Obituary: Peter Holland, Formative Figure In Belmont Education, Has Died

Photo: Peter Holland was Belmont school superintendent until 2008

Dr. Peter Holland, one of the most formative leaders in contemporary Belmont education, died recently, according to an announcement from Belmont School Committee Chair Meg Moriarty at its meeting on Tuesday, April 23.

The former Belmont schools superintendent, who lived in Lexington, was in his 80s. A memorial service will be held on May 11 at Saint Brigid Parish, 1981 Massachusetts Ave., in Lexington.

“He was an innovative and progressive thinker,” said Moriarty.

“It is so sad. [Holland] was truly a wonderful man and administrator,” said Anne Marie Mahoney, who had just been elected to the Belmont School Committee before Holland was hired in 1988. “Peter was so thoughtful, so creative, so fair.”

Holland matriculated at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, receiving a master of science in 1970. He began his teaching career as a physics teacher at Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore. He earned a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1984.

Holland was hired as Belmont School Superintendent in 1988 following the controversial tenure of Dr. William Carey. Holland would ultimately spend 21 years at the helm, during which Belmont’s schools took major steps in earning a first-rate academic reputation regionally and nationally.

Speaking to Paul Roberts in 2008, Holland recalled that “Belmont was a really good school district when I arrived. But I think we’ve taken it to a different level.” Working with his long-serving assistant Superintendent Pat Aubin, he implemented state education reform in the district and enacted the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which he was not a particular fan of.

“The level of academic work is terrific. I think a lot of that has to do with the teachers, alignment of the curriculum, good staff development, and that’s all under the direction of Aubin. She’s done a masterful job with instruction and assessment. All four of those areas have to be aligned. Pat’s accomplished that.”

One universal praise during Holland’s tenure was his ability to hire the right person for the right job. His effort to fill the Chenery Middle School with young teachers energized the building and resulted in decades of solid educational gains.

“[Holland] was good at hires. He hired really good principals, really good coordinators and directors and they stayed forever. And he supported them. His administrative council was very cohesive and just worked beautifully. He was good at letting people do their jobs. It was awesome,” said Mahoney.

“Peter was involved with every hire,” said Moriarty. “He learned their names and something about them, so when he saw them in the hallway, he could always greet them by their names and mention something special about them.”

By the end of his incumbency, the number of AP courses taught at the high school had jumped from 5 to 26, the number of National Merit finalists had doubled, and approximately 50 high school students had achieved 800 perfect SAT scores by the early 2000s. Those achievements were later recognized by the state and published in publications. In 2009, US News and World Report’s annual Best High Schools in the US edition ranked Belmont as the 100th “best” high school in the US, trailing only Boston Latin in Massachusetts. (This week, Belmont was ranked 383rd out of 25,000 high schools nationally and 16th in Massachusetts which is the top state for high school education.)

Holland also brought his unique leadership talents to the district. One of his first acts as superintendent was reorganizing the central administrative office with new staff while cutting $100,000 from its budget line. He demonstrated his leadership prowess in successfully navigating two significant events in 1995: a teachers strike in January and a fire that closed the Chenery Middle School in July.

“He was just calm. It was like he was saying, ‘Everything’s great. We’re gonna get through this,'” said Mahoney.

He also established Belmont’s participation in the LABBB Collaborative, the cooperative special education program, and championed Belmont’s participation in the METCO program. While Belmont was a member of METCO, he didn’t believe it was an active member. This led to his founding the METCO Superintendents Group, which fought for equitable state funding.

Holland was especially proud of the level of students who participated in community service. When he left in 2008, 10 percent of Belmont High students received the Presidential Medal for volunteering up to 100 hours in the community. A week after his death, nearly 200 student athletes converged on Belmont Cemetary to prepare the grounds for Memorial Day.

“He felt good that students were involved with the wider society,” said Moriarty.

His involvement in Belmont education extended beyond the district office when, in 1993, Holland co-founded the Foundation for Belmont Education. As of 2024, the community group has provided $4.25 million in grants and assistance to finance more than 900 projects that support teachers and programs in the Belmont district.

The Belmont High School Library is named for Holland, who generously donated to its operation a few months before his death.

Let’s Have Coffee And A Chat With The New School Supers: Jill Geiser and Lucia Sullivan

Photo: (from left) Belmont School District’s new superintendents: Jill Geiser and assistant Lucia Sullivan

The Belmont School District invites residents for a coffee and conversation with its new superintendents: Jill Geiser and Assistant Lucia Sullivan.

You can attend the meet and greet in person at the School Administration Building, 644 Pleasant St. on the following days and times:

  • Wednesday, Aug. 9: 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • Friday, Aug. 11: 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
  • Thursday, Sept. 14: 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Light refreshments will be served!

