Letter to the Editor: Elect O’Toole In Precinct 2, A Bold Student Voice

Photo: Devan O’Toole (left)

To the editor:

Belmont faces many challenges and immense opportunities in the coming years. It’s up to Town Meeting to seize those opportunities and to work toward innovative solutions. That requires Town Meeting Members unafraid to ask tough questions and put in the necessary work. It also requires a range of perspective in Town Meeting. The voice of Belmont students and young people continues to be lacking.

The Belmont High School Building Commission has zero student representation. Decisions on school funding and education issues that affect students’ lives each day are often made with little student input. When the administration asked students to give feedback on Mr. Sullivan as part of the significant decision of whether to fire him, the virtually unanimous student opinion was blatantly ignored. Belmont schools are experimenting with new technologies that are promoted by administrators and education corporations as “innovation,” but in reality can be counterproductive to learning. Talk of diversity and civil rights in our schools is often thrown around without input from our students of color. In discussions about recreational marijuana regulation, the danger to teenagers and young people is consistently brought up as one of the primary reasons against loosened marijuana laws. It’s critical that young people have a seat at the table in these decisions. In fact, ensuring that students are part of the conversation strengthens our judgments and benefits everyone in Belmont.

In an era of regression and uncertainty due to Trump at the national level, it’s more important than ever for Town Meeting and local government to push forward with new ideas and bold leadership. It’s vital that Town Meeting Members don’t just talk but walk the walk and put in the work necessary to drive real change. We must not accept the longtime status quo just because it is “how things are done.” It’s important to ask questions and hold our leaders accountable. I’m confident that Devan will bring a fresh, valuable, and much-needed voice to Town Meeting.

There’s no better person to stand up for our schools than Devan, who has been in discussions with school officials as Belmont High School Senior Class President and Student Representative to the School Committee and has already worked to support the new high school. He was also co-leader of the school’s Make a Statement Day, helped with the student Yes for Belmont effort, and has been deeply involved in the Belmont High School and Belmont communities in more ways than can be explained in this one article. Perhaps most importantly, being in the classroom five days a week simply allows for a unique and critically important perspective. Devan understands our schools’ intricacies and has a thorough understanding of the needs facing a new Belmont High School.

In the coming years under Trump, local government is where progress can and must continue. There’s so much work to do. To rebuild Belmont High, ensure adequate education funding, and facilitate the highest quality education. To push forward on clean energy and take action to protect our environment. To support immigrants and refugees in an uncertain time. To ensure transparency and accountability in town government. Devan has the energy, commitment, and leadership skills to meaningfully contribute to Town Meeting discussions and to make concrete progress.

I’m energized and beyond excited to support Devan O’Toole’s candidacy for Town Meeting in Precinct 2. Join me in supporting a bold student voice for Belmont’s future. Email devantownmeeting@gmail.com to get involved, and be sure to vote on Tuesday, April 4.

Daniel Vernick

Town Meeting Member, Precinct 1

School Committee QW: Integrating English As Second Language Students Into Schools

Photo: The candidates for School Committee: (from left) O’Mahony, Prestwich and Bicer.

Here is the Question of the Week (QW) for the School Committee candidates:

The number of students coming into the Belmont school system from outside the US or who speak a language other than English is growing as is the demand for educators to teach ELL students. With the understanding that the committee is a policy-making body, do you have any plans/programs that you believe will help integrate students more efficiently into our schools. 

Kimberly O’Mahony

I am in awe when I think about how diverse our community is; it’s wonderful! This does make it hard, though, for educators to keep all of the children learning at the same pace due to the challenges facing those whose first language is not English. It would be most productive to consider the pressures regarding this issue, prioritize by impact and ability to alleviate, and identify ways to improve the high-risk areas while keeping the best interest of the children and faculty in mind as well as the budget constraints.  

I am not running for School Committee with an agenda, nor am I armed with an arsenal of answers.  Rather, I am running with a vision of working collaboratively with the School Committee and other committees/town departments to identify the best solutions to the problems we are facing with a thoughtful and fiscally-aware approach. Along with that, always keeping in mind that the main driver is to sustain, support, and enhance the high quality of our education system that the faculty and support staff produces in Belmont each and every day.

Andrea Prestwich

The number of students who do not speak English as their native language (English Language Learners or ELL) has increased from 95 to 261 in Belmont over the last six years. These children face unique challenges. The percentage of ELL or kids who were once ELL who graduate from high school is dramatically lower than for native English speakers.  Early intervention to mitigate the disadvantages they face is, therefore, crucial.

My understanding is that Sheltered English Instruction (SEI) is regarded by education professionals as the most effective way to teach ELL. The term “sheltered” dates back to the 1980s when ELL was taught in separate classrooms. Today, SEI refers to teaching techniques that are used to make content accessible to ELLs in a mainstream classroom.  The dual goal is to teach ELL grade-level content while increasing their English proficiency. Strategies include allowing students extra time to formulate answers, simplifying teaching language and using visuals to reinforce the main points of the lesson.  

Implementing SEI in Belmont classrooms requires clustering  ELL into groups or teams.  Another key requirement is to have Belmont teachers become proficient in SEI techniques. It will be necessary for increasing numbers of Belmont teachers to become SEI certified to support these children. As part of the RETELL (Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners) initiative, Massachusetts requires that all teachers who have one or more ELL in their classroom attend an SEI Endorsement Course within one year of being assigned the student.

