Here is a high-level update on key COVID-19 issues at LPS as of July 2020. For the full and latest information, please visit www.lynnschools.org or reach out to me directly with your questions.
While we were dealing with the impacts of a pandemic felt disproportionately by race and class, events and activism has brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of our collective attention. This is also true in the Lynn Public Schools. Here is an update on the District’s efforts to combat racism.
Progress and Priorities
Working with my colleagues on the Committee and the LPS team, we have made progress on these important issues:
In 2018, for the first time in several years, the Lynn Public Schools was fully funded by the city in the eyes of the state. In 2020, we were able to add over sixty new positions, the vast majority of which will be student facing.
3) Adding After School Activities
We all know the value of meaningful activities after school. Not only do they offer so many great learning opportunities, but after school programs in our public schools can offer an outlet to families struggling with increases to their cost of living.
I have worked on bringing wrestling to Lynn for several years. Wrestling is a great sport for a lot of reasons – it teaches discipline, builds confidence and gives student-athletes of all sizes a chance to participate. It’s a particularly great fit for Lynn because of the low cost of participation for athletes and small space needs relative to other sports.
I wrestled in high school and college and the sport was a big part of my development. I realized that Lynn was without a program and approached a Boston nonprofit that supports urban youth wrestling in the fall of 2014 with the hope that they could help bring wrestling to Lynn. We raised private funding to start the first team at Marshall Middle School. We have since grown the program to include a team at Breed Middle School and a citywide high school varsity team based at LVTI. Each summer we put on a wrestling tournament at Lynn Beach that has drawn 50-70 wrestlers. The new LPS teams continue to grow, with record numbers this year.
We are adding other opportunities too, including a girl’s lacrosse team for the first time. Our “STEAM” (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) extracurriculars are more and more connected to what’s going on around the city. I continue to push for us to expand these offerings in our School Committee meetings and around the community.
4) Building Pathways for Students to College and Jobs
Since I first ran for School Committee, one of the issues I have been most focused on is building more pathways for students to college and jobs. For more information about my ideas on this issue, please check out my Op-Eds in the Daily Item:
- Pathways for Student Success – June 2015
- Bright Spots after a Hard Week – November 2016
- Progress On Pathways Is Encouraging – March 2019
We know about the achievement gaps and opportunity gaps in our communities. There are also gaps in the workforce hiring needs of our local economy. The unfulfilled potential of our young people who end up struggling and the jobs in our economy that go unfilled all come at great cost to our city.
We can help bridge those gaps by showing students different paths to getting a job in fields that we know are hiring. All students deserve to be prepared for college. But due to trends in the job market and the cost of higher education, starting college right after high school might not be the best path for everyone. It’s up to us to show the way to more alternatives.
We have several examples of recent progress on this issue:
- Our early college program, a partnership with North Shore Community College, continues to expand. Early college can position students for success after high school by giving them a jumpstart on the credits they need for a college degree and demystifying higher education.
- A couple of years ago we started the Technical Afterschool Program, a program for students around the district to learn job skills at Lynn Tech. I had read a report by Commonwealth Magazine on the gap between seats at vocational-technical schools and the number of interested students. I asked the team at Lynn Tech if we could offer any programs to students at the other high schools who might be interested in vocational training. Lynn Tech Guidance Counselor Brian O’Connell designed and launched a program that exceeded my expectations. The program has continued to grow.
- Starting this fall we have added an innovative option for eighth graders to explore Lynn Tech. This will also be a step towards addressing the overcrowding in our middle schools.
- A team of educators at Lynn Classical is evaluating how to recognize the valuable skills and experience that students who work are gaining outside the classroom. Our students who work full-time, support a family and still go to school to lay the foundation for a better life show amazing strength and commitment. We owe it to them to be creative to meet their needs.
- Working with Lynn Tech and the LPS administration, educators at Fecteau-Leary, our alternative junior/senior high school, have proposed a series of exciting new vocational training opportunities for their middle schoolers.
- Finally, the HVAC program at Lynn Tech is scheduled to open this fall. It takes years of hard work and planning by staff and administrators to launch a new program like this. With HVAC jobs in such high demand, this new offering is well-timed.
The common thread in these examples is capitalizing on existing strengths to expand pathways to jobs. LPS will continue to insist on high academic standards. We are showing more and more that vocational training complements (rather than replaces) academic learning and expands (rather than narrows) students’ options for their future.
5) Developing Students’ Social-Emotional Skills
Another top priority is developing students’ social emotional skills. For more information about my ideas on this issue, please check out my Op-Ed in the Daily Item.
A majority of our students are economically disadvantaged. The effects of poverty reach beyond bank accounts. Poverty and discrimination have steep social and emotional costs that our kids carry. Furthermore, to thrive in today’s job market, students need to come prepared with the right soft skills, like how to interact with clients or how to ask for help and learn on the job.
Teachers have always known that social emotional learning, educating the whole child, is important. But educators have had to work to elevate things like decision-making and interpersonal skills in the context of all the focus that has been put on test scores.
For this coming school year, we have given teachers more tools to develop student’s social emotional learning by adopting a new comprehensive, evidence-based K-5 social emotional curriculum.
The next step will be to oversee the rollout and professional development for the new curriculum and get feedback from the LPS community. From there, we will move on to a curriculum for grades 6-12.
Rising student enrollment and the resulting overcrowding continues to be the most urgently pressing issue facing our schools. It is a strain on our teachers, who are asked to achieve more learning even as class sizes rise. It is also a logistical challenge, given the difficulty of finding physical space and resources in the city’s budget to build new schools. The physical state of the schools in a community is a reflection of the priority that it puts on education. We need to show our kids that we care more about their education than the physical state of our schools would suggest. We continue to push for progress on building new schools and identifying new ideas. For example, for the school year 2019-2020 LPS added an 8th grade to Lynn Tech to offer some relief to our middle schools.
To make the progress we need on this, the state also needs to reform its school funding formula. The formula is out of date and is failing cities like Lynn. For more information on how this should be done, please check out my Op-Ed in Commonwealth Magazine on this issue and in support of legislation filed by Lynn’ state delegation.
This is an issue that has been elevated as a top priority of the School Committee and District leadership. We have discussed it at our meetings. Dr. Tutwiler has named it as one of his top District goals (as approved by the School Committee). Our next step is to review and hopefully approve a strategic plan to improve teacher diversity that the LPS administration is working on. One of the longer-term goals that we will keep track of is preparing those interested from our diverse student population to enter the education profession. Developing a strong pathway to the education profession for Lynn students would be great for those students. Having diverse students who become education professionals who want to stay in Lynn would be great for a lot of reasons, including helping to diversify the school department staff.
13) Financial Literacy
In the 2018-2019 school year, LPS offered a new Financial Algebra course for 12th graders who need a 12th grade math course. Topics included budgeting, banking, credit, car ownership, taxes, and the stock market. One hundred fifty students took the course and one hundred forty-seven passed, a 98% pass rate. The general feedback on the experience of teaching and learning in the course was very positive. LPS is exploring offering this course as an elective for any interested student.
14) Addressing the Opiates Crisis
Adding pain management training for coaches, adding more prevention to the wellness curriculum and offering targeted wellness and prevention programs. For more information about my ideas on this issue, please check out my Op-Ed in the Daily Item
15) Tapping into Crowdfunding
We adopted a new policy to allow teachers to use crowdfunding.
16) Adding Student Representation
A few years ago, I pushed for us to add a student representative to our meetings and have been thrilled to experience these wonderful students doing a great job with us. I have also loved getting student input and feedback, both informally when I meet them and formally from our student representative on the Committee.
17) School Uniform Pilot
Spurred by parent feedback, we tried a school uniform pilot in three elementary schools.
18) Parent Access and Engagement
Parents and guardians are our children’s first educators, and throughout their education will be the people most attuned to their needs. It’s important that we have two-way communication so that we can help support parents in their role as educators and get their feedback on what’s working and what’s not working for their children.
I have listened to many parents, students, teachers, administrators and community members about problems they had and worked to help find solutions and connect them with resources.
One of the specific projects I have worked on is helping organize a college fair for Spanish-speaking parents with the MARIAs Center. The MARIAs volunteers invited colleges to bring and share materials in Spanish about the college application process and financial aid.
I think we need to continue to make those kinds of efforts to encourage parent involvement, to give parents the tools and confidence they need to help them get involved and above all to make them feel welcome and included in their children’s education.
This is an area where we are making progress. For example, we get a lot of interest in the district’s pursuit of grants. Outside grants are an important way to bring much needed resources into the district. To support our effort and offer more opportunities to collaborate on grants, we are launching a new tool. A page on the LPS website will track all the grants that we apply for and receive.
Another example, LPS now shares job postings on its Facebook page for all to see.
20) Free Feminine Hygiene Products
As a matter of equity and dignity, the Lynn schools decided to stock free feminine hygiene products in LPS bathrooms. This was a proposal that I brought to the Committee based on examples from other cities and states. Students should never need to miss class because they didn’t have access to feminine hygiene products.
21) Policy Overhaul
After discovering discrepancies in the official policies of the Lynn Public Schools, I’ve led an effort to update and revamp the policies with my colleagues and outside experts. In some cases, outdated policies from a document adopted in 1978 were still in place.
From the Item article: “What piqued his interest in reviewing and updating existing School Committee policies was a question he had for [LPS Attorney] Mihos about one of the rules. He was then sent the outdated document. If there were holes like the one that existed in response to his question, Nicholson said he felt there may be others and it would make sense to review the entire rulebook.
“‘It would be more transparent for us to have a coherent set of policies that can be read together, rather than having the official rules be cobbled together from what has superseded these old policies,’ Nicholson said. ‘It’s much more transparent to have it in one place so someone who has a question of what the rules are knows where to look.’”
22) And More!
It has been an honor to serve with my School Committee colleagues and work with the Lynn Public Schools team and our partners to improve public education in the City of Lynn.
Lynn, and specifically the Lynn Public Schools, have both exciting momentum and ongoing challenges. I plan to continue to work on meeting those challenges to help our kids reach their potential so that we as a community can reach ours!