Positive Changes Taking Place in Methuen Schools

D.J. DeebBy: DJ Deeb – September, 2014

As the 2014-2015 school year approaches, exciting changes are taking place in Methuen Public Schools. Members of the Methuen School Committee have been working hard over the summer with Superintendent Judy Scannell and Mayor Steve Zanni to ensure that our schools are prepared to service Methuen students and provide state of the art resources for the coming year.

On Thursday, August 14th, a community open house was held to dedicate the new renovated Methuen High School. Hundreds of community leaders and residents attended the dedication ceremony and toured the new state of the art Methuen High School. For the 2014-2015 school year, every high school classroom is equipped with state of the art “Smart” technology and the former failed “open concept” classroom model is a thing of the past.

The new building affords classroom space for teachers to instruct and students to learn without being distracted by other classes around them. Director of Instructional Technology, Ed Lussier, and his staff deserve a great deal of credit for making sure that each classroom is well-equipped. Teachers will also be trained in how to use the new technology in the coming months. In addition, the new cafeteria and auditorium offer students great new space and amenities for lunch and activities.

In April, the Methuen School Committee voted to approve the new High School Program of Studies, which contains a new elective course, 21st Century Skills. The course is designed to help struggling and at-risk students improve their performance on standardized tests and we hope this will help to increase Methuen’s MCAS and SAT scores. Also, at the High School, the School Committee voted to implement the Administration’s recommendations to add themed Physical Education course electives to give students more options to fulfill their Physical Education requirements. All of these options will be available this fall. In addition, the School Committee has supported the implementation of Saturday detentions to address student discipline problems at the High School.

This past spring, the School Committee was informed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that the City of Methuen is not meeting the state requirements for net school spending. This means that state reimbursements to Methuen schools could be in jeopardy. Kudos to the Methuen School Committee, Mayor Zanni, and Superintendent Scannell who worked overtime this summer to address this deficiency. The City Council wisely approved a $356,000 increase in the school budget to help meet net school spending requirements for Fiscal Year 2015 and to avoid costing the City $1.6 million in state fines for not meeting state spending requirements. The School Committee and City officials have tried to balance being fiscally responsible while at the same time providing fair and adequate funding for our schools and meeting state requirements. A sub-committee consisting of School Committee members Mary Jean Fawcett, Bryan Sweet, and myself has also been appointed by Mayor Zanni to examine chargeback practices by the City. In the coming months we will look at these practices as well as ways to streamline costs to the City, the schools, and ultimately, the taxpayers flipping the bill.

In June, I co-sponsored a motion to reject Common Core PARCC testing and to continue administering MCAS for all Methuen School students through 2015. The School Committee unanimously approved this motion, which was supported by Superintendent Judy Scannell. We believe that the MCAS test has raised the standards for all students in our schools and that additional testing at this time would impose an unnecessary burden on our students. It is my hope that the state will not adopt the new PARCC testing and withdraw from Common Core.

A lively debate has emerged nationally regarding Common Core and many parents, teachers, and residents have correctly recognized that it amounts to a lowering of standards for Massachusetts students. Currently, Massachusetts students rank #1 in the nation and #7 in the world. This has been made possible by MCAS, which despite its flaws, is a more higher-stakes test than PARCC. Republican Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker has rightfully called for Massachusetts to abandon Common Core, as has former Governor Bill Weld and former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Birmingham. I will be supporting Charlie Baker for Governor in November and I hope Methuen residents will join me.

On another note, Methuen was one of two school districts in the country to be chosen to pilot a new high-tech gunshot detector. The Guardian System was developed by Shooter Detection Systems of Rowley, Massachusetts and has been made available for installation in Methuen schools at no cost to the taxpayers. The School Committee approved the installation of this state-of-the-art technology in August which uses microphones to record and validate the sounds of a gunshot with sensors and allows emergency responders to know where a shooter is in a school building and to take appropriate action. Ensuring student safety is a top priority of the School Committee and the Superintendent, and we are proud to be the first school district in Massachusetts to acquire this new technology system. Hats off to Police Chief Joe Solomon and his staff for helping to make this possible for our city. The School Department will be seeking grant monies in the future to expand the use of this technology.

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).