Gifted ‘Theme’ Middle Schools Could Come to Lowell, MA

In Lowell, Massachusetts, high-performing middle-schoolers might get more options when it comes to their education thanks to proposals discussed during the School Committee Curriculum subcommittee last week — a “theme” school catering to the gifted.

But providing the option wouldn’t come without consequences. Assistant Superintendent Claire Abrams also used the meeting to address concerns, raised by some parents, that middle school principals were opposing any efforts to create separate schools for gifted kids because that would take them out of regular public schools and thus cause their performance metrics to tumble.

The back-and-forth between Abrams and those who filed a request to open an exam school aimed at middle-schoolers became acrimonious at times during the meeting. A blog post mentioned the administrators’ opposition to the proposal, but Abrams contradicted that assertion, saying that no principals mentioned such reservations directly to the author, who  quickly rejoined that at least one expressed such sentiments to her directly.

Superintendent of Schools Jean Franco said teachers and administrators have revamped the entire district’s curriculum to the state-mandated Common Core standards. She said the district is in a building time and will then be able to deepen and strengthen the rigor of the curriculum in year two. She said the school already has the talent in place to begin a science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM-themed school. Curriculum subcommittee Chairman Connie Martin said she would like to start the theme at two schools, possibly in the 2014/2015 school year.

She also said that the budget had room for some class-reduction measures this year, which will mark a reverse of the trend from previous years which saw growth in the number of kids schools had to accommodate in each classroom. In response to the Common Core remarks, Scott said currently too many students were reporting that they weren’t being challenged enough in the classroom, something Abrams hopes will change once the CCS was fully deployed in Lowell schools.

During Assistant Superintendent Ann Murphy’s presentation on the proposal for having children attend schools in their neighborhood, Murphy said the district is making itself vulnerable to a lawsuit because many of the schools do not comply with the district’s voluntary compliance plan, which requires each school to be within 10 percent minority/nonminority enrollments as compared to the entire zone where the school is located. For example, 30 percent of the students in the “west zone” are nonminority. The Pawtucketville Memorial Elementary School is above 10 percent, with 45 percent of students being nonminority. Three other schools within the west zone are also not compliant.

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