Belmont School Committee, Education Union OKs New Contract; Ratification Vote Tuesday

Photo: The Belmont Education Association has come to an agreement on a four year contract with the Belmont School Committee.

After more than a year of increasingly contentious negotiations and union activism, the Belmont Education Association agreed on Thursday evening, June 10, to new four-year contracts with the Belmont School Committee to three remaining labor units.

The unit representing assistant principals and district directors accepted contract language last week.

“We did it! All four Belmont Education Association contracts are settled because of our collective willingness to strike for the contracts Belmont educators, our students, and our community deserve,” read a statement on the association’s Facebook page Thursday night.

The agreement will be presented to the members for a ratification vote at its membership meeting on Tuesday, June 14. Speaking to several teachers after the announcement, the current sentiment is for a ”yes” vote.

The four units in the BEA include public schools teachers (Unit A); assistant principals and coordinators, (Unit B), secretaries (Unit C), and teacher aides/instructional support staff and campus monitors (Unit D).

The agreement the membership will vote on Tuesday:

  • Compensation for Units A, C, & D:
    • Year 1
      • Ratification Bonus – Unit A: $500, Unit C & D: $750
      • 2.75 percent plus an additional .25 percent on the top step
    • Year 2: 2.5 percent plus an additional .25 percent on the top step
    • Year 3: 2.5 percent
    • Year 4: 2.5 percent
  • Health Insurance: Maintains the 80/20 percent split for all employees.
  • Planning Time: Unit D members will be receiving 30 minutes a week of prep/collaboration time, which adds approximately $500/year to each Unit D member’s base salary more or less depending on the position on the salary scale.

“Standing together and being willing to fight for and win the contracts we deserve cements our power as a union and as educators,” said the BEA statement. “Looking forward, we are in a much better position to continue the fight to make Belmont a better place to work and learn in.” 
 

Letter To The Editor: How Restoring A Pair Of Reading Specialists Will Change How Belmont Schools Support Literacy Growth

Photo: A reading specialist’s job

Seventeen.

That is the number of students who, out of the roughly 1,400 children between grades 5-8 in Chenery Middle School, were able to receive in-school reading support prior to January 31st, 2022. That is the date that funding took effect to create two dedicated Reading Specialist positions for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year, fundamentally changing how the school has been able to support the literacy growth of its students.

We are writing this letter to the decision-makers of this town because these positions have been eliminated for the 2022-23 school year, and the time to act to restore them is now – before we leave more of our neediest students behind.

Since their transition to this role in January, the impact that Jen Mathews and Taylor Moroso – our two trained and certified Reading Specialists – have had on growing the reading skills of our students has been profound, and we would be failing some of our highest-need students to not have these positions continue into next year.

Due to their other job requirements prior to the funding taking effect, Jen and Taylor were previously able to spend only one 47-minute block per day offering Reading Enrichment classes to students identified as most needing this extra support during the school day. Since being able to pivot to working with students as full-time Reading Specialists in January, Jen and Taylor have been able to focus entirely on supporting students as they strive to achieve their literacy goals, not only through facilitating the small Reading Enrichment groups but also by supporting students in their ELA classrooms – something that was previously not possible.

Since these positions were added, the following positive impacts have been observed:

  • The amount of students being able to receive regular reading intervention services increased from 17 to 59. That is 42 students who were screened and identified as requiring additional support to reach grade-level reading goals but that previously received no reading intervention beyond what was offered in the classroom.
  • Students who receive reading support have also been able to be supported in their ELA classrooms on a regular basis – this helps the teachers and specialists observe how they work not only in small groups, but also support the development of bespoke interventions that can be applied in the classroom for each student individually. In the 14 ELA classrooms the Reading Specialists have been able to support, they have been able to work with students from a variety of skill levels to help lift the confidence and skill levels of all students through their classroom work. Further, this work has enabled the specialists to identify students who may benefit from additional reading support.
  • Some of our highest need students, including those from diverse racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds, have been able to be supported in the classroom in ways that were previously not possible. Further, students whose literacy skills atrophied due to COVID and remote-related challenges have been able to experience success while supported by these interventions.

