Cold War Escalates Between Tewksbury School Committee and Shawsheen Tech

Committee members bristle at remarks made by Shaw Tech superintendent.

The war of words between the Tewksbury School Committee and Shawsheen Tech Superintendent Charlie Lyons escalated Wednesday night as the town's school committee members lined up to take shots at Lyons at the conclusion of their meeting.

Lyons had been quoted in the Lowell Sun on Nov. 6 as being critical of Tewksbury's vote last month to continuing barring Shawsheen Tech from sending its guidance counselors to present information sessions to Tewksbury's eighth graders.

"If the (Tewksbury) School Committee, for some reason, doesn't want its students to learn more about another school funded by the taxpayers of Tewksbury, I can't defend that action," Lyons was quoted as saying to a Sun reporter. "That type of behavior has only been exhibited by one district and that's the town of Tewksbury -- but it's not the town, it's the school district," Lyons reportedly added.

All five members of the Tewksbury School committee took issue with Lyons' comments, with committee member Jayne Miller stating that "those kinds of comments I have seen from this administrator of a public school toward another school, in my opinion, is reprehensible.

"This board has never commented negatively, in any way about Shawsheen Tech, nor would we," Miller added. "They are an excellent school district. But those kind of comments coming from (Lyons) I think are beneath a public school administrator."

Committee member Joe Russell agreed.

"I was actually insulted, tremendously, reading the article, personally," Russell said. "It was directed at this board. It wasn't directed at the district, it was directed at us.

"I think Shawsheen Tech is a tremendous school," Russell added. "I've always said that. None of us want to keep our children from going to a vocational school ... if they should be in that vocational school. Absolutely none of us want that. (But) that's the picture they're painting, that we're being unfair. So I was very hurt by that article. It couldn't be more wrong."

The School Committee has opposed the practice of allowing students to be taken out of a classroom setting during regular school hours to be presented with information on other school districts. School Committee chairperson Krissy Polimeno, however, reported that she had participated in discussions about alternative ideas that would not disrupt the learning process at a recent Mass. Association of School Committee (MASC) conference. The ideas discussed at the MASC conference included using the afternoon hours on scheduled professional development days (during which students are dismissed late in the morning) as visitation days for schools like Shawsheen Tech.

Under MASC's proposal, schools like Shawsheen would provide bus transportation to interested students, at Shawsheen's expense.

"If they're going to pay for the bus, I think the kids should go," Russell said. "I want as many kids that can, to go, so we can get the right kids there."

School Committee members also bristled at the fact that while public school districts like Tewksbury have to go to great lengths to get taxpayer approval to expansion plans for vocational school districts like Shawsheen Tech are not subject to voter approval.

"I just want Shawsheen Tech and Tewksbury to be playing by the same rules," committee member Dennis Francis said. "I look at the $4.2 million addition they have on their school, which is a tremendous addition. But when we (approved) our new high school we went before the voters, so the residents of Tewksbury had a say in that building.

"That $4.2 million that went to Shawsheen Tech, I don't remember voting for that. I don't even know who voted for that. Who represented the town of Tewksbury?"

Ultimately, however, the committee gave superintendent of schools Dr. John O'Connor the green light to meet with Lyons and continue to explore ways in which the two school districts could cooperate in their efforts to make the vocational school education available to all Tewksbury students.

"I agree with some of the provisions presented at the (MASC) conference," Miller said. "I think it may be worth a second look."

Polimeno agreed.

"Some of the changes proposed (by MASC) ... are something that we as a school committee may want to revisit and talk about," Polimeno said.


