School’s Out! Summer Recess Begins; Town Clears Out

The calendar says that summer begins on Saturday, June 21.

But every Belmont parent or student knows that summer officially starts late in the morning of today, Friday, June 20 as the six public schools close their doors for the summer recess.

Several schools will have ceremonies on the final day of the school year with fourth graders and eighth graders marking their last day in elementary school and at the Chenery Middle School.

Today is an early-release day of the public schools. Here is the schedule:

• 10:30 a.m. for High School,

• 11 a.m. for Chenery Middle School and

• 11:40 a.m. for elementary schools with the exception of the Winn Brook which releases at 10 minutes until noon.

Today also marks the unofficial start of the summer get away as families and residents begin the annual extended vacations and trips away from the “Town of Homes.” It is reported that upwards of 10 percent of the population will be away from Belmont from July 1 to Aug. 31.

Fond Farewell for the Temporary, Interim, Long-Term Superintendent

When State Sen. Will Brownsberger read the proclamation for the Massachusetts Senate honoring Dr. Thomas Kingston, Belmont School District’s longest serving caretaker superintendent, it declared Kingston being “the semi-permenant, interim superintendent” of the school system he ran for the past three years.

“It says that,” said Kingston, before members of  the Belmont School Committee, town officials, educators and residents who came to the Belmont Gallery of Art on Monday, June 16 to thank the educator for his service to the town’s schools.

“It’s been a great three years in Belmont although I didn’t expecting three years in Belmont,” said Kingston, who received a proclamation from the House of Representatives from State Rep. Dave Rogers.

Kingston, who spent seven years as Chelsea’s Superintendent of Schools, was hired in June 2011 for a single year as interim superintendent who file the gap left with the departure of his predesessor George Entwistle.

Yet due to the lack of qualified candidates, his leadership skills and willingness to remain in the position, Kingston’s tenure stretched from one to three years, a time in which observers praised Kingston for his steady hand overseeing the district’s educators and steadying influence during three budget cycles.

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to work in this kind of community with this kind of dedication to education which in many ways was a complement to what I was doing in Chelsea,” said Kingston.

“One of the most meaningful things for all of us has not just been the counsel you gave to us but also that you sought the advice of school committee members, the leadership council and people in town about what this community is and that’s a very profound experience,” said Laurie Graham, school committee member who thanked Kingston’s wife, Sue, “for letting us have Tom for the past three years.”

After his extended stay in neighboring Belmont – Kingston is an Arlington resident – he will be working part-time with new superintendents, an experience he likens to being a “utility infielder.”

The celebration included parting gifts – a “Belmont Rocks” T-shirt, an altered magnet that now says “‘Exiting’ Belmont”, and a daily calendar of literary phrases – in addition to a cake that Kingston supervised its distribution.

 

Honoring Six Who Served In Belmont’s Schools

They taught, administered, kept the snow off outside stairs and brought the always interesting Belmont School Committee meetings to the public.

For six members of the greater Belmont Schools family, their long service for or to the district were honored by the Belmont School Committee on Tuesday, June 10 at the annual ceremony saluting their careers at their retirement with salutations and cake.

(from left) Paul Carey, Meg Hamilton, Gwen Irish and Robert McCorkle at the Belmont School Committee's annual reception for educators, staff and the public retiring from working for the public schools.

(from left) Paul Carey, Meg Hamilton, Gwen Irish and Robert McCorkle at the Belmont School Committee’s annual reception for educators, staff and the public retiring from working for the public schools.

The first person honored was a non-educator who brought the schools and the committee to the greater community. Paul Carey, who was the government and community producer at the Belmont Media Center, was faithfully behind the camera at nearly every School Committee meeting. Carey, who had a long career in media and advertising before becoming a producer, will be best known for his booming voice requesting both committee members and the public “to speak clearly into the microphone.”

Steven Chung Hau Wongassistant custodian at the Burbank Elementary for 12 years, will best be remembered for clearing snow from the back stairs leading to Gale Road. He was noticeably pleased when the stair were condemned a few years ago. 

A teacher in Belmont since 1981, Robert McCorkle, whose last position in the district was teaching third graders at the Winn Brook, brought poetry into the classroom and made it a regular ritual while being the school’s grammarian, a math whiz and history buff. He will end this years as in the past, leading a play in which “children behave as children; singing, giggling and assuming the identity of folk tale characters and occasionally forgetting a line … as Bob sings along.”

Gwen Irish has held just one position in her 42 years serving the Belmont School District: second-grade teacher at Wellington Elementary. There is no one who has as much tacit history about the schools or the town as Irish. Her knowledge in teaching and how to teach has been an ongoing asset to the children she taught and to the countless colleagues she has helped over the years. “She has always been willing to go the extra mile … and after 42 years that still rings true.”

Carol Cormier had two swings of the bat with the district, first as an office manager, then, after raising her family, coming back in 1994 first as a financial clerk where she processed the weekly accounts payable warrant entering $15 million of invoices over the year. She also lead the way in installing and using new financial software systems. 

Preschool Coordinator Marguerite “Meg” Hamilton began her service in the district in 1989 working part-time before becoming a preschool teacher for a decade. She then became a inclusion specialist, helping to create and implement the elementary autism inclusion program. In 2006, Hamilton became the early childhood coordinator working tirelessly to instruct educators and the public on the issues facing students.

“Most of all, Peg has represented what is truly best about special education; efforts to intervene early, efforts to include all children into the educational process regardless of challenges … and consummate dedication and professionalism working not only with some of our most vulnerable students but also their families.”

Belmont High’s Harris Field Closed Until August

Belmont High School’s Harris Field and its running track at the Concord Avenue Athletic Complex, a favorite destination in Belmont for youth teams, runners and for pickup games, are now officially “closed” for long-anticipated renovations beginning today, Monday, June 16, according to Judi Carmody, business manager of the Belmont Department of Public Works. 

The work is expected to last until Aug. 15, a week before the beginning of practice for the fall High School sports season. 

The $960,000 job, in which the synthetic turf “carpet” will be replaced, fencing and walkways repaired and the track resurfaced and relined, was authorized by the special Town Meeting in November 2013. The funding is coming from an extension of bonding that paid for the uni-vents at the High School. 

“We regret any inconvenience that these improvements may cause,” said Carmody. Residents who have any questions can call the DPW at 617-993-2680 or email at BelmontDPW@belmont-ma.gov

Second Sharfman Memorial Run for Education Set for Oct. 5

Rather than chance a run through a snow storm, the organizers of the second annual Dan Scharfman Memorial Run have moved up the date of the 5 kilometer race by a bit over a month to allow runners and walkers an enjoyable way of spending an early fall Sunday.

In fact, said race co-director Charlie Conroy speaking before the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, June 9, the race’s new date of Sunday, Oct. 5, was nearer to the date the organizers wanted to stage the run/walk in memory of Belmont School Committee member Dan Scharfman. But due to a great deal of community activity in completing the new Joey’s Park adjacent to the Winn Brook School that took place over the holiday weekend last year, the inaugural race took place on Sunday, Nov. 17 under dark clouds.Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 4.45.24 PM

This year, the race will take place at Harris Field on Sunday, Oct. 5 with the 5K race beginning at 9:30 a.m. and the 1 mile walk at 10:45 a.m.

Runners will take off from Harris Field and then up the hill on School to Payson then back down on Oakley and Goden before going once-around Clay Pit Pond before finishing at the field, passing the Burbank, Chenery and Wellington schools in honor of Scharfman.

 The proceeds from the races fund the Dan Scharfman Education Innovative Fund for the Foundation for Belmont Education’s Innovative Teaching Initiative. This initiative combines two of Dan’s passions and education priorities: professional development for teachers and school technology.

Normile Delivers With High School Theater Award

Belmont High School senior Tyler Normile delivered the goods as “Kyle, the UPS guy” in the Performing Arts Company’s Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 3.07.18 PMproduction of “Legally Blonde,” Belmont High’s spring musical.

His role received the ultimate recognition by winning the best feature actor category at the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild’s Musical Awards held on Monday, June 9 at a ceremony at the Cutler-Majestic Theater in Boston. 

“It’s a great honor, not just for Tyler, but for all of the students who were nominated to be recognized for their excellent work,” said Ezra Flam, “Legally Blonde’s” producer and director.

Belmont’s four other nominees were:

  1. Best Supporting Actress:  Caralyn Aufiero
  2. Best Supporting Actor:  Sam Korn
  3. Best Specialty Ensemble:  Julia Regier, Helena Kim and Isabelle Luongo
  4. Best Sound Design:  Greg LaBombard, Kadra Lindmeier, Michelle Kornberg, Anna Makar-Limanov, Princy Sundurakar and Sam Casey.

 

Ten Years Celebrating Chenery’s ‘Magical’ Courtyard

For about 10 minutes on a bright and warm early June afternoon, a small section of the Chenery Middle School was transformed into a forest outside Athens occupied by actors, musicians and spirits telling a midsummer tale.

As part of the celebration to celebrate a decade of a “magical” transformation, guests and students gathered in the school’s garden courtyard for a short performance of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream” in the space that 12 years ago was a concrete and brick space.

Today, trees and plants grow near gardens in elevated planters while a small pond allows wetland flora to bloom while a patio space allows for classes to take place.

In the shade of one of the trees, Belmont Senior Center’s The Bellaires serenaded the attendees while just inside the nearby hallway, artwork by the Chenery students inspired by the courtyard garden fill the space. After the concert, Morning Glory and sunflower seeds were handed out as tokens of the courtyard that residents could plant in their own homes.

“This project is a plus for anyone who comes here, from seniors to the children,”  said Phyl Solomon of the Massachusetts Audubon’s Habitat Intergenerational Program and one of the inspirations behind the project’s creation and growth from an abandoned and forgotten interior space.

Over the years, most everything has been carried into the site including the trees, brush, dirt and other items that makes a garden. Now when visitors arrive, they are greeted by a view of shaded park benches, stone walls, small pond, a bird’s house (and a nest) and trees, ground covering along with flowers and vegetables which is used by the school.

During its transformation, the school has begun a “Courtyard Club” so students can lend a hand in the maintenance and care of the garden and space.

“The one thing I really like about the Courtyard Club is that it’s open to anybody and that’s very special to me,” she said.

Ian Svetkey, a Chenery 6th grader and Club member, said “I like digging up things and chop things and pull things up and lots of other stuff.”

The site is increasingly being used for educational learning. Chenery Visual Arts Teacher Kathleen Byrnes said the courtyard is a wonderful classroom because it’s “incredibly inspiring” in allowing her students to “connect to nature and the science part of learning.”

“It’s exciting to have this huge spider web and my students sees nature in action for our science sketchbooks and journals,” said Byrnes.

“I love this space so much,” she added.

For Solomon, the 10th anniversary is hardly a time to think the courtyard has reached its zenith.

“This is an on-going project,” said Solomon. “This will never be a finished project because there is always something new coming in,” she noted.

“I think its amazing,” she said.

2014 Class Act: Belmont High Graduates Seniors into the World

Salutations, speeches, songs and even a selfie. The 2014 graduating class of Belmont High School was feted in a myriad of ways at the final ceremony of – for many of the graduates – 13 years of education in the Belmont school system.

On a brilliant late spring day, the 265 graduates – one of the largest senior classes in recent history – had to cool their heels upstairs in the “little” gym before descending into a hallway with faculty, staff and School Committee members just outside the Wenner Field House. Inside were parents, relatives, siblings and friends, many with cameras, iPads and smartphones at the ready to help remember the celebration.

Leading the way in was Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston whose three-year long “interim” tenure heading the district is coming to an end on June 30. It also marked the end of an active career as an educator of nearly half a century.

“All graduations are a bit bittersweet,” said Kingston, who said he had been to so many in his career his academic robes had become frayed.

And a few minutes after 3 p.m. – not that many people were worried about being tardy – the graduation possession proceeded with Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” by the school’s Symphonic Winds.

The ceremony’s highlights were the exceptional speeches from three outstanding graduates.

Class President Tyler Normale – or as he was known, “El Presidente” – said he is the 32nd member of his extended family to have graduated from Belmont High School, a school in what is more than just a small town; “it is a community … a place to be together, and a place where everyone knows everyone.”

Speaking of the activities his classmates had in common, Normale said it took a “thick skin, hard work, perseverance and countless sleepless hours with nothing but caffeine” to move through the four years of high school and to be seating in the Field House on this day.

Normale, who will be attending Stonehill in the fall, asked his classmates to turn around and give those nearby a hug, a high five and a handshake before turning around himself to take a group selfie of himself and his classmates, a gesture leading to a standing ovation from this classmates.

The two graduation speakers, honored with the School Committee Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship, saw their classmates as having

An accomplished violinist and outstanding academic – her senior thesis was honored with the Lillian Blacker Award – Aldis Elfarsdottir said while they praise those who helped shape us such as parents, family, teachers and friends, she asked her classmates to think of those “you only glancingly saw” in hallways and classrooms; “those you probably known by name but have never really spoken to.”

“You might be one of them,” said Elfarsdottir, who is matriculating at Harvard.

“All around us, there are people we don’t really know, who we take for granted to always act in certain ways” – Elfarsdottir never got to know the young man who had the locker next to hers through most of High School – which can change quietly or with a burst of friendly charm.

“Whether or not we choose to burst our with friendliness as we bump into new people in the future depends on ourselves. It is up to us … [to] bring out the compassion and goodness in ourselves and others of our global community,” she said.

Yuansi Amy Zhang admitted being a perfectionist from the time when she had to answer all the “Mad Minute” questions correctly. So given the opportunity to write one of the graduation speeches, she was flooded with excitement and anxiety “as the intrinsic need for fiction coursed through my body.”

Joining Elfarsdottir at Harvard, Zhang – a first-class scientist and four-year volunteer education aide – said she soon realized the speech need not be perfect but have some long-lasting impact on her classmates, a speech “tinged with permanence.”

“I believe that an individual, like a good speech, should strive to have style, substance and a permanent impact” one achieved through hard work, perseverance and practice, she said.

Asking her classmates to think of what, over the past 13 years, helped shape their character and their own quest for permanence, Zhang said she believed the class of 2014 remain in control of that goal “because we can choose what impact we make on the world.”

“We cannot be the future until we make the conscious decision to become part of the present,” said Zhang.

And for the next 45 minutes, that present was for each of the seniors to receive their diplomas, toss their caps into the air and then walking out into the warm afternoon newly-minted alumni.

Soon, several young men continued the recent tradition of lighting up a “victory” cigars – this year joined by a few young women – while classmates gathered for photographs, handshakes and hugs.

Mastering the Blank Page: Blacker Awards Honor Three Seniors Who Filled the Bill

Mastering the blank page starts with Belmont’s youngest writers, said Lindsey Rinder, director of English, ELL and Reading.

Speaking before an audience of students, parents, educators and the trio of Belmont High School’s outstanding seniors writers at the annual Lillian Blacker Awards, Rinder recalled a first grader coming to her before writing her very first story.

“I’ve never been an author before and I’m nervous,” she told Rinder.

And while Belmont students’ writing journey begins with stories of buried treasurer, the capstone is the Senior Thesis, a 10-to-15 page critical analysis of literature that each 12th grade student must submit to complete their English requirement for graduation.

The year-long task involves reading multiple primary sources, studying at three libraries and online, creating countless note cards and revising, reappraising and sometimes tearing up papers during the depths of the winter quarter. Many students, even those recognized for their outstanding scholarship, cringe remembering the seemingly endless hours spent in a myriad of tasks in constructing a laudable result.

And it is a monumental undertaking, said Rinder, that immerses students in the complexity and profundity of their subject and theme as a way of knowing ones self. 

“[T]he study of literature helps us understand who we are …  as it encapsulates and dissects our most human qualities; our passions, our frustrations, our capacity of great deception as well as brutal honesty, our dignity as well as our most grieves fails,” she said.

“I believe Belmont High School’s dedication to the senior thesis and to writing education singles it out from most secondary schools,” said Rinder.

And the three honorees; Aldis Elfarsdottir, Hannah Pierce-Hoffman and Samuel Korn, succeeded in impressing their teachers and the department with their work’s depth and insight.

For their accomplishments, the seniors were presented with the Lillian Blacker Awards this past May 16. A long-time Belmont resident, active in education and politics and editor at the Harvard Medical School and the Belmont Citizen newspaper, Blacker’s family created the awards in 1991 to honor her commitment to the art of writing.

Elfarsdottir, who will matriculate at Harvard, said first and foremost she wanted to thank her subject, the modernist novelist Virginia Woolf, of her first-place paper – “In Each of Us Two Powers Preside, One Male, One Female”: Virginia Woolf’s Exploration of Mental Androgyny – “because without her I would not be here to be recognized for my writing.”

She thanked the Blacker family for their recognition of the “hard work and long hours composing our thesis have paid off, literally.”

“I will say that whether we are rewarded or not should not dent our pride in our accomplishment of having planned out, styled, drafted, redrafted, revised, edited and finalized our senior theses. No matter what profession we choose, we know that writing will be an integral to our success,” said Elfarsdottir.

Pierce-Hoffman told the audience that she as ready to present her thesis on “that ‘Blade Runner’ author,” the science fiction author Philip Kindred Dick. She read his work over the summer of her junior/senior year and “discovered I wasn’t a fan …”

When asked by her teacher if she would consider Margaret Atwood, Pierce-Hoffman responded “who is she?”

But reading four novels by the Canadian writer convinced Pierce-Hoffman that “I was a fan of her.” She noticed in the works how language and the words used to express oneself also reflect inner thoughts and by subtle changes in those words, “you can change how one thinks.”

Pierce-Hoffman, who is attending Barnard in the fall, wrote her thesis – Tongue-Untied: Rebellion Through Linguistic Manipulation in Margaret Atwood’s Works – on the cautionary message that “if we don’t watch how we speak today, we are going to end up with a nightmare vision that I see in [Atwood’s] works.”

Korn, who will enter the University of Pennsylvania in September, was inspired by a performance of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing,” not by the acting – Korn has been active with the Performing Arts Company – but its language.

“Every line reflects troubling truths about grasping realities in our own lives,” said Korn. He added the works of absurdist writer Paul Auster to focus on stories within other stories in his second prize paper, The Pervasive Narrative of Authorial Identity: Metafiction in the Works of Paul Auster & Tom Stoppard.

Yet he admitted that he was like many of his classmates, staying up into the early morning to complete assignments.

“The thesis process is ably named. It is a process,” said Korn, speaking of sorting through hundreds of note cards and article after article, book after book.

“It really is a monument to all sweat, tears and cups of coffee I put into this process,” said Korn. “The thesis process also completely changed me as a writer and a consumer of literature and, for that, I am extremely grateful.”

Aldis Elfarsdóttir Blacker 1st Place 2014-3

Sam Korn Blacker 3rd Place 2014-2

Hannah Pierce-Hoffman Blacker 2nd Place 2014-2

Belmont High’s ‘Legally Blonde’ Nominated for Five State-Wide Awards

The Tony Awards – honoring Broadway’s best productions and actors – will take place on Sunday, June 8.

But it will be the next night that local theatergoers are focusing on as Belmont High School Performing Arts Company’s production of “Legally Blonde” directed and produced by Ezra Flam received five nominations from the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild’s (METG) Musical Theater Awards.

The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on Monday, June 9 at 7 p.m. at the Cutler-Majestic Theater in Boston. 

Belmont’s nominees are:

  • Best Supporting Actress: Caralyn Aufiero
  • Best Supporting Actor: Sam Korn
  • Best Specialty Ensemble: Julia Regier, Helena Kim and Isabelle Luongo
  • Best Featured Actor: Tyler Normile
  • Best Sound Design: Greg LaBombard, Kadra Lindmeier, Michelle Kornberg, Anna Makar-Limanov, Princy Sundurakar and Sam Casey

Last year, PAC’s production of “Grease” won three METG awards: Best Lighting Design, Best Lead Actor John Robert Scordino and Best Featured Actor Henry Dalby.

To provide some context, this year’s METG program had 47 high school entries compared to about 30 last year, with only a handful of schools received nominations in five or six nominations categories and just three schools received more than six.

Once again, Belmont High actors and production staff find themselves in very good company, recognized as putting on stage one of the best musical theater productions in Massachusetts.