The proposed 2022-23 budget eliminates both of these positions, and as a result eliminates every single one of these benefits.

We implore the decision-makers of the town: the School Committee, Select/Planning Boards, and the citizens of Belmont, to not accept the fact that our school of 1,400 students will only have seventeen students receive small group reading instruction. To, rather than perpetuate a problem that has existed for years where we underserve these students, take a step toward a solution.

To make the decision to support all students, including our highest-need students still reeling from pandemic setbacks, in building their literacy skills. All it will cost to restore all of these crucial supports for many of our most vulnerable students is the 1.6 teacher positions that were added for the second half of this school year.

We are of the belief that there are not many ways to spend the town’s resources more effectively than this. If you agree that there are more than 17 students out of the 1,400 children in Chenery Middle School that need reading support, then you need to raise your voice, be heard, and restore these positions immediately for the 2022-23 school year and beyond.

Alex Goldsmith and Caitlin Corrieri

English/Language Arts Teachers

Chenery Middle School

Educators Union Continues Push For Contract As First Group Reach Agreement With School Committee

Photo: Belmont teachers rally for new three-year contract

Before a sea of red-clad co-workers last week, Bethany Fitzsimmons put forth what most people are not willing to reveal to the public.

“I’m a 20-year employee,” said Fitzsimmons, a professional aide at Winn Brook Elementary. “And I made $29,000. Twenty years in Belmont. $29,000. OK, I am sorry, that’s embarrassing,” she told more than 100 members of the Belmont Education Association who gathered along Concord Avenue adjacent to the new Belmont High School.

With contract negotiations stalled after nearly a year of negotiations, members of the Belmont Education Association have stepped up public events and direct action to push the Belmont School Committee towards what they believe is a reasonable offer to help fairly compensate members for several years of stagnate wages which assisted the town and school committee in balancing past budgets.

BREAKING: The first group of Belmont educators have reached an agreement during the current negotiations with the School Committee on Monday, June 6. The agreement between members of Unit B – made up of assistant principals and system wide directors – and the committee has yet to be announced although it appears the group has agreed to a 80/20 split to its insurance policy over the next three years. More to come.

Described as one of the “the connective tissue that holds the Beaumont public school system together” by her “comrade in arms” Burbank teacher and Unit A’s Clifford Gallant, Fitzsimmons noted during the current talks to produce the next three year contract, Unit D personnel – which includes aides, paraprofessionals, administrative and classroom assistants – are being offering a 50 cents an hour increase.

Her dedication to the profession requires Fitzsimmons and many of her fellow Unit D colleagues to work multiple part-time jobs to continue to do the work they love.

“We qualify for fuel assistance. We qualify for food stamps. We are insured through the Affordable Care Health Insurance because the insurance the town is offering is too expensive. I am a 50-year-old woman and I live at home with my father because I cannot afford my own [place],” Fitzsimmons said.

“So how is it possible that in a town like Belmont, you have employees that qualify for federal and state assistance? That is embarrassing and that should not be happening,” she said to the cheers of members and residents.

Speaking before the membership, BEA official and Belmont High teacher Marc Lefebvre said time has run out for nothing short of a new contract.

“Why now? Why this time? Don’t we deserve a modest cost of living? Why don’t we deserve to keep our benefits stable? Why don’t we deserve a little more time for professional learning and collaboration? Why does [the school committee] seem more interested in power then smoothing he extraordinarily difficult task of educating the children of this town. I think I can tell you why. Because they believe they’ve got us into a corner and they hope we’ll think we’re out of options.

“But we are here today to say we are done, done with protracted negotiations, done with hoping they’ll respect what we’ve been through these past few years,” said Lefebvre. “We’re sending a very clear message that the time to settle is now, time for them to be responsible is now and it’s time for a fair contract.”

“At a time when educator morale is low, when the hiring season is busier than I had ever seen, and experienced candidates are scarce, we need this contract settled and you need it settled now,” said Elizabeth Baker, a Unit B representative and district director of science, health and tech education.

Supporters of the union cause came out to voice their concerns. Resident, parent of two students and Town Meeting member PJ Looney said fairness transcends political differences as teachers should be treated as the valued members of the community they are.

BHS senior Angus Abercrombie who graduated Saturday pointed to his teachers who taught him not just about facts and data but about the world around him.

“Your job is not just to create the next generation of workers, it is to create the next generation of voters. You taught me about my history, about my country and about the power and responsibility that I have to change it. And knowing that is the real reason I’m here because there is nothing else I can morally be doing on a Wednesday evening than standing here and supporting you,” Abercrombie said.

With Concerns Heightened, Belmont School Committee Will Host Community Safety Forum Tuesday, May 31

Photo: The Belmont School Committee will host a virtual community safety forum on Tuesday, May 31

After a pair of alarming incidents directed at and in Belmont schools and the recent mass murder of students and teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the Belmont School Committee will host a virtual community safety forum on Tuesday, May 31, at 6:30 p.m., according to an email from Belmont Superintendent John Phelan.

  • To join the Zoom video meeting, click this link:https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83217919060 Webinar ID: 832 1791 9060
  • To join by telephone:Call: (929) 205-6099 and enter this PIN: 83217919060# To ask a question or raise your hand, enter *9 on your phone.
  • The meeting will be cablecast live on channel 8 (Comcast) and channel 28 and 2130 (Verizon) and online at belmontmedia.org/govtv

The meeting comes after a bomb threat on May 11 was directed at Belmont High School and “concerning” social media messages accompanied photos of the interior of the Chenery Middle School has raised tensions among residents and parents of school-age students.

The meeting, which will be attended by Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac, Fire Chief David Destefano and Facilities Director David Blazon, will be an opportunity for public safety and town officials “to update on our protocols and to listen to concerns and feedback,” said Phelan.

“As most of our students have exposure to technology, news media, and social media, many of them have likely heard about the tragedy in Uvalde,” said Phelan.

“This topic will no doubt be top-of-mind among families throughout the nation for days to come. Our staff and counselors are available for students in school as needed. Please reach out to one of your child’s teachers, counselor, or principal if you feel your child needs specific support in processing this incident.”

Belmont’s Last Day Of School Falls On The First Full Day Of Summer

Photo: Last day of school for fourth graders at the Wellington Elementary School

How can it be any more appropriate that the final day of school in Belmont falls on the first full day of summer?

After using two of the five “snow” days built into the 2021-2 calendar, the Belmont School Department determined the district will reach the 180 days of learning required by the state on Wednesday, June 22.

The date was approved unanimously by the School Committee with the hope there will no plowable snow events after April 12 and families can begin making plans for trips, camps and vacations.

Moriarty Elected New Chair Of Belmont School Committee

Photo: Meg Moriarty is the new chair of the Belmont School Committee

Just starting her second year on the Belmont School Committee, Meghan Moriarty will now be leading the six-member board after being elected unanimously the new chair at the committee’s organizational meeting held on Tuesday, April 12.

Noting that the newly-constituted committee was “starting off on a good foot” as it begun the regular meeting 10 minutes early, Moriarty thanked her colleagues for their vote of confidence in her.

“As we go forward this year, I think we all know it’s really important that we all work together and with the administration [we can] improve upon the education system,” said Moriarty. “I think too often we say [we want] to maintain the excellent education system that we have in Belmont. But I think that there are areas that we all agree on right now that need to be improved” pointing to equity issues, math scores and the mental health and social emotional

Moriarty said over the coming year the committee must prioritize its relationship with the “greater community” that elected them. She than recognized “all the hard work” her predecessor as chair, Amy Checkoway, had committed to over the past year.

Checkoway will be supporting Moriarty as the committee’s newly-elected Secretary.

The mother of two, Moriarty runs MegMor Research and Evaluation which helps organizations assess the impact of Science Technology Engineering & Math (STEM) programming. She matriculated at Brown (BA) and earned her master’s and doctorate in education (science education) from Boston University.

Q&A With Amy Checkoway, Seeking Re-Election To The School Committee

Photo:

Amy Checkoway is running unopposed for a second three-year term on the Belmont School Committee where she is the current chair. Checkoway has been a senior project manager for nearly 20 years with the research consultancy Abt Associates and was active in her local PTO and school activities before running for public office in 2019. She matriculated at Brown (Public Policy and American Civilization) before earning her Masters in Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Q: You served during what everyone has said was the most trying time to be a school committee member. From making snap decisions on new procedures and ways of learning to what a segment of the residents/parents believed were harsh restrictions on in-school instruction and mask mandates. What was the most difficult decision that you made during the pandemic for you personally and do you have second thought about it?

A: One of many difficult decisions was to start the 2021-22 school year remotely. With hindsight, I have second thoughts about many decisions made during the pandemic and how we approached planning generally. The School Committee should have worked more closely with district leadership during the summer of 2021 to develop better and more agile hybrid plans. We were too reactive and there was too much waiting for guidance from above, and not enough proactive planning. We should have done a better job at communicating and partnering with parents/guardians. We also should have been more transparent about our decision-making processes and more open about the challenges that we were facing.

Q: How has living through the pandemic change the relationship of the school committee with the school administration and parents? Is it for the better? 

A: Living through the pandemic certainly intensified the relationships between all parties. We were all forced to interact in ways and about issues that we never had encountered before. I do not think that confidence and trust has been completely restored yet, as some relationships remain frayed. One thing that I hope we can hold onto and continue to improve is deeper family engagement and participation in School Committee meetings and district decision-making.    

Q: There continues to be tension with segments of the population and the schools. What would you do to “lower the heat” and bring a sense of collegiality for all sides.  

A: This will require a lot of listening, assuming positive intent, a willingness to compromise, making space for all sides to share their perspectives, and trying to see value in all suggestions, even if our immediate instinct is to disagree. Social media tends to “raise the heat” and be dominated by a small number of voices. Creating more opportunities for in-person interactions and two-way conversations with different segments of the population will be helpful.

Q: What are some of ideas/concerns/objectives will you personally advocate for during the next three years?

A: Some of my priorities include supporting more authentic family engagement; strategically managing the district’s budget and resources; using data to inform decision-making; working toward more equitable policies, practices, and outcomes; and holding leadership accountable for meeting the goals that the School Committee sets out.

Q: What do you enjoy about being a member of the school committee? 

A: I enjoy building relationships with and learning from other School Committee members, district staff, students, and parents. I enjoy when I can serve as a bridge between the school community and district administration. I enjoy when I can effectively facilitate and/or influence a discussion about how to better serve students. And I enjoy when I can answer a question or help a parent/guardian with an issue.

Q: What’s it like having a trombonist in the house?

A: Loud. And my other son is a percussionist!

Q&A With Jeff Liberty, Candidate For School Committee

Photo: Jeff Liberty

Jeff Liberty‘s background is an impressive collection of experiences in education. The Dorchester native has been classroom teacher, administrator, the inaugural leader of an in-district Boston charter school and currently works at an educational consultancy. He is running unopposed for the open seat on the Belmont School Committee. A 12 year resident of Worcester Street, Liberty matriculated at Brandeis University (History) and received his MFA in creative writing from Emerson.

Q: You have an unique background for school committee members being a multifaceted education careerist: You have been a teacher, administrator, charter school leader and now in education consultancy. How do you anticipate working and collaborating with your five fellow committee members who don’t have your practical experience in the field? 

A: I do have a lot of experience and I’m happy to share it with my fellow Committee Members and members of the BPS administration.  At the same time, all of the other Members bring tremendous skills and experience, including experience being on the School Committee and other elected offices, so I expect it should be very easy to collaborate with my colleagues on the Committee. I’m honored to serve with such a committed and intelligent group of humans and I expect to learn as much as I teach. 

Q: You have spoken about concerns you have as a parent and resident on how much students have “lost” educationally and emotionally during the pandemic. Is it possible for individual students to “recover” that gap in classroom learning and social emotional skills or should the district take a more holistic approach of moving grades forward with supports?

A: When it comes to foundational academic skills and human development/social-emotional skills, students must be supported to recover from lost opportunities to learn and grow.  Otherwise, we do not afford them the opportunity, as a generation, to achieve to their fullest potential. At the same time, the pandemic has shown us, in every facet of our lives, what is truly important. In that spirit, I don’t think it’s essential to obsess about going back and trying to “cover” every bit of content that was missed.  That ship has sailed.  The most important skills and content are the ones that are essential to student success at higher levels.  There should be an effort to quantify and communicate, both in the aggregate and at the individual student level, where we are in terms of meeting those benchmarks and what we will commit to do to support students who have not yet reached the grade-level standards of academic performance and/or social-emotional growth. The Committee and the public will need to hear from the Superintendent and his team soon about what we have learned about students’ progress and what resources and programs are being developed and put in place to help students to accelerate their learning and personal development before the start of the next school year.     

Q: Could you see anytime that you could support a return of mask mandates? Why or why not.

A: The pandemic has taught us that it is difficult to say for certain what the future holds.  If the Board of Health and the School Committee determine that, by metrics we can all agree to, that the continuation of in-person instruction requires all educators and students to wear masks for a period of time, I would be open to supporting that policy for a limited period and with very clear benchmarks for when mask-wearing would be made optional again.   

Q: You wrote a letter to the editor saying that you were angry – about who the school committee and district could not manage the system through COVID, how the town was unable to come up with a plan to manage the structural deficit and the pot holes on your street – but was still going to vote for the override. Are you still angry?

A: I would not describe myself as an angry person generally (I try not to be–life is too short!).  At the same time, it has been very challenging as an educator and as a parent to watch our town fumble our way through policies and processes that have had a detrimental effect on students and families.  That would make any reasonable person angry.  I continue to see some of the same behaviors and habits that manifested themselves during the worst days of the pandemic like a lack of data-based decision making and un-rigorous assessment of the efficacy of programs and initiatives.  This frustrates me but it also motivates me to make improvement in those areas a central focus of my work on the Committee in the years ahead.  We can and we must do better to regain the public’s full confidence in our schools.  

Q: The majority of what school committees does is deal with the everyday “mundane necessities” of a district: reviewing elementary school curriculum, professional development for teachers, hearing concerns of coaches that they are not being paid the same as their peers. What “mundane necessity” will you champion as a member of the committee and why is it important?

A: I don’t think any of the things you listed are mundane.  I do think we need to prioritize the work of the Committee so we stay focused on our most important statutory responsibilities–supervising and supporting the Superintendent, creating and revising policy, overseeing the budget and ensuring it aligns with educational priorities, negotiating contracts that are fair and sustainable, and approving the program of studies.  If we manage to do this–and to celebrate our successes along the way–nothing we do will be mundane.

Q: What will get you excited about coming to a school committee meeting on a cold and snowy Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.?

A: In the 12 years our family has lived in Belmont, I’ve met hundreds of wonderful young people and their parents and caregivers. I am highly motivated to bring purposeful, transparent, and ethical leadership to my work on the Committee on behalf of my fellow Belmontians, no matter what the weather might be.  To me, public schools are just about as sacred as secular institutions can be. When they are good, they are the best examples of excellent civic life and hope for our future that we have. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Letter To The Editor: Support Checkoway’s Re-Election To The School Committee

Photo: Amy Checkoway is running for re-election to the Belmont School Committee

To the editor:

I am thrilled to support Amy Checkoway in her re-election campaign for the Belmont School Committee this April.

Amy is committed to enabling every student to reach their full potential. She is doing so by staying committed to the goal of providing a normal school year for students in an environment that is safe for students and staff.

Amy works tirelessly to put the needs and well-being of all students first. This is evident from her support for funding programs and staff to support students’ educational, social, and emotional needs at all grade levels.
I have seen what a critically important role Amy has played as the School Committe Chair in the last year. Amy is thoughtful and empathetic when members of the community express concerns. She tackles challenging situations with professionalism. She bases decisions on data and reinstated a more robust evaluation process for holding the Superintendent and School Committee accountable.

Amy’s experience will be invaluable for the students of Belmont Public Schools in the years ahead. I hope you join me in voting for Amy Checkoway for Belmont School Committee.

Meg Moriarty

Garfield Road

Belmont Lifts Mask Mandates For Schools, Indoor Public Spaces

Photo: Masks are no longer required in Belmont schools and at indoor spaces.

Beginning at midnight on Tuesday, March 8, Belmont’s town wide Covid-19 mask mandates for schools and indoor public settings are suspended after both the Select Board and School Committee voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of the Board of Health.

The three bodies, which met and voted in rapid succession Monday evening, effectively ends two years of wearing face coverings which began in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic with a short reprieve in late summer between surges of the coronavirus.

While the mandate has ended, the Health Board “highly recommends” children under the age of five – who can not receive a vaccination – and unvaccinated residents of any age to continue wearing masks. For public school students, masks are no longer be required riding school buses but they will continued are still required to wear masks in the nurses’ offices.

Although the mask mandate has been lifted for indoor spaces, businesses may choose to continue mask use for their establishments.

“Knowing that this decision will be applauded by some and met with disappointment by others, I would ask all of us to respect each other’s choices, and to proactively encourage our children to do the same.,” said John Phelan, Belmont’s Superintendent of Schools, in an email sent out to parents minutes after the Select Board vote.

The Health Board pointed to reduced transmission rates, high vaccination status and wider availability of testing as the main reasons for lifting the requirement. The Health Department’s Lindsey Sharp kicked off its Zoom presentation before more than 60 residents highlighting recent Covid-related data showing Belmont and Middlesex country now in a post-surge environment.

Vaccination rates by class in Belmont public schools

Sharp said Belmont’s average positivity rate for the first week in March at one percent, a significant reduction from the 6.4 percent rate during the surge in December and January while the pooled positivity rate in Belmont schools plummet from 15.3 percent in the second week of January to 2.5 percent one month later. Resident vaccination rates in Belmont increased from 55 percent in October 2021 to 83 percent in February with students hovering at 90 percent for middle and high schoolers and in the 70s for the lower grades.

“The numbers are looking great,” said Sharp.

During the public comment session, the remove-the-mandate residents said the science supported an end of the requirement.

”I clearly see that the time is right to remove the mandate,” said Patrick Whittemore.

Others, such as Nancy Snyder, said “there is no risk to keep (the mandate)” as it makes her and her friends “feel safe.”

The board members were in agreement to remove the mandate while pondering whether it should continue for children under the age of five. Rather than create confusion and noting the very low hospitalization rates, the board said it would “strongly recommend” than require masks for that group.

The board voted to “suspend” the mandate policy rather than striking it so when a time comes during another surge or a new virus emerges the board will be able to reinstate the policy quickly. In addition, the board approved an automatic reintroduction of the mask mandate if Middlesex county returns to a “high” level according to CDC guidelines.

Both the School Committee and Select Board took up the recommendations and voted to accept them. There was one change from the Select Board, rewriting the Health Board’s “automatic” reinstatement of the mask mandate to one where the Select Board would take a vote after reviewing the data, which the Health Board accepted.