Lawrence High School – The Painting of the Spirit Wall

September 18, 2011

Lawrence High School

On Friday, dressed in a suit and tie I walked in to the old Lawrence High School with my friend Abel Vargas (Class of 2000), said hello to the security guard and headed to the administration office. When I entered the office, I identified myself as alumni and asked if it was possible for me to take a look at the wall that all Lawrence Lancer Graduates had signed their names.
An Assistant Principal of that school yelled, “NO! The Wall has been painted over…its gone!” 
I politely explained to her that other alumni and I greatly cared about the wall and I would appreciate it if someone could accompany me there. At this, the Assistant Principal raised her voice and with a very aggressive tone proceeded to give a tongue lashing unlike anything I have ever received.  At this point, no logical argument would sway her and after a few minutes of having her treat me like a delinquent, I asked her what her name was. As I started to write it down she raised her voice once again and asked “WHY ARE YOU WRITING MY NAME?”
I was momentarily perplexed. What had driven this high-level government official to treat me in this manner?  I then introduced myself as a School Committee member, gave her my card and proceeded to tell her that the way she was speaking to me was unprofessional.  I pointed out that while she was being aggressive I had kept calm and avoided being disrespectful.
To this she replied, “Well you should have introduced yourself as a School Committee Member.” This statement was more upsetting than her verbal attack. It meant that this was not an isolated incident, that she had treated parents, students, alumni and other tax payers without a “position” in the same belittling manner that she had just been treating me. 
I firmly told her that no one should be treated in that manner. That any one who walked through the doors should be treated with respect. While I had originally come for five minutes to take a look at the wall, I now was very interested in how the school was being managed and I requested that someone give me a tour at their earliest convenience.  She explained that policy required her to give the school 24 hours notice.  I told her that as a school committee member, I had the authority to visit the school and was curious to know what a 24 hours difference would make. I clearly was not here to cause trouble, and I came because many of my constituents and friends were wondering what was going on in the old Lawrence High School building.
After denying me the tour, I left the building, called the Superintendent’s office and had them call the Oliver/SES to request a tour.  While I waited for that to happen, I called Oneida Aquino, Lawrence High School Alumni and City Councilor, and explained to her the situation. She was shocked and agreed to join me on the tour.  I  later went to Mayor Lantigua, who stepped out of a meeting so that I could further explain to him what happened.  The Mayor was outraged that the wall was painted over and that the Lawrence community was receiving such poor treatment at the school. He proceeded in accompanying us on the tour.

~9:15 AM – Fri – 9/16/2011

As we entered Lawrence High School I pointed to everyone the graffiti on the front door.  While they felt the need to paint the Wall that was covered with meaning and art…the front door that hundreds of children saw when they came in, was covered in graffiti.

After keeping us waiting for a few minutes the Principal joined us.  I then asked him to show us the Wall and to then give us a tour.  He responded by saying that the Wall has been painted and essentially questioned why we would want to see an empty wall.  We explained to him that it meant much to us and we needed to see it.  He looked perplexed and repeated that the Wall had been painted over.  I again said that we needed to see it.

We walked over and this is what we saw:

The Principal stated that no one told him the Wall was significant. After I asked him if they plexiglass that covered it did not hint that we were trying to protect it he said “well one of them was cracked during a soccer game”.  I then told him we could have easily replaced 10 of them.

I then tried to find out who was the one that made the call to paint the Gym.  He said we as a school decided that.  I kept asking who was the one that made the final call and he could not answer the question.

Councilor Oneida Aquino then stated “A work order had to be put in so that the wall could be painted.  Who put in that work order?”

The Principal said, “No work order was put in we did it ourselves”.

Almost in unison everyone stated that things could not just be done like that.  I then said, “there are two school in this building, you are the Principal of the SES correct?”

The Principal answered “Yes”.

I then asked so “who is the Principal of the Oliver?”.

The Principal answered “I am”.

I nodded and said “so you are the Principal of both schools…and since the Principal is in charge of all the staff in this building this means that YOU gave the authority and told your staff to paint the wall”.

He finally acknowledged that he did in fact push for the wall to be painted and repeated his earlier statement that no one had come in to tell him he could not paint the wall.

Seeing that there was nothing else that could be done I asked for us to proceed with the tour of the school.  What we found was beyond my lowest expectations…the tour was done to see if changes were made to the other artwork that was in the school and we unfortunately found the school in a general state of disrepair.

From dirty stairs filled with trash, cobwebs and huge dust bunnies:

To open chemical containers and dangling in open rooms where a child could easily get to:
I tripped over ceiling lights that had been knocked down by a janitor. Luckily I was able to grab on the railing but what if a group of children were walking up the stairs and were hit by those lights???  We were told that it had happened twice that week:

One of the worse abuses was a room where a dozen small children were trying to study.  The children were sweating and we were told that the room sometimes gets to be more than 90 degrees. We asked the Principal to move the classroom but he said there was no space.  The Mayor told very sternly that the sweatbox the students were currently in was not the right environment after a few minutes of discussion the Principal said that there was indeed another classroom he could place them at.

 For additional pictures go to: https://www.facebook.com/PavelPayano

While the painting of 20 years of history and pride was deplorable and the customer service of the school is unprofessional one positive thing that will come out of this is that we Lancers will make sure that the students that are there now are better served.

If you are interested in finding out more email me at PPayano@gmail.com

Pavel M. Payano,
LHS Alum – Class of 2002
Lawrence School Committee Member

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About pavelpayano

Pavel Payano graduated with a BA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2006. After graduation he became the Outreach Director of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. He served in this role until 2007 when he joined the staff of Congresswoman Tsongas becoming her Special Assistant and Immigration Specialist. In June 2011 he graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston with a Masters of Science in Public Affairs. Mr. Payano is an active member of the Lawrence community; in 2010 he co-founded the Greater Lawrence Young Professionals Network, an organization that hopes to bridge the gap between local government, business leaders and young professionals who care about the development and well being of the greater Lawrence communities. He is also serving his second term as a Lawrence School Committee member.

View all posts by pavelpayano

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5 Comments on “Lawrence High School – The Painting of the Spirit Wall”

  1. Delimar Says:

    I had forgotten……….I signed that wall.I am very sad right now.Delimar Freire (formerly Garcia)Class of '93

    Reply

  2. FEZ Says:

    Pavel – I am very excited that there is someone like you available in the city to lead the kinds of efforts that bring dignity back to alumni and better yet – to current students.I would be highly interested in revamping the role, board, and overall leadership of the alumni association. Its time to have a real, meaningful alumni group involved!

    Reply

  3. Sarah L. Says:

    It is fascinating to me that after YEARS of poor conditions, overcrowded classrooms, and overall substandard facilities, the only reason the Oliver/SES is getting any attention is because a wall with student signatures had been painted over. I am not saying I agree with the painting, in fact, a piece of the city history is gone. However, please do not make yourself and your team out to be martyrs, when you haven't reached out before. Plenty of parents, teachers and taxpayers have voiced their concerns, which have all remained unrecognized. You are right; the building is in shambles, the facility is overcrowded and understaffed. It is time for all of you to step up and help fix it. You are, after all, a member of the school committee!

    Reply

  4. Pavel M. Payano Says:

    Hi Sarah,I agree with you to a certain point. If a tour would have been done weeks, months or years ago there probably would still be a wall. I have only been in the School Committee for a little over 5 months and since the Oliver/SES is not in my district and no one had ever approached me of the situation there I never thought to tour the school. What brought me over there initially was the Wall…the Tour came about because after speaking with administrators my gut said that we needed to look around. There are basically three big issues 1) the painting of the wall 2) the state of the school 3) and the schools' customer service A lot of the structural disrepair is present in many of our older school buildings which is harder to fix…however the maintenance issues like broken glass on the stairwells or some of the other issues that were found is a different issue all together.In the end we all share the blame for the state of the school and for its administration deciding to remove a piece of history. I hope that something positive comes out of this…a more involved community and better schools.Like you said its time for all of us to step up and fix our schools and our city. If you want to continue this conversation through email you can reach me at ppayano@gmail.com

    Reply

  5. Rossenid Says:

    Pavel,Thanks so much for keeping us informed. I think you handled yourself very well. I hope this will bring a chanfe in how things are handled at the schools and something good comes of something sad. Thanks again.Rossenid Colon (formerly Gutierrez)

    Reply

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