No Comment

2015/08/12 in Absurd, Elections, FrannyO, Mayor, Sexism, Whistleblower

Poor choice in campaign slogan.

In the continuing saga of misogyny in Holyoke we now have two media outlets providing coverage.

Angela told her story on WHYN 560 AM Morning Show with Adam Wright.  You can listen HERE.

An article was launched on Masslive today (in print tomorrow) that has a response from the O’Connell campaign via Media Mentors (A marketing company that has an obnoxious flash video with loud music that is on auto-play on their front page – this actually makes sense).  He says:

“These accusations come from a disgruntled former paid staffer who was terminated to which I have no comment. Anyone who knows me knows I have the utmost respect for women. I am a father of three daughters and husband to a beautiful wife. The chief operating officer of my company is a woman who I have worked with for the past eight years. I have a wonderful working relationship with her and hundreds of other women with whom I have been privileged to work with over my 30-plus year career.”

See?  She was fired, so it must not be true.  I knew that this would be in the response.  Next he names a few women in his life, so this must characterize him differently.  This is akin to when people say “I am not racist, I have a black friend”.  Whatever.  It is essentially a “no comment” statement neither confirming or denying what Angela did experience.

Of course comments on the Masslive article and where shared on social media have people not focusing on the issue and instead discussing the faults of the other candidates.  Pay attention:  Fran wants to outsource his job and sell the city to his friends.  Are we electing Fran?  No, we are electing whoever he appoints to be mayor.  Fran is running to be city planner and pass the buck to a city manager type.  He will take an oath office that he will fail to fulfill which will both violate state law and the city charter.

This all reminds me of our former puppet president Bush, except Bush had some professional handlers to better mask how unfit he was to lead.  If O’Connell’s handlers are smart they will now hire better handlers to manage this from now on.  This campaign needs adult supervision.  You can kiss babies, shake hands and maybe play your guitar, but for god’s sake, keep your mouth shut!

Oh, and tits.

Cue Regina Spektor:

A New Direction

2015/08/07 in Bordas, Bresnahan, Elections, Franco, FrannyO, Holyoke, Mailbag, Mayor, Sexism

This is why we need feminism.

It is campaign season in Holyoke and as candidates open their mouths it becomes very apparent that one cannot swing a dead cat in this city without hitting a misogynist.

Hot on the heels of the long overdue sensitivity training that was scheduled in response to the notorious hot mics incident that exposed two seated councilors as a threat to their female counterparts we have Mike Franco stepping up to the plate with his accusation of the training being “forced and potentially iron-fisted indoctrination”, then calling “blasphemy” on Councilor Jossie Valentin’s use of the War Memorial building to host The Vagina Monologues. Is Franco is completely oblivious to the fact that some veterans do have vaginas or that there is rampant sexual abuse in the military that administration seems unwilling to address? It appears so. Has Franco actually seen a vagina in real life since becoming a “Men’s Rights Activist” a decade ago? My sources say no. Continuing in theme, now comes Kurt Bordas (a make-believe cop running against incumbent Jossie Valentin). Bordas sees this as an opportunity to make a complete fool of himself with his statement: “All I have to say in regards to this is we are looking past this and focusing on the well-being of the citizens of Ward 4 and discussing quality of life issues that we are faced with daily.” Yes, time to move past this, as sexual harassment has nothing to do with quality of life and it certainly would not be an issue of interest to anybody in Ward 4. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Oh, of course he supports Franco here as Bordas is also a woman-hater. Then both Franco and Bordas bring the concept of “free speech” into the conversation. This is very odd because both of these men are veterans so they must have sworn an oath to uphold the constitution at some point.  1A states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…” Nowhere in this drama has anyone’s free speech been infringed and nowhere in 1A does it say you should not be held accountable for your words.  It is Mark Twain that once said: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” This is very good advice to the receiver, but it is my wish that people continue to ignore it only because it arms the rest of us sensible folks with the ability to know exactly who we should not be wasting our time on.

This certainly is not unique to Holyoke; these stories continue to be part of the Zeitgeist here in the USA: Rape culture, Gamergate, Bill Cosby, domestic violence in the NFL, male coaches as predators in women’s athletics, Columbia University mattress protest, women’s health issues being decided by male lawmakers or by corporations like Hobby Lobby instead of being made between the patient and a doctor, etc. The statistics for rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment are known to be vastly understated. One reason derives from the tradition of saying “boys will be boys,” as an excuse for inappropriate behavior by males. Young girls have been taught to keep silent and to overlook bad behavior by boys. Another is that victims frequently have the blame shifted onto them. Also it is often that the perpetrator is someone close to the victim so somewhere in there is a fear of hurting someone else, possibly the perpetrator himself – or – it is kids, friends or relatives to where the fear is spread. Of course, there is potential of retribution in many cases.  Then, when history proves that there is often zero results with the reported cases; what is the reason to come forward if it is the belief that nothing positive could come of it anyhow?  That said, it is extremely important for victims to stand up and be heard no matter the obstacles and it can take an incredible amount of bravery in order to do so – which brings us to this letter we received.