denise November 17, 2011 at 08:50 PM
it is too bad that it is the children that suffer when the grown ups cant get along.
Diane Nocco November 18, 2011 at 01:32 AM
Mr. Russell, who were you speaking of when you said, "the right kids"? The kids that would benefit best from a vocational education are the ones that have a hard time excelling academically but thrive in hands-on skills. Though it seems to me that the Tech favors those that have high academic skills. It's too bad that the tech has evolved into this, that is not how it started out. In the beginning, the tech took in the more academically challenge students and turned them into successful tradesman. Today, those students go to the high school to endure more of what they are not good best at and are deprived of the training they would be best at. It's a shame.
Diane Nocco November 18, 2011 at 01:42 AM
One of my best friends was a trouble maker back in high school when the tech first opened. He was shipped to the tech along with a whole group of kids just like him. He graduated from the tech as a plumber and has been a successful citizen ever since. The tech has wanted him to come back and teach there for years now. We are disappointed at what has become of the tech and who they choose to become students there. My nephew did not get into the tech this year. He is not academically inclined but he can sure work with his hands. He really wanted to go to the tech for automotive but they denied him because academics are not one of his strong points. His mom passed away when he was young, he has a deadbeat dad, and he recently lost his grandfather. He has always had a hard time concentrating EXCEPT when he is using his hands. He is a kinesthetic learner and would have excelled at the tech where he belongs. Now, if he stays at the high school, his chances of being successful after graduation, if he doesn't quit, are slim. He is constantly reminded of his weak points and has no chance to develop his strong points. Again, it's a shame.
Diane Nocco November 18, 2011 at 01:46 AM
In case you were wondering who the friend is that I was talking about. His name is Charles (Chuck) Greenwood. My nephew is Michael Nocco.
Susan November 18, 2011 at 03:01 AM
The funny thing is the Middle Schoolers unnecessarily visited the current H.S. this past week. The new school is due to open next fall. The school committee had no problem busing students during their regularly scheduled academics to see a school that they won't be attending. Hypocritically, they have an issue with letting Shawsheen Tech guidance counselors visit to speak with students about the wonderful programs that they have to offer. Lyons is correct, we do fund both schools through taxes. We, including school committee members, should support students on their endeavors no matter which school they decide to attend.
Bill Gilman (Editor) November 18, 2011 at 03:43 AM
Diane, you are correct to say that tech schools have "evolved" over the last 20 years. Not only does it produce tradesmen, but with computer tech, drafting, electrical engineering and similar programs, it attracts many students whose plans include attending top-flight colleges. Certainly, a student with his eyes on MIT or RPI might lean toward getting a head start at a trade school. While school committee and school department officials have not come right out and said it, it is understandable that they might feel they are in competition for the "best and brightest" of the 8th graders. The funding issue on capital projects seems to highlight a loophole that the state would be wise to address. In the case of Shawsheen, it might be fair to have the voters of all five member towns cast a ballot on building projects .
Diane Nocco November 18, 2011 at 04:32 AM
Thank you for replying Bill. I understand that schools want the best of the best coming in and out of their schools. I think it would be great if a large group would address the issue of what kind of citizens our academic underachievers will turn out to be. It in no way can be good to let these kids graduate without immediate skills to use. They need some sort of path to base their goals on. I hate to admit it or even say this but, I fear that these students will become part of the suicide/criminal/welfare statistics. I'm talking about teens that are able-bodied problem solvers that just need to find their niche. I believe they would all be able to succeed which in turn makes for a better society for all. When I was a freshman, I really wanted to get into electronics shop at the Tech. I left Tewksbury High, my sophomore year, at age 15 and became a full-time house painter. After 19 years of catching up on my education, I am now a chemistry instructor at UMass contracted as adjunct faculty. I am 40 years old and still don't have a full-time job in my field. As a single mother, that's a problem, and I don't want to sit back and watch generation after generation go through what I had to just to stay alive. We need an alternative for these kids to ensure a brighter future for our community and society. Is that a possibility? I don't know anything about state and local politics but I would certainly back a good idea if one was presented.
Jerry Selissen November 18, 2011 at 11:19 AM
Hi Bill: One thing I believe most people don't understand is that Regional Schools (not Tech Schools) are not subject to prop 2 1/2. That means that they can staff as they see fit, initiate capital improvement projects as required and simply send the bill to the individual towns. Other than available students, there is a reason that regional schools such as Concord/Carlisle and Lincoln/Sudbury exist and it has nothing to do with saving money.
Sean Czarniecki November 18, 2011 at 11:43 AM
Thanks for posting that Jerry - I didn't know that about Regional Schools!
Bill Gilman (Editor) November 18, 2011 at 11:51 AM
