The wisest course is to open in full remote plan

These are my prepared remarks at the August 10, 2020 meeting of the Arlington School Committee.

I am facing the most critical decision I have made in 18 years of school committee service. This has the potential to be a life or death decision for students and staff in the Arlington Public Schools, as well as their families and the rest of our community.

I want to describe the context of the decision this committee is being asked to make tonight. There are 7.8 billion people on Earth; 331 million people live in the United States. Massachusetts law prohibits me from discussing this decision with only six other people; my colleagues on the Arlington School Committee.

The Open Meeting Law prohibits us from deliberating outside of a public meeting. I can’t talk outside these meetings with the six colleagues with whom I will share this decision. Unfortunately, the meetings leading up to tonight have primarily focused on the school administration talking to the school committee, with only a limited opportunity to ask questions of the administration.

We now find ourselves hard on a DESE deadline, with little or no opportunity for the committee to discuss our decision among each other. The key word here is decision, as the voters of the Town of Arlington have elected us to make decisions on their behalf. Our role is to decide, not ratify. Sadly, we find ourselves on the track to ratification of a hybrid plan, without evidence it is safe or educationally sound

In my view, we cannot build any plan without a foundation built on the health and safety of our students and staff. We closed our schools last March, before the governor shut down the state, because the risk of COVID transmission in our schools was unacceptable.

What is the probability of COVID transmission in September if we adopt a hybrid model? I can’t answer that question, but I am confident that the probability of bringing this virus into our schools is greater than zero.

What happens if COVID comes into our schools? Again, there is no certainty, just a matrix of probabilities that we still can’t quantify. We are told that younger children are more likely to be asymptomatic. We know that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people spread the virus. Without a robust, frequent testing program, we won’t know we have a problem until we see the virus generate noticeable symptoms. By that time, we could have a major outbreak in our schools.

When we look at the entry and spread of the virus into our schools, is unrealistic to expect a probability of 0; but I would want that number to approach 0. The lack of testing, the lack of precedent, the lack of proven models, and the lack of reliable data places us in a position where we cannot calculate the probability of sickness and spread in our schools.

I believe the wisest course is to open in full remote plan, and reconsider as we are able to collect evidence of success from other districts. There will be other Massachusetts districts similar to Arlington that will start with various hybrid models, and we can learn from their experiences. We can observe the public health data for these districts.

Going forward, this committee needs to deliberate and discuss the steps going forward.

As I mentioned earlier, the Open Meeting Law prevents us from discussing school committee business with our colleagues. The state has determined that answering email, in which it is possible for other members can read their responses, is viewed as serial deliberation and is a violation of the law.

To that end, I would ask for information requested and required for our work to be provided in a timely manner. I would ask for documents we request to be provided without question or objection, in a timely manner. I would ask for meetings to be structured to allow us the time to talk to each other, as we work together to guide the district through this pandemic.

I believe in science, and I believe the extraordinary efforts of researchers and public health professionals will lead us toward a full reopening before the conclusion of the school year. This year won’t be easy, but we will get to a better place.

Statewide school accountability map – 2019

This is the second year of Massachusetts’ revised school accountability system. An explanation of the system is posted on the DESE website.

Published lists are not the best way to see the patterns and understand the data. Here’s some graphs and a state map displaying the results. A larger scale version is published here.


Yes, you are special

The text of my speech to the graduating class of 2015, delivered on June 6, 2015.

Superintendent Bodie, Principal Janger, school committee colleagues, members of the Arlington faculty and staff, family and friends of our distinguished graduating class, and members of the Arlington High Class of 2015, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you this afternoon.

I come to you as a member of the Class of 1970, Northport High School, Long Island, New York. Although my memory of my graduation day is sweet and sour vivid, I remember absolutely nothing about any graduation speeches.

I remember graduating on a late-June day with a vague suggestion of thunderstorms, so the ceremony moved indoors. Our class of 600-plus Tigers sat on the stage of the high school auditorium, packed onto flimsy folding chairs, with less legroom than coach passengers on a discount airline. In 98 degree heat, with 98 percent humidity, I was at least 500 seats back in the alphabetical ghetto. We were so far back, that if the scenery from the spring musical were to come crashing down from the ceiling, we would have been at least four rows behind the disaster.

