Democracy War Den 

Now I am become warden, the spoiler of ballots, I am active protecting my precinct. Hear me cross tablet and checklist in fear. Unjammer of stuck paper. Signer of zero counts slips. Purveyor of provisional ballots. 

The war in my den is against apathy.

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School Committee, School Community

Does the School Committee go in the school buildings?

A recent post commented: “Our school committee does not come in the building very often nor spend time with us and see what it is that we do. (even pre pandemic)” where “we/us” in that sentence is teachers.

I wondered – how true is that? I assume it’s true for the original author but reflected on how much that statement generalizes. It seems inline with a broader sentiment during the teacher contract negotiations that tries to paint the School Committee as unreasonable, disinterested, and removed from the day-to-day work in the schools. I refreshed my own understanding of who and what type of people serve on School Committee. In doing so, I was surprised by what I (re)discovered so I thought I’d share here. I do not intend to call attention to any particular person on the School Committee, but rather intend to give my sense of who these volunteers are.

I’ve been at enough school committee meetings, subcommittee meetings, school building meetings, override study committee meetings, workshops, etc to get a glimpse of the work involved in being on School Committee. It’s an unpaid position, yet can easily take 20+ hours per week. These people volunteer to do this. Yet they are responsible for approving a $130 million dollar annual budget employing more than 1000 people and educating the ~7500 kids in this school system. Not a small amount of responsibility.

School Committee Survey

Who is the School Committee and are they disconnected from the schools? I’ve pulled snippets from their bios to paint a picture.

6 of 9 currently have kids in Brookline schools

  • “have three children at Driscoll and Brookline High School”
  • “have two daughters attending Lawrence School”
  • “Her daughter attends the Lawrence School and her son attends the Lincoln School.”
  • “have a son who is a third-grader at Pierce School and a graduate of BEEP”
  • “daughter attends the Lawrence School and her son attends the Lincoln School”
  • “have three children at Brookline High School, Pierce School, and in preschool.“

2 of the other 3 had kids in the Brookline schools in the past

  • “three children who graduated from the Runkle School and Brookline High School”
  • “two children attended Pierce School and Brookline High School”

Currently work or volunteer in Schools or Town:

  • “currently teaches fourth grade in the Newton Public Schools”
  • “treasurer of the Pierce PTO from 2014-2019 … and is in first term as co-president of the Brookline High School Alumni Association”
  • “has been an educator for more than thirty years in Connecticut and Massachusetts.  Most recently served as a special education teacher, a literacy coach, and then as an elementary school principal for the Boston Public Schools.”
  • “Brookline Town Meeting, where continues to serve. also volunteers time to several Brookline neighborhood associations.”
  • “served as a PTO Co-Chair for Driscoll School, was a member of Brookline SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Council), and served on the School Principal Search Committee and Driscoll School Building Committee”

2 attended Brookline public schools themselves

  • “attended BEEP at Lynch Center, Lawrence School, and Brookline High School.”
  • “attended the Pierce School for pre-school, the Lincoln School for grades K-1, the Devotion School for grades 2-8, and Brookline High School for grades 9-12”

It Takes a Village

Such close connections to our town’s schools are why I’m glad they, as our elected officials, are involved in these negotiations. And why I largely trust & expect them to do so in good faith while balancing the needs of all parties.

The School Committee may not “come on the first day of school” in high school because 6 of 9 of them are walking their children into classrooms that day. Plus parents aren’t generally as active in the day-to-day lives of our high schoolers, whose experience is split across 5+ different teachers. I expect my teens to advocate for themselves vs me helicopter parenting them through the BHS hallways.

As a parent who has been a pretty active volunteer in our schools during my 3 kids journey, I get the partnership it takes between parents and teachers & school admins & staff to make it all work. Better relationships make for better experiences for everyone – kids, teachers, parents, staff. Science fairs don’t start & run themselves, PTOs don’t fund raise alone, overrides don’t get passed without support. My one gripe during my time volunteering at schools has been how a small number of parents seem to end up doing such a large share of the volunteering. But to somehow cast the School Committee as not involved in schools seems uninformed at best and intentionally questioning their commitment to the schools in the face of a contract negotiation at worst.