Angela Gerhard writes:

The “New Direction” for Holyoke?

My second day on the job for the O’Connell campaign had me at my first campaign meeting, where I met the marketing group, some volunteers and staff, and got insight into what the campaign was going to need from me for the job they hired me to do. Afterwards I went to dinner with Fran and two of his advisors at Max’s Tavern in Springfield in order to catch me up to speed. It gave me a chance to learn what the campaign plans and goals were, and gave me the some more of the much-desired background info I wanted into who Fran really is and what his run for mayor is all about.

It was a long but insightful evening. It was casual and a great way for me to meet “the guys”. His advisors are close friends of his he’s known for years, businessmen who Fran admires and trusts. The three of them all had a drink or two, I drank soda water. We talked about the current state of affairs in the city and we all contributed our thoughts and ideas as to what changes we’d like to see. We debated campaign strategy and talked about positioning, and whether or not it was ok to say one thing to get into office and then “pivot” once we got there, as one advisor suggested matter-of-factly. We discussed schools and we talked about the department of Economic Planning and Development. Quite a bit.

It was made clear that Fran’s goal is to more or less unofficially act as the Director of Planning if he reaches office. I’d heard him in earlier private conversations talk about wanting to have a highly-paid and qualified “right hand” that would take on much of what the day-to-day Mayoral duties would be. His idea is to give a part of his salary that person, because he “doesn’t need the money,” and this would free him up while someone else handles the day-to-day “minutiae” of running the city as he drums up business as the front man for Planning and Development.

As talk of specific employees in the department comes up here and there Tessa Murphy-Romboletti, a development specialist in the department, was mentioned. One of the two advisors asked who she was. Fran’s animated response:

“That Tessa, smart girl, but I can never hear half of what she’s saying because I can’t stop looking at her big tits!”

I was horrified. The guys chuckled. My reflexive response was of embarrassment, and as I put my head down, looking at my lap because I didn’t know what to say, I found myself angry that I felt that way. I consider myself a fairly outspoken person, and I think many would agree that’s a fair assessment. And here I was in the corner booth, wedged in between one man and another, unable to get up and exit the conversation and go home because we had all rode in one car down from West Springfield. I kept thinking “he doesn’t know me well enough to be saying things like that in front of me.” And we’re talking about a political campaign here, a future mayor…where was the professionalism?! It was baffling. We all know the frat-boy mentality exists and flourishes and boy’s clubs die hard, but we expect it to be hidden from view when we’re not a member of the club.

I’ve known Tessa as an acquaintance. I like her. I know she loves her job and works hard and takes pride in it. I have only heard great things about her work there, and what a benefit to the department she is. Her having to work with a man that demeans her in this way is in no circumstance remotely acceptable. Are we a city that will elect this into office? If this were any other circumstance, would a man who said this of a future employee ever be given the job? No, if only because he’d be a liability. The other day I finally reached out to Tessa about this, to let her know and ask if it were ok if I identify her when I speak out on this. I was and am sickened and saddened to know that this for her isn’t by any means an isolated incident, and that she’s been subject to continuous sexual harassment throughout her professional career. She feels defeated knowing that she’s worked so hard to establish herself in her new position over the past year, only to learn that her potential boss won’t be able to take her seriously because he can’t see beyond her anatomy.

Later on during dinner I caught a little something that Fran was saying to one of the guys while the other one is talking to me. A little of a “got her for the campaign // she’s a hell of a lot better to look at than this one,” referring to me and the other guy I was speaking with. I felt uncomfortable with the eyes on me from across the table, with the slow nodding in agreement. I wished I had caught more, but it wasn’t meant for me to hear. More disappointment and disgust.

 After more time passed during the night, I inevitably said something to the effect of “You do know that you can’t say things like that, right? It’s really f*ed up, you just can’t do it.” My comment was was met with silence from the rest.

I was filled with conflict over working for someone who is immature, sexist, impulsive, and juvenile. It was my second day on the job. Out to dinner, I was already “one of the guys” and Fran felt free to be himself, crude “sense of humor” and all. Fran O’Connell, who has a good shot at winning this campaign, will essentially be the boss of the young woman he made that awful remark about. He’ll be in a position of power over many women who, you know, have tits. With all of the controversy that this city has had to endure, is this the “New Direction” we want to work towards?

I’ll be honest and admit I’m deeply ashamed that I spent time trying to rationalize it all and convince myself that in some alternate universe this type of behavior would be dismissible. I hoped that it was isolated remark, but I have since learned from several others’ accounts that this isn’t the case. I tried to chalk it up to a crass sense of humor. I struggled with it, a lot. I was someone who actively campaigned against a city councilor who made sexist remarks about another councilor and sought to have him removed from council. As time passed I started to pair up that experience I had with Fran and his “guys” with stories people told me of their own experience of him being offensive, inappropriate, hostile, and making them feel uncomfortable, and clear pattern started to emerge. When I read a quote from an acquaintance to the advisor I worked with that described Fran as “arrogant and undiplomatic….kind of like dealing with high school mentality,” he laughed it off and said it sounded pretty accurate and that he could be all of those things at times.

So I made a conscious decision to stick with the job, for various reasons. Part of which is that I compulsively research and gather information. I can’t help it. And research, in the end, was what the campaign wanted me to do. Being on the inside, working closely with one of his advisors, I would get one of the best views possible into what we were dealing with here. It didn’t take long to see that the work I brought to the campaign was going to be routinely dismissed and that any damage I could be doing by playing a supporting role was not much to worry about. Was I dismissed because I was a woman? I don’t know. Did they keep me on-board because as I was told more than once that I was “too dangerous” to let go? I did the work requested. My stint with the campaign was brief, and I was recently let go anyhow, being told that “policy and research work will be moving to a professional organization.” I figured I had 4-6 weeks left max, and I wasn’t terribly surprised, because I found myself butting heads with the advisor I was working with and continually frustrated with the lack of input from Fran and his unwillingness to heed advice in terms of introducing his platform. And no, I’m not bitter and resentful for being let go. No, I wasn’t working for the “competition” as a mole. If anything I feel some relief knowing I’m free of all of it, even if I am out of the much needed extra income.

Maybe Fran hasn’t displayed this sort of thing in the businesses he’s owned over the years. I honestly can’t say. But I do know that his marketing team will no doubt put together a well thought-out response to this, if they address it at all. All I can do is encourage the people who are private to share their experiences in a way they’re comfortable with to every Holyoke voter they know, and for people who can muster the courage, including other city employees, to call this type of behavior when they see it, and to do so publicly. It’s beyond difficult to do this because I know there will be backlash directed at me, that there will be collateral damage and relationships I value lost, but I’m really not good at sitting silent when there’s this much at stake.

So there you have it.

======================================================================

I have three daughters that I don’t want to grow up in a world where they should only be seen and not heard.  Not putting people in power that treat women like this would be the new direction for us.

Since I first learned of Angela’s story a week ago it has been discussed among a few people and more stories have come to light.  I do hope that these folks will come forward on record.

Check Out This Douchebag.

2015/07/25 in Bresnahan, City Council, Elections, Franco, Masslive, McGee, pronography, pronosound, Sexism, Shame

I WAS NOT BREASTFED

In case you do not know this knuckle-dragger’s story, when he’s not being arrested for missing jury duty Mike Franco has been a serial candidate and serial loser in almost every election for the past decade or so running for a number of posts from Governor’s Council, State Senate, State Representative, Animal Control Officer – and now he’s running for At-Large City Council in Holyoke.  Nobody is really certain where he lives because he’s run from East Longmeadow, Springfield, Chicopee and Holyoke.  Franco is an MRA, Donald Trump fan, Conspiracy Theorist, Tea Party Extremist and an adult man that cannot grow a decent mustache.  As you’d expect his platform is something like : everyone that does not work is lazy, feminism is worse than Nazism, Obama the “socialist” is building reeducation camps and everyone that does not agree with Mike Franco should move to France.  That’s him in a nutshell (pun intended).

Many may remember that wonderful hot mic indecent back in October of 2013 where misogynists Todd Murphy McGee and Daniel Breezy-D Bresnahan let the world know what kind of assholes they are when they spoke the truth at a time that they thought nobody could hear.  It was comedy, but it was also very disturbing…  My recording of this event was picked up by local and regional news, some popular feminist and some political blogs.  It really shamed these two man-children as they deserved but it also exposed what is most certainly a hostile work environment inside those council chambers.  Now, almost two years later and as promised a much needed training was scheduled for all on City Council to attend.

So, here is Franco’s first salvo at who he’s deemed to be a political opponent.  As a result of the the training that Franco calls “forced and potentially iron-fisted indoctrination training” and councilor Jossie Valentin’s suggestion that the session be open to the public he lashes out at her:

Classy, Franco...

What a fucking jerk, huh?  He’d certainly fit in with those other two morons in council… that is if he could ever win.  I can only assume that he’s just comic relief in this election…  not very good at it, but he tries his best.

