SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 24, 2013

Keeping an eye out for the good book

BY ALAN BURKE
STAFF WRITER

---- — PEABODY — It’s all in your point of view.

During a meeting on Tuesday with the Board of Registrars, School Committeeman Ed Charest asked City Clerk Tim Spanos, “When do you put the good voter book together?”

The good voter book? Spanos was clearly puzzled.

“We all call it the good voter book,” Charest explained, gesturing to his colleagues. It is the annual listing, aka the nosy book, a thick cataloging by the clerk of everyone in Peabody who is registered to vote.

“Never heard that term before,” said Spanos. Of course, he doesn’t run for office either.

You can stop screaming

For ice cream, that is. At least you can if City Councilor Anne Manning-Martin gets her way. Her idea is for the city to contract with vendors to sell ice cream and other goodies on the city’s bike path. Thus, weary hikers and bikers can get the energy boost they need to get back to the car.

She made the suggestion during last week’s meeting of the council’s finance subcommittee as Mayor Ted Bettencourt was promoting a $7.6 million spending package that includes more paths around a refurbished Crystal Lake.

“A great suggestion,” the mayor told Manning-Martin. “I love it.”

Paper trail

Mayor Bettencourt’s $7.6 million spending package also includes funds for computers in the office of the city clerk. The machines are aimed at helping get quick results.

That raised a concern for Councilor Arthur Athas.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “We’re going to have a computerized vote?”

But City Clerk Spanos explained that the software won’t preclude the age-old process of marking your ballot.

“I am in favor of the paper ballot,” Athas said.

“I am too,” Spanos said.

MCAS on average

Superintendent Joe Mastrocola began a discussion of MCAS scores at Tuesday’s school board meeting with a recorded statement from controversial and influential educator Diane Ravitch, who cautioned that too many tests are having a detrimental impact on student brains. In years past, Ravitch held precisely the opposite view, recommending testing as a way to measure student performance and force teachers to shape them up.

Mastrocola explained that his purpose in showing Ravitch’s remarks was to stress that “MCAS is only one way we test our students.” On the other hand, he offered a metaphor of the Cardinals coming to play in the World Series and complaining about Fenway Park. We don’t have a big green wall in our park, they would say. Even so, the superintendent explained, we all have to work with the rules as given, and the Cards will have to play ball beneath the Green Monster.

He characterized the MCAS results as mixed, with the high point a 23 percent boost in scores for 10th-grade math.

“MCAS results across the board were average,” he said. “We had some bright spots at the high school. We have a lot of work to do in the district.”

Offering to take the blame for any shortcomings, he said. “If things go well, the teachers should get all the credit.”

Every principal in the system attended the meeting, and some participated in dissecting the scores. Higgins Middle School Principal Todd Bucey, for example, cited the problem of test fatigue, when students aren’t motivated to do their best. “We have to find a way to make the test less stressful for students,” he said. And more interesting.

Help school win a lunchroom makeover

Janie Wilson, a fourth-grader at McCarthy School in Peabody, is in the running for a $30,000 school cafeteria makeover through a contest with Uncle Ben’s and Rachael Ray.

Mom Julie Crocker-Wilson offered the story on Facebook, explaining, “I entered the Ben’s Beginners Cooking Program by making a short cooking video with my kid. Vote for our video and help us get in the running for great prizes, like $15,000 for our family and a $30,000 cafeteria makeover for my kid’s school.” Voting ends on Sunday, Oct. 27. You can vote for Janie’s video, “Janie’s Chicken and a Biscuit,” at www.bensbeginnerscontest.com.