I don’t know what they said, but those who spoke at my graduation had front row seats and plenty of legroom. If only I took the high school thing more seriously. If only I worked with the extraordinary intensity required to reach the top of a class of more than 600 students, I could have had a great seat and an audience. I had graduation speaker envy.

I didn’t get to speak at my graduation, but I get to speak at yours. If you, too, have graduation speaker envy, if you wish you were at this podium, all you need to do is get elected to the school committee, then get your colleagues to elect you to be their chair. I guarantee it is much easier than finishing first or second in your class.

If I am to find joy in subjecting you to my speaking, I thought it only fair that I put in the effort I lacked in high school, and deliver a speech that will give you the fond memories that were absent from my own graduation ceremony. So, I did what any modern researcher would do. I consulted the Internet.

I talked to Siri, and typed to Google, and my query for memorable speeches kept bringing me back to 2012, when a Wellesley English teacher named Dave went viral by saying:

Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you are nothing special.

How awful. I am grateful for having forgettable speakers, rather than remembering a highly publicized and viral declaration of “You’re not special,” or even worse, the plagiarized and watered-down version of this speech delivered by a Florida principal. Even if it is true, which I doubt, who wants the Internet to be filled with reminders of this pronouncement on your graduating class? Who wants that memory?

I don’t remember my graduation speakers, but I do remember my third grade teacher, Florence E. Briggs. I remember being warned how strict she was, but her classroom was a magical place. She was a veteran teacher, and her classroom was overflowing with 35 years worth of stuff she collected in her teaching career. In the back corner of her classroom was a puppet stage, and we made papier-mâché puppets.

Miss Briggs thought it was essential for every third grader who passed through her classroom to know how to spell the word, “constitution,” and that word remained on the weekly spelling test until everyone in the class got it right.

I don’t remember my graduation speakers, but I cherish my memories of Miss Briggs.

I don’t remember my graduation speakers, but my fifth grade teacher, Richard Hottinger, was something of a rebel and an outcast. Our classroom was a man cave, somewhere beyond the basement. It was a five minute walk to the rest of the school, following a habitrail past the fallout shelter and the boiler room. We loved it. We had a kiln, and we made pottery. It was a joy to come to school every day.

While my second grade teacher thought children should spend their school days copying endless text into those black and white hard cover notebooks, Mr. Hottinger was opposed to any such drudgery. When confronted by multiple school district forms asking for his date of birth, he lost patience and started making up different dates. Of course, when the office provided us with his alleged birthday, the surprise party we planned was much more of a surprise than we anticipated.

I don’t remember my graduation speakers, but I cherish my memories of Mr. Hottinger.

Howard Faulkner, whose handwriting was worse than mine, had the audacity to give me a D in penmanship on four consecutive report cards. He was with us in Room C-116, Northport Junior High School, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. As with everyone alive at the time, November 22, 1963 is sharply engraved in our memories.

I don’t remember my graduation speakers, but I have many great memories of my teachers. I answered a geometry question correctly, and James Morrissey tossed me a Euclidian lollipop. Mildred Ross introduced me to Holden Caulfield. Coach Robert Krapf, in tune with our group of disengaged seniors, took our class onto the field and taught us how to hit golf balls. My summer of Driver Ed with Coach John Donarummo is a joyous memory of sunshine and rock and roll. Katherine Lamprecht, my journalism teacher, taught me the skills I used to earn a living writing for my local newspaper. Winston Jay was my social studies teacher in 1967; he taught us the joys of the Boston Red Sox and never let us forget that Yaz was from Long Island. Michael Barbera, my social studies teacher in 1968, got elected as a delegate to the tumultuous Democratic National Convention.

Nobody in the history of chemistry taught it better than Gerry Kass. Susan Flego never met an animal she didn’t want to dissect, and within three weeks of being in her biology class I knew my mother’s dreams for my medical career could never become a reality.

I cherish these memories. They all became a part of who I am today. And, yes, they were all very special.

Just like you.

Dave from Wellesley argued, that if everyone gets a trophy, if everyone is special, then no one is.

That’s just wrong.

I am here to tell you, every one of you who receives our diploma today, you are special.

And so am I.

I know I am special every morning, because my cat wakes me up with urgency, affection, and hope; as she is heavily invested in my getting out of bed and opening a can of cat food. But she’s a cat, and being special in her eyes is cyclical. Special diminishes sharply once she is fed, and takes the shape of an exponential curve as dinnertime approaches. By the time it becomes 6 p.m., I am truly special again.