Murat Bicer

Integrating ELL students into our community and schools is important because integration and language mastery often go hand in hand.  If we are able to move students to proficiency more quickly there is less cost to the district and less chance for the student to fall behind academically.

Integration for school-aged children must begin with and include their families. ELL families face challenges everywhere from figuring out how to register for school, to understanding school procedures, to knowing how to participate in Second Soccer. Belmont is fortunate to have an active and engaged parent population, and we can use this resource through the organization of the PTO to establish integration opportunities. For instance, we could work to match new ELL families with English-proficient families of the same first language, giving the newcomers a sympathetic place to ask questions and learn about the workings of the town. Let’s also look to the Recreation Department to target outreach to ELL families. Sports, free play, and other out-of-school activities are fertile times to learn English.

Finally, let’s not overlook the enormous leaps forward in translation technologies. Many are available at little to no cost and could be utilized both in the classroom and with families. Translation services represent a significant portion of the district’s ELL budget. New technologies may allow us gain some savings while at the same time increasing the amount of translated material we are able to produce.


Town Seeking Election Workers to Help During ‘Busy’ 2016


It will be a busy 2016 for voters in Belmont with four planned elections. And the Belmont Board of Registrars and Town Clerk are committed to administering fair, open and efficient elections. 

To do this the Town Clerk’s office rely on the dedicated services of the more than 100 election workers and we’re always looking for more top-notch Belmont voters to join this group. Election workers play a vital role in the democratic process. To properly staff polling locations, we need to add to our pool of election workers for the upcoming 2016 elections:

  • Tuesday, March 1: Presidential Primary Election
  • Tuesday, April 5Annual Town Election
  • Thursday, Sept. 8State Primary Election
  • Tuesday, Nov. 8: Presidential General Election.

Applicants must be registered to vote in Belmont. Training is provided before each election. You’ll learn how elections actually work while earning $10 an hour. 

There are typically two shifts on Election Day:  6 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 1 p.m. to approximately 9 p.m.  Workers are not required to work every election; you let the Clerk’s office know which dates and shifts you are available.

“It’s a great way to meet new  people, and learn about elections from the inside,” said Town Clerk Ellen Cushman.

Interested? Visit the election workers page on the Town Clerk’s site or email to townclerk@belmont-ma.gov

Paolillo: ‘Seriously Leaning Towards’ Selectman Re-election Run

Photo: Mark Paolillo.

Belmont Selectman Mark Paolillo said he “is seriously leaning towards” running to retain his seat on the Board of Selectmen as his term will expire in April 2016.

“At some point, I will need to make a definite decision but as of now, I’m heading in that direction,” said the Pilgrim Road resident. 

Paolillo said he was not ready to commit fully to the race due to “changes in the circumstances of my family.” Paolillo’s father, former Cambridge Police Chief Anthony Paolillo, died this summer, and he is assisting his mother after her husband’s death. 

“I just want to wait to see how things are in the next month,” he said.

Paolillo pointed to several unfinished issues facing the town, such as a number of major building projects – a new High School, police station and Department of Public Works facility – as well as the implementation of a community path, that he would like to see either decided or “directed towards completion” as reasons for seeking re-election. 

Paolillo said if he does win a third election, “it will be my final term. There needs to be new blood coming on the board.” 

Paolillo, a financial executive, won his first term in April 2010 by handily defeating incumbent Daniel LeClerc and fellow challenger Anne Mahon. He ran unopposed in 2013. 

Recount Comes Up a Vote Short for Veteran Town Meeting Member

At the start of the day, Marty Cohen was only four votes away from keeping his seat on Belmont’s town meeting after serving on the town’s legislative body for 39 consecutive years.

And over two hours in the spacious Town Hall auditorium, as a small army of volunteer town election officials viewed each ballot cast in Precinct 3 on April 1 at the annual Town Election, Cohen sat quietly hoping that the day’s recount would see him overcome fellow Precinct 3 representative David Chase’s three-vote margin of victory, 323 to 320, for the 12th and final precinct seat.

“I wouldn’t have asked for one if not for the discrepancy in the count,” said Cohen, referring to the difference between the ballots placed into the optical-scanning voting machine and the number from election officials checking off names in the precinct book of registered voters.

It was a small number – less than five ballots – but enough that Town Clerk Ellen Cushman said she would support Cohen’s request for a second look at the votes cast.

The recount, the first in about a dozen years, was run by the four-member Board of Registrars of Voters under rules specified under state law. Cushman, who along with assistant Town Clerk Meg Piccione and staff member Nancy Casale, assisted the 14 volunteers on how to read each ballot, which to deem “blank” (fore instance, a voter selecting more than the 12 votes they are limited to) and those that would require a vote of the Board to decide.

What the readers would be seeking “is the intent of the voters,” Cushman told the voters.

The box holding the paper ballots was opened, the votes placed into piles of 50 and brought to tables where a pair of volunteers recorded each valid vote cast in the third.

“Let the games begin,” said Cushman as red pencils and rulers began counting and recording as observers hovered close by to  view the recount.

When the recount finished and the numbers tabulated, the new vote count came out in favor of Cohen … but by not enough. The second look total gave Chase 324 votes to Cohen’s 323, a margin of a single vote deciding the last representative from Precinct 3.

“The voters have spoken,” said Cohen who went over to Chase to chat a while on if he should run next year.

“I feel so bad for Marty. It doesn’t feel like a victory,” said Chase, who has been on Town Meeting for approximately 15 years.

As for the recount process, Cushman had no complaints.

“Everything worked out well. I want to thank my staff and the volunteers for the work they did,” she said.

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