Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

Performance Review: Sesame Street Live – “Elmo Makes Music”

My daughter Kay & I took in the performance of Sesame Street Live – “Elmo Makes Music” at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre on April 12 at 5:30.  I am a long time devotee of Sesame Street.  Kay is very fond of Elmo.  It was a match made in heaven.

The basic story is that a new music teacher named Jenny moves to Sesame Street.  Since the truck with her instruments has not yet arrived, the Sesame Street Muppets seek to surprise her by making their own instruments.  A good as premise as any for a series of musical set pieces.  Despite the title, the show is not all Elmo, but an ensemble piece where each of the Muppets gets to perform in pairs and groups.

While there’s some original music for the show, they also do a good job of incorporating songs from the tv show’s 40+ year repertoire (even dusting off some of those late 1970s Sesame Street disco numbers).  Classic songs include “People In Your Neighborhood,” “C is for Cookie,” and “Sing.”  They also include some popular songs like “Rockin’ Robin,” “The Alphabet Song,” and “The Hustle.”  My favorite part was the denouement where the Muppets show off all their homemade instruments in a variation of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music.”  (“Telly is going to add some triangle/All the squares go home!”)

I can’t find the name of the woman who played Jenny, but she brought a lot of enthusiasm and strong singing voice to the show.  She also looked tiny next to these giant Muppets, a reversal of the tv show where Muppets are generally smaller than humans.  Kudos as well to those dancers in fuzzy Muppet costumes for some impressive choreography.  The “All Feets Can Dance” number was particularly memorable.

Speaking of dancing, Kay danced for pretty much the entire show.  So I’d say that the two-year-old demographic enjoyed the show as well.  The only thing that rubbed me wrong was during the intermission when a vendor brought a massive number of balloons to sell in the orchestra.  Not only did they have this clear display of conspicuous consumption, but they didn’t even bring balloons to sell to those of us in the cheap seats in the balcony.  So I had to listen to “I want a balloon” for a long time.

Boston Public Schools Budget Cuts: The Legislature Needs To Hear Our Voices

The Massachusetts State Legislature is still coming to terms on the Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap.”  There’s a lot of pressure on our elected leaders to lift the cap on charter schools without first getting a better understanding of how funding charter schools in the state negatively affects the funding and resources for district public schools.  Whether or not you think charter schools are a good option for educating children, I think we can all agree that all schools should be fully funded to allow for equitable education for all students.

 

If you live in Massachusetts, here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Write your elected leaders. Contact information available from this website: http://www.wheredoivotema.com/ The message I sent today to the chairs of the education committee Sonia Chang-Diaz (Sonia.Chang-Diaz@state.ma.us) and Alice Peisch (Alice.Peisch@mahouse.gov) as well as my representative Liz Malia are below (Chang-Diaz is also the senator for my district).  Feel free to crib for your own message.
  • Sign and share information about the QUEST petition with your friends and family. The petition can be found at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/adequate-funding-for?mailing_id=21010&source=s.icn.em.cr&r_by=8757554. A Spanish translation can be found at http://tinyurl.com/mk6opsv.
  • Join other parents and students at the State House in Boston at 4:30 today, Tuesday, March 25th. This protest is organized by Boston Public School parents from many schools who see the effects of charters on our schools and our children on a daily basis. (See: Facebook page for event)

 

I am a citizen of Boston residing in the Forest Hills/Woodbourne area of Jamaica Plain.  My 6-year-old son Peter is a Kindergarten 2 scholar at the nearby BTU Pilot School, a neighborhood public school with excellent, hard-working teachers and staff and the heart of our neighborhood community.  In recent months, we’ve learned that our school is facing severe budget cuts that will cause the school to lose teaching staff, social workers, Playworks, a school supplies budget, field trips, and other resources vital to equitable education.  Our school is not alone as most schools in Boston are facing their own budget cuts, and other school systems in the Commonwealth are facing similar challenges with dwindling resources.
 
I believe the Massachusetts Legislature can help address the inadequacies and inequality in funding and resources for public schools in Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap.”  One issue is charter schools that are receiving a larger piece of the pie in state funding, while the state has neglected to reimburse public schools (see this chart created by a Boston Public School parent: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BjRzkXVCcAE1WEK.jpg:large).  I’m not opposed to charter schools as an educational option for some children, but it seems grossly unfair that one type of school is fully funded while another has to beg for scraps.  The legislature should make it a priority to fully fund all public schools.  
 
With that in mind, please consider the following steps:  
 
• Remove charter school language entirely from Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap;”
• Prior to any consideration of raising the charter school cap read the soon-to-be released audit from the State Auditor’s Office regarding charter school finances and practices;
• Work with constituents to draft a more comprehensive proposal regarding the charter school cap. This proposal must address the inequalities already identified, include clear and quantifiable accountability measures that are put into place prior to such legislation being proposed, and explore more equitable or separate funding methods that do not bankrupt our public schools.
 