For special is not an absolute term, except in very rare cases; some folks like the President of the United States and David Ortiz are universally special. But for all the rest of us, special is a relative term, and we earn that honor with our daily lives.

Yes, one of the joys of teaching is that it propels you to the front of the line for special… actually it goes on beyond special to immortality. Those teachers I mentioned live beyond their years, they are with us here today, and their influence extends to all who know me.

You, too, have so many experiences, memories, stories of the teachers and classmates who fill your heart and soul. It’s OK to forget today’s speakers, but cherish and honor the memories from our schools and those we hired to fill you with our hopes and dreams.

And every day, aspire to be a special person in another life.

Marry your best friend.

Be a loving parent.

Adopt a shelter dog or cat.

Teach a child.

Commit a crazy, unsolicited, unnecessary, wonderful act of kindness. Often.

And enjoy this beautiful, wonderful, special day that will forever be one of the cherished milestones of your life.

Thank you, and congratulations on your graduation.

Community Preservation Act in Arlington

This week’s little drama seems to be revolving around the appearance of the Community Preservation Act ballot question on the October 9 School Committee agenda, followed by the removal of the agenda item.

Let’s set the context. On May 7, after a debate that extended over two nights, Arlington Town Meeting voted 128-77 to place acceptance of the Community Preservation Act on the November ballot.  Four school committee members (myself included) are Town Meeting Members, and three of us voted to support acceptance of the Community Preservation Act.

  • Bill Hayner (Precinct 2) NO
  • Jennifer Susse (Precinct 3) YES
  • Paul Schlichtman (Precinct 9) YES
  • Jeffrey Thielman (Precinct 12) YES

As the election approaches, the three school committee members who are not members of our Representative Town Meeting (Cindy Starks, Judson Pierce, and Kirsi Allison-Ampe) have declared their support for the Community Preservation Act. The YES website now lists six school committee members as supporters, while Mr. Hayner is the chair of the Vote No committee.

It’s no surprise that members of the school committee, who are well informed on town issues, have taken the time to study the issue and have stated public positions on the November ballot question.

When the preliminary agenda for the October 9 school committee meeting was released, Mr. Hayner (as chair of the school committee) called for presentations about the Community Preservation Act. Joe Curro was scheduled to make the presentation for the YES campaign, while Charlie Foskett was scheduled to make the presentation for the NO campaign. Both of these respected gentlemen have already debated the issue on the floor of Town Meeting (see Dan Dunn’s notes for Session 3, Article 22, of the 2014 annual town meeting), and their learned opinions weighed heavily on the individual decisions we made at that time.

The October 9 meeting already had a crowded agenda, and we were coming in a half-hour early for an executive session. Several of my colleagues and I told Mr. Hayner that we didn’t want the Community Preservation Act presentation added to an already packed agenda.

Arlington Town Counsel Douglas Heim wrote that “a School Committee vote to support or oppose adoption of the CPA is permitted, but is in substance an endorsement rather than a decision or policy within the Committee’s jurisdiction to carry out itself or request the Superintendent implement.” With the Community Preservation Act on the agenda, the committee could have taken a vote to endorse a YES or NO vote on the ballot question. Still, I don’t think it’s a very good idea. The task before the school committee is to make decisions about the future of the school system. not to opine about ballot questions where the policy decisions rest with the Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting.

If the school committee as a government body can, but probably shouldn’t, endorse a ballot question with no direct impact on the schools, then why conduct a debate in the middle of our meeting? A televised debate on the topic is a good idea, but it’s not the job of the school committee to stage it in the midst of our meeting. This is something best left to ACMi or the League of Women Voters, although the League has declared its support for adoption of the Community Preservation Act and urges a YES vote in November.

Which brings us back where we started when this little drama came to light. In stating the ground rules, Town Counsel wrote that: “a School Committee Member, like a Selectman or other elected Town official, may take a position on a ballot question as a school committee member in a variety of formats, including being listed as a supporter by a Ballot Question Committee. However, permit me to note that care should be exercised not to conflate a member’s support for the committee’s support as a body or to use any public resources in advocating a position on a ballot question.”

Mr. Hayner is chair of the NO committee, and he has every right to stand in the public square and make his best argument against the ballot question. The other six members have every right to list themselves as supporters of the ballot question, and have a right to be identified as elected officials when they make that individual endorsement. The school committee, as a body, has not taken a vote on a ballot question that has no direct impact on the schools, nor have we been going around the town stating that the school committee supports the ballot question. It has certainly been noted that six individual members of the committee have endorsed the question, but that’s about it.

As for the school committee agenda, the chair has the responsibility to work with the superintendent to present an agenda to the committee before each meeting. The committee members have a right to respond to a proposed agenda, and request that items be added or deleted from the agenda. If the agenda does not reflect the wishes of the majority of the committee, under Robert’s Rules of Order, the committee has a right to vote to remove an agenda item. After hearing from several committee members, the Community Preservation Act was removed from the final agenda.

Charlie Foskett and Stephen Harrington also made a brief statement in the public participation section of the meeting, as is their right.

Even though it seemed to be a bit of a drama, everything worked the way it was supposed to work.


I am voting YES in November because I believe the small property tax surcharge will lead to spending that makes Arlington a more attractive community, a better place to live, and it will enhance my property values far beyond the cost of the surcharge. That’s why I voted to place the question on the ballot as a Town Meeting Member, and that’s why I will vote YES in November.



Amending the Minuteman Regional Agreement

Tonight’s remarks under Arlington Town Meeting Article 21,

As a former member of the Minuteman Regional School Committee, I know that our relationship with Minuteman is a complicated mix of partnership and competition. We are partners in educating Arlington students, yet we also compete for students. We need Minuteman to provide the specialized and expensive vocational programs that individual towns cannot provide on their own.

In the past three years, our Minuteman assessment has increased from 2.4 million dollars to 3.8 million dollars, a 61 percent increase in just three years. This is unsustainable.

The reason for this dramatic increase is our percentage of the member town enrollment increased from 27 percent to 38 percent, and our assessment is based on the percentage of member town students from Arlington.

Minuteman is looking to build a new school, and the local costs are based on the percentage of students from each member town. Our share is rapidly approaching 40%, but we cannot afford to pay 40% of the cost of building a new vocational school.

The operative term here is member town.

According to the state, about 40% of the students at Minuteman come from outside the district. They don’t pay for the capital costs of the district. They don’t pay for a new building.

When you count all the students, member town and out-of-district, Arlington sends somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 to 23 percent of the students. I submit to you that Arlington can afford to live in that neighborhood. We can afford to pay for 21 to 23 percent of the local share of a school, but we can’t afford to pay a third to 40% of the cost.

That’s why so we need to take some steps to restore the balance between Arlington, the other member communities, and the non-member towns that send significant numbers of students to Minuteman.

First, we need to support a new regional agreement, which will weigh votes based on the town’s enrollment. Currently, Dover has one student in the school, one vote on the school committee, and their one vote for a $38,000 assessment is equal to our one vote for a $3.8 million assessment.

The agreement before us tonight will begin to fix this inequity, but it doesn’t go far enough. Last January, the Minuteman school committee voted to dilute the proposed weighting system, for the purpose of shifting votes away from the big town and retaining more power in the tiny towns. Instead of a vote that reflects our share of the cost of the district, the agreement was changed to cut proportional voting in half. Half of the vote will be proportional, half of the vote will be allocated equally to each town.

The new agreement also exempts key financial decisions from weighted voting, so little towns will still be able to combine to pass a budget that adversely impacts Arlington.

Minuteman had a major discussion about how to write an unweighted supermajority into the new agreement. Would it be a two-thirds vote or a three-quarters vote? It was a big argument that didn’t make a dime’s worth of difference.

A two-thirds unweighted vote requires 11 towns. This can be achieved with the combined votes of the 11 smallest towns that, combined, send 29% of the students to the school.

A three quarters unweighted vote requires just one more town, and can be achieved with the combined votes of the 12 smallest towns representing 35% of the district. Arlington, remember, is now 38% of the district.

In reverse, the five smallest towns can block an action that requires an unweighted ¾ vote supermajority. The five smallest towns have a combined enrollment of 31 students, or 4% of the district. That’s one heck of a veto.

Should we be bound by a financial obligation imposed by an alleged supermajority of 35%?

Should we grant veto power to 4% of the district?

More important, if you are a large non-member municipality, would you join a district where a collection of tiny towns can impose a multi-million dollar assessment on your city or town?

We are required by law to use one town – one vote of each town meeting or city council, to approve the budget. Shouldn’t the other step, at the school committee level, be weighted by enrollment?

Shouldn’t it be like the Connecticut Compromise in our Constitution, where half of the decisions were based on the population and the other half were apportioned equally among states?

The current Minuteman agreement worked when it was written in 1970, but that was long before Proposition 2 ½ gave towns the right to reject regional school budgets.

That was long before the 1993 Education Reform act reallocated Chapter 70 funding within regional school districts.

Times change, circumstances change, and we must construct a new agreement that aligns with our current reality.

I urge your support for this new agreement, because it is better than what we have now. I cannot, in the future, support a new building under the terms of the agreement before us tonight.

It does not go far enough to align votes with the fiscal impact of the project. It does nothing to attract new cities or towns. It does not bring our cost of any new school down to a reasonable share.

What’s reasonable? I want 20%. I can live with 25%. Don’t ask me to go much higher.

Half of the towns, 8 towns, combined send a total of 54 students to the school. That’s 12.5% of the member town enrollment. Towns that send a half-dozen students to the school shouldn’t expect to have a bloated share of the decision making power in the district. We should allow them to leave the district and cap their non-member enrollment at current levels, particularly if the change in governance makes the district more attractive to the large non-member communities.

We shouldn’t let one small town delay the ratification process until they become the last town to ratify this agreement, which is why I enthusiastically support Mr. Foskett’s sunset provision.

We shouldn’t be afraid to insist on a price tag, and a vote proportionate to our enrollment, before we agree to build a new vocational school.

We shouldn’t be surprised if the Minuteman towns, acting on their own, cannot come to terms with an agreement that will allow for a new school without intervention from the state.

We know that the state can use a variety of sticks and carrots to bring some very large non-member cities, like Watertown and Waltham, into the district.

Those chapters of the Minuteman story, however, remain to be written. They are for another time. What is before us tonight is a proposal to take one step forward. It is a small, incremental improvement. We should take this step. Please support Mr. Foskett’s amendment and the revised regional agreement with your YES vote.

Thank you, Arlington

The voters of Arlington elected three school committee members today. I am pleased to have won re-election, and grateful to the voters of Arlington for their support.

Congratulations to Jennifer Susse, who will join us on the committee, and to Bill Hayner who was also re-elected. I am thrilled with the outcome and look forward to working with my colleagues.

School Committee – April 5, 2104: elect 3
Jennifer Susse 3646
Michael Buckley 2268
Paul Schlichtman (i) 3102
Bill Hayner (i) 3131
Write-In 17
Blanks 6154

The results are even more significant when you consider that my campaign raised and spent no money in this election cycle. We didn’t flood mailboxes with postcards, and we didn’t fill lawns with lawn signs. I thought, in this cycle, spending money on children was more important than spending on campaign materials. The voters proved me right.

I am still looking for contributions for the children of my school in Lowell. Please consider sending a contribution to support the children of the Rogers Early Learning Center. Your check, payable to the Lowell K-8 Activity Fund, will make a difference for the Rogers ELC students. Send your check to:
Paul Schlichtman, Principal
Rogers Early Learning Center
43 Highland Street
Lowell, MA 01852

Minuteman Budget Blues

As a former member of the Minuteman Regional School Committee, I know that our relationship with Minuteman is a complicated mix of partnership and competition. We are partners in educating Arlington students, yet we also compete for students. We need Minuteman to provide the specialized and expensive vocational programs that individual towns cannot provide on their own.

In the past three years, our Minuteman assessment has increased from 2.35 million dollars to 3.79 million dollars, a 61 percent increase in just three years. This is unsustainable. The reason for this dramatic increase is our percentage of the member town enrollment increased from 26.7 percent to 38.3 percent, and our assessment is based on the percentage of member town students that come from Arlington.

Minuteman is looking to build a new school, and the local costs are based on the percentage of students from each member town. Our share is rapidly approaching 40%, but we cannot afford to pay 40% of the cost of building a new vocational school. That’s why so we need to take some steps to restore the balance between Arlington and the other member communities.

First, we need to support a new Minuteman regional agreement, which will weigh votes based on the town’s enrollment. Currently, the Town of Dover has one student in the school, one vote on the school committee, and their one vote for a $38,000 assessment is equal to our one vote for a $3.79 million assessment. The new regional agreement will fix this inequity, but we can’t afford to move forward with a new school unless large non-member communities step forward, join the district, and pay their fair share of the costs of a new facility.

Second, we need to retain students in Arlington who are interested in science, technology, and engineering, by expanding our course offerings at Arlington High School. Other towns in the district retain a much higher percentage of their science – technology – engineering students. Right now, we don’t have the ability to effectively compete for these students, because of our lack of technology and adequate science labs, and this needs to change.

Did you know?

The Arlington Public Schools enrolls 4,903 students (October 1, 2012). Our students are 77% white, 10.7% Asian, 5.1% Hispanic, 3.2% African-American, 3.8% multiracial. 11.5% of our students have a first language that is not English, and 5.0% are classified as Limited English Proficient.
100% of Arlington high school graduates complete the MassCore curriculum.
98.2% of Arlington’s core academic classes are taught by highly qualified teachers.
• Arlington’s per pupil spending of $12,942 (2011) is $419 less than the state average of $13,361
• Arlington’s education spending as a percentage of total municipal expenditures (2011) is 43.8%, significantly below the state average of 48.1%.
• Arlington is a high achieving, high growth district. Arlington’s Median Student Growth Percentile is 54.0 (English Language Arts), 57.0 (Mathematics), significantly above the state median of 50.
Arlington is a diverse, fiscally prudent, high-achieving district.

Spanish immersion?

My recent post regarding came as a result of the following “petition.”

I am writing to let you know that I want broader-reaching foreign language instruction beginning in September 2013 in our elementary schools. Implementing comprehensive foreign language programs (immersion, FLES & after-school) in Arlington will keep our public schools competitive while providing essential skills and enhancing cultural sensitivity, while also benefiting English Language Learners in our school system. A large group of parents support comprehensive foreign language programs in Arlington’s schools. We believe it is imperative to begin a pilot immersion program in 1 or 2 kindergarten classrooms, at a minimum, starting in September 2013 so students benefit immediately while the program develops multiple offerings. Over 95% of hundreds of parents surveyed affirmed that they want to see this important program established in our community. Other public school systems have implemented successful immersion programs; some are Cambridge (Spanish and Mandarin), Framingham (Spanish), Maynard (Spanish), and Millis (Spanish), to name just a few. Bilingual children have greater executive functions, perform better on standardized tests, and do better in math. Let’s get APS into the top 10 in Massachusetts. Immersion programs are very low-cost and high-benefit. The question of teacher salary is usually net-neutral, because retiring teachers are replaced by new teachers who are dual certified. Each year, a new grade would be added to the program, up to grade 5 or 8. Initially there will also be the expense of obtaining pedagogical materials for each grade level, but the materials can then be re-used in subsequent years. The program would begin in one to two schools, and given the high level of demand that we have gauged, a lottery system would be used to fill available spots. As our country’s demographic includes more and more Spanish-speaking immigrants daily, the ability to communicate with millions of people not only in Latin America but in our own country will be a critical skill. Please establish Spanish immersion strands in September 2013 as part of APS elementary education curriculum! Thank you.

The emails generated by do not offer the opportunity to respond or engage in a discussion on the topic, so I am going to use this space to outline my concerns.

First, let’s start with the basics. Should Arlington students graduate with the ability to be literate in more than one language? Of course. I would love to see our graduates walk across the stage with the ability to speak at least two languages. It’s a worthy goal. The question is, how do we get there?

Arlington had a Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) Spanish program when I first joined the school committee in 2001. During a tight budget season, we eliminated the program. It wasn’t a particularly difficult vote, because we found that students who came up through the elementary program were landing in Spanish I at the Ottoson Middle School. It was a popular program, but it didn’t advance the goal of students speaking a second language.

Now we have a proposal and a lobbying effort for a Spanish immersion program. It goes beyond the first premise that we all agree upon – that children graduating from our schools should be able to speak a second language.

Here’s how the proponents have gone past the first premise. The proponents decided that the language should be Spanish, decided that we should institute an immersion program, decided that we should start the program in kindergarten in 2013, and decided that it should move up a grade level every year. They have gone way beyond the initial statement of need, to place a pre-packaged program at our doorstep. I see lots of problems in the package.

