Community Health Surveys at Dracut Middle and High Schools

As reported earlier, Dracut Schools participated in a survey of health issues over the last year, and the reports on these surveys have been presented.

I asked Superintendent Steve Stone to come on the air to discuss these surveys, what they say about our students, and what our response will be with regard to helping the students through some difficult issues.

Stone spoke to who was selected (a random sampling at the High School, nearly all Middle School students), how our numbers seemed to come out similar to those of other towns and the state, and that what we need are additional mental health support staff that can be shared across all the schools to support the classroom teachers with these issues.

If an override is approved, the spending on technology that is planned would trigger federal matching funds that would be used to bring on just these services.

Our discussion tended to flow from the specific numbers of the studies, to the general needs of the classroom support that the surveys are showing, and then back to the studies again.

This clip is long, I cut out all commercials, etc.. listen at your leisure.

Stone Photo from Lowell Sun

BOS Item and Economic Development Discussion

During our discussion with Dracut Superintendent Steve Stone this morning, I took the opportunity to bring up an item on the Board of Selectmen’s agenda for the upcoming Tuesday evening meeting:

Selectmen DiRocco – Discuss Letter to Town Manager from Superintendent Stone dated March 1, 2016 regarding Clarifying Erroneous Information

This item comes down to common discussion over the last few years that people seem to think that the $100,000 given to the school department in the fall 2013 Town Meeting was not used for technology as it was proposed it would be used for. During a recent audit of the schools, this had come up. Stone decided it would be appropriate to provide a detailed analysis of the spending that was done with that money and provide it to the Town Manager, who then shared it with the members of the Board of Selectmen.

Stone explained that the money was used to provide technology assets to almost all classrooms in the elementary and middle schools.

The discussion then moved on to a general comparison of Dracut’s economic state vs Burlington and Tewksbury, and then moved into a general discussion of the possible development of economic growth via overrides, or a “home run” that could take advantage of our state with respect to natural resources and industrial development.


2015 Health Survey at DHS and DMS

I’ve been reviewing the health survey’s performed at the Dracut High and Middle Schools during 2015.

These were presented to the School Committee on Monday evening, Mar 14th, 2016 and although I listened I also wanted to look at the data to be able to report on it.

The Superintendents office was very supportive in both posting the reports, and then letting me know they were available.

I should note here that Superintendent Stone has offered to appear on 980 WCAP Saturday Morning live this week to discuss these reports.

From a letter to parents, Superintendent Stone:

The School Committee has also publicly committed to supporting efforts related to the social and emotional well-being of students. They are communicating with members of the community who have expressed a willingness to support our efforts. This is especially important in that any comprehensive system of supports must includethe entire community.
Within the schools, the results of the surveys will be sharedwith the facultyin an effort to engage educatorsin conversations about how we can better support students.
Finally, at the Richardson Middle School and Dracut High School, groups of students will be brought together to discuss the results and receive their input.
The issues contained in these surveys are sensitive and elicit a variety of emotional responses. It can be natural to some to shrink from having open and honest conversations especially when it involves children and adolescents.
To do so, however, allows such matters to remain in the shadows.The Dracut Public Schoolsis committed to shining a light on these issues in the best interest of the social, emotional and physical health of our students.
The two reports, one on findings at the Richardson Middle School and the second from the Dracut High School are very interesting, and disturbing, in that they give us an view into the reality of todays youth.  Personally, I also advocate that parents who are interested in this subject also review the publications of SAMSHA, There is a lot of general information on substance abuse as well as resources for parents (and students) who need help.
First of all, I want to ask everyone to look at the statistics with care.  Any discriminator that is very low (like only 2 or 10 students reported on that item) make it inappropriate to use the stats as a general description as those numbers are too low.   I guess to be frank about it, at the High School too few minorities were reporting, so its unfair to say that they overwhelmingly represent their race in general.
Students participating at the Middle School tell us 5% of students self-report hurting themselves (cutting, etc), at the High School this increases to 10%.  This is disturbing.
We see high rates of depression at both schools, and this makes you think “what services are available to these kids?”
15% of our kids are drinking for the first time between 10 and 14 years of age, 55% of High School students reported drinking in the last 30 days, with 25% saying they had “binge” drinked in that timeframe.
Seriously considered suicide? 9%,  2 actually attempted (of those who took the survey).
When it comes to pot, only about 5% had ever tried it at the Middle School, only 2% recently. By High School, we’re up to 35% having used it with 17% reporting they had used it in the last 30 days.
In our discussion with the Superintendent, it will be interesting to learn whether these were randomly selected students, or those who chose to take the survey.  Why only about 150 were surveyed at the high school and over 500 at the Middle School.
The discussion has to go on to what services do the schools, the community and the state provide for these families?

Election candidates finalized

From the Lowell Sun article this morning, we see that Cathy Richardson and George Malliaros have returned their completed papers to run for office.
As of this time, I declare George Malliaros the winner in the race for moderator because I’m giving him my vote.
From the article:
Only one person who pulled nomination papers did not return them: John Malnati, for the one, three-year library trustee seat.
All other candidates returned the paperwork, including the 50 required signatures. The final ballot will include:
• Malliaros as the sole candidate for the threeyear town moderator position.
• Incumbents Tony Archinski and Richardson, along with Phillippe Thibault and Jesse Forcier for two, three-year selectmen seats.
• Incumbent Betsy Murphy plus challengers Allison Volpe and Tim Woods vying for two, three-year seats on the School Committee.
• Monique Marie Verville as the sole candidate for the one, threeyear library trustee seat.
• Robert Corey as the sole candidate for the one, three-year Dracut Water Supply District seat.
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Student safety report at School Committee: Drugs

Superintendent Stone made his initial budget presentation to the School Committee at their March 14th meeting.

The presentation is available on the Dracut Public Schools website.

Overall, there is a lot of detail there, and the entire budget is available on a similar page on their site.

The bigger story was the presentation on a survey done on the students that indicated extremely high drug use among our Junior High and High School students, and even some at the elementary if I heard it right.

I’m contacting the schools for a copy of the report, and perhaps we can get Mr Stone on the radio program this weekend to discuss this.

Dracut-Tewksbury dispatch center in peril

By Todd Feathers: Lowell Sun
[email protected]

DRACUT — After shrinking from nine potential communities to just two, the regional 911 dispatch center that Dracut and Tewksbury committed to last year has hit another snag. Last week, officials in the two towns received word from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security that their application for state funds to build the new state-of-the-art facility would likely be rejected because Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration wanted to focus on rehabilitating older dispatch facilities rather than building new ones.

“We are committed to working closely with local officials to spend the money we have more efficiently and that means finding existing buildings suitable for this purpose instead of doing new construction, which is unnecessary and much more costly,” Felix Browne, a spokesman for EOPSS, said in a statement.

Several town leaders expressed frustration that the rug had seemingly been pulled out from under them, but project organizers are hopeful the dispatch center, in some form, will come to fruition.

“They haven’t denied the funding yet, they’ve just put it on hold and asked for more information,” said Beverly Woods, executive director of the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments, which developed the plans for the project. “I think the project will go forward, I just don’t know if it will go forward in a new building.” The dispatch center had many detractors, particularly among dispatchers and feared losing jobs and residents concerned that dispatchers located in an out-oftown facility would not be familiar enough with their local geography to make correct decisions.

The resistance was enough enough to convince Lowell, Chelmsford, and other communities to opt out of the project, Proponents of the dispatch center pointed to the savings it would bring to participating communities. Even with just Dracut and Tewksbury involved, the towns were set to save between $100,000 and $200,000 a year, according to  NMCOG estimates. They also hailed the benefits of a new building with cutting-edge emergency technology, all paid for by the state. Town officials remain committed, but they may not receive the shiny new facility they hoped for.

“There is still support for regional dispatch” centers from the state, Tewksbury Town Manager Richard Montuori said. “I have to stay optimistic that we’re going to stay on the same track we’re on.”

Officials from the EOPSS and State 911 Department did not immediately return requests for comment.

The news that funding for a new facility was off the table seemed to take Dracut and Tewksbury leaders by surprise.

“I don’t know why NMCOG was told that the money was endless or was going to be there,” said state Rep. Colleen Garry, who represents Dracut. “We were all somewhat surprised.”

Garry and fellow Rep. James Miceli, whose district includes Tewksbury, said that local officials in their towns never asked them to lobby the State 911 Department or EOPSS on behalf of the project, something that legislators often do.

“The manager and the chiefs have decided to handle this on their own,” Miceli said. “Nobody has asked me to get involved. If somebody had come to me, I’d be delighted to be involved.” Officials expect to meet with EOPSS Secretary Daniel Bennett sometime within the next week or two to discuss the project.

“We are going to express not only the commitment we have invested in this as far as the time,” Dracut Town Manager Jim Duggan said. “But also the toll it took on the community to come to the decision that it is the best thing for the community.”

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Mini Golf at the Parker Memorial Library

On Sunday Afternoon, March 13th, from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

Family Mini Golf “Fun”raiser FOR ALL AGES!

18 Holes of mini golf running throughout the Library.
Each child will receive a free ticket to win a Friends Bag filled with Children’s Books.

$3.00 per person or $9.00 per family!

Here are some pictures from the special opening event held Saturday Evening:

Sponsors for the 19 holes were:
Christ Church United, Elect Allison Volpe, Alexanders Health Mart, American Legion, An Anonymous Friend, Lowell Five Cent Saving Bank, Hannafords, The Liquor Shop, Renee Plummer CPA, Albert A Daigle, CPA PC, Brox Industries, Mama’s Italian Restaurant, Saro Chiropractic Health, Edgar J Racicot Funeral Home, Daniel B Cotnoir, Elect Phillip THibault, Dick Lepine Real Estate Inc, Dracut Funeral Home, Enterprise Bank, George Malonis PC, Kenwood True Value Hardware, Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union, McKenna Oullette Funeral Home, The Real Deal Thrift Store, Dr David McGrath

Editorial: Public Servant’s overdue honor


Public servant’s overdue honor

In a time when communities struggle to control taxes and maintain services under the weight of personnel compensation and benefits, it’s refreshing to remember someone who actually lived up to the ideals of a true public servant.

Dracut’s Hector Berube certainly fits that now bygone standard.

On March 22, Berube, 93, will accept one of his town’s highest honors, the Joseph Bradley Varnum Award, given annually to a resident who personifies “civic and patriotic spirit … through their volunteerism to the Dracut community or demonstration of love of country through military service.”

After a Sun review of Berube’s military and civilian career, it would seem his life’s work served as the template for this distinct honor.

Thanks to NBC news commentator and author Tom Brokaw, we all now have a fuller appreciation of “The Greatest Generation,” those young men and women who served their country during World War II, and returned home with little fanfare to build careers and families.

Like countless others, Berube went from high school to enlisting in the Navy and serving in the South Pacific. While fighting on the Japanese stronghold of Iwo Jima, he witnessed the raising of the Stars and Stripes over that island in February 1945 — now an enduring image of this country’s courage under fire.

Hector Berube, through his 40 years of public service and devotion to family, seems to have walked out of a page from Brokaw’s book.

For decades, Berube — in his role as assessor, town clerk and tax collector — served as Dracut’s unofficial chief cook and bottle washer, by his selfless dedication to duty that extended far beyond business hours.

Obviously, postwar Dracut was a far simpler place — rural rather than suburban — where one dynamic individual could make a profound impact on a town’s quality of life.

And from witnessing the installation of the first traffic light, to being the first town employee to use a computer, Berube helped guide Dracut’s growth in ways not reflected in his paycheck.

It’s true, they don’t make them like Hector Berube anymore. Modern municipal government — where special interests vie for a piece of the pie — wouldn’t allow it.

However, we encourage Dracut residents to pack the selectmen’s meeting on March 22 to honor Hector Berube’s unique contributions to his hometown.

Tami D is All In

I had a long chat with Tami Dristillaris last night over at Jesse Forciers fundraiser.

We were discussing Hector Berube, as I was saying that in my genealogical research I enjoy talking with older relatives about what their life was like when they were young.. before television, some before the wars.

This slipped into what was life like for us as kids. We remember getting the kids together in the neighborhood and just playing kickball or hide and seek across all the yards.. sometimes waiting for the sun to go down for flashlight tag. No real rules, no coaches, no commission in charge of recreation.

Ok, so I’m burying the lead here.

I asked Tami what was up with her voting not to put the override questions on the ballot for the spring election. I indicated that this seemed a vote against giving the people any choice at all.

She said that she felt that because of her opinion that there should not have been two questions, that she felt she had to follow through by voting against moving them forward.

However, she made the point that she knew they would pass, so she was just making a statement.

If they were at risk of moving forward, she said that she would have voted to put them on the ballot.  Her “Vote YES” is real when it comes to supporting the initiatives.