You can read his entire post HERE on Franco’s meetup.com 2014 State Senate campaign page.  In the event that he removes this post I have archived it HERE at archive.org and HERE as a screen capture.

 

 

 

Black Lives Matter March and Rally in Holyoke

2014/12/07 in H.U.S.H.

Friday December 12th 3pm

High St. at the corner of Norfolk St. (Career Point)

 

Holyoke YMCA takes its sweet time to ensure families of a safe environment.

2014/11/16 in Absurd, HPD, Mailbag, Press, Shame, Whistleblower, YMCA, Youth

This just in.  Trigger warning, links contained herein contain graphic depictions of rape and sexual abuse.

 

November 16, 2014

Dear YMCA Members:

There is an article in the December issue of Outside magazine that mention allegations of sexual abuse; the allegations have been made by a former YMCA Vikings Swim Team member against the team’s former head coach.

To be sure, these are disturbing allegations. We take our responsibility to children and their families very seriously at the Greater Holyoke YMCA. Under the circumstances, we feel it is appropriate to affirm our commitment to keeping kids safe.

The YMCA was notified of this allegation in December 2011. We immediately placed the employee on leave and filed the required report with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Greater Holyoke YMCA terminated the coach’s employment in July 2012 as a result of these allegations.

We have a series of measures in place to protect our families. Some examples of our standards and practices include:

  • conducting criminal background checks and reference checks on all staff prior to hiring;
  • conducting criminal background checks on all volunteers;
  • requiring all staff and volunteers to complete training on recognizing and preventing abuse;
  • prohibiting staff and volunteers from being alone with a child where they cannot be observed by others;
  • restricting staff contact with children outside of YMCA programs;
  • educating parents on how to recognize and prevent abuse; and
  • reporting any allegations or suspicions of abuse to law enforcement.

At the Greater Holyoke YMCA, the safety and well-being of children in our care always has been and always will be a top priority. We remain committed to our child safety practices. Our YMCA engages over 1500 children each year, and we work hard every day to make sure they’re happy, healthy, and safe.

As always, thank you for being a part of our YMCA family. We greatly appreciate your participation and support. Please contact me if you have questions.

Sincerely,

Kathy Viens

CEO

=======================================

Allegations. Allegations. Allegations. Allegations. Allegations.

No matter how many times you write “allegations”, I am NOT going to stop believing sexual abuse and assault survivors. There is NO doubt in my mind that Anna’s story is true. I am sickened that you did not reach out to the community when the incident happened.  Usually these types of assaults are not singular or isolated – there could be more victims out there who may have come forward if the YMCA was open and willing to even have such a conversation.  Instead you decide to take nearly THREE FULL YEARS to finally issue a statement only after local media coverage has pressured you to do so?

This was not sent to the media or published on their FB page – only sent to paying members as far as we can tell. Members can bring guests.  Children can come from two households.  Obviously, the YMCA is still trying to minimize damage here by not making a public statement.

We are sincerely disappointed and disgusted.

 

CBS 3 Springfield – WSHM

Diversity in Holyoke

2014/10/01 in Absurd, History, Holyoke, pronography

Not diverse enough?

“Paint a couple of fucking shamrocks on the thing and shut the fuck up!”

Racism and Censorship in Holyoke

2014/09/27 in Absurd, Art, Gentrification, Holyoke, Mailbag, Press Release, Racism, Shame

I received this email from David Flores about his art and his experiences with racism and censorship in Holyoke.

(David Flores at work on the piece in question)

Printed in it’s entirety:

On Saturday, September 19, 2014, my mural celebrating the Puerto Rican diaspora in Holyoke, MA was scheduled for installation as part of a set of pieces created in conjunction with the Holyoke Alleyway Revitalization Project. Before the piece could go up, the owner of the building on which it was to be installed decided that it could not be displayed on her property. She said that my piece would do more harm than good to Holyoke’s Hispanic community, and that in order to display it I would have to change it to make it “more diverse.” The mural consists of an 8’ x 16’ Puerto Rican license plate with HOLYOKE written across the center. Whereas many Boricuas throughout Holyoke proudly display similar license plates that point to their hometowns on the island, my project intended to claim that Holyoke is part of Puerto Rico. Holyoke is the community with the highest percentage of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. (44.70%), yet Puerto Ricans are deeply marginalized in almost every aspect of the city. Although the building owner had approved of my design and seen the finished project well in advance of the scheduled installation, she caved to pressure from nearby business owners and others who seek to prohibit public displays of Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke. Thus, the decision to exclude my mural from this public art exhibit is emblematic of the wider suppression of Puerto Ricans and Puerto Ricanness throughout Holyoke. With my mural, I hoped to contribute to efforts toward claiming public space in solidarity with Holyoke’s Puerto Rican community. However, this building owner’s decision and logic amount to the race-based exclusion of Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke at best and the censorship of Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke at worst. While the Holyoke Alleyway Revitalization Project has supported my mural, the decision to collaborate with a bigoted building owner on this project reflects the fundamental problems with this “revitalization” initiative. In fact, like other “revitalization” efforts in Puerto Rican neighborhoods and communities of color throughout the U.S., such projects end up participating in processes of gentrification despite their organizers’ best intentions.

