Friday, October 28, 2011

LSC 2011 Survey Results

The LSC 2011 Survey asked six questions regarding this year's options for school committee, how beneficial the debates were and how respondents feel about the future of the Lynn Public School system given this year's candidates. Though the sample was small, the responses were both interesting and enlightening. 

How would rate the options for school committee this year?

Very PoorPoorMediocreGood Excellent

Overall, the majority of respondents felts as though the options for school committee were either "good" or "excellent" with one Lynner stating that "All seem competent and qualified." There were, however, some who felt as though the the quality of the candidates as whole was lacking stating that "...only two of the current committee members should be re-elected." An interesting remark given that 6 out the 8 candidates are incumbents.

Debate Attendance

The most attended debate by the respondents was the first debate held by the East Lynn Community Association (ELCA) at the Congregation Ahabat Sholom. Less than 20% of those who responded attended all three debates; most respondents attended one or two debates with the most popular combination being the ELCA and Highlands Coalition debates.

Did the school committee debates ask enough tough or specific questions?

YesNo Not SureDid Not Watch/Attend

Those who did attend one or more of the debates felt that not enough tough or specific questions were asked of the candidates in these public forums. Some debates were rated less informative than others as one respondent thought that "Breed was by the worst by far...learned nothing new there." Another respondent agreed with this assessment saying that "Many tougher questions should have been asked by the Teacher's Union."  Others commented on the answers given by the candidates as opposed to the questions themselves ("Too much blathering by candidates without giving specifics"). There was also the sense that many important topics were not brought up in any of the three debates. Topics that voters wished were discussed include the racial balance policy and the high ratio of administrators to teachers.

Overall, do you feel as though you had access to enough information about the candidates (through websites, debates, etc.) to make an informed decision for School Committee?

YesNoNot Sure

Overall, voters felt that they did have access to enough information to make an informed decision for school committee. Those that responded "No" cited a lack of websites and online information by some of the candidates as the reason. One person said that he/she was not sure if there was enough information available based on his or her experience with prior school committee elections.

Voters have up to six (6) votes for school committee. How many votes do you plan to use?


The answers to this question were by far the most interesting as 72.2% of respondents said that they would only be using 4 or less votes in the school committee race. While four votes was the number one response, nearly as many people said that they are only voting for one candidate. A relatively small percentage of people are using all six votes as indicated above. So, while voters overall rated the options for school committee positively, they also seem to be supporting half or less of the candidates. 

How do you feel about the future of the Lynn Public Schools given the current candidate for School Committee?

PessimisticSlightly PessimisticAmbivalentSlightly OptimisticOptimistic

Respondents are, for the most part, optimistic about the future of the Lynn Public Schools given the current group of candidates. This was surprising in light of the number of people who only plan to use one, two or three votes. Comments included the following:

"Hopefully a new school committee will be able to deal with the superintendent more successfully...only three sitting school committee members appear to understand their rights as school committee members in overseeing the school department."
Some voters are hoping that a new school committee configuration will emerge. One respondent said:
"It is time for a change. Many of the current members have been on the committee for quite  some time and are partially to blame for this mess we call our school system"
The slight pessimism or ambivalence that some voters feel could be contributed to the lack of specific solutions discussed during this campaign season with one person saying: 
"All of the candidates seem to have a plan, but very few have a way to implement them."
Still, overall, it seems as though there is some optimism in the air regarding the future of the LPS given the two challengers in addition to the six incumbents vying for seats on the 2012-2014 Lynn School Committee.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

AP Participation and Performance in Lynn

At a Lynn School Committee Debate on October 17, one candidate stated that Lynn should consider adding more Advanced Placement (AP) classes to its course offerings while answering a question about academic standards. The Advanced Placement program, which is a curriculum offered in the United States and Canada sponsored by the College Board, allows high school students to take courses that are widely recognized to be equivalent to undergraduate courses in college. Students who obtain a score of 3 or higher on a 5 point scale  on the standardized AP test given in May are often eligible to receive college credit once they matriculate at an undergraduate institution.

Currently, there are about 34 AP courses offered by the College Board. Of the 34 possible courses, Lynn offers 12 different AP courses in its high schools, though Lynn English and Lynn Classical do differ slightly in their advanced placement options. See below for the AP courses available to Lynn students.