Virtual Meeting Zoom: Click here to Join

  • Tuesday, Sept. 26: Noon to 1:30 p.m.

Please RSVP for Planning Purposes: Meet & Greet RSVP

More meeting opportunities with Jill and Lucia to come.

Geiser Selected Belmont’s Next School Superintendent; First Woman To Run District On Permanent Basis

Photo: Dr. Jill Geiser during a Q&A with Belmont residents

After, at times, a contentious selection process, the Belmont School Committee voted to appoint Belmont resident Dr. Jill Geiser as the school district’s next superintendent at a special meeting on Wednesday, March 29.

“[Geiser] accepted right away, enthusiastically,” said Committee Chair Meghan Moriarity when she called the Oxford Avenue resident with the news immediately after the 5-1 vote.

The selection of Geiser marks the first permanent female superintendent in Belmont. Dr. Patricia Aubin served as interim superintendent for one year between the superintendencies of Dr. Peter Holland and Dr. George Entwistle.

“It’s pretty remarkable that it’s taken this long!” wrote Moriarity in an email to the Belmontonian.

The other candidates were Kimo Carter, the assistant superintendent in Weston, and Carlee Simon, the former superintendent of schools in Alachua County, Fla.

Geiser replaces John Phelan, retiring after holding the post for the past decade. If both sides approve a three-year contract, Geiser’s tenure as leader of a district with approximately 4,400 students and nearly 283 FTE teaching positions will begin July 1. Moriarity said the district would hold “some events and opportunities for the community to get to meet her … even before July 1.

With a Belmont Police Officer stationed at the door of the Belmont Gallery of Art in the Homer Building and roughly a dozen in attendance, the committee spent a considerable amount of time reviewing the candidates’ credentials and reactions to their district visits in mid-March with committee members, teachers, students, and community members.

By the time the committee members spoke on what they believed were important for the district to advance in the next three years, it became clear the committee would be selecting from the pair of Belmontian candidates, Carter and Geiser.

When what would be the only straw poll was taken, Geiser received the first four votes from member Jamal Saeh, Katie Bowen, Moriarity and Amy Checkoway before Carter received the last two recommendations from Mike Crowley and Jeff Liberty.

Liberty spoke of Carter’s accomplishment in completely turning around the education proficiency and management of Watertown Middle School which he headed for 13 years.

Saeh also focused on leadership for his support of Geiser, relating to a reference who called the Billerica assistant superintendent “smart and battle tested … relentless about doing the best” … “and forged by fire” when she participated in two major system changes.

“At this point, Geiser is ready for Belmont,” said Saeh.

Checkoway said Geiser would have less of a transition in coming to Belmont, which Moriarity seconded, noting “she is really attuned to what’s going on in Belmont, the politics and how the town operates” and that “she shared values and beliefs that match our community.”

“She mentioned that if she were coming here, she would really want to reinforce and continue and celebrate what going on but also drive towards academic excellence and the experience of Belmont,” said Moriarity.

“It’s good to have somebody that has that vision for improvement on what we have.”

Liberty said a powerful reference for Carter that when responding to conflict, it was “never with anger.”

“That suggests a certain emotional maturity that one needs to have in this role,” said Liberty, who pointed to Carter’s complete turn around of Watertown Middle School as its principal for 13 years.

When the final vote was taken, Crowley switched his straw poll recommendation and voted for Geiser with Liberty the sole ‘no’ vote.

The vote ended what a portion of residents and those who participated in the selection exercise felt was a flawed process with many pointing to the school committee’s management of the process, which included an abbreviated time frame, questions of transparency and a conflict between the selection and school committees – both sides issued articles on the dispute – that resulted in heated comments online.

After the meeting was adjourned, Moriarity said while she was happy to defend the process, “I think there is evidence that there is still a lot of frustration in the district amongst parents. And that makes me sad. I was hoping that this process would really help bring the community together.”

“We really tired to gather as much feedback as possible and involve as many people in the visits,” said Moriarity, noting that a superintendent candidate survey was employed which nearly 200 people participated as well as the creation of vetting groups of various constituencies including students that advised the committee.

“I think there’s obviously still more that needs to be done and we need to play a role in that. I really hope that [Geiser] can help with that,” said Moriarity.

“I don’t dismiss their feelings at all. I really value their feelings. But I also don’t dismiss the process.”

