LOWELL — The city’s first, and most diverse, school board with district members was dedicated Monday in a historic ceremony at Lowell High School.
Sokhary Chau, just after being elected mayor at the inauguration of the city council on Monday morning and becoming chairman of the school committee, welcomed the remaining six members and thanked them for their service.
“These committee members currently truly reflect the student body in our Lowell Public Schools school system,” he said.
Returning committee member Jackie Doherty was elected vice-chair with the support of Chau and fellow members Andy Descoteaux, Dominik Lay and Connie Martin. Eileen DelRossi and Stacey Thompson, the two new committee members, voted each other for the position.
“I look forward to working with all of you as we first enter this exciting new chapter in Lowell and working together to improve our school district,” Doherty said.
She also acknowledged the effects of the pandemic on students at Lowell, saying the role of the school committee was more important than ever.
“Today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders. As this pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the physical and mental well-being of our community, schools remain central to the support our children and their families desperately need,” she said. “We need to better meet the needs of our students and support our staff who have been on the front lines throughout this pandemic. We must defend this work together in public with focus, transparency and the information we need to make good decisions. We need to improve our schools so that all students and staff have the opportunity and support they need to perform at their best.
Thompson is a historic addition to the school committee as Lowell’s first black woman elected to municipal office. She said after the inauguration ceremony that she was both overwhelmed and honored by this distinction.
On her shirt, the former teacher wore a jeweled owl lapel pin, which she said belonged to Birdie Malbory, the first black woman to run for Lowell City Council in 1979. Malbory’s office on Merrimack Street was repeatedly vandalized during his campaign and set on fire twice. .
“We finally succeeded. A black woman finally holds a municipal seat in Lowell,” Thompson said. “I carry his honor with me in what I do.”
DelRossi, another former teacher, also said she was overwhelmed by the day but was excited to get down to business.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, but slowly and steadily winning the race,” she said. “We all want our children to have the best results.”
DelRossi previously worked at Lowell High with special education students. Although it is not mandatory for members of the school committee, she says she made the decision to leave her position to avoid any conflict of interest.
However, after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, she walked down the hall to her old classroom to visit her former students.
“What I left behind were several students that I love and who hurt my heart,” she said.
Special education teacher Mindy Kates and nurse Jan Archambault, former colleagues of DelRossi, both said they loved working with her and miss her in the classroom.
“She was phenomenal with (the students),” Kates said. “It will certainly show in his duties as a member of the school committee.”
For Lay, the day was slightly clouded by an impending court date in the case regarding his lawful residency in Lowell. Oral arguments in the Court of Appeals are scheduled for Jan. 14, and the case will determine whether Lay is eligible to serve as an elected official in the city.
Lay said after the ceremony that he planned to continue his school committee work as usual until then.
“I think the easiest part for me is letting the legal process take over,” he said. “The energy should be spent on things more important to the school committee.”