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Lowell Committee Approves Alternative School Hire

September 12, 2018 GMT

LOWELL -- Tip too far one way, and student needs won’t be met. Tip too far the other way, and the district’s over $1.6 million deficit will worsen.

For 20 minutes last Wednesday, the Lowell School Committee debated this balance following a request by Acting Superintendent Jeannine Durkin. She asked the committee to release $105,000 from the suspense account to hire a coordinator for the McHugh Alternative at Sullivan School, which serves fifth and sixth grade students who have struggled in the traditional classroom.

Ultimately, the School Committee approved the request in a 7-0 vote, but several members expressed concerned only four students were enrolled in this program, which already has two teachers.


“In many cases (alternative schools) are the thing that will finally work for a student and help turn things around and get back to a traditional academic environment,” School Committee member Connie Martin said. “I do think its challenging when we’re talking about two teachers and now adding an administrator. That ratio is pretty dramatic.”

School Committee member Gerry Nutter also paused at the ratio, though both Nutter and Martin ultimately supported the position.

Keeping a student who needs specialized services in the traditional classroom can disrupt the learning of all other students, Nutter said.

When asked if the district can afford this expense amid a financial crisis, Durkin said the district expects income through revolving accounts and the money in the suspense account was specifically earmarked for this position.

“We do have the money set aside in the suspense account for that purpose,” she said. “If we don’t come up with this solution there may be some out of district placements.”

Though the expense may seem high for the number of students, Durkin said the students who struggle most can “take up one administrator, sometimes two for a full day.”

“They deserve someone’s attention,” she said.

She added the program has the potential to expand to 10 to 12 students if the need arises during the year.

Peter Holtz, principal of the Bartlett Community Partnership School, made an appeal to the school committee to provide funding for the position before the discussion.

“We want to do it right,” he said. “We don’t throw kids away.”

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins