PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, JAN. 7, 2013) — The discussion we have stimulated about public education highlights one simple fact: citizens want competition when it comes to public education. Competition forces the players to strive for continuous improvement and offers the “consumer” (a word we cannot use without quotes) the best chance at qualify and value.

Clearly, the current monopoly “enjoyed” by the current public educational establishment, to the torture of taxpayers, has produced a prohibitively expensive educational disaster. The diminishing returns, in the face of countless millions and billions of dollars thrown at the problem, speak to this point. “Thrown at” also explains why money has not been (and will not be) the answer for public education. You can’t simply pour money into a problem without a strategy.

Wanted: More Competition in Public Education

SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION: Enemies of competition and creative change.

Competition: Parents wants it, taxpayers want it. The only ones who oppose more competition? The teachers’ union and the administration. Let us here make a distinction between “teachers union” and “teachers.” Most teachers, if you did a secret poll, would favor competition as well, which tells us that the union, while it may speak on behalf of its member, does not speak for their best interests in a representative way.

THE PLANET has long known this. For the past 20 years, we have been paying dues to not one, not two, but three teachers unions: the National Education Association, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and the Massachusetts Council on Community College. We have been privy to the lugubrious effects of union politicization of education and have witnessed first-hand how public employee unions have turned politicians into marionettes.

Our affiliations have brought us into contact with many members of the United Educators of Pittsfield. In the UEP, members have much disdain for their leadership. These are good teachers who feel caught between a complacent administration and union bosses out for their own interests. Coming in for the late hit is the Pittsfield School Committee, the Ship of Fools that remains adrift, directionless with a broken rudder on an ocean of self-absorption, petty power plays, and the glory of seeing their names on the letterhead.

Why wouldn’t the administration be complacent? The superintendent of schools in Pittsfield makes more money per year than the governor of the Commonwealth. Why would he or his many overpaid honchos want to change anything? Why would union bosses want to change? They control a huge pool of money that buys, among other favors, political power.

The System is Corrupt

The system is corrupt in that it does not act in the best interest of young people. THE PLANET has presented many solutions and alternatives to the hidebound nature of the Pittsfield Public School System. None will occur or become actualized until We The People elect a more courageous school committee committed to excellence rather than running water for the local GOB. Pittsfield needs more qualified citizens to run for school committee, more people with backbone, such as Terry Kinnas.

Kinnas has riled the right people by asking questions that no one else in power dares to ask. His candid approach to government has assured Kinnas of re-election, should he decide to reup.



THE PLANET received a note of appreciation from Julia Bowen, executive director of BArT. She writes:

Thank you for sending this my way, and for covering us!  One of our parents also sent me the link today.

Fingers crossed on Pittsfield’s inclusion in our charter.  Only correction to your story – we don’t intend to open a building in Pittsfield; we simply want to be able to continue to have the same number of students from Pittsfield (or more), given the demonstrated interest.  The law changed in 2010 to say we had to limit ourselves to 20% of our students outside of our chartered region.  This year, 35% of our students are from Pittsfield (and 4% from other non-charter towns).


This clarification make it even more imperative that the state Department of Education allow BArT to accept more Pittsfield students. BArT will not be looking for bricks and mortar to “invade” Pittsfield, the way one school administrator dissed the proposed action. BArT simple wishes to add more students from the city. More competition = Better results.

Bowen also sent this  to THE PLANET, in response to the many comments made on the site:

@Insider and SI: Thank you for explaining that we do, in fact, serve all students at BART. Your assessment is spot on. Our student demographics should speak for themselves.
@Terry: We sent a copy of the request to include Pittsfield in our charter to Alf Barbalunga, Gordon Noseworthy and Mayor Bianchi. I met personally with Noseworthy and Bianchi.
@ BobbyD: It is a mistake to only look at achievement levels when assessing performance; you must also look at growth of students over time, using the state’s student growth percentile model. This is especially true when evaluating a school like ours, that starts at 6th grade (not kindergarten) and draws from a number of districts. Using a combination of these metrics, the state has deemed BART to be a “level 1″ school – within the top 25% of districts statewide.
@Everyone: Please – call us to visit the school. We would love to give you a tour so you can assess BART for yourself. We also have many volunteer opportunities – from one-time events to regular roles in the school. We’d be happy to have you involved!

Julia Bowen is the type of educator desperately needed in today’s public school system. In addition to her leadership at BArT, Bowen is a member of the Accountability and Assistance Advisory Council at the state Department of Education. She is also a member of the Berkshire Compact for Higher Education. Her past experience includes the directorship of the Massachusetts Center for Charter Public School Excellence. She was educated at Dartmouth College.

We thank Bowen for her commitment to young people. THE PLANET has long been a proponent of Bowen. We had her on our radio show before BArT had opened for its first class. “The Dan Valenti Show,” in fact, broke the story of BArT. We have been a friend of the school all along.



Speaking of friends, THE PLANET applauds Mayor Dan Bianchi for his selection of a nominee to succeed Butch Pisani on the Pittsfield Licensing Board.

Bianchi has nominated Dick Stockwell  to succeed Albert Pisani on the board. News of this sort can hardly be considered earth-shaking, but anything involving the larger-than-life Stockwell can invoke thunder — a good kind of thunder.

THE PLANET goes back a long time with Stockwell, an imposing, Andre-the-Giant type of figure who never lost his thick Boston accent. He used to be the day manager at Nel’s Restaurant downstairs in what is now space occupied by the juvenile courts. What a downgrade of space, literally going as it has from soup to nuts: Aunt Rose‘s homemade soups and sauces to the nut jobs that try the times and clog our youngin’ court system. THE PLANET whiled away many a lunch hour downing Aunt’s Rose’s spaghetti and Stockwell’s stories.

Stockwell is kin to (and rather resembles) the late, great American League umpire Bill Summers. Yes, that is the same Bill Summers who called Jackie Robinson safe on a steal of home in Game One of the 1955 World Series. To this day, Yogi Berra insists he slapped the tag on Robinson in time to get the out. Google the film of this famous play, and you will see the meaning of steadfastness in the midst of pressurized rage.

Stockwell has a long history of volunteer public service. THE PLANET endorses this selection for the Licensing Board. We know our right honorable good friends on the city council will unanimously approve.



Even as we speak, in Pittsfield, there is a collection of well-meaning citizens who have volunteered to sit on a committee.

This being Pittsfield, you just know the Charter Commission will screw it up. Bad government to get worse? Stay tuned.

That’s our first clue to be on alert. “Well meaning” and “committee” are two terms THE PLANET has come to abhor. “Well meaning” often is used as a euphemism for incompetence, ejecting common sense the way a pumped Winchester tosses out a cartridge after squeezing off a round. “Committee” too often in Pittsfield indicates a collection of timid acolytes that debate, deliberate, discuss, and gum the issue at hand before arriving on a solution characterized by its love of the least common denominator and its willingness to please the reigning GOBs. Such committee’s in fact, often feature a blend of GOBs and GOB-wannabes.

Be clear: THE PLANET does not yet ascribe this characterization to Pittsfield’s Charter Review Study Committee, though the early returns lean that way. FInd our more on tomorrow’s PLANET.






  1. Still wondering
    January 7, 2013 at 8:13 am #

    Dick Stockwell? Are you kidding?

    • danvalenti
      January 7, 2013 at 10:17 am #

      Not kidding. Dick’s a good choice. He has a lot of experience in the restaurant business, familiar with the many issues owners of taverns and eateries face.

  2. tito
    January 7, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Isn’t he the manager for the Swedish Idol?

  3. bobbyd
    January 7, 2013 at 9:35 am #

    I do not wish to take anything away from BArT—they do some amazing work. They have made terrific gains over the past five years just as we have at Reid, and we also pull from many different feeder schools.

