PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, MAY 21, 2013) — Yesterday, THE PLANET printed a Letter to the Editor from Varsity Mom, who confirmed what we’ve been hearing about the misuse of smart technology in Pittsfield’s high schools and middle schools. In more than a few classrooms, teachers who don’t want to be bothered or who, valuing good recommendations over actual teaching, would rather let kids rule the roost, allow their pupils to use personal smart devices (Kindles, iPods, smart phones) to text and surf the Internet in class. To be clear, this use does not pertain to the school’s official use of the Internet, which, of course, has a proper place in the classroom.

Varsity Mom brings up a vital point about the “learning” experience in city schools: It’s not happening at a $90-$100-million level, which is the amount taxpayers cough up to pay “professionals” to run the opaque Pittsfield School Department. One of the key breakdowns in learning occurs in the classroom itself. Without a serious, respectful, and disciplined classroom environment, learning simply cannot happen.

Most Kids Want to Learn, but the Bad Actors are Allowed to Wreck It for Them

THE PLANET grants that most kids in a given classroom want to learn. We also grant that most teachers want to teach. The intrusiveness of the new technology, however, coupled with the administration’s refusal to implement reasonable policies in the use of these ever-smarter portable devices, spell academic doom. No amount of wallpapering over poor performance via grade inflation and fake achievement scores will save the city from continued academic mediocrity. It takes only one or two punks in a classroom to ruin if for everyone. This being Pittsfield, too often the small minority of delinquents receive carte blanche to send everyone else — the good kids — into the porcelain commode.

This must stop.

Varsity Mom’s solutions would cost no additional money to implement. The simple response from the school administration to this problem should be to  absolutely forbid ANY independent, unauthorized  use of personal, portable technology within the classroom. An alert teacher with eyes peeled for the errant smart phone or Kindle can easily spot a kid sneaking texts to a boyfriend or surfing Internet porn. Come down on such violations, hard, and the problem goes away.

PLANET Seeks Official Reaction

THE PLANET has sent a copy of Varsity Mom’s letter to:

* Every member of the school committee (Alf Barbalunga, Kathy Amuso, Kathy Yon, Dan Elias, Jim Conant, Terry Kinnas, and Dan Bianchi)

* Interim supt. Gordon Noseworthy

* Deputy supt. N. Tracy Crowe

* Asst. Supt. Kristen Behnke, and

* Asst. Supt. Frank Cote inviting their comments.

Here is a copy of what we sent:

—– 00 —–


THE PLANET ( has received and published (on Monday, 5/20/13) a letter from the mother of a Taconic High School student. VARSITY MOM writes:
Dear Mr. Valenti,
I have been reading your blog faithfully, sitting back and taking everything in, school related. I have an interesting, no-cost solution to at least 50% of the problems in the school system today.  I speak only from  experience, as I have one teenager at Taconic and one who graduated already.
Cell phones and iPods are allowed in the classrooms.  The school dept. may deny this, but ask every teenager and parent of a teenager (and possibly all the way down to the elementary level), and they will tell you.  They either use the devices out right, in plain view; they sneak it and the teacher does not care; or it even becomes part of the classroom usage (iPods can do everything a computer can do, thus no need for the school to provide computers).  These devices are not being used for their intended purposes.  The kids play games all day long and text each other goofy, downloaded garbage and the latest gossip or what have you.
If students were not allowed these devices, imagine how much learning could take place!  Currently they are NOT paying attention.  There is no focus in the classroom.   I see this as no different than passing a note in class.  Remember what happened when you got caught?  It was usually embarrassing, and you were in big trouble.
Why can’t teachers have every student hand in their phones at the beginning of the school day and then pick them up at the end?  Why can’t they leave them in their lockers?  Why bring them at all?  Parents will argue,”What if I have to get a hold of my child?”  Well, what happened for the millions of years before cell phones?  What happened in 1976 when your mom had an emergency and needed to get in touch?  The schools have phones.  It’s easy to relay a message.
Then there’s the question of “conflict.”  No teacher wants to deal with conflict.  It’s much easier to turn your back on your classroom, appreciate that they are “occupied” and “quiet” because you just want your day to go by as non-confrontational as possible.
There you have it.  Simple solution, and it involves absolutely no funding, whatsoever. If the school committee denies this, I would be ecstatic to sit down with them. I would like the school committee to respond to this, and also Dr. Noseworthy, the soon-to-be-leaving interim supt. I would like to know, also: What is the official school policy in Pittsfield for cell phones, smart phones, and other such devices? Also, is this policy enforced? As I say, my daughter and her friends say that in all their classes, they are on their smart phones and nothing is done about it. Thank you for the opportunity to share this information on your website.
 Varsity Mom

I would like, for the record, your response to VARSITY MOM’s concerns. Specifically, is this in fact happening, that students are allowed in some classrooms to use personal smart devices, during class time, unsupervised? What is the PSD official policy? What are you going to do about this problem? What do you say to taxpayers? Please respond freely and in a manner that best reflects your position.

Many thanks,
—– 00 —–

We shall be publishing the responses and identifying those who choose not to respond, that is to say, who choose to ignore the problem and snub citizens, constituents, and taxpayers. THE PLANET shall give them the week to formulate their answers.

Thus far, we have responses from Amuso, Conant, and Kinnas. We shall be sharing these and any other comments we receive toward the end of the week.

We also have received a couple of e-mails from parents (one of a high schooler, one middle school) who have experienced the same problem as Varsity Mom reports. One says the administration blew her off when she raised this question. The other said when she was afraid to speak out because of an experience with another of her children. It seems issues she raised during a parent-teacher conference met with resistance and resulted in punishment of the student because his mom spoke up.

The fact that improper use of “smart” technology by students is bad enough, but when parents try to address the problem and are ignored, or, worse, when they won’t speak up because of retaliatory fear, it’s time for serious change.

We invite your comments on this situation, our dear readers, as well. The more this matter comes out into the open, the more likely the situation has a chance to be addressed in a meaningful way.


“The green-blue ground / is ruled with silver lines / to say the sun is shining.” — William Carlos Williams, “On Gay Wallpaper.”




  1. Hilly Billy
    May 21, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    This expose shows the stories that go on in Pittsfield schools that are ignored by everyone else in town including Boring Broadsheet . The smart technology is a new phenomenon. I don’t think school officials anticpated kids’ expertise with these devices. The kids are running circles around the schools via the technology. Love Mr. Kinnas suggestion of implementing a signal zapper.

    • danvalenti
      May 21, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

      Don’t expect much from local media, especially the BB or Pittsfield radio stations.

  2. Joe Pinhead
    May 21, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    I’m going to bet the schools are keenly aware of the situation but are afraid to deal with it. Please bear in mind the school system has adopted a policy to deal with cyber bullying which in part contains what one student posts about another even if it is posted from home.
    Don’t get me wrong parents should be policing what the little darlings are doing at home, however if the schools can reach into a home they had better apply the same rules in their house to assure consistency.
    The only way to do this is to do one of two things ban cell phones out right or weaken the signal to 1X thus chocking the internet andtext messaging. Imagine the law suit if a child claims they were cyber bullied and kills themselves? Any lawyer worth a nickel will verify where the offending posts originated and at what time, now think what happens when it comes down to 1030am in Mrs Crudbusters math class? No it will not bring back the child but it sure will burden the taxpayers.
    Imagine this question to Administration on the stand: just so I understand super Ronald McDonald your system has a policy against both using phones in school and cyber bullying and you stood by and let this happen by not enforcing duly adopted policy? See posts from date x y and z

    Just sayin

    Its for the children

    • danvalenti
      May 21, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

      JOE P once again raises questions that go far under the surface. THE PLANET didn’t even touch the issue of cyberbullying, which in some ways dwarfs the problem of in-class texting.

  3. FPR
    May 21, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    Dan, here is a website to see what these are and what they can do, costs, etc:

    I love the small personal unit. When you are at the movies and wanna enjoy the movie without those sitting around you on their phone, just fire this baby up and you can watch the movie in peace.

    Don’t you just love the customer in front of you talking on their phone while the clerk is patiently waiting for them to finish. Zap them and hopefully they’ll go outside to “get a better signal”.

    • Joe Blow
      May 21, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

      I’m all for this tech BUT it is very illegal to use and you have to keep it on the down low. I bought and assembled a kit for research purposes 2 years ago and it worked as advertised. For anyone thinking of buying one be very careful ,you can get in a lot of trouble with the FCC.

      • FPR
        May 21, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

        Not that I didn’t believe you Joe but yes, you are correct, they are illegal in the US.

        However these short range units installed in a classroom with an on/off switch that the teacher controls should/could be allowed. I can’t think of any reason the FCC would say no this use of them.

    • danvalenti
      May 21, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

      Thanks. This is most helpful to all who wish to learn more.

  4. Browning
    May 21, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    The point is, as readers have mentioned and also Mr Kinnas, is that there is technology in place to correct this problem. Theres no reason on earth why the school committee cant put this into the administrative as an executive order. Hope Mr. Barbalunga gets the message fast.

    • outfox
      May 21, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

      Ok, but what if the technology bleeds over into surrounding businesses and homes, and blocks cell phone signals in say, the Livingston building and the registry building?

      • danvalenti
        May 21, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

        From what I understand, the technology can be narrowly ranged so that “bleeding” of the scrambler would not be an issue.

        • outfox
          May 21, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

          A conspiracy theory aficionado friend of mine claims that the Fitzpatrick’s have a jammer on the Red Lion Inn so as not to spoil the feel of the place, and that’s why there’s a dead zone in that part of the county. Don’t know in what reality he bases this theory but it makes me smile!

          • outfox
            May 21, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

            sorry about the ‘s…

    • Joe Blow
      May 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

      I doubt the school committee will go against the FCC and open themselves up to fines and lawsuits.

  5. tito
    May 21, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    Planet, there is a severe thunderstorm entering our area before nine p m….,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,the local weather man on tv 13 suggest you can hunker down in your bathtub,,,,,,,enjoy.

    • FPR
      May 21, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

      “And go-cart Mozart was checkin’ out the weather chart to see if it was safe outside”
      — Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

  6. tito
    May 21, 2013 at 3:30 pm #


  7. The Kraken
    May 21, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    These are valid ideas to explore, but hardly free of cost. Any change, esp. if it involved technology to jam cell phones, is going to take up resources, time, and money to research and purchase any technology. And be assured, the dreaded ‘research committes’ would be formed (all GOBs) and outside consultants hired at ridiculous costs just to see if they would even move forward on any of this.
    Again, these are good ideas, but I just cannot see them getting anywhere in Pittsfield school system’s political climate.

    • danvalenti
      May 21, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

      And that’s the shame of the PPS’ dysfunction; it is due almost entirely to GOB politics. The solutions could be implemented without committees and outside consultants. It simple requires a dose of common sense and political will. All it would take is four votes from the school committee to draft and implement a much tougher policy on pupils’ use of “smart” technology.

      • FPR
        May 21, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

        Dan, perhaps they can spend 1.3 million dollars on a study to see if they need to keep up with technology in this 21st century.

    • outfox
      May 21, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

      A zebra is a horse designed by a committee.

    • Pittsfield Pete
      May 21, 2013 at 6:33 pm #


      What is the cost in wasted time, wasted resources, wasted educations, and wasted tax-payer money etc? If such issues are ignored.

      Just my thoughts!

  8. Giacometti
    May 21, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    I find it very interesting that when a student is sent to the Juvenile Resource Center on Second Street ( a program run by the Pittsfield Public Schools ) that the student must go through a metal detector and body scanner each morning before they can go to any classes…Each student also has to check all electronic devices with a security officer BECAUSE they are being sent to the JRC to learn…It seems therefore that the only students in the PPS that are banned from using electronic devices are the ones who are the most difficult to teach and every other student gets to do whatever they want…does any of this make sense ?