Lowell Week in Review: February 24, 2019

Blue Ribbon Committee

Friday’s Lowell Sun had a report about the School Committee’s Wednesday night discussion of the process to be used to select a new superintendent of schools (“Will board members sit on supt. screening committee?” by Elizabeth Dobbins). Much of the focus seemed to be on the composition of a “blue ribbon committee” and what that committee’s function and authority would be. The School Committee will meet again tomorrow night to continue its discussions on this issue.

Last week, I wrote about my experience on the Blue Ribbon Committee of 2000 which led to the selection of Karla Brooks Baehr as school superintendent that year. I have since found the “Report of the Superintendent Search Blue Ribbon Committee” from that year and thought it might be helpful to share some additional details.

The Blue Ribbon Committee of 2000 consisted of 16 members with each of the seven school committee members having a designee and one appointed by each of the following entities: University of Massachusetts Lowell, Middlesex Community College, Lowell Plan, Citywide Parents Council, the Teachers Union, the Administrators Union, the Clerical and Custodial Workers Union, the Lowell School Principals and the Special Needs Parent Advisory Council.

Here are the names of those who made up the committee preceded by their affiliation:

  • Rep of Mayor Eileen Donoghue – Michael Gallagher
  • Rep of Regina Faticanti – Kenneth Powers
  • Rep of Timothy Golden – Michael Kuenzler
  • Rep of George Kouloheras – William Collins
  • Rep of Kevin McHugh – Robin Hall
  • Rep of Joseph Mendonca – Garrett Thurston
  • Rep of William Taupier – Victoria Hatem
  • School Administrators Assoc – Francis Picanso
  • United Teachers of Lowell – Paul Georges
  • Union Local #159 (Custodian/Clerical) David Rodrigues
  • Citywide Parent Council – Richard Howe Jr
  • Special Ed PAC – George Peterson
  • UMass Lowell – Donald Pierson
  • Middlesex Community College – Molly Sheehy
  • Lowell Plan – James Cook
  • Principals – Judith Rogers (Varnum School)

The Blue Ribbon Committee (BRC) was created by the School Committee and was assigned by the School Committee the following mission:

  • Develop a set of criteria to use in evaluating candidates
  • Determine which candidates it would interview
  • Establish an interview process
  • Conduct its interviews
  • Provide a report to the Lowell School Committee

The BRC also created an evaluation form that would provide a standard assessment tool for all candidates. Here are the items on which candidates were graded. Yes/no questions were given 1 point for yes and 0 points for no. Qualitative questions were graded on a scale of 0 points to 3 points. In the end, all points were totaled to give each candidate a quantitative score:

  • Quality of candidate’s formal education
  • Does candidate have a doctorate?
  • Quality of candidate’s application package
  • Has candidate served as a superintendent?
  • Has candidate had at least 5 years of Central Office experience?
  • Quality of candidate’s experience as a classroom teacher
  • Quality of candidate’s experience as an administrator
  • Quality of candidate’s experience in urban school issues
  • Quality of candidate’s experience with special programs
  • Quality of candidate’s work-related experience
  • Depth and breadth of academic knowledge
  • Depth and breadth of administrative and managerial knowledge
  • Depth and breadth of knowledge of fiscal management
  • Leadership
  • Vision
  • Character
  • Management skills
  • Communication skills
  • Respect and appreciation for diversity
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Political skills
  • Creativity
  • Partnership skills
  • Commitment
  • Energy/stamina

The BRC met in executive session to determine which candidates to interview. The purpose of the executive session was to preserve the confidentiality of applicants who were not chosen to be interviewed. The preference was to interview, so to NOT interview a candidate required a two-thirds vote of the committee.

Of the 20 applicants, the BRC voted unanimously not to interview eight which left twelve to be interviewed. The twelve interviews were held in the city council chamber (open to the public and video recorded for subsequent showing on local cable) on three successive days in February 2000. Each interview lasted 75 minutes. Before the interviews began, two of the candidates withdrew, leaving ten to be interviewed.