On its face, it sounds like a good idea. If we had unlimited resources, we could hire a new teacher every year and see if the program succeeds. However, as anyone who is involved in a Massachusetts school system knows, resources are rather limited thanks to Proposition 2.5 and the relative lack of state support for public education in our beloved Commonwealth.

Let’s think about what happens if we adopt their proposal. If we go into one of our elementary schools, and convert a kindergarten class to a Spanish immersion class, what would be the impact? We would need to move out a kindergarten teacher and replace her with a new bilingual kindergarten teacher. The following year, we would need to move a first grade teacher out of the school. The following year we move out a second grade teacher. Every year we would disrupt a different grade-level team, removing one member and replacing that teacher with a Spanish bilingual teacher. Which school community wants its successful grade level teams ripped apart to institute a new program?

One of the reasons why we have excellent elementary schools is that we have built successful professional learning communities and grade level teams. It’s an important component of excellence in teaching. If we start an immersion strand in one of our schools, we also end up ripping apart the grade level teams in these schools.

We just went through the pain of a long redistricting process. The school committee acted to create buffer zones, to adjust enrollment to provide an equitable opportunity at all seven schools. After all that, what happens when we place an immersion program in one or two schools? What happens to the people from across town who want the program, and what happens to the people who live in that sending district? Do they get pushed out of their neighborhood school?

We also have a limited administrative staff. We have limited capacity in the district to develop new initiatives. We have strategic goals, we need to institute a new teacher evaluation system, we need to align our curriculum with the new Common Core standards. Which of these do we put aside to institute an immersion program?

Here’s another issue of concern. In Arlington (2011-12), 12.5% of our children speak a first language other than English, 5.3% are classified as limited English proficient. In East Arlington, 28.7% of children at the Thompson school speak a first language other than English, 12.5% are classified as limited English proficient. 19.8% of children at the Hardy school speak a first language other than English, 12.7% are classified as limited English proficient. Spanish is not the predominant second language in town. How does a Spanish immersion program make sense in schools with 20-25% of the children come to school with a home language that is neither English or Spanish? Shouldn’t a program take advantage of the multicultural resources already in place in our schools? Shouldn’t a program have a dual task of helping our second language learners become proficient in English while they help their classmates to learn their language?

So, my thinking is that we should put the brakes on this Spanish immersion program, and go back to the first step. We can acknowledge that we want our children to be multi-lingual, then work together to find a solution that makes sense in the Arlington Public Schools.

Recently, an Arlington resident started an online “petition” on that is directed to the members of the Arlington School Committee.

I am asking that folks who have a cause that might be placed before a local governing body (selectmen, school committee, redevelopment board, et al.) refrain from using this (or a similar) device.

Since the start of this weekend, I have gotten more email from than from any other source of perpetual spam, including green coffee beans, credit reports, loans, Viagra, and Magic Jack. The mechanism behind this website is that it generates a significant number of email directed at the target(s) selected by the initial petitioner. This might be a winning practice if you are trying to get Hasbro to picture boys on the box of the Easy-Bake oven, trying to get Walmart to address the working conditions in its factories, or trying to get Malala Yousufzai a Nobel Peace Prize nomination (all causes on the front page). It may be a winning practice if the goal is to generate sheer volume of email. It certainly is a winning practice if a for-profit corporation wants to harvest contact information for people who identify with a cause. It’s not an effective method for persuading local elected officials in a New England town.

I have found that folks who are elected to local office are thoughtful, responsive folks. If you communicate with any of our elected officials, you are very likely to get a thoughtful response. If you communicate through, that’s impossible. While generates a boatload of emails when you sign their online petition, and sends an email with your name on it when you enter a comment, the email all comes from There is no way for me, or any other local official, to respond to your request.

Yes, your contact information is being collected by, but it isn’t being passed on to the folks who are the targets of the campaign. Your name is used, your name comes through in the email header, but your contact information is used for a purpose other than fostering communication with the target of the campaign.

Please note that is a for profit corporation, and their own website states that, “Like most companies, has a business model that allows us to grow rapidly and be financially self-sustaining, providing tens of millions of people with a free empowerment platform for change.” In other words, they are selling the information of petitioners as part of a for-profit business model.

The school committee website lists our personal email addresses.

The selectmen’s website has links to their personal email addresses.

If you have a local cause, if you want to persuade your local officials to take action, please address us directly and personally. Your message will be read, and you will get a thoughtful response. Please do not use to generate high-volume automated email to your local officials.