Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thanks, and Back to Work

I want to thank the community for giving me the privilege of serving four more years on the Newburyport School Committee. Aside from the Mayor, I was apparently the highest vote-getter of all the candidates- City Council and School Committee. Far from being a personal endorsement by the voters, I interpret that as a strong indication that the community likes where the schools are going, they support the leadership of Dr. Kerble and the team he is assembling. Again, thank you.

There is a tremendous amount of work to do. Of course, we have the two school initiatives to move forward- the Bres and the Nock/Molin. We are fast approaching the point where we will be working on the actual designs with the architects.

I believe that these schools should be among the most community-friendly buildings in the city. To that end, I intend to suggest that we include the most up-to-date library technology, and push for hours to be set-aside for members of the community to access that technology after school hours. I will push for the installation of a fully integrated community access broadcast in one of the two new school projects, to enable the community to see more of what the students are doing- plays, presentations, debates- to allow School Committee meetings to be broadcast live, with audio finally audible. And of course, to enhance community access to innovative and informative programming. This, again, would be open to community use- effectively doubling the capacity of PortMedia to utilize a "second studio" for community access. I will encourage that each school, as part of a new PE initiative, build state of the art, safe, outfitted fitness rooms for use by the students as part of an enhanced PE/Wellness curriculum, and insist that these facilities be available to the community when not being used by students.

We need new buildings, but what is happening inside the buildings matters as well. This budget season, my own priorities, which I expect will coincide with that of PTO's, School Councils, and administration, will be to seek additional funding to restore foreign language to the middle school, restore 3-6 full-time staff at the High School so that we can increase the sections of classes available to students, as well as the number of electives to reach the 990 hours on instruction the state expects for every student. And finally, I will also press for the funding for a second Math Literacy coach to work with pre-k-8th grade.

I look forward to working with the School Committee, with Mr. deKanter, who is returning, and with Audrey McCarthy, who will be joining us in January. And with Dr. Ralph Orlando, whose commitment to placed-based education, the GOMI initiative, and science in the schools has been a driving force for change.

There's more than enough work for the next four years. Through attendance at our School Committee meetings, participation in our rolling array of Ad Hoc study groups, through breaking through those institutional barriers that still exist making community participation inside the schools and classrooms difficult at times, I urge Newburyport to join our efforts to make our good, good schools into greater schools.

Thanks. I am both privileged, and humbled by your confidence in our work.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Election Day Thoughts about Schools and the Charter

Today is Election Day. Although this has been a quiet election in more ways than one, I encourage you to fulfill the obligations of living in a democracy, and vote. I believe that you have had to work a little harder this year to learn about your candidates, to make an informed choice.

For School Committee, there are four of us running for three seats. Mr. deKanter and I are running for re-election, something that rarely happens on the SC these days. You also have a choice of voting for former City Councilor Audrey McCarthy, and Peter McClure, who is running for the first time. Outside of whatever presence in the blogosphere any of us may have had, the general media have pretty much ignored this race; if the Current published anything about who we are or what we stand for, I never saw it. The Daily News ran one piece on each of us. There was no coverage from Port Media, no coverage by WNBP, and the only Candidates Night that allowed the community to see the four of us in one place, and ask any questions was sponsored by me- also unusual. I thank the Kelleher Park Tenants group for inviting us to be part of their Meet the Candidates night.

If it sounds like I am suggesting that the media has not met their threshold obligation in a democracy to inform the community, I am. It is disappointing. Nonetheless, we have an obligation to vote, and I encourage you to do so. I ask for your vote today.

I also wanted to briefly clarify another issue on the ballot, the Charter. I dissented from the document, for what I feel was an inappropriate and uncalled for change in current practices, the decision to prevent elected municipal employees from serving in an office they have been elected to. I won't go into it any further. The more important point I would like to make is this:

There is so much in the proposed Charter that will enhance the ability of Newburyport to do it's business efficiently and transparently, I intend to vote for the Charter today.

There is so much in it that will enable us to better educate our children- from a more rigorous approach to financial planning to the creating of an over-arching human resources function in city government, that I am voting for the Charter, and urge you to do so as well.

Politics is the art of the possible, said Tip O'Neil. I believe that Despite the shortsightedness of the Commission on an issue I felt strongly about, I believe there is much good that will be accomplished under the new Charter. To that end, despite my misgivings on this single issue, I urge you to vote to support this Charter. In the long run, it can be amended to accommodate my concern, or the concerns of others. But the right step is to put it into place, now.

See you all on the other side of the election. Win or lose, it has been a privilege to serve.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What If They Had An Election...

Last Tuesday, October 18th, the one and only Candidates Night for School Committee hopefuls was held at the Newburyport Public Library. 12 people attended, 17 if you counted the moderator, Rob Kaplan, and the four School Committee candidates. Rob did a terrific job ensuring that every question that was intended was asked, and managed to prevent each of us from sucking the oxygen out of the room with windy answers.

You could blame the small turnout on a lot of things. Poor advertising, though every school family was informed, and the Current and the Daily News ran the notices several times. Uninspiring candidates. A lack of burning issues. Voter apathy. Voter happiness with the status quo.

Still, there a few aspects of this Candidates Night that made it unusual. The first was that after talking with a number of groups that usually sponsor these kinds of events, it was clear that while there was some interest in sponsoring a Candidates Night for the City Council at Large race, no one was interested in doing the same for the School Committee. So, I organized it myself. It was a little unusual- a candidate pulling together all of the others running for the seats, giving the opportunity for my fellow candidates to meet the community and respond to questions. No one felt a compelling vested interest in gathering us together and asking us questions. In a democracy, that is troubling.

It leaves me a little puzzled. In the next four years, the School Committee will be bringing two debt questions before the community for renovating the Nock/Molin and building a new Bresnahan. the total of those projects, before reimbursement from the state could exceed fifty million dollars. I would have thought there might be some questions about that. The High School has undergone a schedule change this year, and there are four or maybe five new department heads. A lot of energy is being focused on the Science Department. But there were no questions on that. Our MCAS scores were a mixed bag- real progress in ELA at the Elementary School level, as predicted by Dr. Kerble following our early literacy initiative, and some uneven news about elementary math, and math below the High School. No questions.

I still get comments from people meeting me in the community about my thoughts on PE at the High School, but I had no questions on that issue.

Maybe people haven't started paying attention yet. Maybe people are pre-occupied with the economy. Maybe this election is the calm before the storm.

Regardless, on Tuesday, November 8th, the City of Newburyport will have an election, filling an open School Committee seat, and an open City Council At-Large seat. I'd encourage people to formulate questions, and get them answered. By all of us.

The next four years promise dramatic changes in our schools- curriculum, instructional practices, evaluation, assessment- buildings and grounds. Think about it, and talk with us.


Monday, October 3, 2011

School Committee Candidates Night

Since it doesn't appear that any group in the City will be sponsoring a debate, or even a candidates night for the four of us running for the three School Committee seats, I've decided to do one my self.

Please join me at the Newburyport Public Library on Tuesday, October 18th, from 6:30-8:30pm in the Program Room. I will be inviting the four candidates- Nick deKanter and myself, running for re-election; and Audrey McCarthy and Peter McClure, candidates for election. Although I am still working out the format, it will be an opportunity for the community to meet all of us, and ask us questions about our views.

I suppose it goes against conventional wisdom for the incumbent to create an opportunity for opponents to share the stage. I'm no fan of conventional wisdom; and I am deeply concerned that the voters get the chance to meet and question the candidates. I prefer an informed electorate, engaged, and challenging candidates.

Please join me- us, on the 18th.

A Generation of "Solutionaries"

I continue to be approached by people, every day, about the story in the Daily News about my testimony on waivers and mandatory PE. I am surprised by this; the story was a week ago. More than that, they have been expressing unconditional support for the ideas I have proposed.

One person, Elizabeth Marcus of Transition Newburyport, sent me the embedded link to a talk by Zoe Weill. I found the video eloquent. Actually, it is a lot more than that. It is the first time I have seen someone create a link between those 21st Century Skills that we all talk about for our children and educational system, and civics, ethics and morality. Putting those 21st century skills to a purpose that goes beyond competing in the global market- Weill challenges us to teach our children how to live intentionally in the world they will inhabit.

She suggests some very interesting ideas about how we can organize our curriculum, our systems for educating kids. Food for thought. Thank you Elizabeth. I would encourage Transition Newburyport to hold a workshop on education, soon. Soon.