By: DJ Deeb – March, 2016
February has been a difficult month for Methuen Public Schools as it has been for residents and homeowners throughout the Commonwealth due to the multiple storms that our region has experienced. In addition to dealing with the snow and ice, a great deal of discussion ensued regarding the present History Curriculum at Methuen High School. I am pleased to report that the History requirements for graduation will remain as is. On another note, members of the City Council need to work constructively with the Methuen Athletic Improvement Committee to address the much-needed renovations to Nicholson Stadium within the existing tax structure and without placing an undue burden on taxpayers.
A few months ago, Methuen High School Social Studies Department Head Roger Lenfast and Guidance Director John Crocker proposed changing the department offerings to allow students to choose offerings in Social Studies that focused in on particular periods of U.S. History such as the Vietnam Conflict and the Great Depression in place of survey courses that are currently required, which cover broader periods of study in U.S. History encompassing Colonial America up to the 21st century. Although these changes were well intentioned, several School Committee members, including myself, expressed concern about these proposals. It is important that our students have a thorough understanding of all of the important events in American History that have made our country great.
Required survey courses should not be substituted with a choice of studies. Instead, students who are interested in studying in-depth certain events and periods in American History, should be permitted to take elective courses in these areas in addition to the required survey courses. Currently, Methuen High School students are required to take two full-year courses in United States History (United States History I and II), and a half-year course in American Government. Students are also required to take a half-year course in World History. The Social Studies Department will explore the feasibility of offering additional electives next year. We are fortunate that the Department presently offers elective courses in the History of Methuen, Legal Studies, Psychology, Contemporary Issues, and Advanced Placement American & European History.
On another note, many parents in the community have expressed legitimate concerns regarding the number of days that school has been cancelled due to inclement weather. Students are currently scheduled to remain in school until Friday, June 26th. Superintendent Judy Scannell is exploring options for makeup days with parents, students, and staff. There are four options being considered as of this writing: 1) Saturday makeups; 2) Opening school on Good Friday; 3) Reducing the April school vacation week; and 4) Keeping the end of school date at June 26th. The first three options also involve collective bargaining obligations with employee unions. The Superintendent will make her recommendation to the School Committee at the March business meeting. The committee will then have to take a vote on how to proceed with the school calendar.
Kudos to Methuen parents, students, teachers, coaches, and community members who turned out in support of renovating Nicholson Stadium on Monday, February 24th. It should be noted that another meeting has been scheduled as of this writing (February 25th). These residents should be commended for taking part in the political process and advocating in favor of a much-needed project. Steve Saba, President of the Methuen Athletic Improvement Committee, and several other residents have correctly pointed out that the conditions at the Stadium are dismal.
They argued in favor of a $4.6 million project that includes building a new clubhouse with a locker room and bathrooms for girls and converting the existing clubhouse into bathrooms to accommodate more student athletes and people. In addition, the Methuen Athletic Improvement Committee is advocating making the whole complex handicap accessible in order to be in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act as well as installing turf and renovating the athletic practice field. These residents are right! Most, if not all of these improvements need to be made. Doing so will increase property values in our community, provide safe and adequate facilities for our student athletes, accommodate visitors to Methuen’s athletic events, and make our city proud! At the same time, however, the expense of doing all of these things at once is costly. This has been pointed out by City Councilors Ron Marsan, Dan Grayton, George Kazanjian, and Jamie Atkinson. Although Mayor Steve Zanni has argued that the entire project can be completed by floating a bond within the existing tax structure, many residents are rightly skeptical. Taxes have been increasing every year.
Originally, Methuen residents were told that the bulk of the project would be financed by private donations without having to utilize revenue from the city. Councilor Grayton has commented, “We can do what we can afford now in phases.” Something certainly needs to be done and quick (as of this writing on February 25th)! This may just mean implementing these renovations in phases, but this requires a strategic plan based on solid financial projections. The City Council should work with members of the Methuen Athletic Improvement Committee to come up with a plan to complete all of these needed renovations within the current tax structure and without placing additional undue burdens on Methuen’s taxpayers and creating new debt that the City cannot afford.
D.J. Deeb is a Methuen resident and member of the Methuen School Committee. Deeb is an Adjunct Professor of History/Government at Bunker Hill Community College and an Adjunct Political Science Instructor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He teaches Social Studies full-time at Reading Memorial High School. He is the author of Israel, Palestine, and the Quest for Middle East Peace (University Press, 2013) and The Collapse of Middle East Peace (IUniverse, 2003).