English Literature/Composition (Classical, English)
English Language/Composition (Classical, English)
French Language (Classical, English)
Latin: Virgil (English)
Spanish Language (Classical, English)
Economics (Micro) (Classical)
Government and Politics (Classical, English)
US History (Classical, English)
Calculus AB (Classical, English)
Statistics (Classical, English)
Biology (Classical, English)
Environmental Science (Classical)

For a comparison, some other districts on the North Shore offer slightly more AP courses (Swampscott: 17; Salem: 14; Revere: 13; Peabody: 16). Of similar districts in terms of demographics, Lynn offers more AP courses than some (New Bedford: 11; Holyoke: 9) and less than others (Lawrence: 19; Lowell: 15). 

Perhaps what is more salient than the sheer number of AP courses offered in Lynn (and other low income districts) is the types of students that participate in the AP program and how well the students perform on the year end AP exam. 


During the 2009-10 school year, 228 students in Lynn took a total of 585 AP exams which averages out to about 2.6 tests per student. On average, Lynn is seeing its high school students who do participate in AP courses take more of these classes than similar communities (Holyoke: 1.3/student; Brockton 1.6/student; Lawrence: 2.2/student; Lowell: 2/student) and some wealthier communities (Marblehead: 2.2/student; Wellesley: 2.1). Many students (96 or 42%) only took one exam but there was considerable number of students that took five or more AP exams in a single year (36). Of the cities Lynn is most often grouped with, Lowell had six student take five or more exams while Lawrence had 27 take five or more. The most popular exams among students in Lynn were AP English Language/Composition, US History and Biology.

Gender differences in AP participation did exist as almost twice as many females took at least one AP exam when compared to  their male counterparts. This trend is consistent with other communities who saw many more females take AP courses compared to males (Lawrence 261 to 119; Danvers: 105 to 54). Interestingly, nearly half of the students who took AP exams were determined to be low income with 121 low income students taking 273 exams; fifteen of the thirty-six students who took five or more AP tests were low income. In terms of racial/ethnic differences, white/Caucasian students and Black/African American students had the highest average number of AP exams taken per student (2.8) and Hispanic students had the lowest (2.1). Overall, 41.2% of students taking at least one AP were white/Caucasian, 30% were Hispanic, 17.1% were Asian and 8.3% were Black/African American; none were considered to be Limited English Proficiency or Special Education.


A major part of Advanced Placement courses' draw is the ability to received college credit before stepping foot on a college campus. There have been some high school students who have received so many credits that they begin college as sophomores and are able to graduate in 3 years. Other students are able to skip some of their schools' general education requirements based on AP credit. So, while standardized tests are not necessarily indicative of how intelligent a student is, AP scores are valuable in the sense that students who receive AP credit often save money (and time) once they enter college.

In 2010, only 34.7% of all students on all exams obtained passing scores on the AP tests in Lynn. However, there were some specific tests on which students fared much better. Sixty percent of students taking the English Language/Composition test passed while 71.4% of students taking the Spanish Language test received a score of 3 or higher. AP tests with the lowest pass rates include Government and Politics, Calculus, Statistics, and Environmental Science. There were a few gender differences on individual tests as males passed Statistics and Spanish at a higher rate than females. In terms of racial/ethnic differences, the pass rates for Black/African, Hispanic, and Caucasian students were all approximately 35-36% with Asian students passing at a slightly lower rate (27.9%).


From this, we see that there is a considerable number of Lynn students who are high achieving and have sought to include some of the most rigorous courses that Lynn offers it students. What may be beneficial than simply adding more AP courses, however, may be to first increase participation in advanced courses. AP courses are generally offered to students in their junior and senior years. As such, there are over 1,800 students in Lynn who could potentially take these courses, yet only about 230 students take AP courses/exams each year. It is important that students at least know the benefits of taking advanced courses (college credit, advantages in the college admission process) and are encouraged to challenge themselves as a way to increase the number of students taking these courses.

Also of importance is ensuring that the most qualified instructors are teaching AP courses.While the low pass rates on AP exams in Lynn may not be entirely related those teaching the classes, it would behoove school principals to ensure that teachers with the most appropriate credentials are teaching advanced courses, especially AP math and science courses. Additionally, providing AP specific professional development for these teachers would help to ensure that the so-called "advanced" courses are as rigorous as they are intended to be by the College Board.

