Lowell Public Schools Doors Open 2016-2017 - First Wednesday of every month at 10am
Butler Middle School - Lowell, MA
I'm a Lowell mama with a son in 3rd grade in the Lowell Public School district. When LPS announced that there would be tours of several schools once a month, I found that I was curious enough about the schools in my community that I decided to take some time out of my work day to attend. At last! That's supposed to be one of the perks of being self-employed!
So far, there have been about a dozen of us on each of the tours, but I've been the only parent with a kid currently at school in the district. So I'll share some of my experiences, since other parents might find it useful to see what I saw. Feel free to use these posts as a starting point for discussions about our schools.
On Wednesday, November 2, 2016, about a dozen of us visited the next 3 schools on the list. The first school was the Butler Middle School, which is located at 1140 Gorham Street in the Back Central neighborhood of Lowell. Principal Theresa Soares-Pena gave us a tour and talked about her students, the school building, and successes and challenges at her school.
Butler Middle School - Student info
540 students from 5-8th grade attend school at the Butler. It's a Title 2 school (welp, I don't know what this means yet, but I'll find out), and is called a 5 strand school, which means there are 5 homeroom classrooms of each grade level. There are about 27 students per room, but learning during the day takes place with fewer than 27 students in each classroom, as students are pulled for programs.
There are 154 students in Newcomer classes. These classes are for English language learners. There are 4 levels of learning, based on state requirements for instruction:
Level 0 - 5 kids - these kids are learning their letters and how to count - they're not yet literate, but are in 5th through 8th grade.
Level 1 - 30 kids - they're segregated from the rest of the classrooms, and are focused on language and literacy.
Level 2 - these kids are integrated into classrooms during parts of the day
Level 3 - these kids are fully integrated, and pulled for English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction.
The 4 ESL teachers at the Butler are white, and have English as their first language. The paraprofessionals and tutors, however, are more diverse, and many of them speak some of the newcomers' languages. Swahili is the biggest language need this year, and not many paras or tutors speak it.
Here's some information that hurts my heart: Every child in the MCAS grade levels takes the standardized tests, except for Newcomer/English Language Learner (ELL) students who have been in the US for less than 1 year. However, once a Newcomer has been in the US for 12 months, that student is tested at the grade level they should be in for their age. Those scores are used to rate the school, and the District as a whole, and affect numerous factors about school funding and administration. Principal Soares-Pena has been advocating for a separate category for English Language Learners.
Butler - Building info
Principal Theresa Soares-Pena is in her second year as principal of the Butler. The school feels welcoming, with its high ceilings and natural light from skylights and big windows. There are displays throughout the hallways of student work, accomplishments and cultural history. There's a big flat-screen TV near the library, where photos from events and work that students have done are shown.
The Butler was built in 1992. We toured the Music Room, Gym, Auditorium, and walked around the rest of the school. Each room we entered had to be unlocked - keeping the rooms locked from the hallways is part of the school security plan. The auditorium was recently upgraded due to a $100,000 grant, and now the lights and sound are new, and can be controlled with an iPad. Half the school can fit in the auditorium during assemblies. We also walked by computer labs and science labs, and toured the library. For 2 hours a day, classes are held in the library, since the school is short on classrooms.
It sounds like the Butler is struggling for resources. Challenges for this school include getting maintenance for the building, not having enough classrooms for the number of students, and struggling to provide enough activities for students after school.
Since students at the Butler come from working-class families, and many of them are immigrants just starting over, many parents and guardians work hours that don't allow them to be at home when school lets out for the day. Principal Soares-Pena is applying to become a Century 21 School, which would provide funds to extend the school day. The funds would be partially used to pay the teachers who are currently volunteering to stay late, and would pay the school secretary to stay until 4:30 so she could continue to answer the phones. The Butler would also prefer to pay to provide transportation for the band students who have to use city buses to travel to the high school for Monday Night Band.
Teachers volunteer to staff a homework center at the school every Monday through Thursday from 3-4 in the library. Kids can come and get homework help and use the computers - which is especially handy if there's no computer access at home. Student volunteers from the high school also come to help.
After-school activities currently staffed by teacher volunteers include art club (which has a waiting list), school chorus (students performed for Veterans on November 10th), and there will soon be a wrestling team, which will use a wrestling mat donated to the school. An after-school program called Green Team had a recent success. The Green Team focuses on revitalizing the environment, recycling and other projects, and they had a STEM partnership with GE called Igniting Minds. Students, parents, and teachers worked with GE employees and the home-improvement chain Lowe's to redo the outdoor sprinkler system and establish landscaping at the school. With the sprinkler system in place, this means that neighborhood families don't have to spend so much time watering the raised-bed gardens all summer long.
Maintenance challenges include getting repairs to the roof financed and completed. Recently there was no heat in one of the classrooms, so the teacher had to migrate around the building all day to teach her students. There are broken windows at the school that haven't been fixed yet. And there's a building directly in front of the school with boarded-up windows that makes the whole place feel sad. It's expected that the building will be razed soon.
1 - The Butler seems to be struggling more than other schools we've visited, and it seems to be due to a crisis in resources that's been there for years. How can we help with ideas or resources?
2 - If we're supporting public school students throughout Lowell with free breakfast and lunch to make sure no one goes hungry, I'd like to hear our parent groups talk about how we can commit to taking care of kids after school until hard-working parents and guardians can be with their kids again. Not all parents can wait until they're financially well-off to have kids.
The next tour will be on Wed. December 7 at 10am. What, you have to work? Don't worry, I'll take some pictures. Thanks for reading!
Many thanks to Mary Tauras of the Lowell Alliance for Families & Neighborhoods, who helped gather information and edit together my rambling thoughts.
The Doors Open tours of Lowell Public Schools will take place every First Wednesday of the month from 10am-12pm. Arrive early at 155 Merrimack Street, 4th floor, to get checked in. Bring your photo ID. Please call or email to RSVP so they can reserve the right amount of transportation - firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-674-2162.
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