Jerry, to clarify you post. In non-tech regional school districts, the annual budgets must be approved by a majority of the member towns. In other words, if two of the three towns in the North Middlesex School District vote against the proposed budget, then it fails. The same is not true with Techs. Also, to say that regional districts in Massachusetts were formed to be able to spend more money without worrying about Prop 2 1/2 is inaccurate. Every one of the Regional Districts in Massachusetts was formed at least 15-20 years prior to the implementation of Prop 2 1/2.
Jerry Selissen November 18, 2011 at 01:04 PM
Bill: Don't disagree! However, the point being that Regional/Technical Schools are NOT playing on an equal footing with local city/town schools. As far as the voting by the Town elected members of the regional school districts. IMO I have found those members to be nothing more than a rubber stamp!
Fedup November 18, 2011 at 01:44 PM
What a bunch of morons you pro-Tewksbury school system people are. Do you realize if all the hundreds of Tewksbury kids that attend the Tech were to attend Tewksbury High School how much worse the school would be over and above the mess it is now.
GrowUp! November 18, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Right on Fedup...parents - put your energy at making TMHS a better place. The new building is not going to solve the education issues in town because the school management as a whole has not changed! There are teachers that need to retire or be fired. Stop sweeping your issues under the rug or putting blame elsewhere and focus on the kids. You attack the Tech but how about doing the same to all the private high schools where parents are spending their money to send their kids to because the TMHS is such a mess. Hello, do you see the pattern here... kids don't want to go to TMHS!
GrowUp! November 18, 2011 at 02:52 PM
Yup, both mine did after the Tech and currently hold professional positions; one is a nurse and one is the manager of a marketing department
Marc November 18, 2011 at 03:08 PM
Diane just a quick note, shawsheen is not the only tech school your nephew can apply to..I know what your going through Im affraid my son will also have a problem more just because academically..it is not his strong suit and loves to draw and build things with his hands. It is school of choice why don't you guys look into nashoba or essex aggie or minuteman. I do know a good friend of mine who wanted to go to essex aggie did not get the information because the wynn at the time did not give sufficient notification about them coming to the schools so it was too late to apply however the parents made a big stink about not getting notification that esses aggie agreed to look at his daughters files and sure enough she got in.. Essex aggie also picked her up at her doorstep and dropped her off every day. I agree that It shouldn't be this difficult to get into any public school. So much for the no child left behind act because at the rate some of these kids learn they are going to fall thru the cracks if they dont have more options available to them like the tech.
Diane Nocco November 18, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Just to clarify, I did not post in relation to the article itself, only about a comment made by Mr. Russell. Maria, I'm not sure about the politics of schools and their policies. I only know that Michael didn't make the cut. Marc, I tried Essex Aggie but, as you said, found out too late. The Wynn never mentioned the option, I had heard of it from a friend of mine that went there but the man I spoke to said it was too late to apply. Everyone else, I agree that the TMHS should improve its faculty and curriculum. The condition of the building and the new one going up has nothing to do with academic situation there. I didn't realize how bad it was until I started tutoring TMHS graduates that still couldn't read a newspaper. Michael came home the first day of school and I checked his paperwork. I found a packet that had 5 typos and/or incomplete sentences so I asked him if he needed to correct these for homework. He said, "No, that is a handout we got today. We had to read it just as information to learn." REALLY???? I made him circle all the typos and put the packet in a folder. He asked why and I told him, "Because if you get a low grade in English and literacy, I will be able to show them why!"
Chris Kelly November 18, 2011 at 04:17 PM
I have heard a statistic from a parent of a Shawsheen Tech grad that Shawsheen Tech has a higher college graduation rate than TMHS? Can anyone confirm or deny this fact?
Diane Nocco November 18, 2011 at 04:24 PM
But I don't want to leave the Tech out of this. A man very close to me made it through his junior year at the Tech and still can't read the label on grocery packages. I understand the reading programs have improved significantly since the 80's so this isn't a bash on the program as a whole. I just wanted to address the real fear us parents have for our children so as to not let it repeat itself.
Marc November 18, 2011 at 05:08 PM
Diane I can tell you that my daughter is a senior at the tech and is in all honors classes and has been since freshman year. I think this is the hardest year for her with honors. She is in physics and calc. I think the high school ap classes may be a little more difficult then the tech honors classes but again its a tech school either way she has a 3.6 gpa and is looking at schools like st josephs of maine and franklin pierce. she did not like the shops at all because once you choose a shop and get in then your stuck there for 4 years. But by the time I wanted to transfer to the high school which was jr year she said no cuz the girls at the high school had already formed their clicks and she would have felt left out. its one half dozen things or another i think with any school. No my son on the other had as i said is a child that would need the tech the high school suspends kids left and right from what i hear even for walking around with food in the halls. my son is by all means not a trouble maker at all or a punk kid. but hes a busy guy and he will not do well with teachers constantly at his throat for nothing. hes in 7th grade and im already a nervous reck cuz he wants to go the high school with his friends and i dont want him there.