Thus, while increasing the quantity of AP courses available to students is essential to keeping students challenged and engaged in school, the most pressing issue at this junction should be to increase students' exposure to our schools' course offerings and also to ensure that these courses of the utmost quality in terms of rigor and instruction.

Data taken from:

This Day in History: October 27

-Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is founded, 1682

-Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs issues the Extermination Order, which orders all Mormons to leave the state or be exterminated, 1838

-Sylvia Plath is born, 1932

-Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. becomes the first African American general in the United States Air Force, 1954

-The Democratic Republic of Congo is renamed Zaire, 1971

-The U.S. prison population tops 1 million for the first time in history, 1994

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

American Indians/Alaska Natives & Mental Health: Some Facts

This post about mental health issues related to American Indians and Alaskan Natives was precipitated by the 20/20 special called Hidden America: Children of the Plains which was hosted by Diane Sawyer (see here). During the program, Sawyer explored the multitude of issues that children of the Oglala Lakota  Sioux tribal nation living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota face including extreme poverty and alcoholism. According to some estimates, unemployment on the Pine Ridge Reservation ranges from 83-85% and can be higher during the winter months when it is difficult to travel. As a result, the median income on the Reservation is $2,600 to $3,500 per year and approximately 97% of the population lives below federal poverty lines. The nearest town that could potentially offer employment for those with the ability to travel is Rapid City, South Dakota, which is 120 miles away from the Reservation. Likely due to the lack of opportunity, many on the Pine Ridge Reservation either turn to alcohol or become severely depressed and/or suicidal. On this Reservation alone, alcoholism affects 8 out of 10 families; the death rate from alcohol-related problems is 300% higher than the remaining population. Rampant medical problems among the population including high rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer in addition to substance abuse and poor nutrition have resulted in a life expectancy of 48 years for men and 52 years for women (compared to 77.5 years for the US population as a whole).

Because of the serious social and economic difficulties they face, Native American populations like the Oglala Lakota Sioux are more susceptible to mental illnesses. Here are some facts regarding mental health and Native American communities gathered from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). 

  • Approximately 26% of American Indians/Alaska Natives live in poverty compared to 13% of the general population and 10% of Caucasian Americans.
  • The American Indian and Alaska Native populations report higher rates of frequent distress than the general population.
  • Alcohol abuse is a problem for a substantial portion of the American Indian adult population, but widely varies among different tribes.
  • A study of Alaska Natives in a community health center found that substance abuse was the reason that 85% of men and 65% of women seek mental health treatment. 
  • Native Alaskan males have had one of the highest documented suicide rates in the world. Suicide rates are particularly high among Native American males ages 15 - 24 who account for 64% of all suicides by American Indian/Alaska Native individuals.
  • The words "depressed" and "anxious" are absent from some American Indian and Native Alaskan languages. Culturally different expressions of illness ("ghost sickness" or "heartbreak syndrome") do not easily correspond to Western psychiatric diagnosis criteria.
  • In a Northern Plains study, 61% of children had experienced a traumatic event.
  • Compared to the general population, American Indians and Alaska Natives tend to under-utilize mental health services, have a higher therapy dropout rates and are less likely to respond to treatment. This may derive from the fact that individuals tend to have negative opinions of non-Indian health providers and that traditional healing is used by a majority of Native Americans.
  • Mental health services are available for the American Indian/Alaska Native communities, such as the services provided by the Indian Health Service (IHS), but they are in need of improvement. Currently only 7% of IHS' s budget is allocated for mental or behavioral health and substance abuse treatment services combined.


Gone, J.P. (2004). Mental health services for Native Americans in the 21st century United States. American Psychological Association, Vol. 35, No.1, 10-18.

National Alliance on Mental Health: American Indian and Alaska Native Communities Mental Health Fact Sheet

Schwartz, S.M (2006). The arrogance of ignorance: hidden away, out of sight, out of mind. Regarding life, conditions and hope on the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Reservation of SD.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

LSC Survey 2011

An Education's LSC 2011 Survey is still looking for responses. How are you feeling about the current choices for school committee? Please fill out the survey by following the link below.