    I agree with Ms. Bowen that we must look at growth data as well as performance data. I think you will find that over the past few years that, when compared to BArT, Reid has stacked up quite nicely in terms of growth and absolute performance.

    In terms of demographics, you will find that, unlike Reid, BArT has no ELL students and Reid has significantly more minority students, while they share about the same levels of low income and special education students.

    Aside from repeated recognition by the DESE as a gap closing school, like BArT, Reid was also designated a Level 1 school in 2012. I would offer one correction in that regard. Level 1 signifies that a school has met its four-year progress and performance targets, not that it is in the top 25% of performers. In fact, BArT performed at the 43rd percentile for all middle-high schools throughout the state in 2012, while Reid performed at the 46th percentile for all middle schools.

    Again, I do not wish to take anything away from BArT, but recognition should also be given to schools in Pittsfield when it is due. It’s so easy to overlook the good things that take place in your own back yard when you’re too busy finding everything you can to complain about.

    • dusty
      January 7, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

      But is this apples and oranges? Is the subject matter and grading systems equal? Does Bart study to the test as well or do they actually learn how to problems solve?

      • bobbyd
        January 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

        Not apples to oranges at all. We are all under the same accountability system using the same measures. We teach the same set of frameworks.

        Many truly innovative initiatives have taken place at Reid in recent years, and the State has brought other schools in to study our models in terms of our alignment structures and data use.

        Under the NCLB waiver, the DESE gave schools six years to cut their performance gaps in half. Like BArT, we had already accomplished that during the previous three years.

        The best news is that we are constantly refining our systems and structures and innovating to carry those gains into the future and extend them.

        We have been repeatedly recognized by the state and by the New England League of Middle Schools for the work we have been doing. The only people who don’t seem to recognize the good things happening at Reid are the people in our hometown.

      • bobbyd
        January 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

        Not apples to oranges at all. We are all under the same accountability system using the same measures. We teach the same set of frameworks.

        Many truly innovative initiatives have taken place at Reid in recent years, and the State has brought other schools in to study our models in terms of our alignment structures and data use.

        Under the NCLB waiver, the DESE gave schools six years to cut their performance gaps in half. Like BArT, we had already accomplished that during the previous three years.

        The best news is that we are constantly refining our systems and structures and innovating to carry those gains into the future and extend them.

        We have been repeatedly recognized by the state and by the New England League of Middle Schools for the work we have been doing. The only people who don’t seem to recognize the good things happening at Reid are the people in our hometown.

        • Dave
          January 7, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

          Maybe if you actually let people in the building to attend your meetings, more hometown people would know!

          • danvalenti
            January 8, 2013 at 7:12 am #

            Good one. Yes, that minor detail would help improve things. Imagine, conducting an “open” meeting and NOT locking the doors. Oh yeah, and maybe you put up some signage directing people to the specific room of the meeting in the large building.

          • bobbyd
            January 8, 2013 at 9:30 am #

            “Are you blind?” asks another child. “No,” respond the dwarfs, “we’re here in the dark where no one can see.”

            “But it isn’t dark, you poor dwarfs,” says Lucy, “look up, look round, can’t you see the sky and flowers – can’t you see me?” Then Lucy bends over, picks some wild violets, and says, “perhaps you can smell these.” But the dwarf jumps back into his darkness and yells, “How dare you shove that filthy stable litter in my face.” He cannot even smell the beauty which surrounds him.

            — from The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis

          • danvalenti
            January 8, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

            A beautiful little excerpt from a penetrating writer and thinker. Thanks, bobby.

          • Dave
            January 8, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

            It doesn’t mention if Lucy had to unlock the door to the “forbidden city”. If the dwarfs don’t want to know, or come hither, it is their fault, if they wanted to smell the wild violets and they were told no or made to walk a maze to do it by the Reid council(oops I mean Lucy), then your analogy(I presume) would make sense. By the way bobbyd, I am confident you are smarter and more educated than I(or is it me), but you need to pick your battles wisely as you warn Mr. Kinnas, because if you disregard one violation of State Law, why should we pay attention to any of them?

