Lowell Week in Review: August 28, 2016

Back to School Edition

School starts on Tuesday

Add some extra time to your morning commute on Tuesday. Students at Lowell Public Schools start the 2016-17 academic year that day. Besides the dozens of yellow school buses that navigate the city’s roads, the start of school also brings thousands of extra commutes with adults driving children to and from school, staff members heading back to work, and children walking to school. The big difference in morning traffic volume on a school day versus a non-school day is a reminder of the enormous role that education plays in our local economy.

Although the students don’t return until Tuesday, all Lowell Public School teachers and staff head back a day earlier. For them, the school year starts with a mandatory, all-employee gathering at Lowell Memorial Auditorium at 7:30 a.m. this Monday. So if you don’t work for the Lowell Public Schools, be sure to avoid East Merrimack Street early on Monday morning.

At UMass Lowell, residence halls open this weekend and classes begin on Thursday, September 1, 2016. Opening day for Middlesex Community College is Tuesday, September 6, 2016.

While I focus on the Lowell City Council on this website, I have a counterpart who does the same for the Lowell School Committee. She is Amy Bisson, a recently retired elementary school teacher who lives downtown and writes a blog called An Educator’s Journey. After each school committee meeting, Amy writes an excellent account of what took place. She also writes about other issues in education. Please check out her site. For more coverage of Lowell public schools, many of Gerry Nutter’s recent posts have focused on school issues. Social media is also a good place for information about Lowell’s schools. On Twitter, I recommend the official Lowell Public Schools site (@LowellPSD) and also the Lowell Sun’s education reporter, Amelia Pak-Harvey (@AmeliaPakHarvey). (Although I don’t tweet much about the public schools, I’m also on Twitter @DickHowe, so please follow me if you are too, and I’ll reciprocate.)

Lowell High School’s Coburn Hall, viewed from Lucy Larcom Park.

Lowell High School addition

As Amy Bisson reported on her blog, the Lowell School Committee received a report on the Lowell High School addition process at its last meeting. The report is available in the midst of the 212 page school committee packet (starting on page 40).

Several timelines for the high school addition appear beginning on page 70. Because these documents are intended for decision-makers, architects, engineers, and others intimately involved in the process, they are understandably heavy on jargon and acronyms. From what I can comprehend, there will be a three day “kick-off meeting” this September; the “Preferred Schematic Report” which I take to mean the recommendation as to the site of the school (i.e., the existing location or a new one) is to be submitted by February 9, 2017; the Schematic Design, which I think is the process of designing the school itself, begins in May 2017 and ends in March 2018; state review of the design occurs between December 2017 and March 2018; the bid process occurs in the early part of 2019; and construction begins in April 2019 and is completed in April 2022.

The timeline on big government construction projects like this one tend to slip, but everything else about this Lowell High School addition has been ahead of schedule, so I wouldn’t be surprised it that rapid pace continues.

Lowell Community Charter Public School on Jackson St.

Charter Schools

On Friday, the Sun reported on the grand opening of the new Collegiate Charter School of Lowell facility at 1857 Middlesex Street. The school came into existence three years ago but has used temporary sites since then. The CCSL, which for now has kindergarten through sixth grade, joins Lowell Community Charter Public School on Jackson Street, and Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School, a high school associated with Middlesex Community College and located at 67 Middle Street, as the city’s three charter schools.

Charter schools will be in the news for the next 70+ days since there will be a referendum question about them on the state election ballot this November:

Questions 2. Charter School expansion. “The question, if approved, would let state education officials approve up to 12 new charter schools a year.”

A “yes” vote supports this proposal.

A “no” vote opposes this proposal.

Although it is a presidential election year, there are no statewide races on the ballot in November which means the ballot questions may get more attention than usual. The Charter School referendum will certainly attract a lot of money in support of both sides of the issue.

The other three questions on the November ballot are Question 1, which would allow the State Gaming Commission to issue an additional slots-only casino license; Question 3, which would prohibit certain methods of farm animal containment; and Question 4, which would legalize recreational marijuana for individuals at least 21 years old.

Highlight of downtown tour for these UML students: meeting Dick Eklund. They all had seen “The Fighter”

Lowell as a College Town

This summer, I’ve written frequently about Lowell’s supposed aspiration to be a college town. This week, the concept becomes a reality when the students return for the fall semester. UMass Lowell is doing its part to introduce its students to its host city. For example, all incoming freshmen in the Honors Program, regardless of major, are required to take a seminar called “Text in the City.” Here’s the description of the course from the UMass Lowell catalog:

The First Year Seminar in Honors (FYSH) uses Lowell as its text. Rich in history and culture, and the students’ home for the next four years, the City of Lowell offers a perfect topic to promote connections while learning how to view the city through the lens of the Humanities. Students will develop library research skills, including facility with primary and secondary sources, and an appreciation for the narratives that lie in buildings, objects, and what people leave behind. Activities include field trips, readings, writing, and an artistic interpretation. As important, students will have the opportunity to form strong connections to each other, to the faculty, and to the community.

There are dozens of sections of this course, taught by a variety of instructors. All seek to get the students out of the classroom and into the city at the very start of their college careers.

And on this coming Thursday, September 1, UMass Lowell is holding a “Welcome Back Night” for students, staff and faculty in downtown Lowell from 4 pm until 8:30 pm. There will be guided walking tours, a scavenger hunt, discounts at downtown businesses, and a social at Mill No. 5, all to coincide with the special lighting of the canals at Swamp Locks (which is just beyond Mill No. 5 on Jackson Street).

Swamp Locks – scene of the great canal lighting event on Thursday, Sept 1 at 7:40 pm

Lowell Walks

Thanks to Lowell National Park Superintendent Celeste Bernardo for leading our final Summertime Saturday Walk yesterday. The walk drew 135 people who learned much about the early history of the National Park in Lowell.

While yesterday’s was the last Summertime Saturday tour, we have a full schedule of Lowell Walks for this fall. All are mentioned in a blog post I did yesterday, and all appear on our blog calendar, visible in the left column of this site.

The first of these walks will take place this coming Thursday night (September 1, 2016) as part of Downtown Lowell First Thursdays. The tour will begin at 6 pm at Lowell National Park Visitor Center, 246 Market Street, and will provide a comprehensive view of the Lowell canals and the mills they powered. The walk will end at Swamp Locks in time for the special lighting of the canals and all the festivities associated with that. If you can’t make the walk, please come to Swamp Locks for 7:40 pm to see the lights.