Results of the poll will be reported on October 28st

Monday, October 24, 2011

Drug Related Convictions & the FAFSA: The Aid Elimination Provision

In 1998, the Higher Education Act (HEA) was reauthorized with what, at the time, was a little known or debated provision called the Aid Elimination Penalty (also known as the Drug-Free Student Loan Amendment). Added by then Indiana Representative Mark Souder (R), the Aid Elimination Act automatically disqualified students who had any drug convictions (except juvenile convictions) including misdemeanor marijuana possession from receiving federal financial aid regardless of when the conviction occurred. Specifically, the amendment states:

A student who is convicted of any offense under any Federal or State law involving the possession or sale of a controlled substance shall not be eligible to receive any grant, loan, or work assistance under this title during the period beginning on the date of such conviction and ending after the interval specified...

The intervals originally set forth for aid ineligibility depended on the whether the charge was the possession or  sale of a controlled substance and whether it was the person's first, second or third offense. For possession, the period of ineligibility is one year for the first offense, two years for the second offense and indefinitely for the third offense. For sale, ineligibility for financial aid lasts two years for the first offense and indefinitely for the second offense.

Additionally, the amendment states that
A student whose eligibility has been suspended under paragraph 1 (see above) may resume eligibility before the end of the eligibility period determined under such paragraph if 
(A) the student satisfactorily completes a drug rehabilitation program that - 
     (i) complies with such criteria as the Secretary shall prescribe in regulations for purposes of this paragraph; and
    (ii) includes two unannounced drug tests; or
(B) the conviction is reversed, set aside or otherwise rendered nugatory.

So, why was this provision added?

Former Rep. Mark Souder, who authored the Aid Elimination Penalty, was huge proponent of the so-called "War on Drugs." Souder had previously supported foreign drug war adventures in places like Colombia and Mexico and was a staunch opponent of softening marijuana laws even for medical uses. In 1998, as amendments were being added to the original Higher Education Act of 1965, Souder included the Aid Elimination Penalty in these changes. Interestingly, the amendment only refers to drug convictions; convicted murderers, rapists, burglars, child molesters and other criminals are still eligible for financial aid without conditions.  Though the provision was added as an attempt to curb drug use among young people, the Government Accountability Office recently indicated that it could find no evidence that the penalty "actually helped to deter drug use."

Since the provision was added over 10 years ago, 200,000 students have been denied aid because of the provision; it has been estimated that thousands of other prospective college students did not even apply for aid because they believed their application would be denied. Additionally, the amendment has been found to especially hurt low- and middle-income families as students from wealthy families often attend college without public aid. Additionally, due to the discriminatory enforcement of drug laws, the Aid Elimination Penalty tends to keep people of color out of school at a much higher rate than the general public.

Due in  large part to external pressure, the law was actually scaled back in 2006 such that only people who were convicted of a drug related offense while receiving financial aid would be stripped of their ability to receive federal money for their schooling. The law was further amended in 2008. During the Higher Education Reauthorizaton process, Congress made it much easier for those convicted of drug-related offenses to regain their financial aid eligibility. Now in order to regain their aid eligibility, students would have to pass two unannounced drug tests administered by a government-approved treatment program without having to complete the program itself which the law initially required. 

Still, more than 325 groups and organizations including the National Education Association, the ACLU and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) have called for the law's repeal, but with little progress made. In 2008, the ACLU along with SSDP sued for an injunction against the law calling it "unconstitutional because it violates the Fifth and Eight Amendments to the United States Constitution." Groups such as these are of the opinion that the law allows students to be effectively punished twice for the same transgression. Also, some believe that forcing students with drug convictions out of school makes them more likely to abuse drugs or engage in criminal activity and less likely to become productive taxpaying citizens. The Court, however, ruled against the SSDP stating the denial of financial aid based on prior drug convictions did constitute cruel or unusual punishment and did not violate double jeopardy laws. As it stands today, the Aid Elimination Penalty, albeit in its amended form, is still on the books with groups like the SSDP continuing to fight for its complete repeal.


Students for Sensible Drug Policy:
1998 Amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965:

Lynn Councilor At-Large Candidate Hong Net Talks Education

Interestingly, Councilor At-Large candidate Hong Net is one of few (if not the only) city council candidates that specifically names education as one of his top campaign issues.  See below for the answers to a few questions posed to Net regarding his thoughts on public school funding and how he would attempt to work with the school committee to better the Lynn Public Schools if elected to city council.

Part of your platform is to prioritize funding to the Lynn Public Schools. How do you think that public school funding in Lynn could be improved?

