Why Lawrence High School Really Lost Accreditation


Originally published on tommyduggan.com (02-08-00)


  Before there was a Valley Patriot (established in 2004) there was tommyduggan.com, a blog before there were blogs, a news webpage before there were news webpages. Long before there was an Eagle Tribune web page or a boston.com there was a tommyduggan.com. Valley Patriot Publisher Tom Duggan has allowed The Valley Patriot Web archive to list some of his previous columns going as far back as 1999. 


In 1984 the NEASC accreditation group presented a list of over 200 deficiencies at Lawrence High School to superintendent of schools Eugene Thayer, and his assistant superintendent Suzanne Piscitello. Piscitello, wife of the late attorney Iggy Piscitello, is now vice chairman of the Lawrence School Committee. Among the 200 plus deficiencies found under Thayer and Piscitello were warnings about the physical condition of Lawrence High School and the lack of leadership in the administration. Improper heating and ventilation, inadequate science labs, and a leaking roof were among the dozens of physical issues on the warning list. Issues still plaguing the school system today. In 1997 the high school officially lost it’s accreditation under Superintendent Jim Scully, Here’s why;

In the Early 1980’s Suzanne Piscitello used her political influence to force superintendent Maurice Smith to resign. Smith wanted to build a new high school where the South Lawrence East School presently stands. He said at the time that the existing Lawrence High School could not handle the future educational and facility needs of the 80’s and the 90’s. Piscitello was adamantly opposed to a new high school, and had promised her supporters she would block it at every turn. Suzanne put a political hit on Maurice Smith much the same way she hit Jim Scully and now Mae Gaskins. Rumors of improper behavior were created to destroy Smith’s credibility and damaged his political influence within the community. The night Maurice Smith surprisingly resigned he said “if the choices about educational needs in Lawrence are going to be driven by dirty politics, like the recent vote to renovate Lawrence High School, then there is no longer any reason for me to continue working here.”

Suzanne Piscitello was a strong political supporter of School Committeeman Eddie Callihan before education reform took hiring and firing authority away from school committees. Callihan, like Piscitello, strongly opposed a new high school at any cost. Under Callihan, Piscitello had gone from a teacher at the A.B. Bruce School to the head of Title One (special education) with no administrative experience, no certification, and no state training for the position. She then assumed responsibility for Bilingual Education and all non-local programs, still having no official qualifications for those positions. Under her command the Attorney Generals office cited Lawrence for putting too many children in bilingual classes saying that Lawrence had far exceeding the state average. Within a few short years Piscitello was promoted to the position of assistant superintendent of Schools. Once she secured that position, Eugene Thayer was brought on board and the move to kill a new Lawrence High School had been completed.

Unfortunately for Thayer and Piscitello the NEASC team came to Lawrence in 1984 and warned that there were over 200 problems at the high school. Problems serious enoughto cost us the loss of accreditation. Of the major educational concerns it was noted that the administration was forcing students into bilingual classes with no plan for their exiting the program into regular classes, regardless of how well they spoke English. The state’s reimbursement formula was to pay the school system nearly twice as much money for a child in bilingual classrooms than they paid for a child sitting in a regular class. In other words, they were selling your children’s future to make more money, hire more friends, and build their political empire.

Piscitello and Thayer’s real problem was that they had already promised they would block all attempts to build a new high school. Piscitello then hired Charles Construction to oversee a multi million dollar renovation of the existing High School, making only cosmetic changes to the building. The NEASC warning report was buried for over three years under Thayer and Piscitello. Not one of the accreditation items were solved by the administration from 1984 to 1987. One of the glaring deficiencies in the report was the fact that students had inadequate science labs. An issue still in existence today. During the renovation project the science labs were never adequately modernized. When Jim Scully took over he made every effort to address the labs as well as other facility issues, pumping millions into the high school.

But Scully was stonewalled by teachers union president Gary Marcoux, who also happened to be the Science Department head at Lawrence High, and a long time friend and supporter of Suzanne Piscitello. The vice president of the union was Bart Galvin, who boasts himself a close relative of Piscitello. (Galvin was promoted to the head of technology after Piscitello was elected to the school committee in 1997.)

Most of the facility items which were suppose to be fixed such as the labs, the heating and ventilation system, and roof repairs, were so inadequate that they are still major problems today. Millions of dollars have been wasted doing patchwork repairs in order to fix the high school building. These wasted expenses are the direct result of Piscitello and Thayer refusing to permanently address the issues in 1984 as they were directed to by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. (NEASC) When Eugene Thayer resigned in 1987, Jim Scully ascended to the position of superintendent beating out the only other finalist for that position. That other finalist was none other than Suzanne Piscitello. Strangely enough, Thayer’s resignation came one year short of the accreditation team’s next scheduled inspection of Lawrence High School.

Scully brought the list of deficiencies from over 200 to 158 in his first year. But, the accreditation team didn’t care about the change in administration and only considered the fact that Lawrence had been warned four years earlier and had made inadequate progress (from their perspective). Lawrence High was officially notified that it had been put on probation and was about to lose accreditation in late 1988.

Administrator Richard Hoffman began purging consultant contracts and questioning Piscitello’s hiring practices. He also brought to light the glaring abuses in her desegregation plans and bilingual enrollment numbers. Those blunders caused thousands of school children to be needlessly bussed all over the city while padding the budgets (and pockets) of Thayer,Piscitello, and their administrative friends. Richard Hoffman threatened to expose Piscitello

and her friends who were making large salaries with benefits, while attending college classes on city time to earn their masters degrees. When Piscitello finally resigned, she first claimed that Scully had fired her. Later she would say that she left to work with Eugene Thayer in Framingham.

Jim Scully was ultimately blamed for the loss of accreditation in 1997.

What people don’t know is that Suzanne Piscitello (a private citizen at the time) was on school property without the permission of the superintendent or the high school principal. She secretly met with teachers union president Gary Marcoux and the NEASC accreditation team. Piscitello was instrumental in convincing them not to extend our probationary period and pull the accreditation on Scully’s watch. She and Thayer were present and fully responsible for the 200 plus NEASC warnings in 1984. Piscitello was present and responsible for the actual loss of accreditation in 1997.

Education commissioner Robert Antonucci publicly promised the school committee that he would not try to take over school system if we didn’t appeal the loss of accreditation. One day after withdrawing our accreditation appeal, take over proceedings began. Scully would find himself with no allies left except members of the Lawrence School Committee. But that was about to change. Carol Bannon who had gone on tirades at meeting after meeting about how corrupt Piscitello was, and John Housianitis who had publicly discussedkickbacks and consultant contracts under Thayer and Piscitello, were now poised to stand against the state and defend Jim Scully.

The state continued to threaten a takeover if Scully wasn’t fired, and within a month John Housianitis crumbled, casting the deciding vote to fire his long time friend Jim Scully. Just months after changing his mind and firing Scully, John C. Housianintis was announced as a guest at a political fund raiser held at the Lawrence British Club on Cambridge Street. The fund raiser was to benefit the School Committee campaign of Suzanne Piscitello.

Now the state wants us to believe that Eugene Thayer was randomly tapped by the commissioner of education to oversee our schools. They want parents to think that this surprise scandal just popped up when someone discovered meal receipts for consultant Dr. Drucile Stafford. This came only a few months after the school committee voted against Piscitello’s efforts to change the school department logo of a child raising it’s hand. The logo was a sticking point for Piscitello because she saw it as a symbol of Jim Scully’s mark on the school system.

Mysteriously, in direct violation of a school committee vote, the logo was changed anyways. With the simple removal of that logo, Piscitello sent a clear message to her political cronies at the state and local level. The message was that she had wrestled control of the school system away from Mae Gaskins and Gaskins was about to be removed. Read back to the January 1st edition of Rumbo when I predicted Gaskins’ demise a full month before the so-called scandal was “discovered” by a member of the School Committee. Ironically, that member of the committee is Carol Bannon, who works at the concession stands for Suzanne Piscitello at Canobie Lake Park every summer.

You see, Mae Gaskins had no idea that she had been set up for failure from the very beginning. The plan was to hire an outsider who had no idea who the players were or the history of political alliances behind the scenes. No matter what our officials tell you, Eugene Thayer was the name given to me by Department of Education officials three years ago to assume the position of receiver if the state took control of our schools.

Now, here we are eating Jim Scully’s words. Receivership by any other name is loss of local control. If the parents do not stand up against the blatant takeover of our schools no one else will. There is a very strong likelihood that the City of Lawrence will be in receivership within three years, or well on our way. There are a lot of people you can blame for that when it finally does happen. But you can start with Suzanne Piscitello and Eugene Thayer.

Tom Duggan has been attending school committee meetings since 1981 and served on the School Committee from 1996-1998. One month after taking office Lawrence was officially notified that we had lost accreditation of the high school.