By D.J. Deeb, M.A., M.S., M.Ed.
As most Valley Patriot readers already know, the Methuen Municipal Elections are scheduled for Tuesday, November 7th. I am running for re-election to the Methuen School Committee because I want to continue to give back to the community that I have made my home. Although there are only 6 of us running for 6 seats this year it is still an important election and Methuen residents should vote and make themselves heard.
Although I am personally ecstatic about not having to run a full-scale campaign this year I am also concerned about the shortage of candidates and the impact that has on our representative system of local government.
The Methuen Public Schools are a good school system. The teachers and administrators in Methuen are dedicated professionals who care deeply about the well-being of their students. At the same time, however, there are some concerns that I have as a career educator about current trends.
In 2013, as a first-time candidate for Methuen School Committee, I pointed out that Methuen lagged behind state average and surrounding towns statistically with the number of students who graduate from high school in four years. Methuen had a 79% graduation rate. We have increased that significantly to nearly 90% (above state average of 85%). We have also successfully reduced the dropout rate from 7.5% to 1.3% (now below state average of 2%). We need to continue to focus more on student retention and increase our graduation rate. The low-income population in Methuen is below state average (42.3% in Methuen compared to 38% statewide average), but still the most likely to drop out. We have worked to do a better job identifying and addressing their needs and retaining these students.
Four years ago, I wrote that Methuen spends far below state average on instructional materials and technology as well as on Professional Development for teachers. It should be noted that Methuen spends nearly 15% below state average per pupil. The state average is $14,942 per student. Methuen spends approximately $12,808 per student. This has contributed to Methuen Public Schools receiving a lower rating from the State. At that time I proposed that we needed to increase professional development offerings and available technology for teachers to improve their content knowledge and meet student needs. We have done just that. Computers and Smartboards when used effectively in the classroom can cater to all student learning styles resulting in increased student performance and are now being utilized at the new state-of-the-art Methuen High School and the elementary schools. We are trying to maximize resources and offerings within a budget that taxpayers can afford. All of our elementary schools have moved up from a Level 3 to a Level 2 status with the State.
Class Sizes are still above state average in Methuen. In 2013, Methuen had a 15:1 student/teacher ratio compared to the state average of 13.2:1. This too contributes to a low rating by the State for Methuen Schools. We are making progress. These past few years the student/teacher ratio in Methuen has been reduced to an average of 14 to 1. We need to continue our work in making it a priority to reduce class sizes and the student/teacher ratio in order to improve student learning and increase our standing from a Level 3 District to a Level 2 and Level 1 District with the State.
Fiscal responsibility has always been the cornerstone of my campaign. This past year, I helped lead the charge to support a school operating budget of 2% lower than last year. The School Department was the only Department in the City to cut expenses. We did this without lay-offs and without compromising the integrity of our programs.
I would also like to recognize Superintendent Judy Scannell for doing an outstanding job for our students and refusing a pay raise or even cost-of-living increase these last 5 years. She certainly deserves to make a lot more than we are paying her. She works tirelessly and unselfishly on behalf of Methuen’s children. She can be seen at just about every school event and always makes herself accessible to members of the community. Superintendent Scannell and her team do a commendable job and lead by example. The City of Methuen is truly lucky and fortunate to have her at the helm.
Hundreds of students have been sent back to Lawrence since 2011 because they were not Methuen residents. The current School Committee and Superintendent deserve credit for being proactive here these last 6 years. We need to continue to ensure that all students attending reside in Methuen.
We need to continue to improve Methuen’s MCAS and SAT scores, expand community outreach programs, and deal more effectively with student discipline problems. To address these issues, we need to: (1) Attract and retain quality teachers and administrators; (2) Reduce class sizes; (3) Expand remediation programs for at-risk students; (4) Increase Professional Development opportunities for teachers and support staff; and (5) Provide more instructional materials and technology. All of these initiatives need to be done at a cost that the taxpayers can afford.
My track record proves that I will not only ask the tough questions, but will also do my homework on important educational issues and trends. I want to make sure that the children of Methuen get a quality education at a price that taxpayers can afford. I will work to continue to balance the needs of students, taxpayers, and parents at Methuen Public Schools.
Please make sure you vote on Tuesday, November 7th and spread the word to family/friends I ask for your vote for D.J. DEEB for Methuen School Committee on Tuesday, November 7th. Thank you.
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 Communicitations to the followingty College and an Adjunct Political Science Instructor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Deeb also serves as Social Studies Department Chair at Notre Dame High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts. 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).