To improve funding for Lynn public schools, I would suggest hiring a grant-writing agency that has experience writing grants to improve public education.  There are untapped funds available, and as city councilor-at-large I would work with the mayor, school committee members, and the school superintendent to find ways to apply for these resources. 

Given current levels of funding, we need to take a hard look at how we are spending our money. This is primarily the responsibility of the School Committee but I would be happy to share ideas if invited.

Some things I would like to see us seek finding for are:

-opening closed schools or other existing schools to reduce class sizes
-nutrition: ensure that school lunches and vending machines are healthier so children can concentrate in class
-summer learning programs or extended year to give our students extra support
-after-hours programs for parents inside the schools (ESL, etc.)

You are also advocating for arts and recreational programming for Lynn youth. Given the budgetary constraints that we are currently facing, do you believe that these types of programs could actually be established in the short term?

Budget constraints are real. However, there are many talented individuals--young and old--that have shown interest in volunteering. We must pursue creative ways to engage these people and connect the dots for our children. One promising idea I have heard lately is a plan to open up one of our high schools for evening hours for youth activities and adult education. I am positive that “if you build it, they will come” and that dedicated volunteers would be excited to lend a hand or teach a weekly workshop. In general, we as a city must increase coordination and be creative to make the most of what we have with limited financial resources.

There are already groups like Khmer American Youth in Action and Project YES (Youth Empowerment for Success), which are running very successfully with relatively little money.  We can also seek funds from generous individuals and hold fundraisers to establish and support these programs and others like them. In some cases it may be possible to encourage partnerships between schools and non-profits so that after-school organizations can provide programming in the schools.

Do you have any other plans for youth in terms of things like after school programs and summer jobs?

I would like to explore the possibility of having internship programs for high school students in local organizations and businesses. Also, if we can encourage them to even get involved in their respective religious and community institutions it would help promote civic engagement and help them make positive life choices.  Another goal I have is is to see our youth join established programs like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps to volunteer in other countries. Exposure to these kinds of career paths can open up young people’s horizons and motivate them to think big about their future and their involvement within the global village.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many young people and youth work professionals in the city. One concept that I would support is for the city to set aside a centralized building for youth activities. By inviting existing programs to run their programs in this building on a rotating basis, we could ensure that there is always at least one place for youth to go even as funded programs shift and change.

How do you think the City Council and the School Committee could better work together to improve the Lynn Public Schools and increase parental involvement?

To better work together to improve the Lynn public schools and increase parental involvement, I think that the City Council and the School Committee needs to have an open communication line for sharing ideas and expertise.  Although the Council does not have the authority to oversee or make any decision for the School Committee and the school administration, we can still make recommendations to them, the superintendent, and the mayor on behalf of our constituents. 

Parental involvement is an essential key to student success. As I said in the first debate at ELCA, schools alone cannot educate our children--it must be a community effort. I believe that parents who are immigrants or non-native English speakers do care for their children’s education, but are often unable to meet teachers halfway due to their work hours or language barrier. I would be excited to work with the School Committee on any effort to reach out to motivated bilingual parents.

Anything else you would like to add?

In addition to providing structured after-school enrichment programming, I think we can offer more opportunities for our young people to get involved in their community. North Shore Community College ran a great Youth Leadership Initiative that resulted in a resolution to create a Lynn City Youth Council. Brendan Crighton teaches a civics and politics class to high schoolers at NSCC. Classical High School requires its seniors to research the political candidates and volunteer with their campaigns. These sorts of opportunities get young people involved in our city and help them take ownership. I also believe we will learn quite a lot from the Youth City Council once they are up and running!

I am happy to have been running a positive campaign dedicated to empowering communities to address our most pressing issues. I hope you will consider me for one of your four votes come November 8. To connect with our campaign, please visit, email or call 781-309-7771. And "like" Hong Net for Lynn City Councilor-At-Large on Facebook.

For another Q & A with Hong Net, see - Councilor At-Large 2011 - Hong Net

Friday, October 21, 2011

LSC 2011 Survey

Have an opinion about the options for the school committee this year?

How are you feeling about the future of the Lynn Public Schools given this batch of candidates?

Please let us know your thoughts on the school committee race by filling out the LSC 2011 survey (follow the link below); the survey takes approximately 2 minutes to complete.

Results of the poll will be reported on October 28th.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Little Positivity from the Item about the Lynn Public Schools

After a bunch of negative stories about the Lynn Public Schools over the past few months, this week The Daily Item ran a few positive articles about what's going on in the LPS. 