          • bobbyd
            January 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

            “You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being takers in that they cannot be taken out. But come, children. I have other work to do.”

            — from The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis

          • Dave
            January 8, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

            Yo Adrienne, I DID IT!!!!
            -from Rocky II, Rocky Balboa

  4. Ole Jack
    January 7, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    1. If PPS could cherry pick twelve or so kids to take the MCAS (like BART), I bet they could have a one hundred percent above proficient rating, too.

    2. How much does Julia Bowen make per year? How about Ben Klompus?

    3. Terry will not win re-election. The word on the street is that he is just another obstructionist (actually enjoying his own infamy), and he came off as rather unhinged at his public humiliation versus the Reid people. EVERYONE on that model of dysfunction needs to go.

    • danvalenti
      January 7, 2013 at 10:18 am #

      That’s the best you’ve got? Man, you need to send back to supply for more ammo. These lightweight comments didn’t have to be brushed off. The light breeze this morning blew them to oblivion.

      • FPR
        January 7, 2013 at 11:15 am #

        Hahahaha Dan,

        Made me laugh.

        Just one thing about Terry Kinnas. I don’t know him but have met him and had brief conversations with him. He is very good at doing research and fact finding. He does in all honesty have a “gotcha attitude” as Alf has said.

        Not saying that’s entirely bad. I just think Terry needs to show another side to himself and move forward in more positive directions where he can.

        I don’t think the school committee is a good place for him. Rather see him on the city council with Joe Nichols, Melissa Mazzeo and a few more like them to overtake the GOB mentality.

      • FPR
        January 7, 2013 at 11:22 am #

        Imagine what could be done with a good city council and Mayor Valenti at the helm.

    • dusty
      January 7, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

      If Terry runs again I will vote for him again. I would love to see him replace Alf. But you are right about the rest of them. Alf, Amuso, Yon and the others are dysfunctional and should be replaced post haste.

      • joetaxpayer
        January 7, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

        I’m going to bullet vote Terry.

    • Kevin
      January 7, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

      “The word on the street is that he is just another obstructionist” According to Who? The GOB’s?

      • danvalenti
        January 7, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

        Exactly, Kevin. “Word on the street”: Specifically, who is saying this. And is the street “GOB Terrace”?

    • Scott
      January 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

      How does Bart “cherry pick” students? They simply accept applications for enrollment. Do they have a special education program? I don’t think kids on an IEP participate in state MCAS the same way regular ed kids do anyways correct me if I’m wrong. Plus that’s not the point anyways. Plus you ask how much money they make I’d like to point out that the money they make is based on satisfactory results which is exactly what the public teachers are afraid of. Well the slackers anyways. Those that make more no matter what.

      • bobbyd
        January 7, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

        It would be dishonest to say BArT cherry picks students. They are, however, unequipped to meet the needs of students with the most severe types of disabilities. Still, even with an admittedly small 2012 Grade 10 class with a favorable demographic profile, 100% proficiency is an impressive accomplishment.

        Most students on IEPs do participate in regular MCAS, albeit with one degree of accommodation or another. Only those with severe disabilities have the opportunity to be assessed by portfolio. Across the state, less than 2% of students participate in these Alternative Assessments. For purposes of reporting, except in exceptionally rare cases, these are reported as “Warning/Failing”.

        Personally I have nothing against merit pay, especially if it is based on a value added model—which we do not use in Massachusetts. However, we need to find a way to avoid hurting the very students such measures are intended to help. Hopefully we learned a few lessons from NCLB.

      • Ole Jack
        January 8, 2013 at 6:41 am #

        Charter schools can “counsel out” students who can be more challenging to educate. True public schools cannot. See article in NY Times:

        Don’t know of Bart does this or not…

        • danvalenti
          January 8, 2013 at 7:10 am #

          Don’t know BArT’s policy in this regard, but it is no different from that same option in traditional public schools. Thanks for the info. Interesting article.

  5. Teecha teecha
    January 7, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Bravo to Ms. Bowden. My fiancée and I have discussed numerous times moving back to the berkshirecounty and the one issue stopping us, aside from NOTHING to do other than drink and impregnate minors, the school systems re scary and we don’t want our children going through it. (Both used to teach in various capacities and what we saw was dispicable)

    However, if we could put our kids in BaRT we’d reconsider it. We have nothing but high praise for it, it’s teachers. Etc. McCann Tech should be noted as well as a fine school in the area.

    • Scott
      January 7, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

      There is plenty to do beside “drink and impregnate minors” what the hell is wrong with you?

      • Dawn
        January 8, 2013 at 9:54 am #

        Pretty poor writing for a teacher. I’m glad you’re not still teaching in Pittsfield (not to mention defeatist attitude).

  6. Joe Blow
    January 7, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    I remember Nel’s being a den of sin back in the day.

    • Scott
      January 7, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

      Nel’s was no better than Herman’s.

  7. outfox
    January 7, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    It has been my great privilege to know Dick Stockwell for many years, and I can assure the Planetarians that the level of service he will bring to the licensing board will be an excellent addition. His many years of experience in managing establishments that serve liquor, as well as his familiarity with and real fondness for Pittsfield and its residents will serve us all well.He is level headed and fair, and understands both sides of the types of issues that are brought before the licensing board. We are lucky to have him as a nominee for the position!

    • danvalenti
      January 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

      Agreed, OUTFOX. Dick’s the right guy for this job.

    • bobbyd
      January 8, 2013 at 4:52 am #

      “It has been my great privilege to know [enter name of crony here] for many years.”

      If I only had a dollar for every time I heard a GOB type use that same phrase. *sigh*

      Just saying.

      • outfox
        January 8, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

        Yeah, I knew when I wrote this like that someone would have a comment. All I can say is that over the years I have seen Dick do many things to help people, without seeking accolades or any other kind of personal gain, just quietly helping a person along regardless of *who* they are. That’s the type of personal quality that will serve us all well. And as for me being a “GOB type”….hahahahaha not even close, my friend.

  8. Mr. X
    January 7, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    OJ. Not to be confused with the 1st 2000yds. in a season by a RB, in only 14 games, not 16 like these overpaid bums today, OJ. You must be related to Alfie, the biggest baddest school playground bully ever. Every board, council and committee needs a pain in the arse fact finder to keep it real. TK’s got my vote. A person for the people.

    • Ole Jack
      January 8, 2013 at 6:32 am #

      @Mr. X
      I’m not fond of Alfie. He comes across to me as a well-connected bully and a spoiled jerk. Listen, I’m not the one who counts GOBs like Kroll and Ruberto as friends; some others on here seem to play both ends of the stick, not I.

  9. Quo Vadis
    January 7, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    I am new to this site. What a refreshing discovery. Came to it after hearing about Mr. Valenti’s piece on BART. I have personal experience there and can vouch for the school’s excellence.

    As for Ms. Bowen, she is a dynamic leader, just wonderful for the children. As for The Planet, I went back and read back issues. Wow! I canceled my subscription to the Eagle to start the new Year. I have my local source here. Thank you, Mr. Valenti.

    • Scott
      January 7, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

      Wow that’s something. Congratulations on expanding your mind Happy birthday!

    • dusty
      January 8, 2013 at 4:06 am #

      Gave up the Eagle several years ago. Occasionally I may find one in the barber shop and thumb through it. That leaves me with a good feeling thinking of all the money I have saved and time I have not wasted.

      It is just a bad habit with most people…something to wile away the time on the commode

    • danvalenti
      January 8, 2013 at 7:12 am #

      I agree. That’s something. Many thanks, and welcome to THE PLANET. That is how we have grown. Word of mouth, mainly.

  10. Janie
    January 7, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    I also agree that Dick Stockwell is a good choice for the Licensing Board. His past experiences in the public and private sectors have shown his strong committment to this community.

  11. Mr. X
    January 8, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    OJ- nor I, right on.