As a Mexican artist born and raised in Chicago, I have been deeply inspired by Chicago’s Puerto Rican movement, particularly the strong Puerto Rican leadership in schools, community organizations, elected positions, and artistic initiatives. This community also taught me the value of Mexican-Puerto Rican solidarity, as expressed through joint efforts to combat educational inequality, gentrification, and (im)migrant stigmatization. This solidarity is most clearly represented in a chant that is often used in Latin@ political demonstrations in Chicago: “!Boricua y Méxicano, Luchando Mano a Mano!” This solidarity represents a form of diversity that exceeds the imagination of the building owner who prohibited my mural. I hope that this piece finds a prominent home and that it helps to celebrate Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke. I am also working with community members to combat the suppression of Puerto Ricans and make sure that this does not happen again. In addition to these efforts, I am seeking to collaborate with longstanding community residents to create site-specific public art in Holyoke through a fundraising effort I have named “!Más Color, Más Poder!” I also plan to adapt my Puerto Rican license plate project in other U.S. cities with large Puerto Rican populations. By affirming Puerto Ricanness in Holyoke, I hope to contribute toward the creation of communities that embrace and uplift marginalized populations throughout the U.S.

Bio:
David Flores is an Artist, Designer, and Community Activist who focuses on Latin@ placemaking through art and design. He has worked creatively with non-profits and community based initiatives in Chicago, IL and Holyoke, MA for over a decade. A native of the south side of Chicago, his work challenges the fears and anxieties that are associated with low-income communities of color by emphasizing their value, beauty, knowledge, and resilience.

Tomorrow’s Primary

2014/09/08 in Alex Morse, Casino, Democrats, DNC, Elections, Politics, Vega

As a registered Independent and being anti-DNC/RNC duopoly I will still be voting on the DNC ballot tomorrow because of a few important issues, lack of alternatives and to vote against two candidates.

Issues that I found important this election are anti-casino, increased arts & cultural funding, reducing charter schools, ending the school to prison pipeline, pro-immigration, opposition to the Kinder Morgan gas pipeline, and a desire for drug policy reform.  Where I found candidates that were similar I chose based on experience and diversity.

My choices for tomorrow:

US Senate: EDWARD J. MARKEY or leave blank – unopposed
Governor: DONALD M. BERWICK
Lt Governor: MICHAEL E. LAKE
Attorney General: MAURA HEALEY
Sec of State: WILLIAM FRANCIS GALVIN – unopposed
Treasurer: DEBORAH B. GOLDBERG
Auditor: SUZANNE M. BUMP – unopposed   
US Rep: Write-in anyone but Neal – unopposed
Gov Council: Write-in anyone but Albano – unopposed
State Senate: CHRISTOPHER J. HOPEWELL
State Rep: AARON VEGA – unopposed
D.A.: BRETT J. VOTTERO
Register of Probate: GALE D. CANDARAS – unopposed


As far as who to vote against, Shawn Allyn:  He represents “Old Holyoke” at its worst.  His first job out of law school was into the city law offices due to his Whelihan family connections and since leaving that office with his now ex-wife (Lisa Ball, city solicitor under Mayor Pluta) he’s made a cottage industry out of suing the city of Holyoke.  I am a bit surprised by some of the support I have seen thrown his way, particularly in letters sent to many registered D in the city, beyond the cronyism and the lawsuits he just simply does not have the pedigree to be a DA.  Anyone but him, but Vottero is a great choice for this spot.

Martha Coakley: Well, her casino position is indeed problematic and initially rejecting the ballot question is an affront to the democratic process. She also has proven herself to be “tough on crime” – from proposing a bill that would expand warrant-less wiretapping; to her commentary on the Aaron Schwartz case; to when just starting out as Middlesex County’s DA in 1999 pursuing the Amirault family long after every sane person realized that it was a witch-hunt. If you thought that George Bush was a decent president then maybe she’s for you. I’d love to see a woman hold the reigns in Boston, but certainly not her.