Ingalls Fifth Grader wins National Geographic Essay Contest (10/19):

Marshall Middle School Named School of Distinction (10/19):

Lynn Tech Teacher wins Lt. Governor's Award for Excellence in STEM (10/20):

Marblehead Student Donates Books to Every Kindergartner at the Ford School (10/20):

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This Day in History: October 19

-Ferdinand II of Aragon marries Isabella I of Castille, a marriage that results in the unification of Aragon and Castille into a single country, Spain, 1469

-Chief Justice John Jay is sworn in as the first Chief Justice of the United States, 1789

-The League of Nations places sanctions on fascist Italy for its invasion of Ethiopia, 1935

-President Richard Nixon rejects an Appeals Court decision that he turn over the Watergate tapes, 1973

-Black Monday - the Dow Jones Industrial Average drops by  508 points

-Saddam Hussein goes on trial for crimes against humanity in Baghdad, 2005

-Holiday: Mother Teresa Day (Albania)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

KnowAtom: A Science Curriculum That's Working for a Few Lynn Schools

In 2010, the Lincoln-Thomson Elementary School in Lynn implemented a new science program which was initially created by a Salem-based elementary science organization called KnowAtom  (see here). The change was precipitated by the 5th grades students poor performance on the science MCAS exam in 2008 and 2009. At Lincoln-Thomson, 38% of 5th grade students achieved proficient or higher on the 2008 science MCAS exam; this number decreased to just 36% in 2009. After implementing the KnowAtom Science Program mid-school year, Lincoln-Thomson saw the percentage of students achieving proficient or higher increase by 33 points and the percentage of students failing in science decrease to zero on 2010 MCAS exam. In 2011, the percentage of students achieving proficient or higher decreased slightly to 61% but the percentage of students who failed the exam amazingly remained zero.

So what is KnowAtom?

Developed by former Lynn Classical math and science teacher Francis Vigeant in 2005, KnowAtom is "a collection of curriculum, pedagogy, materials, and professional development that work together to advance elementary school knowledge and application of science, engineering, and technology."  The science program is geared toward elementary and middle school students and includes all of the curricular elements, materials and professional development that teachers need in order to focus science instruction on literacy and critical thinking. Specifically, the curriculum, which is hands-on and inquiry-based, utilizes the following components:

  • Stepped Units - Unites are designed to create a complete picture of the many areas that science reaches.
  • Stepped Progression - As students progress through each grade level, basic concepts are reinforced and applied with new concepts
  • Stepped Processes - Students master specific goals within the Scientific Method and Engineering Design Process at every grade level. 
  • Pacing - Each year of the KnowAtom curriculum is comprised of 10-15 units. Breaking down larger concepts into specific topics increases the diversity of material exposed to student. Furthermore, a topic like electrical energy can be discussed through circuits, magnetism, batteries, motors and generators over different grade levels. This approach has been found to help students continuously review concepts from year to year.

The KnowAtom curriculum  includes  lesson plans, visual aids and non-fiction readers while the pedagogy itself is based on common language across grade levels and personal relevance (integrating students' experiences within classroom discussions around scientific topics). The system also uses various classroom materials kits and consumable materials for hands-on activities. Students also learn scientific thinking through the laboratory notebooks they maintain in all grade levels; these notebooks also help with literacy and writing skills and reinforcing knowledge. KnowAtom also provides professional development for teachers in order to help them create "inquiry based learning environments for science and engineering." Professional development workshop topics include "The Scientific Method in the Elementary Classroom," "and "Developing Critical Thinking with Inquiry in the Classroom;"other workshops, like one entitled "Physical Science Abridged," help educators translate biology or physics terminology into language that young students can easily understand.