After the interviews, the BRC decided that while all ten candidates were capable education leaders, a subset of those candidates set themselves apart. Consequently, the BRC voted by a 14 to 2 margin to place the ten candidates in three tiers with the candidates listed in alphabetical order within each tier. Here are the results:


  • Karla Brooks Baehr
  • Carol Kelly
  • Basan Nembirkow
  • William Samaras


  • Helen Flanagan
  • Stephen Foster
  • Rosemary Leblanc-Considine


  • Roger Damerow
  • Arthur Hanson
  • Michael Zapantis

As I wrote last week, the school committee selected Basan Nembirkow by a 4 to 3 margin. Nembirkow, however, declined to accept the job after a contentious contract negotiation session. The committee then voted 7 to 0 for Karla Brooks Baehr who accepted the job and went on to serve eight very successful years in Lowell.

This all happened 20 years ago so some might question the relevance of the experience in 2000 to that which will occur today. But as Harry Truman once said, “the only thing new in the world is the history you have not yet read.”

Kirk Street Road Closure

The long-awaited roof repairs to the leaky roof of the Lowell High 1922 building will begin this week. To accommodate the construction, a portion of Kirk Street will be closed to traffic until the resumption of school in late August. Kirk, which runs from Merrimack to French Street and is intersected by Lee and Paige streets along the way, will be closed from Paige to French Street. Vehicles traveling down Kirk will be able to turn right on Lee or Paige. Lee is already one way from Kirk to John and will remain that way. Paige, which is currently two way, will be limited to one way traffic from Kirk to John Street.

Last year’s Points of Light Lantern Celebration at Ecumenical Plaza

DIY Lowell Community Chill Night

Do It Yourself (DIY) Lowell, the exciting, grass roots organization that has helped bring us the Points of Light Lantern Celebration, the Midsummer Night’s Dream Festival, and other communal activities, will hold its third annual “Community Chill Night” on Friday, March 1, 2019, from 6:30 to 9 pm at St. Anne’s Church Edson Hall at 8 Kirk Street. The highlight of the evening will be the Chili Contest with the winner decided by the vote of attendees. Here’s a list of the contestants:

  1. Maria Dickinson’s Chicken and chorizo chili
  2. Suzz Cromwell’s Veggie Happiness
  3. Lowell Alliance‘s Vegan Chili (GF)
  4. Purple Carrot‘s Black bean and quinoa vegan chili
  5. Tavern in the Square‘s Firehouse Chili
  6. Warp and Weft‘s Caveman Chili
  7. Cafe UTEC‘s The Madd Love Chili
  8. Britt Boughner’s Christian Hill Chili Pods
  9. Joy Robinson’s Joy’s Spicy Chili
  10. Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Associations‘s Bourbon County Stout Chili
  11. D’Youville Life & Wellness‘s D’Youville Veggie Chili

In addition, there will be a Do-It-Yourself Sundae Bar along with entertainment and activities. There is no set price for admission to the event; just donate whatever amount you think appropriate.

Irish Cultural Week

The schedule for Lowell Irish Cultural Week 2019 is out. Here are some of the events:

Sunday, March 10 – OPENING MASS – 10:00 AM  – St. Patrick Church, 282 Suffolk Street Lowell, MA

Sunday, March 10 – IRISH CULTURAL WEEK PARADE – 11:00 AM – Parade from St. Patrick Church to City Hall for the Raising of the Irish Flag, and wreath laying.

Sunday, March 10 – BRUNCH – following flag raising – St. Patrick Church Hall 282 Suffolk Street, Lowell

Saturday, March 16 – ACRE NEIGHBORHOOD WALKING TOUR – 10:00 AM – National Historical Park Visitors Center, 246 Market Street, Lowell.

Thursday, Sept 26, 2019 – ACRE FORUM – 6:30 PM – Mount Pleasant Golf Club, 99 Staples Street, Lowell For a full schedule of Irish Cultural Week activities, visit the Lowell Irish webpage.