Donald Wilcox Sues City of Holyoke and Geriatric Authority of Holyoke

2014/05/19 in Absurd, Alex Morse, GAH, Lawsuit, Mailbag, MGL, Patti Devine, Whistleblower

An anonymous email sent to me included photographs of documents outlining a lawsuit by recently terminated Donald Wilcox – former COO, CFO and executive director of the Geriatric Authority of Holyoke – against the City of Holyoke and the Geriatric Authority of Holyoke with allegations of discrimination and harassment by Patricia Devine, and that his termination was retribution against him for his whistle blowing to state agencies of ongoing impropriety at the Geriatric Authority of Holyoke.  Devine, then chairwoman of the Geriatric Authority of Holyoke board of directors resigning soon after this debacle because she “could no longer give the time and personal effort that the important position deserves”.  Well, for those that have been paying attention it does appear that she has newly found capacity because, while it is not officially announced, we are hearing folks congratulate her on her appointment to the Fire Commission.  What kind of damage can she do there?

.Here are the documents in full, sorry about the quality, these are photos by a still camera, not a scanner, enjoy:

Donald_Wilcox_v_GAH.pdf

7 pages, 4.1MB

Dean Tech Principal Livin’ la Vida Loca

2014/04/14 in Absurd, Classism, Dean Tech, HPS, Mailbag, Politics

Dean high school principal Bradley Barry Bacom is seeking reimbursement for meal expenses while traveling… Meal includes alligator, oysters, and alcoholic beverages. He is not seeking reimbursement on alcohol but as a role model for 300+ students at dean should consider getting separate receipts for alcoholic beverages.  Should we be paying for this?  Or should he pay up given the large salary received while kids fund raise selling candy from a catalog to pay for activities and parents are being asked to bring in supplies like paper because it is running out?  You be the judge:

Even more here beginning page 55…  $32.00 for one 8oz steak?  WTF?  It is called “poverty pimping”.  A form of disaster capitalism.  The state brings in a private company to run the (destined to) failing school only to suck resources out of the tax coffer that could be put to better use locally.

Meanwhile Sodexo school lunch is super delish…

Big Brother in Holyoke

2014/03/21 in Alex Morse, Anarchism, Civil Rights, Eschatology, Fear, H.U.S.H., Holyoke, HPD, Police, Shame

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  The martial law lock-down and door to door searches in Boston after the Marathon bombing were just the beginning.  Massachusetts is no exception to the mission creep of the absurd “war on terror” that has resulted in a growing surveillance state and increased militarization of our law enforcement.  Now we have the Massachusetts State Police installing 80 surveillance cameras in Holyoke almost overnight without any community oversight or public meetings on the subject.

Please contact your state elected officialsthe mayor; city council; and the ACLU to address your concerns about this invasion.  And always remember:  If you see something, say something…  then smash it to pieces.

 

Holyoke Food Coop

2014/03/13 in Activism, BYOR, Classism, Economics, Gentrification, Poverty, Socialism

There is a discussion happening in Holyoke about building membership to form a food coop. The first meeting was on March 1st and was hosted by BYOR and Gateway City Arts.  The meeting was facilitated by Cynthia Marie Espinosa Marrero (social justice advocate and Holyoke resident), David Gowler (of River Valley Coop and Holyoke resident) and David Russell (of Franklin County Community Coop).  To join in on the discussion and to keep updated please see the Holyoke Food Coop Facebook Group.  If you are not a Facebook user and would like to join the email list instead, please contact me via the “contact us” link below and I will connect you.  The next meeting will be April 6th 1pm to 3pm, location TBD, most likely at El Mercado on Main St.

The initial meeting was somewhat intimate and after the fact there was much dialog (in email and on Facebook) from folks not present at the meeting talking about coops in general, their impact on a community in terms of gentrification, questioning if a coop in Holyoke would serve the Latino community and if it does would it compete with bodegas, would it be affordable, etc, etc.  Well, for myself, knowing the key organizers here, all I can say is that I have an expectation that this will be done with social equity as the first priority and we hope that with outreach we can energize the Latino community and build a representative membership.  Primarily the conversation at the meeting was about a food desert and the needs of low income consumers.  Yes, certainly, we witnessed some commentary that came from “urban pioneer” hipster-gentrifier types with a defeating tone suggesting that it is impossible to be inexpensive AND good – or – that they would not want to be involved in a coop that was food equitable with the majority population of downtown Holyoke because it would likely not serve their upscale needs.  Well, I do hope that we can dispel those notions because a coop is its membership and anything can be made real if people want it.  Nothing is impossible. Also, Holyoke is 48% Latino and 31% below poverty.   We have a priority to serve the community that is in need first and foremost and whatever we build it should be representative of the community at large.  A coop for rich and middle class white folks will not succeed in Holyoke, nor is it desired.