Here's a sample of some of the topics covered using this system:

First Grade
Changing Matter
Water Flow

Second Grade
Solar System
Grow a Garden
Moth vs. Butterfly
Simple Circuits
Walls and Dams

Third Grade
Understanding Atoms
Anatomy of Earth
The Food Chain
Engineering Bridges

Fourth Grade
Measuring Matter
Living Cells
Plant and Animal Life Cycles
Sound Waves
Light and Color

Fifth Grade
Rocks and Minerals
Growing Cells
Designing Roller Coasters

Since KnowAtom's successful implementation at Lincoln-Thomson, four other Lynn elementary schools, including the Tracy and Harrington Elementary Schools, have begun using this particular science program. At Tracy, the percentage of students who failed the 5th grade science MCAS exam has steadily decreased from 45% in 2008 to 31% in 2011. Between 2008 and 2010, zero to one percent of students at Harrington scored advanced on the science MCAS exam. This number increased to 3% in 2011 after the KnowAtom science program was implemented; the percentage of students failing the exam has decreased from 50% in 2008 to 37% in 2011. Perhaps because of the results it produces, the KnowAtom program has received support from a number of Lynn principals and the Lynn Teacher's Union. Funding has been an issue, however, as replenishing the essential pre-packaged kits costs money and as one principal lamented, "Our prioritized district and school focus has been in the ELA [English Language Arts] and Math content areas. Science was secondary in the chain of funding, especially with federal, state, and city budget cuts (here)." As KnowAtom has proven to effectively teach and engage children in science, it would behoove other Lynn school principals along with the Lynn School Committee to consider ways to implement this program in all of the 16 elementary schools and possibly in the three middle schools as well. Despite standardized testing pressures, Lynn students deserve a strong, well-rounded education which, in addition to language arts and math, includes science.

*For more information about KnowAtom, see:

*MCAS -related data taken from:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

LSC 2011 Q & A: Dolores DiFillipo

Dolores DiFillipo is a Lynn parent and licensed social worker seeking her first term on the Lynn School Committee. She currently works as a drug prevention educator at Revere High School through a partnership between Mass General Hospital (MGH) and the Revere Public School system and has also worked in the Lynn and Malden Public School Systems. Please see below for the answers to a few questions posed to Dolores regarding her candidacy for Lynn School Committee.

What skills or qualifications do you think you would bring to the school committee?

Our children deserve the best education and resources possible in order to succeed. I am determined to make sure that every child in the City of Lynn has the opportunity to strive for their very best, with the proper tools, resources and foundation possible. Our children are our future. We are their present and need to do better to demand that they receive the very best from our Lynn Public School system.  I am completely committed to ensure that our children (special education and regular education) do not get left behind.  Having a child currently in the Lynn Public School system gives me a the first hand knowledge base to see and hear what is or  is not being provided for our children. I want to be the “PARENT” voice on the current Lynn School Committee.  It is so important that our families are represented by a parent as well as an educator/professional in the field.  I am both and I am willing to take the stand to demand changes in the current Lynn Public School system.

I am the wife of Anthony “Tony” DiFillipo and the mother of our two children. Our family has been in the City of Lynn for over 100 years.  We have a family business and own residential & commercial property in the City of Lynn.  Our family has an investment in the City of Lynn. I currently hold a Masters in Education in Counseling & Psychology and a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice.   I am employed by MGH-Revere & Revere High School as a Partnership as a Prevention Educator.   My role within the high school is to educate students and staff on ATOD (Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs as well as Lifeskills Program for High Schools students). I also counsel students in crisis and assist with grant writing.  I am a Licensed Social Worker with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  I have over 27 years of experience working with children and families.

What do you think are the top 3 issues that school committee needs to address? Do you have any thoughts/solutions to these issues?

It is my goal to be a member of the Lynn School Committee to begin the process of change.  My Plan is as follows:

  • Special Education
We need to begin the process of changing the current Special Education Department by providing and obtaining more funding, tools, resources, accountability and become more user friendly for the citizens of Lynn. By ensuring that all the IEP’s (Individual Education Plan) are in full compliance and receiving the proper services.

  • School Improvement & Safety Plan
Our schools are in deplorable conditions and we need to ensure that the School Improvement Plans are in place and begin the work of fixing our schools and rebuilding the district (26 schools). Provide more support to the Principals and teachers as well as the families being displaced.

I believe that ALL of our schools should have an assigned School Resource Officer (SRO).   We must be proactive.  It is essential to reach our children at the Elementary and Middle school levels: educate them with regards to violence, bullying, alcohol & other drugs, respect and tolerance for others.

  • Budget Accountability
We need to keep our teachers and provide them with every tool, resource, training necessary to ensure our children are successful.  We need more staff, educators and fewer administrators.  We need to ensure that the monies are going where they are intended.  We need to provide our teachers/staff with ample support to ensure they are receiving proper training and materials to be successful in their classrooms. In turn our children will benefit and be successful.