I understand that you are receiving a lot of attention from lobbyists of the charter school cause.  These groups are backed by billionaires and corporations who have their own ends in supporting the charter school cap that may not be in the best interests of Massachusetts’ children.  Please listen also to the voices of your constituents – the parents, students, and educators of some of the best public schools in the nation and do the right thing for all the state’s children.

 

Boston Public Schools Budget Cuts: Maintain the Cap on Charter Schools

Following up on my earlier post regarding severe budget cuts to Boston Public Schools, here is an issue that requires immediate attention from any residents of Massachusetts who read this blog.  Currently there is legislation moving through the Massachusetts legislature that will decide if the cap on charter schools in the state will be lifted.  This is a contentious issue as vocal groups of charter school supporters advocate lifting the cap with help from deep-pocketed investors.  Meanwhile the parents and educators of children in Boston Public Schools are contending that the cap should remain until we have a greater understanding of the financial pressures that charter schools exert on traditional district schools and that the current charter schools in our state are held to greater accountability for serving all children.

The Boston Public Schools are facing a 60 million dollar deficit shortfall and  most of the 128 schools are being asked to make cuts that would lose teaching staff, social workers, Playworks, supplies, and other resources. One reason for the shortfall is that traditional district schools are not being fully reimbursed for loses to charter schools.  Whether or not you support the charter school movement, I think we can all agree that education at any school should have full-funding and resources.  It will do no one any good to have a fight over limited funds.

Fortunately, my state senator Sonia Chang-Diaz from the Second Suffolk district is working on the Joint Committee of Education and is committed to making a compromise that will support all forms of public education in the Commonwealth.  She, and by extension the children of Massachusetts, deserve our support.  You can take action by following the steps below.  A statement from Senator Chang-Diaz follows.

Senator Chang-Díaz Statement on Joint Committee on Education 1-Week Extension

Today the Joint Committee on Education voted on a one-week extension on bills dealing with turnaround and charter schools. Over the past few months, stakeholders from all sides of this issue have been hard at work coming to compromises on various aspects of a composite bill, and we have come to agreement on a number of issues. We are down to the final aspects.

I continue to fight to find a balanced third way that breaks from the us-versus-them mindset when it comes to district and charter schools. All are public schools and both are needful of our attention and advocacy. I have been on record in both words and actions that I am committed to getting a bill out of committee that continues to close the gap between populations served by charters and districts, mitigates the financial stresses that even the best charters present for district schools, and allows targeted expansion of good charters. To that end, I’ve offered multiple proposals for balanced compromises. These proposals have been met with consistent “no’s” from the charter advocate community, with no counter proposals that bring us toward a compromise. While I am disappointed that we must resort to a one-week extension today, I remain committed to forging a resolution. My door is wide open to anyone who has ideas about how we can move forward on a middle path that treats all kids with compassion and fairness.

I also want to be transparent that, should we be able to reach resolution and report a bill out of Committee, there are still key decisions about funding fairness that will be made over the coming months through the budget process, which occur outside the Education Committee. These decisions will impact the effects of any bill on the schools in which the majority of students remain and therefore will be large factors in my ultimate vote for or against a bill on the Senate floor.

Crack Goes the Charles!

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Book Review: Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston by Michael Rawson

Author: Michael Rawson
Title: Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston
Publication Info: Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, c2010.
ISBN: 9780674048416
Summary/Review:

This wonderfully researched and well-written history, explores the making of Boston by focusing on the social and environmental factors that shaped the city, its human ecology.  There are five sections of the book:

1. Enclosing the Common – the effort of prosperous Bostonians to enclose Boston Common, changing it from a place of work (pasturing cows and digging up turf) to a place of recreation.

2. Constructing water – the contentious development of a public waterworks, a means by which reformers hoped to improve both the health and morality of the populace, but a process that also forever changed the role of municipal government.

3. Inventing the suburbs – people move from the city, seeking pastoral cities and escape taxation, but they also miss the public works that the city provides.  Some suburbs are annexed by Boston (willingly or otherwise) while some become cities in their own right.

4. Making the harbor – the modern Boston Harbor is human-made not natural, and the processes of landmaking, dredging, damming, et al that modified it so much were a contentious issue in the 19th century when many mariners thought the harbor would be lost with natural water movement.

5. Recreating the wilderness – suburban green spaces such as the Middlesex Fells and the Blue Hills are created as a connection to the colonial forbears and the lost wilderness.

This book is a terrific means of grasping the process of urbanism for modern cities and a unique approach to the history of Boston. It pairs well with Walter Muir Whitehill’s classic Boston: A Topographical History.
Favorite Passages:

“What made that agenda so contentious was that reformers wanted to expand the role of government to achieve it.  Since government had never played a serious role in structuring how Bostonians interacted with their water supply, transferring responsibility for finding adequate water from the individual to the city seemed to some like a radical and potentially dangerous move.  Instead, early experiments in municipal water like Boston’s would prove to be the leading edge of a wave of change in municipal government.  As the century progressed, cities would expand their power to fund larger public works, often through borrowing, and they would pay the cost through general taxes rather than special assessments.  Event the cost of smaller projects that did not require bond issues would increasingly be spread out among all residents of a city.  Public water would encourage urban residents, in Boston and elsewhere, to expand their vision of the public good.” – p. 104

“The Fells and Blue Hills were designed to store information about colonial people and events and prompt visitors to recall the collected stories.  The existence of such places implies a relationship of permanence, lest the memories disappear with the monument…” – p. 269

Recommended books: Boston: A Topographical History by Walter Muir Whitehill, A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900 by Stephen Puleo, Boston’s Back Bay by William Newman & Wilferd E. Holton and Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston by Nancy S. Seasholes
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Monster in the Mist by Andrew Mayne

Author: Andrew Mayne
Title: The Monster in the Mist
Publication Info: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
ISBN: B0056A295I
Summary/Review:

I got this eBook as a special deal for Kindle on Amazon, not knowing much about it other than it was a mystery set in Boston in 1890 with a steampunk vibe.  April Malone is a young woman whose mysterious job is to tend an office where no one works and take lessons on various esoteric topics.  All of this is preparation for the arrival of the also mysterious man who just goes by the name Smith who emerges from behind a steel door one day and sets the pair on investigating several disappearances of people in Boston.  Smith is reminiscent of The Doctor from Doctor Who (who also sometimes goes by the name Smith) and the relationship of April Malone and Smith owes a debt to Holmes & Watson, but it’s not entirely derivative.  I was won over by the first part of this book, but less enamored with the latter half.  This is because Smith goes off on his own adventure and while ultimately aided by April, I think the book lacks something when not seen from her perspective as well as the interesting chemistry between the two characters.  This book is the first in a series of Chronological Man Adventures, and I hope that in future installments that two leads stay together.

Recommended booksThe Technologists by Matthew Pearl, The Alienist by Caleb Carr, and The Night Inspector by Frederick Busch.
Rating: ***

Song of the Week: “Dying Breed” by Marissa Nadler (Stefan Biniak Private Edit)

Marissa Nadler is a singer-songwriter from Boston, but I’d not heard of her before now. In fact, “Dying Breed” is not a new song, but one she released back in 2007.  Luckily, German DJ Stefan Biniak is more up to date on Boston artists and has added the perfect groove to her vocals in this remix.

What musical discoveries have you made recently? Let me know in the comments.

Beer Review: Harpoon The Long Thaw

Beer: The Long Thaw White IPA
Brewer: Harpoon Brewery
Source: 12 oz bottle
Rating: *** (7 of 10)
Comments: Pours out cloudy blonde with a medium head. The scent is grassy with hints of citrus.  The taste of this beer is earthy followed by a hop explosion.  This beer is smooth and drinkable and a worthy addition to the Harpoon lineup.

 

Write a Letter to Help Fix Cambridge Street

[cross-posted from my Boston Bike Commuter blog]

 

Wednesday is the deadline to help fix Cambridge Street by signing Fix Cambridge Street‘s community letter to MassDOT at http://tinyurl.com/CambridgeStreet.

 

Please also send an email to dot.feedback.highway@state.ma.us with your own comments (mention “Project File # 606376″).

 

Keep up with news on Facebook and Twitter.

My letter to MassDOT is below.

January 27, 2014

Richard Davey, Secretary and Chief Executive Officer
Frank DePaola, Administrator, Highway Division
Massachusetts Department of Transportation
10 Park Plaza,
Boston, MA 02114
RE: Project #606376 Cambridge Street bridge over I-90, Allston, Boston
Dear Secretary Davey and Administrator DePaolo:
I’m writing in regards to the Cambridge Street Overpass in Allston, Project #606376.  I appreciate that in recent public meetings and plans that community concerns have been incorporated onto the Cambridge Street renovations.  However, the street design is still geared toward high-speed / high-volume motor vehicle traffic, increasing the risks for bicyclists and pedestrians.
I work in Allston and live in Jamaica Plain, and whenever possible I prefer to commute by work.  Any route I take to work must cross the Massachusetts Turnpike, but crossings are few and far between with the majority of them designed almost exclusively for automotive traffic with wide lanes and high speeds (this includes Cambridge Street, as well as Carlton/Mounfort St, Beacon St, and Charlesgate).  These crossings are intimidating to bicyclists at best and downright dangerous at worst.  While the Cambridge Street crossing is the most direct route, I often go miles out-of-the-way to Massachusetts Avenue to avoid the stress and risks of biking on Cambridge Street.
With this in mind, and the concerns of Allston community members, bicyclists, and pedestrians, I would like to encourage the following modifications to encourage the goal of slowing automotive traffic speed and creating a safer street for pedestrians and bicyclists:
  • Do not install a median fence.
  • Reallocate excess space from roadway to bicyclists and pedestrians
  • The new pedestrian crossing should use a standard red/yellow/green traffic signal
  • Plant landscaping in the median between the Mansfield Crosswalk & Lincoln Street.
  • Use permanent coloring to distinguish the sidewalk and cycletrack
Thank you for your consideration and attention to my concerns and those of others who wish to transform Cambridge Street into a safe, accessible and attractive gateway to the Allston community.  Working together we can the project to remake Cambridge Street something we can all be proud of.

Budget Cuts for Boston Public Schools?

Last night at the Parent Council at my son’s elementary school in Jamaica Plain, it was announced the Boston Public Schools are requesting that schools prepare for drastic budget cuts.  It’s been reported that these cuts will be for as much as 20% of the current budget.  The immediate effects of such cuts to my son’s school and to other schools in the city will be loss of staff, Playworks, learning interventions, the learning center, and even shortening the school day.  Public schools are already making do with limited budgets while being assailed from all sides in political battles, so further cuts will have drastic consequences to providing quality innovative education to all children in the city.  So far there has been coverage on Universal Hub (http://www.universalhub.com/2014/bps-schools-told-prepare-cuts) and social media, but the news has not been disseminated through traditional media.

If you live in Boston and value public education, please join me in the following steps:

  1. Attend a Boston School Committee meeting.  The schedule is here: http://www.bostonpublicschools.org/Page/253
  2. Write a letter expressing your concern to BPS Superintendent McDonough (superintendent@bostonpublicschools.org and jmcdonough@bostonpublicschools.org) ,Mayor Marty Walsh (mayor@cityofboston.gov), and the School Committee (moneill2@bostonpublicschools.orgcmartinez6@bostonpublicschools.orgmcampbell5@boston.k12.ma.ushcoleman2@bostonpublicschools.orgggroover@bostonpublicschools.orgmloconto@bostonpublicschools.orgmmckenna4@bostonpublicschools.org).  Feel free to copy other city leaders and local  media.
  3. Share your thoughts on Twitter to https://twitter.com/bostonschools and https://twitter.com/marty_walsh.  Use the hashtag #bospoli to draw attention to your tweet! And retweet others in our community).
  4. Share your thoughts on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/VoteMartyWalsh?fref=ts and https://www.facebook.com/bostonschools?fref=ts
  5. Do whatever else you can to share this news with others, make your feelings known, and in general make a big noise to let the BPS know that we will not accept cuts to our schools.

Below is the content of the email sent to the Mayor and Superintendent.  Please feel free to crib what you like for your own message.  It does not have to long, or eloquent.  Just write to make sure that your thoughts are heard.

 

I am discouraged to learn that Boston Public Schools are being instructed to make severe cuts to their budgets for the upcoming school year.  It’s been reported that cuts of up to 20% are being requested.  My son Peter, six years old, is a Kindergarten 2 scholar at the Boston Teachers Union School in Jamaica Plain.  At his school, such drastic cuts will lead to the loss of staff, Playworks, learning interventions, the learning center, and even the length of our school day being shortened.  This is an innovative school striving to provide equitable education to the children of our city, but it cannot do so without the proper finances and resources. Like many, if not all, public schools in Boston, the BTU School is already struggling to make do on limited resources.  I believe further cuts to our schools’ budgets will have drastic consequences
 
Public education is something I value highly.  I believe quality education for all children regardless of their economic, social, or racial background is one of the most important things our community and government provides.  I also believe in holding accountable leaders of the schools and the city to follow through on this promise to our children. The city of Boston cannot prosper without a thriving working class and middle class who feel that their children can get a quality public education.
The Boston Public Schools have proclamations that our schools are high-performing, but this will be possible to maintain without the proper funding and resources.  Mayor Walsh declared “I will not cut back on the education budget,” (Boston Herald, 12/5/2013), and I expect him to hold to that promise. I ask of all the leaders of our schools and city to work toward restoring the budge to previous levels, and, hey perhaps even a little bit more to help increase quality, innovative education in Boston.  Our schools should be the first priority for our city, our children, and our future.
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