Lowell Week in Review: November 29, 2015

Greenhalge School

Citywide Parent Council Revival

A meeting of a revived Citywide Parent Council of the Lowell Public Schools will be held this coming Monday, November 30, 2015, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Robinson School at 110 June Street in Lowell. (see Facebook event page https://www.facebook.com/events/1518314988493770/). This is an important development for the schools and for the city so hopefully there will be a good turnout of parents and CPC will resume the valuable advocacy work it did for several decades until disbanding a few years ago.

When my son was a student in the Lowell public schools from 1995 through 2008, I was an active member of CPC, twice serving as chair. According to the by-laws in effect back then, the purpose of CPC was to (1) involve parents in addressing and responding to issues in the Lowell Public Schools pertaining to educational standards, equity, minority isolation and other education-related issues; (2) provide an open forum for discussions regarding school issues and voted policies; (3) provide a mechanism for parent representation; and (4) give its members the responsibility of keeping their respective schools informed.

Every parent or guardian of every child in the Lowell Public Schools was automatically a member of Citywide, but the heart of the organization was the two parent representatives elected from each school (with six from Lowell High). These reps met monthly to discuss issues of citywide import. In the perfect world, one of the representatives from a school would also be a member of that school’s PTO while the other would be a member of the School Site Council. That way, both of the boards within the school that involved parents (PTO and SSC) would be represented on Citywide.

That describes the perfect world which is often far from reality. Citywide often was fortunate to have a single representative from each school. That’s not an unusual situation in any volunteer organization but there were a number of other factors that worked against Citywide. Everyone faces tremendous competition for their time and few feel they can make the time commitment to one more organization. Many of the parents of Lowell school children come from cultures where parents questioning or challenging professional educators was just no done as opposed to our system in which, to quote former Superintendent Karla Brooks Baehr, “the only time meaningful change occurs in the school system is when parents make a pain in the neck of themselves.” Parent groups aren’t a top priority of professional educators who have too many other demands on their time. A principal will lose her job because her students’ MCAS scores don’t improve; she won’t lose her job because the school lacks a Citywide Parent Council representative.

It really is up to the school committee and the school superintendent to make active parental involvement a higher priority of the system’s school principals. Getting parents involved is a long, arduous process. Those who commit their time should be made to feel valued contributors and not bothersome interlopers. Parents most likely to become involved are those with children in the earlier grades, so the focus should be on the elementary schools.

At the time I was involved in Citywide Parent Council, the superintendents were George Tsapatsaris and Karla Brooks Baehr. Both of them were sincerely committed to meaningful parental involvement. Neither would accept “we invited parents but no one showed up” as an excuse from a principal. During both of their tenures, Citywide was an effective force that made demands for higher standards, better facilities, safety improvements, and adequate funding. It also served as a counterweight to the demands of the employees of the system on elected officials. Without a strong parental voice, the only organized entity speaking out on school issues are those who work for the school system.

So good luck to those behind this revival. And if you’re a parent or guardian of a student in the Lowell Public Schools, head over to the Robinson School on Monday night and get involved.

City Council meeting

There is no city council meeting this coming Tuesday. Last week’s meeting featured discussions about police deployment strategy; the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s advancement of Lowell to the next level of the process that ultimately (many hope) will lead to a new or renovated high school; and the receipt of a $1mil grant to aid the homeless (that discussion also touched on the city’s approach to panhandling). I wrote a full report about the meeting on Tuesday so please check it out if you haven’t already done so.

Christmas Shopping in Lowell

Yesterday’s City of Lights Parade marks the official start of the Christmas season in Lowell. If you’re like me, you’re more likely to shop for gifts online than you are to drive to the mall, but don’t forget your many gift-buying opportunities right here within the city limits. Western Ave and Mill No. 5 are both filled with places where local artists and artisans sell their products. Each makes the first Saturday of the month (i.e., NEXT Saturday) a special time in Lowell, but during December, hours expand so check out their respective websites.

Inside Western Ave Studios

Besides these two venues, there are plenty of other great gift-buying outlets in Lowell, especially downtown. Check out the Brush Art Gallery, the Arts League of Lowell Gallery, and many other downtown places. As so many found this summer during Lowell Walks, just park your car and wander around, you’re sure to find something interesting.

You might also want to visit the Merrimack Repertory Theatre to see It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play which runs through December 20. I saw it Wednesday night and wrote a review afterwards.

Finally, if you missed Fred Faust’s day-after-Thanksgiving story about the creation of the Shedd Park Splash Pad, please check it out. It’s an inspirational tale of community activism in Lowell.

2 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: November 29, 2015

  1. vfahlberg says:

    Dick, is there any list of accomplishments that resulted from the CPC? As a parent who was always a pain in the neck, I know that very little of my very intensive work on behalf of students ever made a difference. I think a lot of people may feel that way. But, if you have a list of accomplishments it could help parents see it is not a waste of time.

  2. Dolly King says:

    So happy to see the Citywide Parent Council becoming active again. I too served as not only a parent representative for all the years my children were LPS students but also in various positions on the CPC executive board. It truly was the best way to be informed about the goings-on in the school system. I truly enjoyed my 13 years of service, especially our monthly meetings of the board and with the Superintendent and his/her executive officers.