  • Partnerships/Grants
We can do better at obtaining and ensuring that Grants are applied for and maintained in a timely fashion.  Begin the process of seeking out large corporate agencies to invest in our children. We need to build relationships within the corporate world to ensure our children/families have the same opportunities that most cities and towns have.  

How do you think the school committee could be more transparent as far as meeting times, agendas, etc.?

I am glad that the School Committee meetings are now being televised.  Given the low turn out for the actual meetings by the public, this will allow the citizens of Lynn to see and hear what is or is not being provided in the schools.  This is a wonderful tool and asset to the LPS/Lynn community.  I believe this provides the transparency and openness.   I would like to see all of the school committee meetings and agendas listed a week prior to the actual school committee meeting.  

Lynn residents look to the School Committee to address problems such as low MCAS scores and the dropout rate; do you think there is a limit to what the school committee in itself can do?

I feel it is essential to address all issues that may arise, however, the school committee is held to certain limitations on what they can do by law/regulations.  I believe in following the regulations and guidelines that are set forth for the school committee.  However, the MCAS issue is not just a problem for Lynn, it is a system/statewide issue.  I do not agree that the MCAS should be the sole determinate of a child graduating from high school. I would like to see our district challenge this.  The MCAS does not take into account a disability (Autism, ADHD, and Mental Retardation) or language barrier. When the MCAS scores are provided for our schools, the numbers are not an accurate or fair assessment of where we stand. I would also like to see our district be more involved with ensuring our children remain in school.  I am aware that the drop out rate is an issue; however, many factors are involved in this as well.  I would like to see the school committee be more creative with finding solutions, monies to address this growing problem. 


Anything else you would like to add about yourself?

Together we can begin the work and make sure our children are not left behind.

I welcome you to join me in this fight for our children’s education.  I would like the citizens of Lynn to go to my website:  WWW.DEE42012.COM and decide for themselves if I am qualified to be a member of the Lynn School Committee.

I ask for your VOTE on November 8, 2011. Thank you!

Respectfully Submitted,
Dolores J. DiFillipo, M.Ed., LSW
Candidate for Lynn School Committee

* For another Q & A with Dolores DiFillipo, see - School Committee 2011 - Dolores DiFillipo

Sunday, October 9, 2011

This Day in History: October 9

-King Louis XII and Mary Tudor marry, 1514

-The Collegiate College of Connecticut, later renamed Yale University, is chartered in Old Saybrook, CT, 1701

-Slavery is abolished in Costa Rica, 1824

-The Washington Memorial officially opens to the general public, 1888

-John Lennon, British musician/songwriter and member of The Beatles, is born, 1940

-The Khmer Republic is established in Cambodia, 1970

-Holiday: Leif Erikson Day (United States, Iceland & Norway)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lynn's MCAS Performance in Context

In previous posts, MCAS results were previously reported for the Lynn Public Schools by grade level, school and by year (see here, here, here, here, & here). As Lynn is often maligned for, among other things, its public school system, it would of interest to actually know how Lynn performs academically in comparison with other public schools on the North Shore. 

As a reminder, listed below are the percentage of students who achieved proficient or higher on each portion of the Spring 2011 MCAS test by grade level. Once again, 'all' refers to the school district as a whole.





Now let's look at the Spring 2011 MCAS test results for some of the cities that surround Lynn.

























One should note that these cities do differ from Lynn in a number of ways. In terms of demographics, the Lynn public school system  is nearly 80% low income students. Other cities on the North Shore have much lower percentages of low income students (ex. Marblehead: 8.3%; Swampscott: 11.4%; Danvers 15.4%). This is important as poverty has been shown to result in a number of negative effects including poor overall health and nutrition as well as memory and psychological problems (see here). This undoubtedly may, in part, contribute to the low academic achievement in the Lynn Public School System. Additionally, 21.6% of Lynn students are limited English proficiency which adds another challenge in terms of achievement on standardized test scores. Cities like Beverly and Swampscott have much lower percentages of limited English proficiency students (1.4% and 2.6%, respectively). All of these confounding factors, among others, are relevant to the discussion of comparing achievement levels. While it may be interesting to know where Lynn stands in comparison with its North Shore neighbors, it is important to keep these results in context in terms of varying student populations,  income levels, parental involvement, attendance rates, and financial resources. Discussing academic achievement should involve more than just these numbers.

All Data Taken from: