November and December are traditionally busy months for school districts. This year too is no exception and there are several things to report on this month in the paragraphs that follow: The City Elections, John & Abigail Adams Scholarship, MHS Band Disney Trip, and the PSATs in Methuen.
First off, I am honored to have been permitted to continue serving Methuen residents as a member of the Methuen School Committee. After losing the November 3rd Election by just three votes (Every Vote Counts!), Committee member Bryan Sweet unexpectedly announced a week later that he will be resigning for personal and professional reasons that have required him to relocate out-of-state. This took me and everyone else on the Committee by surprise. It was Bryan who edged me by just 3 votes, but we have become friends on the Committee working together closely these last 2 years. It is for these reasons, as well as the $5,000-6,000 cost to taxpayers that I did not seek a recount after the November 3rd Election. It turns out that I will thus be returning to the Committee per the City Charter since I was the next highest vote getter. I wish Bryan Sweet well in his new endeavors and I look forward to continuing the good work that we began two years ago: Reducing the student drop-out rate, increasing graduation rates, lowering class sizes, and saving taxpayers over $100,000 annually by reducing out-of-district Special Education placements. Best of luck, Bryan Sweet, in your new endeavors and thank you for your service to our community.
I am pleased to announce that there are 128 recipients in the Class of 2016 of the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship. These students have the option of attending a state college or university tuition free because of their high MCAS scores. Congratulations to all of these MHS students! We are proud of you!
Later this month, the MHS Band will be travelling to Walt Disney World to train with Disney conductors and march in the Christmas Parade. According to Methuen Ranger band Parents Association President Lynn Hajjar, “Unfortunately even with fundraising, some families cannot provide the $1,100 necessary for travel expenses.” If you are willing to sponsor a student in any amount you can mail your donation to Methuen Ranger Band Parents Association; P.O. Box 21, Methuen, MA 01844. Donors will be recognized on the website, Facebook, and in the spring concert program.
In September, public schools throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts were informed that the PSAT Exam would be administered during the school day on Wednesday, October 14th. The PSAT Exam is given by The College Board; a private educational testing company. In the past, this test has been administered on a Saturday outside of regular school hours, school districts have been reimbursed costs, and teacher volunteers have been paid a stipend by The College Board to proctor Saturday PSAT Exams. In 2015, it was decided by The College Board that the PSAT Exam would only be administered during the regular school day on Wednesday, October 14th. It is my belief that this takes away from student time on learning and sets a dangerous precedent regarding private companies using school facilities and public employees during school/work hours. PSAT is a practice test that not all students take and is not a requirement for college. Students pay to take this test voluntarily and on their own. As public employees and elected public officials, we are regularly required to take the Conflict of Interest test given by the Massachusetts Ethics Commission. I am concerned that school resources and public school employees should not be used to administer an exam issued by a private company during school time. Bryan Sweet and I sent a letter to the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission in September inquiring: Does this violate the Conflict of Interest Section 23 (b) or any other Conflict of Interest statute in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? I received a response in early October from Katherine Gallant, Deputy Chief of Investigations.
Ms. Gallant wrote, “We have conducted a careful review of the information you furnished to the State Ethics Commission by letter received here on September 23, 2005. Based on that review, and on any necessary follow-up investigation, we have determined that this matter does not warrant further action. This decision is based upon our conclusion that the use of school facilities and other district resources for the administration of the PSAT falls well within the school district’s direction under M.G.L. c. 71 and, therefore does not raise concerns under M.G.L. c. 268A, Section 23”.
Well, there it is. We have done our due diligence, but I still have a problem with this. As stated before, PSAT is a practice test that not all students take and is not a requirement for college. Students pay to take this test voluntarily and on their own. Many colleges have abandoned the SAT requirement and none require PSATs. Just last month, both UMass Lowell and Salem State University joined the national trend and completely dropped the SAT requirement for admission consideration. I recently learned that the Methuen School District pays for some of its students to take the PSAT, which is administered by College Board, which is in turn run by CEO David Coleman, the key architect of Common Core. Why should Methuen taxpayers divert funds to an organization promoting Common
Core? I intend to make this an issue at future budget hearings.
My January column will include additional information about PSATs and outline some important items that I would like to see addressed in 2016. Have a Merry Christmas and safe and happy New Year!
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).