mel November 18, 2011 at 05:11 PM
Im not impressed with fighting and tewksbury acting childish on the subject..I live in Tewksbury and got a flyer about the new HS and a letter in my sons bag ect...We attended the Tech last week and we loved it... I do take offense to the comment "the right kids"..My son is an A&B student and he wants to attend the Tech and has always based on his opinion. We as parents told him to keep his grades up and attendance so he can have a choice between the two schools..I personally want him at the Tech. I think changing the HS is amazing..I voted for it but just because the appearance changes doesnt guarentee the teachers/teaching/staff is going to change as well. I feel as though that is a factor for some Tewksbury residents as well. It is not the Tech's fault kids/parents choose to enroll there instead of the THS...Tewksbury should re-evaluate the reasons why...Not the blame game. Politics gets the best of this town most of the time...its to bad...
Diane Nocco November 18, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Awesome to hear your daughter is doing so well. Having been moved in and out of school districts, I understand why she would want to stay where she is. Kids can be brutal on newcomers. I agree about the nonsense punishments. If Mike gets a detention, I have to have it changed to a day I am not working, otherwise, he would be walking the streets as it is getting dark out and that is never a good idea. Especially with what goes on in that parking lot after dark. I asked him what he did to get the detention and he tells me something ridiculous. I don't believe him and have to confirm that, in fact, he did get a detention for that reason. I don't blame you for not wanting him there. My biological son went to Hudson, NH to live with his dad so that he could go to Alvirne HS. There was no way I was allowing my bright son's mind to deteriorate in TMHS. My choice now is to buy a house up there so Michael can go there too. It's a great school with many tech components that you don't have to apply/qualify for. It IS their HS. Can't wait :)
Marc November 18, 2011 at 06:42 PM
Mel well put..I want my son going to the tech as well..Im afraid if he doesnt get his grades up the 2nd term they wont take him however, hes never in trouble, never out of school which are all points towards going to the tech..my thing is some not all kids struggle academically therefore I hope they take that into consideration and know that not every kid that wants to attend the tech isnt an a/b student like my daughter is. She is one that would excel anywhere she wanted to go but once we chose the tech she no longer wanted the shop anymore come jr year and we struggled with that cuz she did have a full two years left of it. so thats why i would have transferred her anywhere else but like Diane said kids are brutal on newbies even though my daughter has played sports with these kids all her life..I chose the tech also because tewksbury kids/families can be very clicky and i wanted/want more of a diverse cultural experience for my children..I dont want them stuck in tewksbury all their lives they have to know whats outside the compound
RunningGreen November 18, 2011 at 07:20 PM
Personally, I don't like why everyone is going after the teachers at TMHS. Yes, there are some who need to be replaced. But a majority of them actually care about how their students do. I do agree that the building and administration need to be replaced, but don't put down the entire school. On another note, I honestly believe that whether a kid does well in high school depends just as much on the student as it does to the teachers and school itself. And this is coming from a TMHS student.
Diane Nocco November 18, 2011 at 07:21 PM
Marc, I believe you said your son likes to draw. Just a heads up, tell him not to draw on a girl. Mike just got home as I was on the phone with the assistant principle. Kids think it's funny to draw on each other but now Mike is suspended for 3 days for it. So now he will be out of school all week next week....that's just great :(
Marc November 18, 2011 at 08:01 PM
A kids can excel anywhere he/she wants to go..but suspending kids left and right is not the answer..these schools take it a little over board whatever happened to kids will be kids..yea of course if it is serious misconduct but give me a break is a kid gonna get suspended for writing on themselves to. I hate to say this but i always say there are only two reasons teachers become teachers..1st and formost they should care about the kids and their education and second reason which is why a lot kids become teachers today is to have the summers off. i feel if you have no patience teaching kids whether they be special needs or not you have no business being in any school system. I am personally sick and tired of all the small stuff that goes on with these teachers. my son was 5 and i would get calls constantly for his shoes being untied..do any of you know what its like to get a call like that constantly wen you work 25 miles away from the school.. reallyy..us as tax payers pay teachers salaries to basically babysit and teach our kids not bust our chops for petty stuff but yet because of this no child left behind act a friend of mine son must be 20 and still a senior selling drugs in the school and they cant kick him out..


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