PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, MAY 22, 2013) — Thus far, four from the following list of 11 school department officials have responded to THE PLANET‘s request for a statement on the disruptive use of personal “smart” technology by students in the Pittsfield Public School System:

Alf Barbalunga, Jim Conant, Terry Kinnas, Dan Elias, Kathy Yon, Kathy Amuso, Dan Bianchi, Gordon Noseworthy, N. Tracy Crowe, Kristen Behnke, and Frank Cote.

The four are Conant, Elias, Kinnas, and Amuso. The responses include a blockbuster admission from one of the four. We shall be sharing it tomorrow or Friday. Four-for-11 results in a batting average of .363. That would lead the league in major league baseball, but in this league, anything less than 1.000 shall be considered substandard. THE PLANET has done our part by polling the members. Now each of them, elected and appointed, has an obligation to respond.

A Practical, Cost-Efficient Solution Exists, Now and Today

Blocking technology used with the classroom can prevent pupils from texting, surfing on devices like these.

THE PLANET — on behalf of We The People, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, and taxpayers — reiterates our expectation that each of these persons will comment. They are the experts. They have been entrusted by the people the keys to the $90 million car. If it is their position that the “smart” problem with increasingly dumb students is a non-issue, they should provide their reasoning and evidence. Perhaps they can convince us. If they agree the situation is problematic and getting worse by the day, they should share with the public what they intend to do about it.

There are two practical solutions to the “smart” problem (dare we call it “Smartgate”?)

1. Confiscation. The Pittsfield Public Schools already do this, as PLANET correspondent Giacometti adroitly points out, at the Juvenile Resource Center, formerly known as Carmen’s Holiday Ranch for Young Baddies. When kids enter for class, they must surrender all personal technology. Giacometti also correctly notes that the JRC also enforces a strict dress code. Inappropriately dressed students must put on prison garb. It is but an easy extension to include all of Pittsfield’s public school students in this policy regarding technology and proper attire. This would be the preferred option, and it would not cost taxpayers one penny.

2.  The second practical solution we have seen is use of mobile phone jammers, which effectively scramble or block cell phone signals. The devices have a limited range, perfect for zapping small, isolated spaces such as classrooms. The technology has come a long way in effectiveness and practicality since first being developed for police and military use to block communications among criminals and terrorists. Along the way, the cost has fallen drastically.

The jammers are gaining growing support from a number of constituencies, including schools. In the classroom, the devices not only prevent students from accessing personal “smart” devices but also can help control academic cheating, another huge problem washed into schools by the rising high tide of technology. The sad reality of new technology — It gives kids the upper hand over adults. Now it’s time for PPS to employ a device-blocking technology that wrestles back control of the classroom.

THE PLANET won’t get into how these jammers work, but, in layman’s terms, they broadcast radio signals using the same frequencies as smart and cell phones use to contact cell towers. An oscillator generates a radio signal. A tuner adjusts the frequency. A generator produces “noise” in the selected frequency to block the signal. An amp boosts the power of the signal as required.

As the popularity of this technology becomes more known, it is certain that the nation’s schools will employ it to stop students from texting and surfing the net when they should be paying attention in class. The current Federal Communications Act dates back to 1934. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 contains provisions that schools could use to safely and legally use these devices.

Think of the opportunity for the city of Pittsfield. The PPS could become a trailblazer in the use of academic jammers. This technology is no longer a “protected” or illegal item. There is a growing market, and the devices are being sold online. Manufacturers have sniffed out this emerging market, resulting in an array of new devices in a wide variety of price-competitive costs. If the PPS dared to take up this challenge, it would give the department, and the city, at long last, an authentic, genuine, and true reason to boast.

THE PLANET’s question to all the “players” on the above list: Will you work together, form a consensus, develop a more exacting, rigorous new policy governing the use of portable “smart” devices such as cell phones and Kindles? Will you step forward, for once of a real way, for “The Children?”



Late last week , at a meeting between the public, the GE-Housatonic Citizens Coordinating Council, the EPA, and environmental officials from Massachusetts and Connecticut, the EPA dropped a bomb. It told the public that the agency couldn’t rule out building a new PCB toxic dump somewhere in the Berkshires.

The EPA’s shocking admission despite categorical assurances given to Berkshire County residents by the state DEP that county residents would not once again be shafted by General Electric‘s toxic legacy. In fact, DEP commissioner Kenneth Kimmell has given an absolute promise that such a toxic dump would not be allowed anywhere in the state.

At the meeting, EPA mouthpiece Jim Murphy said that while the EPA “intends” to dump the poisons out of the Berkshires, the agency hasn’t made a final decision on that. Asked point blank if some town in the Berkshires could be hosting a PCB dump, the EPA flack said it “could happen.”

Hill 78 is seen outlined in pink in this aerial shot. Silver Lake is seen at lower left. (EPA photograph)

When GE began the “clean-up of first two miles of the Housatonic River beginning in Pittsfield, the poisons were trucked to the infamous Hill 78 in Pittsfield, located literally next to a grammar school. Hill 78, an Everest of  industrial contamination, was part of the “great deal” Pittsfield struck with GE in the Consent Agreement. Its lofty mounds, five stories high, continue to mock official Pittsfield. They loom as an spiked and laced indictment to every city official who stood by, silent, while the city signed away its economic soul. Hill 78 and all the rest of the poisons left in the ground, air, and water after GE blew town have prevented economic development by scaring off companies who might otherwise want to make a move to the city.

Now, another “Hill 78” could be in the future of any city, town, or village in the county. We have not heard a peep of protest from our state representatives — Cariddi, Mark, Farley-Bouvier, Pignatelli and Downing. We have not heard one syllable of concern from Pittsfield mayor Dan Bianchi or anyone from his office. We have not heard a breath in opposition from any of our Right Honorable Good Friends on the Pittsfield city council. Likewise, the city school committee and the school department, in their eternal concern for “The Children,” have been mute on the idea of another toxic dump being located next to another city school.

Another Hill 78 anywhere in Berkshire County is a total non-starter. Every official in the county should go on record saying as much. Immediately, if not sooner.


“Take thought: / I have weathered the storm. / I have beaten out my exile.”Ezra Pound, “The Rest.”





  1. Blind Justice
    May 22, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    We can rename Hill 78 and add a couple of more for “Good” things that GE brings us:

    Mts Doyle, Devillar, and Welch

  2. FPR
    May 22, 2013 at 8:29 am #

    Professor Valenti,

    You say, “Four-for-11 results in a batting average of .363. That would lead the league in major league baseball, but in this league, anything less than 1.000 shall be considered substandard.”

    Sounds like you’ll be grading the performance of these powers that be and sounds like collectively they will be receiving a failing grade.

    Once a teacher, always a teacher.

    If this modern day technology were ever instituted, I wonder if the students would find ways around it?
    Dick says to Jane:
    “I’ll be sexting you during 4th period. We rewired the switch on Valenti’s transponder to light up when its off not on so he thinks he’s blocking our signals. He’s clueless.”
    “We can chat online in 6th period. There is no blocking in that part of the building.”

    As far as Hill 78 goes, its already there. Its call 3rd st. 4th st, East st and Newell st.

  3. Joe Blow
    May 22, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    There is passive tech that is legal and could be built into the new high school. *I wonder if that will be in the million dollar study.

  4. Fan Dan Go
    May 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    I like the first option better DV because it doesn’t cost one cent. They do it at JRC. Its a simple matter to insist that it be done everywhere on school property but espec classrooms.

    • danvalenti
      May 22, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

      I would have to agree FDG. To solve the problem of kids’ misuse of smart devices would simply be a matter of defining the rules and rigidly enforcing them. If the schools can’t solve this simple problem, then perhaps the signal zappers would make more sense, though not more cents.

  5. tito
    May 22, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Mrs. Behnke for Mayor!

    • danvalenti
      May 22, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

      She’d be a beauty!

  6. Dave
    May 22, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    Budget season is upon us and we spend three days on cell phone jammers?!?! If this is what your candidacy is going to be based on, stay where you are, because you are no different than whom you deride. How does this reduce or even stabilize the cost of education? Taking away the phones does not diminish the $90-$100 million(your figures) that it costs Pittsfield to run the educational system. The train has left the station on how the schools used to be. We don’t need retread hacks to head the schools and teach the students. I would offer early retirement to every teacher who would take it and hire young eager teachers(there are a few now who are doing an exceptional job) who know at least as much in the way of technology as the students they are teaching. The people who advocate for the banishment of cell phones remember the good old days when passing notes was a no-no. This is kids doing what you or your peers did-no difference! except for the technology. Not every kid does this!!! As in every generation, the kids who want to learn act responsibly, the kids who just want to get by do what they have to and occasionally act out, and the ones who don’t give a shit and have no respect act that way. If you told me my National Honor Society, captain of a varsity sport, while holding a job to help pay for her upcoming college expenses(and her phone bill) student was banned from taking her phone to school, I would be questioning why. It is not unreasonable to have students not have there phones and such powered on during class, but to say that this is the reason that PPS is failing its students is ludicrous. Like it was stated, it wouldn’t cost a penny, but it wouldn’t save a penny either. I’m sure the administration is thankful you have distracted a few people from the real problems that face the PPS.

    • FPR
      May 22, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

      I would think a candidate that sticks to an issue is a good thing. The Berkshire Eagle may report on a problem and then delete their article as if it never existed. Like a blip on the radar screen. Go try and find an Article that the Eagle printed on the Nilan case for example. Its all been purged.

      Dan’s reporting this and sticking it to it is good. He will be posting more on it in the days coming also as he has promised.

      I hardly think an occasional note passing incident in a classroom as opposed to an epidemic of use of electronic devices in a classroom including the viewing of pornography are the same thing.

      There is absolutely no way these kids are receiving a quality education while being distracted with these devices. Just look at the fruitage of what the schools produce. Kids who can’t read or write and have to use scanners at the market with registers telling them how much change to give back.

    • Varsity mom
      May 22, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

      That’s not what he’s saying. He’s pointing out one very serious problem that is rather new to the classroom (within the last three years) and so far there hasn’t been a graceful way to handle it. I have seen the inside of classrooms and kids are always looking down at something in their hand. Not all of them, but a good portion of them do. It isn’t fair for a teacher ask a question of a student, only to have that student literally say “You’re going to have to repeat that. I wasn’t paying attention.”

      • danvalenti
        May 22, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

        THE PLANET thanks VARSITY MOM, whose Letter to the Editor sparked this series. Good has already come from it.

    • danvalenti
      May 22, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

      Where does one begin? Your leaps of illogic might have set records!
      Let me respond thusly:
      1. Who said anything about “my candidacy” being based on cell-phine jammers? Not me. You did. You made a completely illogical and unwarranted leap.
      2. What “candidacy” is that, by the way. No one mentioned anything of the sort in this series on Smartgate.
      3. No one ever said taking away phones was a matter of addressing (or NOT addressing, for that matter) the school department budget.
      4. To say that what kids are doing with smart technology is no different from passing notes in class is a whopper that makes Moby Dick look like a guppy. You couldn’t access porn from a note, if you recall.
      5. I am glad for you that your daughter is in the National Honor Society, captains a varsity sport, holds a job, and pays her own phone bill. She is one of the good ones.
      6. Glad you agree with THE PLANET: It is not unreasonable to forbid smart-device use in class.
      7. Who on earth, though, said smart phones “is the reason that PPS is failing its students”? It would be ludicrous to say that, and, to my knowledge, you are the only one who has done that!
      Your response, while passionate, leads us to believe you have a dog in this fight.

  7. Varsity mom
    May 22, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

    That was directed at Dave, by the way.

  8. FPR
    May 23, 2013 at 3:52 am #

    If had it to do over again, give me a handheld, wireless device with access to the internet and I will ace every test. There would be no reason NOT to make the National Honor Society.