee were welcomed to go on the show.  They knew that because they had been, at one time or another, guests on the television show.  Not one of those people came to, or called, to get on the show with the Superintendent.  One person said that she was not officially invited.  Everyone was invited.  There was a dearth of people wanting to get to the Superintendent through the show.   Not one School Committee member called to challenge something that the Superintendent said on the show.  And, they knew that they were definitely invited on the monthly show.

All of them had open access to the show and could have started a lively discussion with the Superintendent over any issue.  My belief is if they had used that medium, some of the bitterness would have been left in the world of television and perhaps this could have been handled.

Anyway, it is my belief that we are at a point where there is a crack in the wall, as in that nursery school story about the boy who stuck his thumb in the wall to hold back the sea; or more recently, the way that the Berlin Wall came tumbling down after Lech Walesa had stood up for his  country.  This is a major mistake, and Lowell looks bad, I think.  We can take care of the image by hiring the current interim superintendent, Jeanine Durkin.  But only if she wants it.  This overshoots our academic prowess and the efforts we have made to get good principals in the schools.   We need to stop, look around, and realize that in the 1800’s and 1900’s we made the Lowell School Department the “center of the (educational) universe.”  We have the best teachers, and the best support staff in the Commonwealth.  We normally have about ninety things interceding on the path we are walking.  But, I have never seen, and I see it everyday, any faculty more attuned to doing well.  Give us a good superintendent, like  Dr. Durkin, and they will give us their best effort.  Before all of this happened, we were getting higher MCAS scores, happier kids, and professional personnel.  Let us get over this quickly, and continue on with the greatness of Lowell’s  schools.  In the past students left the suburbs  and paid to go to Lowell High School.  Let’s acheive greatness again.  It is Lowell’s responsibility and even a duty.  And let us get Dr. Khelfaoui straightened out.   I can tell you that he is basically a very good  man.

Searching for a Theme

Sometimes you write a blog without a theme.  It just becomes a jumble of ideas going east or west, north or south.  For today, I borrowed from Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Henry Gabriel.  Thoreau was obviously trying to get free of a potential romantic tryst when he wrote, “I confess that I am lacking a sense, perchance, in this respect,  I  derive no pleasure from talking with a young woman half an hour simply because she has regular features.”  Journal.  I do not really get the point because I spent hours trying to get my wife to talk to me for an equal amount of time and I greatly enjoyed the effort.   I also do  not believe that my wife has “regular features.”  So maybe there is something to his disfavor.

I  noticed on television that Wells Fargo is crediting itself with giving loans at the turn of the century, in the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, without worrying about credit information, saying that they do it today.  I  have my doubts about that.  And Mr. Gabriel says, “As time passed, and the farmers of the frontier could not liquidate the mortgages on their holdings, they saw in the money lender a dangerous enemy.  “Wall Street” became in the 1880’s a name describing an ogre.”  (American Democratic Thought, Ralph Henry Gabriel, Yale University, The Ronald Press Company of New York).  Current farmers would probably agree with that statement.

I have been working on my book on the History of the Lowell, MA. School System.  I have some new entries.  They are, but are not complete, involving the period in the 1900’s from 1900 to 1930.  The school system was older then.  And the older system did not respond to changes in curriculum and direction as quickly as Theodore Edson’s School Committees did.  Here are some of the listed new changes.

These events happened during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.  In 1900 they made the District Music Teacher permanent position at $1,200.00 per year for the entire district.  It was a large district so this was quite an accomplishment if the man could actually do the job.  It was also found that the Middlesex Village School, a school I toured as a college student, needed more rooms.    The school was torn down in the 1980’s.  They referred  this action to the Committee on Teachers to see if they could afford the upgrade.  It was deemed necessary by the district.

A student overflow went into the “jewel’ at the Varnum School in Centralville.  Lowell High School was too small for its student population and its 1893 building would be supplemented by building its 1922 building on that schedule.

The Committee on Teachers was  pretty busy.  It was given the power to take disciplinary action to deal with 262 cases of teacher tardinesses.  Going back a bit, on 2/24/96 School Committeeman Mulligan was late for the February meeting and they had to wait for him.  In the meantime, 200 Greek citizens and 30 French girls asked for the Massachusetts Evening School to be extended by one month.  The request does not say why but the request “could not be granted.”

On March 5, 1896, Mr. Greenhalge, who had given so much of himself to the school district, was honored as a School Committee member, State Representative, Mayor of the Strong Mayor type, Congressman, and Governor of the State of Massachusetts.  That made two members of the early class Governors of the State.  The other was the unpopular Benjamin Butler.  Mr. Greenhalge was remembered in the Minutes and a new school was named for him.  The School Committee sent a message to the family.   It said, “To the family of the deceased we extend our heartfelt sympathy.”  On 3/5/1896 they voted to attend the funeral as a School Committee.  It kind of resembles the passing of Mrs. Kathryn Stoklosa, who was warmly remembered at the time of her passing.

The Carney Medals were given to the people listed below:

James Bruce Gilman, Guy Henry Richardson, Horace Roswell Edwards, Sally Ardelle Burgess, Bertha Monroe Allen, and Olivia Catherine Mahoney.  All received the award which cited the efforts of the woman in the graduating class.  This was at a time when no woman could vote, or exercise what we might call “citizenship activities.”  The rules were laid down by the Donor of the Medal Fund.

The school district contained 13,419 children between five and fifteen years of age.  There were 3,048 students in the rest of the district, including the high school.  Two parents were in the Police Court for “failure to educate your children.”

In addition, the School Committee handled the U.S. Census  for 1900.  Dr. Kelley was Superintendent.  Fishers was reintroduced and accepted.

So, this is where the school department was coming from in 1900.  The schools were active, and new.  The jewels of the system included the Bartlett, Moody, Varnum, and Butler schools.  Next time we will discuss other schools built in this time period like the Aiken Avenue School.