I do also appreciate the work teachers do. I’ve not found anything more important in the quality of my kids education than the curiosity, passion, creativity, and dedication of the teacher in the classroom. I wonder how much less contentious these discussions would be if we had a meaningful social safety net i.e. with affordable universal health care, reasonable retirement benefits, accessible child care, more affordable housings, and better access to good public transportation.

[Disclaimer: This is a personal post, I have no connection with the SC, no one was consulted by me in writing this, no one asked me to do it, no one knew I was doing it.]

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Driscoll Construction Shameful Now

I made a post recently on a Facebook “Brookline Schools group” with a comment that the Driscoll construction project is shameful, but didn’t elaborate. I’ll do so now, here.

tldr; It obvious that the empty Newbury College is where the kids should go during construction.

Doing the Driscoll project now is shameful, yes. Why?

It’s a pandemic. 

Would you want your kids’ outdoor space turned into a construction zone? Do you want your kids eating in a classroom without open windows? Is it safe for the kids with construction dust?

It’s the first time Brookline is keeping young kids onsite during a construction. Every other project moved kids offsite without a pandemic. Are the Driscoll kids not worth the effort spent on Runkle, Heath, and Devotion/Florence Ridley, 9th graders from BHS.

Are you getting blunt honest feedback from folks in the building on these topics?

In front of their bosses, their employers, these employees are saying “everything is fine” when asked about handling the disruption from a school building project.

This Dec 17th meeting note covers the question “is there enough outdoor space for the kids during construction? Answer “yes, because we are doing hybrid schooling”. So that’s a “no, there won’t be enough outdoor play space for when all kids are back in school”.

Everything is not fine.

It’s shameful because it’s so incredibly obviously a crappy thing to do to the people in and around the building. Now. During a pandemic.

Think about it. Are they going to call out their employer in a public setting? They are going to put a good face on it. “We’ll figure it out”.

Have you spent some time in the schools?  Have you chatted with anyone in a hallway, gotten an honest view into how they are doing?

I am not claiming to speak for them; these are simply my observations. They are incredulous that the project is going forward. They are exhausted, stressed out, emotionally spent but valiantly doing their jobs.

The school esprit-de-corp is at a perilous state. Anyone new this year hasn’t had a parent-teacher breakfast. No parent has chit chatted at drop off. 6 parents showed up to the recent  “principal search” meeting. There aren’t enough parent volunteers or FTEs to keep the VP or Principal from covering lunch shifts in the cafeteria when they should be doing … literally anything else.

All the reserves of good will, community, bonding that make the disruption from a typical school building project bearable are not there. 

Instead they are told to suck it up, do the first onsite school “occupied” construction project in Brookline. 

BTW – there is no permanent leadership. Both the principal and vice-principal are interim. I assume they’d like to have a shot at the permanent full time job. How big a wave do you expect them to make to their hiring committee?  (It would be great for the Driscoll community if both Mr Youkilis and Ms Bartley did get those permanent positions – both because they know the job and the community could use some continuity).

I don’t even have a kid in the building this year, for the first time in 13 years straight. 3 kids, 2 years apart, from BEEP through 8th grade. There aren’t a lot of people in the building longer. But there are some. Chat with them. Or with new folks in a quick hallway or classroom chat. Please. Get a pulse on the situation.

We need to move beyond a “this is just another go from the folks who alway wanted to stop the project” take.

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The Best Antidote to Cynicism In The Schools

I went into the schools this week. Twice actually.

The best antidote to cynicism is going into the schools, seeing the professionals engaged in the enterprise of educating children. The teachers’ union in the pandemic is a complicated issue. But seeing the teachers, admins, and staff in the buildings, in the classrooms, with their kids, is singularly clarifying – they are doing heroic work.

My first visit was to pickup 20,000 masks donated by our sister city in China as part of the China Exchange (Chex) program, that my wife is involved in. I tend to be the labor, moving boxes to & from schools. When we got to the high school, I had my first (gloved) handshake since March – from Anthony Meyer. He’s there with the other admins, teachers and staff, in person, overseeing the education of our kids. I didn’t appreciate that I’d feel this way, but it is inspiring to witness.

Second time in schools this week – the Driscoll PTO newsletter mentioned the need for volunteers to cover lunch periods so that teachers have a chance to step out and eat their own lunch, their only break in the day. At Driscoll, there is a volunteers sign-up list. This week, I happened to click through to the signup and saw … no one signed up for Monday and open spots on Tuesday. I signed up as I had some time off.

I spent shifts in the cafeteria with two 6th grade classes, then later in the classrooms with a 1st grade class, a 3rd grade class, and a 4th grade class. I read a book to one class, watched a couple of episodes of Magic School bus, and generally oversaw kids who knew the program and were largely self-directed in safely eating lunch.

There are not enough grown-up bodies in the building for it to work. The 6th grade classrooms were in the cafeteria together because of logistics – there just weren’t enough grown-ups to cover in-class lunches. They can’t hire enough paraprofessionals or substitutes. Please, if you can cover a 30 min shift, consider volunteering. I assume other schools are in the same boat.

There are a couple parents who have been in *every day* since school opened, covering lunch shifts. These parents are selfless, unnamed heros not seeking any limelight, but instead doing the quiet work of making sure the system works, supporting the school, and very possibly your children.

Some observations:

The number of kids in the classrooms is low – having a 6 year old explain “we are cohort A and we don’t see the other cohort” is both adorable and heartbreaking. There were 5-8 kids in the classrooms, well spaced out.

The kids understand mask protocol / etiquette – recall I’m there during lunch. Masks off during lunch. They generally have learned not to talk while eating, while masks are off. I was reading and asked a question to them. One of the young kids grabbed their mask, covered their mouth and answered. <shudder>.

Ventilation: Attached are photos of the windows. These are lovely, solid, well built windows that tilt in. Hepa filters were cranked in the classrooms too, but noise is very moderate – it’s a low fan sound.

The librarian was also awesome – she brought a rolling cart of books for kids to checkout for the vacation. Two kids at a time, hand sanitizer before touching books, don’t touch anything else until you’re done. The 1st and 3rd graders came back into the classroom beaming, books in hand, then stuffed into backpacks. Another trip to the in-class sink for handwashing, then back to their well-spaced desk to resume lunch. Did I mention the 1st grade classes have in-class sinks and bathrooms? Let’s keep those in any new buildings, please.

They are, and IMO should be, cranking the heat and opening windows this winter. Yes, we are going to be wasteful of heat and energy. I’m 100% good with this trade off. Ventilation, masks, and hand hygiene keeps kids in school.

I didn’t realize that alternate stairwells had been designated either “up” or “down” stairs, to reduce crowding and interactions. I made the noob mistake of walking up the stairs designated as “down”. Someone politely asked if they had it wrong, I apologized and slowly realized what was going on.

(Aside: I heard the new building design at Driscoll doesn’t have windows that open .. because of building code? That seems absurd. Please – let’s make sure these exact same type of window are available in all new buildings built in Town? Because we have to plan assuming another pandemic, sooner than we think.)

In short:

  • This works.
  • Teachers & admins & staff in the buildings are heros
  • We need more volunteers to help
  • “Asynchronous learning” for kids below … 5th? 6th? 7th? grade is not working.
  • We need more space & grown-ups to get more kids in person. Newbury College is empty. How have we not commandeered this complex of buildings to get more low-density programs going?

(This post was original posted to the Brookline Public Schools Discussion group on Facebook)

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JSON Stats Ham

Someone posted this in a light hearted slack channel at work.

Note being content with that level of silliness, I thought I’d try to take it to 11.

F=ham && echo '{"JSON" : "stat -s '${F}'"}' \
  | jq -r .JSON                          \
  | bash -x                              \
  | perl -pe 's/(\w+)=(\w+)/"$1":$2,/g;' \
  | sed 's/.$//'                         \
  | echo '{' $(cat -) '}'                \
  | jq .
stat -s ham
"st_dev": 16777220,
"st_ino": 8637104130,
"st_mode": 100644,
"st_nlink": 1,
"st_uid": 502797,
"st_gid": 10002,
"st_rdev": 0,
"st_size": 0,
"st_atime": 1590682534,
"st_mtime": 1590682534,
"st_ctime": 1590682534,
"st_birthtime": 1590676746,
"st_blksize": 4096,
"st_blocks": 0,
"st_flags": 0

Can you use fewer lines to get from the echo statement to the output?

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My Town Blocked me on Twitter

tl;dr Can your local, state, or federal government block you on Social Media? My town blocked my Twitter account and I have no idea why. And I suspect neither do they. What does this mean in the “digital age” and e-government? Time to ask some questions and hold them accountable.

I’m Blocked on Twitter

I was going to ask the Brookline Dept of Public Works (DPW) a question about the new Pay-As-You-Through (PAYT) trash system. So I went online, looking for their twitter handle. Other neighboring Depts. of Public Works are online in CambridgeDPW and Boston DPW, Newton DPW. So the Town of Brookline is on Twitter, FaceBook, and even Instagram, but the Brookline Dept. of Public Works isn’t. Too bad.

Brookline DPW not on twitter? Ok, I’ll fall back to the general “Town of Brookline”. But strange, I couldn’t seem to find that one either. Until I went directly to the page after looking up their handle on a search engine (and using a private/incognito mode in the Browser). 

Well, hello – I’ve been blocked on Twitter by the government of the town in which I am a resident.

What I saw when I went to @TownOfBrookline on Twitter.

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Being a Good Steward

I enjoy reading the Brookline Beacon for keeping up-to-date on happenings in Town. A recent entry talks about the next 40B project in Town at 21 Crowninshield Rd.  I don’t have a dog in the fight other then hoping folks will be good stewards of Brookline. Topic of this article – stewardship. Or rather, lack of it.

The threat of this development is propelling neighbors to push for a Local Historic District. There is Article 11 “Proposed Article to Establish a Crowninshield Local Historic District” on the 2015 Brookline Town Meeting warrant.

The only thing I’ll add is a comparison of the before and after. Because that kind of thing is pretty easy to do now. And particularly striking in this case.

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Per-Pupil Spending Over Time

Are We Spending More or Less on Kids?

It’s stated frequently, the statistical factoid (statoid? statisticoid? hmmm.) that per-pupil spending in Brookline Schools has fallen during the enrollment boom, i.e. between 2006 and now. We’ve added kids, so of course, we are spending less on each kid. We’ve cut to the bone. We’re already underfunding our schools.  Only the maximum extent possible override (MEPO) will retain your property value or keep our schools excellent.

And looking at the data, yes, we’re spending less. But on what?

  • Less on interest payments for building the New Lincoln School in 1990 (Brookline’s first override ever after prop 2 1/2) and renovating the High School in 1995 (Brookline’s second override ever).
  • Less on health care because Brookline joined the GIC, saving us a bunch.
  • Less on out-of-district special education placements by providing equivalent services at less cost in-district.

But not less on School Budgets or teachers or kids. The Brookline School Budgets keeps going up. In fact, we’ll see that from 2006 to 2014:

  • Enrollment in Brookline Public Schools went up 21% from 6014 to 7288 kids;
  • The Brookline School Budget increased 41.7%, from $60M to $85M;
  • The Brookline School Budget increased 4.48% per year on average.
  • Per-pupil the School Budget is doing just fine, too, thank you very much, having increased 17%, from $10,046 to $11,751;
  • Yes, even inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending is just around 0% (-0.67%) over the last 8 years.

I guess we do love our kids here in Brookline.

Let’s dig into the data.

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