Dr. Jill Geiser

About Jill Geiser

Joining the Billerica school system in 2017 as the assistant superintendent to Tim Piwowar (who, coincidently, was appointed the next superintendent in Westwood on Monday), Geiser was the principal of the Pre K-8 Healey School in Somerville from 2012. She also served as a middle school principal and high school assistant principal in the Lawrence schools. In addition, she is an adjunct professor at Boston College’s Lynch School, taught in Arizona and New York City, was a foreign language instructor in Thailand, and spent two years in Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Geiser holds a doctor of education degree from Boston College and graduate degrees from the Teachers College at Columbia University and UMass/Boston. In addition, she enrolled at the University of Delaware where she earned a Bachelor of Arts.

Opinion: The Superintendent Search – A Flawed Process Indeed

Photo:The Belmont School Administration building where the district superintendent is located

By Geoffrey Lubien

As a committee member of the Belmont Superintendent Screening Committee (BSSC) and a parent of a Belmont Public Schools student, I would like to voice my significant concerns about the process of screening for up to three viable candidates for consideration by the School Committee. 

As the representative of the Warrant Committee to the BSSC, I was one of a 22-member committee which included three Belmont School Committee members and an outside consulting group with all members invited and appointed by the School Committee. With the BSSC having competed its charge and the finalists for superintendent having participated in a public process, I believe it is time to share these concerns.

As part of the process a charter, set of rules and desired competencies were agreed upon by the committee to guide us in vetting potential candidates. The timeline for this process was admittedly aggressive with the School Committee requirement to have it completed within six weeks, which, according to the consulting group, normally takes 12 to 16 weeks. Therefore, committee members were asked to accommodate tight timelines with numerous three-plus hour meetings. It was explained by the School Committee members that this aggressive timeline was due to the competitive market for Superintendents and the seasonal hiring cycle. It was also communicated to some that there was a desire for all the current School Committee members, two of whom have chosen not to run again, to have a vote in choosing the next superintendent. 

The process was kicked off on Jan. 23 and after several meetings it became evident that this was a significant task and that committee members would need to really need to dig in to determine up to three candidates by mid-March.  

Committee rules included that candidates required two-thirds vote by the full committee to advance to the School Committee for consideration. After a candidate pool was narrowed down to five, we conducted three-hour Zoom interviews with each participant, with the consulting group conducting the interviews and committee members observing. The full committee reconvened on March 6 to discuss and vote upon up to three of the five candidates to push forward to the School Committee. Through much discussion and deliberation, the committee recommended two candidates to promote to the next phase; hence, the committee met its charge. 

Less than 48 hours after the final meeting of the BSSC, the School Committee sent an email informing the committee members that the School Committee had decided to interview all four of the candidates. This egregious decision disregards the hours of work, set rules and charter, and the vote of the screening committee, all of whom were appointed by the School Committee. The School Committee unilaterally decided to advance two additional candidates that were not recommended by two-thirds vote of the BSSC including one candidate who did not receive any affirmative votes from the screening committee.  

The fact that the BSSC members were dismissed after working collaboratively and in the best interest of the Belmont Public School system is beyond reproach. Twenty two committee members worked within a very aggressive timeline for the superintendent search forgoing family and work obligations only to be completely disregarded in the end. Two of the candidates the committee did not vote to move forward were considered unviable candidates by the screening committee and should not have been pushed forward. 

The actions taken by the School Committee are extremely disrespectful of the number of hours dedicated to the process and the final decisions of the screening committee. Violating the agreed upon process in the end hurts the credibility and transparency of the selection of the next superintendent, a role critical to the Belmont School District’s and Town’s future. 

What is needed now is the School Committee to stop this current flawed process and appoint an interim superintendent to carry the schools through, form a new search committee with public invitations to serve and allow the appropriate time to garner and assess the greatest pool of qualified candidates. And when a decision is reached by said committee, the School Committee should follow suit and do what is best for the future of Belmont Public Schools.

Geoffrey Lubien is a Belmont Public School parent, a BSSC member, the Warrant Committee Chair, and Town Meeting Member, Precinct 7

Belmont Schools Announce Three Finalist For Superintendent’s Post; Interviews, Public Forums March 14, 15

Photo: The finalists for the Belmont school superintendent (from left) Dr. James ‘Kimo’ Carter, Dr. Jill Geiser and Dr. Carlee Simon

After an accelerated search process, the Belmont School District announced the three finalists as the next Schools Superintendent on Friday, March 10.

The candidates are:

  • Dr. James ‘Kimo’ Carter, Assistant Superintendent, Weston Public Schools
  • Dr. Jill Geiser, Assistant Superintendent, Billerica Public Schools
  • Dr. Carlee Simon, former Superintendent of Schools in Alachua County, FL

A 22-member search committee of residents selected the candidates, parents, school committee members, administrators, union officials, and teachers.

Carter joined the Weston Public Schools on July 2018 as the new assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning. Before his move to Weston, Kimo was the principal of Watertown Middle School from 2005. In addition, he was the assistant Principal of Hawthorne Brook Middle School in Townsend and a social studies teacher in Billerica. 

Carter enrolled at Wesleyan University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. In addition, he holds a Master of Arts in Teaching Degree in History and Education from Boston College, a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from Harvard University, and an Ed.D in Educational Administration from Boston College.

Joining the Billerica schools in 2017, Geiser was the principal of the Pre K-8 Healey School in Somerville from 2012. She also served as a middle school principal and high school assistant principal in the Lawrence schools. In addition, she is an adjunct professor at Boston College, taught in Arizona and New York City, was a Foreign Language Instructor in Thailand and was a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Nepal.

Geiser holds a doctor of education degree from Boston College and graduate degrees from the Teachers College at Columbia University and UMASS Boston. In addition, she enrolled at the University of Delaware where she earned a Bachelor of Arts.

Simon currently runs the non-profit Families Deserve Inclusive Schools. She was the Superintendent of the school board of Alachua County in Florida from Dec. 2020 to March 2022.

She was an Adjunct Faculty Member at the University of North Florida from July 2019 – Dec. 2020 and the National Education Finance Academy Executive Director for three years.

For eighty years, from 2010 to 2018, Simon was an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Educational Leadership at the University of Cincinnati. She also was the Subject Matter Expert at the Florida Virtual School from 2007 to 2011. Simon also taught math in a high school setting in two schools in Florida.

Simon enrolled at the University of Florida, earning her Bachelor of Design in Architectural Design in 2000. She received a Master of Education in 2007, a Ph.D. in Education Administration and Policy in 2010, and is expecting a Doctor of Philosophy in Design, Construction, and Urban Planning (Educational Facilities) in 2023, all from the University of Florida.

Dates of interviews and public forums

The following dates have been scheduled for the superintendent finalist candidates for their interviews and public forums: March 14 and 15

Candidates will spend a whole day in the district touring the schools and meeting with administrators and staff. The public is invited to attend the School Committee interviews and the public forums to meet the candidates at the Chenery Middle School auditorium. These meetings will be recorded but not live-streamed. Once all candidate interviews and public forums have been completed, the recordings will be made available along with a survey link for feedback on each candidate from the public at Belmont Public Schools Superintendent Search.

March 14

3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.: School Committee Interview with Dr. Jill Geiser
4:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.: School Committee Interview with Dr. Carlee Simon
6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.: Public Forum with Dr. Jill Geiser
6:40 p.m. to 7:10 p.m.: Public Forum with Dr. Carlee Simon

March 15

4 p.m. to 5 p.m.: Interview with Dr. Kimo Carter
6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.: Public Forum with Dr. Kimo Carter

All events will take place in the Chenery Auditorium

Belmont Super Tells School Committee What He Did This Summer

At his first Belmont School Committee meeting, John Phelan told the members what he has been doing this summer.

And Phelan, the district’s new school superintendent, has been doing much in the first two-and-a-half months on the job.

“I had a very, very busy summer but also a very, very productive summer,” Phelan said during the abbreviated meeting Tuesday night, Sept. 16.

There were many “coffee talks” with residents and teachers, greeting teachers, visiting four of the six district schools on the opening day and attending retreats and group forums, all part of Phelan’s “road map” to better understand Belmont community and the educational culture.

“I want to thank you for the warm welcome I’ve received,” said Phelan, saying he found the environment in the schools “as being engaged in learning.”

As part of his school-year long, three-part “entry” plan into the system – which will be released next week online and in print form at each school –Phelan met with the district’s Leadership Council, made up of the district’s principals, top administrators and senior staff, which during a two-day retreat in August, pointed out several areas for Phelan and the School Committee to consider as key issues to focus on in the coming year.

“I walked into the room with the Leadership Council and the wall was plastered with sheets of paper with all these notes on them. The energy was palpable, and it was a great experience,” Phelan told the committee.

On Tuesday, Phelan said he is committed to placing three of the Leadership Council’s ideas into the district’s strategic plan which is the town’s educational blueprint:

  • Safety in all the district’s schools.
  • Create a plan to deal with the district’s growing enrollment and increasing class sizes.
  • Meet the social/emotional needs of each student, looking beyond test scores to produce successful citizens.

Phelan said implementing this plan will likely take the entire school year to complete and then can only be successful if the school budget can accommodate the items.

“We have to generate a budget before we can complete our long-term plans,” he told the committee.