All that said, a few years ago ADP (Alliance to Develop Power) came here and began a similar conversation.  ADP’s mission as I understand it was to build economic opportunity and business ownership as a catalyst for improving impoverished areas.  Their plan was to use the coop model as a way to build a business except that they’d initially finance it rather than via a membership drive.  Then once it was self sustaining they would release management and give it to the membership and the community.  It is an interesting idea.  They had done similar in other communities with housing and daycare but targeted Holyoke with a bodega-coop plan.  For those that are not aware ADP seems to no longer exist.  I understand that some sort of malfeasance by management had the non-profit collapse like a house of cards; which is really too bad as they had won national grants from Huffington Post and had a long track record of success.  Thankfully some of their work here is not lost.  Linked below are a number of documents and research for the Holyoke plan:

ADP Bodega Holyoke Impact Statement

Funding and Social Equity Across the Food System Supply Chain

Good Food and Good Jobs for All

ADP Bodega Executive Summary

LPV Oasis Report Formatted

 

 

 

The Future of Holyoke Schools

2014/02/22 in Activism, Economics, Education, Holyoke, HPS, School Committee, Youth

The Holyoke Public School District has been in the news quite a bit lately: data walls, high-stakes testing, Level 5 status, dropout rates.  A lot of questions are left unanswered however.  And the controversy over data walls seems to be just the tip of the iceberg.  Where does all of the data for the data walls come from?  Currently, students in Holyoke lose about 20 school days per year due to varying forms of data collection.

The district has contracted with the Achievement Network to administer the ANet tests in Math and English.  There are up to four tests per year for English Language Arts (ELA) and up to four tests per year for Math.  The testing takes place in grades 2 thru 8 and requires about 3 ½ hours to administer schoolwide.  While the idea of creating tests aligned to the standards that are being taught in schools is a good one, it is unclear why such tests must cut in to the instructional time that is so valuable to the staff.  Currently, the tests are given on paper, each student getting their own printed packet.  Teachers helping to organize these testing days are out of the classroom for days before, during, and after the administration of the test.  What is the cost to the district to complete all of this testing in its eight K-8 schools?  How many instructional hours are lost throughout the year?  How much does the district pay Achievement Network?  How much paper do these tests require throughout the year?  What is the cost of placing substitute teachers in classrooms to cover for teachers that are organizing these testing days?

Another source of data is the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test created by the Northwest Evaluation Association or NWEA.  These tests are administered twice a year for ELA and twice a year for Math.  These tests are administered on the computer to students in grades 3 thru 8.  The time required varies for each student, with testing lasting up to two hours for some students.  During this testing window, there may be no computer labs available for the general population to use in any of their classes and additional instructional time is lost.  What does the district pay to contract with NWEA to give these tests?  How many instructional hours are lost for this test?

But wait, we’re not done yet.  Students are also given the Benchmark Assessment System in grades K thru 8.  This is a test of reading fluency and reading ability that requires the English teacher or another educator to spend approximately half an hour with each student individually assessing their reading ability.  Some teachers may have as many as 120 students that need to “benchmark” twice a year.  How many instructional hours does that add up to if there are over 3,600 students in grades K thru 8 in the Holyoke Schools? Currently, most students are given the BAS only two or three times per year, but the Holyoke Early Literacy Initiative (HELI) is now suggesting as part of its literacy plan that students in grades K-3 be given the BAS at least once per month (see page 53)!  How much money did the district spend on the kits that are used to assess student reading ability?

Most people in the state are aware by now of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).  This is another set of tests given to students in grades 3 thru 8, as well as grade 10 for Math and ELA.  In addition, 5th, 8th, and 10th graders take a Science MCAS test, and students in grades 4, 7, and 10 take a Long Composition test.  Again, the big question is how many instructional hours are lost due to the testing windows, set forth by the state, for these tests?  How much money does the state spend every year on the testing materials, including the plastic rulers and Reference Sheets for the tests?  How much money is spent on grading the Open Response questions statewide?  What are the costs incurred to ship all of these “sensitive” materials to and from the schools?

Recently, Massachusetts also adopted the ACCESS test for English Language Learners (ELLs).  This test is administered only once a year, but in districts with large populations of ELL students, the testing can be very disruptive to the regular school day.  Parts of the test must be administered individually, and students are often taken out of their regular classes to take these tests.  In addition, the ELLs may not receive the instructional support from their ELL instructors that they would normally receive during the “testing window.”  If students are pulled from their regular classes, who is responsible for filling in the gaps of material they may have missed?

Lastly, every district in the state must now create District Determined Measures, or DDMs, in each subject area and grade level.  For districts receiving Race to the Top money, such as Holyoke, all DDMs that are planned to be used the following school year must be submitted to the state by this June.  DDMs can be as simple as pre and post tests for units or as complex as student portfolios.  While the DDMs should not significantly impact instructional time, they are yet one more assessment tool that students must endure.  It is not yet clear if these DDMs will eventually replace all of the other assessments (besides MCAS).

This amazing amount of data collection seems only to result in frustration on the part of students and teachers.  How much money could Holyoke use to improve its facilities, increase access to technology for students and teachers, and fill vacancies with qualified individuals if all of the money spent on data collection was saved?  How many more enriching activities could students experience, like field trips, if the money were being funneled into these so-called not-for-profit corporations?  As it stands now, more than 10% of the school year in our city is devoted to testing, testing, testing.  Don’t our students deserve better?

One product of all of the low test scores of our students is an overemphasis on English Language Arts and Math.  The logic stands that if students are not performing up to their expected grade level, they must need more time devoted to ELA and Math, right?  Unfortunately, we are sending a clear, albeit subconscious, message to our youth that Science, Social Studies, Art, Music, Physical Education, and play are not as important as ELA and Math.  If these other subjects were as important as ELA and Math, we would spend more time teaching those subjects and we’d certainly spend more time testing you in these subjects!  Currently, students in the K-8 schools in Holyoke receive at least 90 minutes per day of instruction in both ELA and Math.  In contrast, they receive just 45 minutes per day in both Science and Social Studies.  In some schools, students receive 90 minute blocks of Science and Social Studies every other day.  In other schools, students have Science for 90 minutes per day for half of the year and Social Studies 90 minutes per day for the other half of the year.  Not only is this not fair to the students at the K-8 grade levels, it is inconsistent with the scheduling at the high school levels.  Students in grades 9 thru 12 have classes that last about 50 minutes each.  Are we truly preparing our students for high school with such a large emphasis on ELA and Math?  Have the scores students achieve increased since the district implemented the longer ELA and Math blocks?

Where does all of this testing and overemphasis on Math and English lead us?  It seems to have earned the district Level 5 status for Dean Technical and Morgan Schools.  It also seems to have earned us a dropout rate much higher than the state average.  (2.2% statewide, 26.8% in Holyoke, according to Rep. Aaron Vega at the 2/3/14 School Committee Meeting, and statistics found HERE).  This should not be so surprising to the public; what do the students have to look forward to?  All of the creative classes have been taken away and been replaced with additional testing and test preparation.

What does the district do now?  Can we become a voice of leadership in battling the increasing pile of tests?  Can we urge our School Committee to take some of the money in the budget to provide the things that educators, parents, and students want and need to be successful?  Can we work to prevent more schools from entering state receivership?  Should we as parents join together and boycott these tests?

Why do we tolerate this when in other countries they have greater success with fewer resources and less standardized testing?  Take Finland as a perfect example.  Speaking to tolerance, why do we sit idle as the system continually gets worse when in Spain there are strikes and parents marching in the streets when cuts threaten to raise class size from an average of 21 students!

There there is Common Core – embraced by liberals, called a socialist agenda (see paragraph titled “The Real Agenda”) by conservatives and a corporate takeover of education by leftists.  It most certainly is the latter.  To quote Chris Hedges ~  ”…the federal government spends some $600 billion a year on education – and the corporations want it. That’s what’s happening.”  I find it absurd that the conservatives are blasting Obama on this claiming that it is “socialist” when clearly the push in this country by both major parties is to privatize everything – healthcare has been via ACA; social security has had several attempts made; national security is now big enough to be its own branch of government with thousands of private contractors running the show: for-profit prisons in a “free” country that locks away a greater numbers of people both in number and by per capita than any nation in history; military/defense by ending conflicts like Iraq only to replace troops with tax financed private security forces; and now a mission to destroy public school with more charter schools and these numerous testing initiatives.  The public trust continues to be chipped away for the benefit of capital.   Of course we should be upset and act on all of these attacks, but when our children are on the front lines we must fight tooth an nail – so where is the outrage?  Why is it mostly only the teachers that we hear speaking out?

Additional factoids:

In 2006, the dropout rate in Holyoke was 35%; in 2007, it was 27.7%; in 2008, it was 32.9%; in 2009, it was 34.3%; 2010: 28.4%; 2011: 26.9%; 2012: 25%; 2013: 26.8%

Since the beginning of Feb., 53 “anticipated openings” for teachers for the next school year have been posted on the district’s website.  Many of those positions need to be filled now, as teachers have retired mid-year.

 

Ward 4 Watch List – See Click Fix

2014/02/03 in DPW, HFD, Holyoke, Ward 4

SeeClickFix is turning out to be a powerful tool.

 

Congratulations Holyoke!

2013/11/05 in Alex Morse, Announce, Elections, Holyoke, Stanek

Sanity Prevails, Alex Morse Wins Reelection!

Nice work Holyoke voters, you made the right choice.

Oh, and Jeff Stanek…  this is for you: