Town-Wide Student Art Show Up and Running

The Belmont Public Schools Fine Arts Department has announced the opening of the town-wide K-12 Art Show at the Belmont Gallery of Art, running from May 22 through June 8.

The goal of the exhibit is to showcase a sampling of work from the visual arts program and curriculum within the schools, featuring artwork in a wide range of media including watercolor and tempera paintings, ceramics, prints, drawings and three dimensional works.

The exhibit will have its official opening on Wednesday, May 28, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the gallery.

The gallery is are located on the third floor of the Homer Municipal Building, 19 Moore St., in the Town Hall complex in Belmont Center.  The exhibit will be open to the public Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Sunday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

PHOTOS: Amidst a Little Rain, Belmont High Holds Its Promenade

Things began going wrong on Friday morning, May 16, when the sun was obscured by clouds with the anticipation that the last day of school for graduating seniors at Belmont High School would be a wet one.

And when the clouds opened and the rain did come around 2:30 p.m., it was a harbinger of things to come for those preparing to attend the annual pre-Prom Promenade at Belmont High later that afternoon.

The Promenade, which began in the past decade, allows parents, relatives, siblings and friends to see the congregation of students and guests dressed in tuxes, gowns, dresses and suits, duded up for a night of fun and frivolity at the Westin Copley Place Hotel in Boston.

Wearing a pair of two-tone derby dress shoes to go along with a walking stick and a classic tux, senior JD Niles said he obtained them at “Men’s Wearhouse, of course.”

One young lady – who asked that her “real” name not be used – said the toughest choice was “whether to go long or short” in terms of her dress and not the stock market. She went long for prom.

It also allows the school administration to make sure those attending the prom are able to attend a school event.

Due to traffic causing many of the prom attendees to be delayed, the start of the promenade was pushed back by nearly 15 minutes as the students waited in the wings of the auditorium.

“It’s a little hot in here,” said Olivia Kearns who, along with her date, Brian Cleary, would be the first couple on the stage.

As for the humidity and heat being generated in the hallway, “I’ll get over it. The photos are all done,” said Kearns about photos at home.

“It will all be worth it when we get there,” she said.

But just after the promenade began, the music went “on the fritz” before being righted by a member of the Physical Education Department.

Soon, the couples and groups were being corralled into the school’s cafeteria for a quick overview by staff before being placed on the buses.

But at the appointed 5 p.m. arrival time for the buses to show … nothing. As staff began calling Crystal Transportation, the lunch room resembled a well-dressed steam room with hairdos frizzing out and jackets removed.

Nearly 15 minutes late, the first buses came and the kids got to embark for Boston.

The, as the fourth bus pulled up, the heaven’s opened once again, as some couples did a quick trot to the transport while some of the young men took off their jackets – again – to shield their dates from the rain. Sir Walter Raleigh had nothing on these gentlemen. 

And while most of the students and their guests made it to the Westin by 6:15 p.m, the final group of student, 33 in number, where stranded at Belmont High School until just before 6:45 p.m. for a bus to finally arrive.

When they began arriving back to the school around 11:20 p.m., the majority of prom goers – several young women walking barefoot with their shoes in their hands, many young men sans ties (some without their shirts) – said they had a good time.

Middlesex DA Contributes to Hometown’s After Graduation Party

Middlesex County District Attorney (and Belmont resident) Marian Ryan came by Belmont High School Friday, May 16, to contribute to funding a substance-free, after-prom and graduation party for seniors.

Belmont and 11 other school districts applied for and received $500 from the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office to help defray expenses associated with all-night after-graduation parties, senior picnics and a graduation cruise hosted by these schools.

“We want it to be marked by wonderful celebrations and terrific memories that will last a lifetime, not by a preventable tragedy,” said Ryan. “We support our schools’ efforts to organize substance-free post-prom and graduation events to ensure everyone has a happy and safe time as they celebrate this important milestone and all that they have accomplished.”

And it’s not too late to join Ryan and contribute to the all-night party. Funding for the party comes primarily from donations from junior and senior class families. This funding allows us to keep the ticket price for the party affordable and within reach for every graduating student. 

Please consider donating today by going to the brand new All Night Party website or by sending a check to: All Night Party Committee, 73 Fairmont Street, Belmont MA 02478.

AWOL: Late Buses Strand Belmont High Prom Goers In The Rain

Thirty-three students and guests who paid $120 to attend the Belmont High School Senior/Junior Prom at Boston’s Copley Westin on Friday night, May 16, were left literally standing in the rain for nearly one hour and 45 minutes after the 5 p.m. scheduled departure time when buses from Crystal Transportation of Brighton arrived late to transport ticket-holders to the event at the Westin Copley Place Boston Hotel.

“It’s annoying because we’re missing our prom and all our friends are there and we’re stuck here,” said senior Natasha Trotman as concerned staff members, on the phone with the company, waited with the frustrated students.

“I’m a little mad. It’s kind of disappointing waiting around here,” said Solomon Mankin who spent $240 for two tickets. “At least I’m with great people in the rain,” he added, pointing to his friends.

According to press releases and news accounts, the firm was recently forced to stop carrying passengers due to serious safety concerns.

In an April 1 news release, the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) revoked Crystal Transportation’s operating authority and shut-down the carrier for “disregarding federal safety regulations and putting their drivers, passengers, and the motoring public at risk.”

It is not known at this time the process used to select the company.

On Friday afternoon, the bus line did not have carriers ready at the 5 p.m. schedule departure time, reducing the time students had to enjoy their prom.

The final bus arrived at Belmont High School – where the annual Pre-Prom Promenade had taken place – nearly three-quarters of a hour after the penultimate bus had left, which itself was 60 minutes behind schedule.

Belmont High School sophomore Jack Carbeck said while he wanted to be one of the last people to travel to the prom, “everyone paid the same price … I would expect [the company] would have enough buses to get us [to the Westin] on time.”

Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, whose son, senior Liam Cushman, was one of the students on the final bus, said she felt “belittled” as a parent and town official by the actions of the bus company.

“Some action needs to take place by someone,” she added.

Many of the students who were destined to be on the final bus were at the school for nearly three hours, much of the time inside a humid, hot cafeteria after parading before parents and friends during the promenade in the high school’s auditorium.

Due to the lengthy delay, the “surviving” participants would have less than three hours to enjoy the dancing, socializing and dining that was scheduled to end around “10-ish” p.m., according to John Muldoon, Belmont High’s assistant principal, who was informed of the buses location. The final bus reportedly drove past the school before the driver called asking for directions.

Crystal Transportation describes itself on its Facebook page as a “[c]harter Bus business located in Boston, MA. Provide Shuttle services for The University of Boston, Brandeis University as well as many others.”

On March 19, the FMCSA shut the company down after it discovered the shuttles used at UMass Boston were allowed to drive before drug test results of the company’s drivers were completed and a number of the drivers tested positive for controlled substances.

Given a month to respond to the charges, the company did not provide an answer to the feds. In an interview with the Boston Globe in March, Crystal’s General Manager Kevin Sheehan said the carrier fixed the problems but missed the deadline to file its corrective action plan.

There is no information indicating when the bus line was allowed to return to carrying passengers.

A call to Crystal Transportation by the Belmontonian was not returned.

[Your Name Here] Field: Belmont Heads Towards Naming Rights Bylaw

Ever wonder what your family’s name would look like gracing the entrance to the modern auditorium in a new Belmont High School?

How about your company’s name on the side of a new Science Wing?

Would it really bother you if the basketball court in the Wenner Field House had a local-area bank’s logo splashed across the new floor?

Those dreams could come true to you and just about anyone with deep-enough pockets – well, probably Donald Sterling shouldn’t try – if the town follows through with recommendations to create criteria for the selling of naming rights on school buildings, fields and town property.

At the School Committee’s meeting on Tuesday, May 13, Belmont School Committee’s Anne Lougee reviewed the conclusions of a report issued by a committee made up of veteran school supporters as well as Town Administrator David Kale and Belmont Savings Bank’s CEO Robert Mahoney on finding additional revenue sources for the chronically cash-short Belmont School District.

“We concluded that this is a viable option to generate revenue,” said Lougee.

In addition to supporting of using freelance development professionals who would receive a percentage of any funding they obtain, the committee endorsed the creation and approval by Town Meeting of a “naming rights bylaw” that would allow the school committee and town to create guidelines on placing individuals, families and companies names or logos on a wide array of buildings and signs.

One area that has sparked considerable interest, according to Lougee, are the court in the Wenner Field House and the playing surface at Harris Field where Belmont High School football, soccer and lacrosse are played.

The soonest a bylaw could be before Town Meeting is the anticipated Special meeting occurring late this fall.

While new to Belmont, naming buildings, playing fields, individual room and even placing ads on school buses has been gaining traction in school districts across the country from a regional school in Oregon that just established their policy to Tupelo, Mississippi’s where a bank is paying $140,000 to have its name on the high school’s blue-tinted football field for the next decade. There are even marketing firms that will find corporate sponsorship deals for schools.

The bylaw would also establish clearer standards on business and corporate advertising at both indoor and outside athletic venues, either by banners or from a LCD-display screen.

Lougee said while limited, the district already has some experience with corporate sponsorship inside several schools.

“Each year the Scholastic Publishing holds book fairs as fundraisers for several schools,” she noted.

Potentially the biggest draw for potential donors will be with the construction or renovation of a new Belmont High School. Naming rights could be offered on a one-time basis for several sections including the new science wing, computer labs, the  auditorium, libraries, music and art rooms, cafeteria and especially a new gym.

Lougee told the School Committee that several issues must be addressed before the bylaw is considered including if it would be appropriate to the district’s mission, would it be irrevocable, how long would the naming rights last and should all people and corporations be “vetted” before they lend their names to a sign or banner.

But Lougee said while naming rights is not the “$100,000 idea” that will help resolve the revenue issues, “we can expect to generate x amount of dollars.”

But she also noted that while Wellesley – with a similar geographic and town government structure as Belmont – has adopted a bylaw last year, they have yet to receive any proposals for signage or advertising.






Making Their Own Gold Star: High School Senior Volunteers Honored

At some point during the annual presentation of the President’s Volunteer Service Awards to Belmont High School seniors, there is a moment where Alice Melnikoff will get a little, let’s say, “verklempt.”

Melnikoff told the students, parents and educators in the audience at the Chenery Middle School during the ceremony held Tuesday, May 13, of her favorite quote from Winston Churchill: “We make a living of what we get; but we make a life by what we give.”

“This is it,” said Melnikoff of when she would have to pause for a moment, as she looked towards the 12th graders sitting in the first two rows of the auditorium, each who gave more than 100 volunteer hours in the past 12 months.

“You have already demonstrated that you are building a life that is rich and fulfilling in part because of service to which you were committed,” said Melnikoff.

And no one would begrudge Melnikoff a time to feel a bit emotional towards those she mentored during the past four years in giving of themselves to the benefit of others. And while the students will be receiving a certificate and pin as well as a letter bearing the signature of President Obama, the time spent improving the society in which they live will be their lasting memorial, said Melnikoff.


While the term community was used throughout the ceremony, Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston also spoke of the word “philanthropy” which is mostly used describing money given to others. But its root meaning is “love of humankind.”

“The richest form of philanthropy doesn’t come from the money that you give … but from the service you give one another; the care that we use to support each other,” said Kingston.

Speaking for the recipients, Amy Zhang, a co-president of the Belmontian Club, said, “Service is as self-serving as it is wonderful, as you undoubtedly gain something, an equal reaction whether you are volunteering with kids or raising money for cancer.”

“Community service can not be quantified nor can its effects be measured and analyzed. It can not be logged in hours or dollars, it doesn’t always come with a happy ending. To me, community service is about … acting to set the world in a positive direction,” said the 18 year old graduating senior who will be matriculating this fall at Harvard College.

The award winners included:

Bronze award (100 to 174 hours)

  • Victoria Beecroft; Founding mother of the Water Drop Club which supports an orphanage in Madagascar where she also volunteered.
  • Emily Burke; Wellington Aftercare
  • Joseph Thiel; Benton Library
  • Cindy and Jason Yu; research in cell biology and cancer

Silver award (175 to 249 hours)

  • Raina Crawford; orienteering group and the high school library.
  • Juliette and Sarah Dankens; the other founding mothers of the Water Drop Club who both volunteered at the orphanage in Madagascar.
  • Arden Fereshetian; Working in the lab, on a website and research at a cancer research institute.
  • Virginia Hardy; Community-based work in Nicaragua.
  • Sam Kerans; Coaching basketball and tutoring.
  • Amiee Lin; Working with children from broken homes in Taiwan.
  • Andrew Logan; Trail work for the Appalachian Mountain Club and at Belmont’s Habitat.
  • Lucy Martirosyan; Belmont Acres farm.
  • Tyler Papciak; The Bristol Lodge soup kitchen.
  • Sarah Ramsey; Coaching basketball and cancer fundraising.
  • Justin Rogers: Belmont Acres farm.
  • Peter Staub: Red Cross Food Pantry.
  • Andrew Strawbridge: Worked on a gubernatorial campaign.

Gold award (more than 250 hours) 

  • Talin Tahajian: Non-profit literary journal.
  • Haruka Uchida; Research in a psychology lab.
  • Rowan Wu; Samariteens.

These six seniors have earned presidential awards each of the four years they attended Belmont High School:

  • Anna Hillel; a bronze this year for working in Birmingham, Alabama painting houses.
  • Keith Burns; gold, Cardiovascular research.
  • Gabe Faber; gold, Making soccer available to young people in Boston.
  • Tess Smichenko; gold, Working with children and adults with special needs in Belmont, Vermont and Guatemala.
  • David Sullivan; gold, Working on immigration issues in US Sen. Warren’s office.
  • Amy Zhang; gold, on several service issues including Wellington Aftercare and fundraising to fight breast cancer.

Belmont’s Fiscal ’15 School Budget Gets Committee OK

The Belmont School Committee voted unanimously to approve the fiscal 2015 school district budget at last night’s, Tuesday, May 13, meeting, even if everyone in attendance – about 25 residents, educators and committee members in the small community room at the Chenery Middle School – admits that the financial blueprint for the 2014-15 school year is barely enough to keep the district from slipping off its high educational perch.

Despite being designated as a top-flight Level 1 District in Massachusetts – “a very rare destinction,” said Belmont Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston – and recently rated as the third “best” High School in the state (and 151st in the US) behind two examination-entry schools by US News & World Report, the growing number of “unpredictables” facing the district in the near and long term will place ever increasing financial pressures on the committee, said Kingston in his review of the $46,156,000 fiscal ’15 budget, an increase of 4.1 percent, or $1,806,900, of the previous fiscal year.

The greatest uncertainty – and the largest cost driver in the budget – is the spike in pupil enrollment, noted Kingston, as the district has seen 143 new students enter the district during the 12 months ending May 1. The district is currently educates 4,301 children between kindergarten and 12th grade. Next year, an additional 115 students are expected to “move into” the system.

And the latest predictions show that Belmont could see between 360 to 600 new pupils entering the system in the next five years.

According to Kingston, a large portion of the $1.8 million increase – which he deemed a “substantial” amount – is being used to keep 18 full-time positions added to the district last year to accommodate the rocketing enrollment numbers.

The immediate result is overcrowding classrooms as the available budget can not contend with rush of new students. Next fiscal year, each classroom can expect an additional student, many now passing the district’s own limits of students per classroom.

Add to that what Kingston calls the town’s “income issue” of relatively flat residential tax revenues and a limited ability to create new commercial property, “there isn’t more money out there” to do what the district should be in meeting its stated goal of supporting “continuous improvement and overall programmatic and fiscal stability by engaging administrators, teachers, students, and community stakeholders in generally accepted practices of long-term strategic planning.”

While, as several committee members noted that the budget will not result in staff reductions as in years past, next year’s fiscal blueprint doesn’t reflect the ever increasing needs facing the district.

According to a group of educators including principals and curriculum leaders as well as staff, the system should have an additional dozen full-time educators with the priorities being in English Language Learners and at the Chenery Middle School. But that will only occur if additional funds are available soon, said Kingston.

Operational override suggested

“This is one of the biggest arguments for an operational override,” said Kingston, noting that it will be up to the Belmont Board of Selectmen to ask for a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote to be placed on the ballot.

It is expected that the town’s newly-formed Financial Task Force will likely make a recommendation on whether Belmont should request an override (possibly in April 2015) at the Special Town Meeting expected to convene this fall.

Kingston’s report – accompanied by a set of presentation slides – was little different then his initial budgetary talk in February. The approved budget will go before the Warrant Committee, the financial watchdog for the Town Meeting, which will make a recommendation either to accept or reject the budget assumptions.

And the demands of the district do not end at the classroom door. Many of the residents who attended the meeting sought assurances that the school department and committee did not forgo the need for adequately-funding extra curricular activities and athletics moving forward.

Ann Reynolds of Fairview Avenue said the issue of creating a better community was an important issue during Town Meeting discussions held the night before.

“Sports … offers the structures these kids need; guidance … coaches and role models, mentors and peers … [all] that are very positive,” said Reynolds.

“We really want this to happen,” she noted. “Winning team, happy town, happy High School. If we are number three in the state but our sports teams stink, then there is something wrong. We all need to work together to win this … for our kids,” she said.

School Committee Chair Laurie Slap said in the near future, the district and the committee are willing to work in a private/public model – which will allow for a football program for eighth graders at the Chenery Middle School in the fall – to allow for outside sources to fund the additional sports teams and activities.

Farnham Street’s Ann Rittenburg, who is a former school committee member and chair, expressed “great frustration” with the committee’s inaction to move forward with past initiatives that would garner alternative funding sources for a budget “that clearly falls short of meeting student’s needs.”

“I was hoping to hear more about concrete actions that were taken in order to address those critical issues we know we need  to address … and it’s incredibly frustrating to see you form subcommittees to study issues and make recommendations that you then shelve in favor of forming more subcommittees … . How many more years do we have to go before we actually take action?” she asked.

Rittenburg questioned why the district has not hired a full-time professional development employee to uncover additional revenue that will help not just sustain but allow additional capacity for athletic participation.
“That recommendation was made four years ago,” she said, noting that as enrollment increases, the number of spaces for existing sport teams will also rise.
School Committee member Anne Lougee noted that while the district is aware of growing demands by student who want to participate in sports, “I think we already have a pretty rich program.”

Wellington Elementary Is Also An Environmental Winner

Not only is Belmont’s Roger Wellington Elementary School a winner architecturally, the school also proves its great for environmental learning.

Last week, Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan honored the Wellington’s “Environmental & Energy Efficiency Initiatives” along with 26 other energy and environmental education programs across the state at the 20th Annual Secretary’s Awards for Excellence in Energy and Environmental Education.

“The ideas, research and knowledge being recognized today show the forward-thinking of our youth and how ready they are for the challenges ahead,”said Sullivan.

Winners competed for $5,000 in awards, funded by the Massachusetts Environmental Trust with the intention to fund further environmental education initiatives at the schools. EEA solicited Excellence in Energy and Environmental Education Award nominations in early 2014. Schools and organizations that voluntarily incorporate environmental education into public or private school curricula are eligible.

In February, the Jonathan Levi-designed building won the coveted Harleston Parker Medal signifying the “the most beautiful piece of architecture” in Greater Boston.

Belmontian Club Clean Out Tip Jar for Cradles to Crayons

On Saturday, April 12, the Belmont High School Belmontian Club – the school‘s Community Service group  and Belmont Car Wash at 521 Trapelo Rd., sponsored the annual spring car wash to benefit Cradles to Crayons, which helps poor and homeless children in Massachusetts. 

The club raised $1, 390.60 at this event, and, overall, more than $4,100 for the non-profit in a variety of activities, beginning in February.


Burbank Students, Parents Take A Walk To School

The Mary Lee Burbank School celebrated Massachusetts Walk to School Day on Wednesday, May 7, with a record 255 students who walked or biked to school, or walked a circuit around the school before the day began.
Walk to School Day and related programs are organized by the Burbank Walks PTA Committee in partnership with Massachusetts Safe Routes to School.
Built in the 1930s as a neighborhood school, Burbank still has a relatively small district. The majority of students live within half a mile of the school. While many families do walk to school regularly, Burbank’s PTA has made a huge push this year to actively encourage more walking and biking in order to reduce traffic congestion around the school which was leading to concerns for student safety.
“It’s terrific to see so many students and families walking” said Burbank’s Principal Tricia Clifford.Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 8.13.23 AM
“Walking to school promotes  wellness and strengthens our community,” she said.
Celebrity Walkers were out to greet students and walk with them to school, including Laurie Graham of the Belmont School Committee, Belmont Police Officer Michael Horan, and John MacDonald of the Belmont Fire Department. Ten Burbank staff members also took part as Celebrity Walkers and helpers.
When students arrived at school they signed their name in chalk on the Burbank Walks Hall of Fame.
Burbank also launched a new initiative on Walk to School Day: Walking School Buses. In partnership with Massachusetts Safe Routes to School, the Burbank PTA conducted a Walking Assessment and then planned four new Walking School Bus routes. In a Walking School Bus a group of children walk to school together accompanied by parent “bus drivers” and following a set route with stops to pick up ‘passengers’ along the way. On Walk to School Day more than 60 children participated in a Walking School Bus and had fun walking with their neighbors.
Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 8.13.36 AM

Burbank is encouraging students to continue to walk regularly through the spring term. Walking School Buses will operate every Wednesday, dubbed Walking Wednesdays, through the end of the school year. The pilot Walking School Bus program will be reviewed and expanded for the new school year in September.
On each Walking Wednesday this spring, Burbank’s classes will compete for a Burbank Walks Trophy. The grade Kindergarten to two grade class with the most students walking or biking to school will win the Golden Sneaker Trophy, while third and fourth grade classes compete for the Silver Sneaker award.  The trophies are presented to the winning classes by Principal Clifford, to be displayed for a week in the classroom until the following Walking Wednesday contest.
The Butler elementary school also celebrated Massachusetts Walk/Bike to School Day on May 7.