As District Works Towards Full-Time In-School For K-4; Phelan Commits To ‘Fully In-Person Start’ Of ’21 School Year

Photo: The Belmont School District is working to bring K-4 students back to full-time in-the-classroom instruction by April

Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan reiterated his stance from last week that the district is actively working to derive a program to safely send elementary school students back to the classroom full time in April, according to a press release dated Thursday, March 4.

Rather than add in-person hours to the existing hybrid plan for those attending Belmont’s four elementary schools, “we are now developing a plan for a full, in-person option for K-4 students,” said Phelan.

Phelan also used the release to acknowledge the strain the pandemic has had on residents and students for the past year and his personal pledge to “a strong fully in-person start of the school year in September 2021.”

“I am committed to finishing this school year better than we started. I am committed to returning students back to school as safely and quickly as possible starting with our youngest learners at the elementary schools,” he said. “I will be working tirelessly, along with the entire Belmont Public School community, to deliver on these commitments.”

As he stated in his release of Feb. 26, Phelan said the district has shifted its focus following the announcement by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley who said on Feb. 23 that he will ask state permission to yank the hybrid option for the state’s youngest students.

In response, the district’s Return to In-Person Learning Working Group – the nearly 30 member group created last month to manage the transition to full-time in-school learning – had shifted its focus to now “building recommendations in subgroups which focused on physical distancing and classroom capacity, lunch and snack, specials and specialized instruction, remote-only options, and transportation,” said Phelan.

Monday, March 8: Working Group meeting and possible recommendations
Tuesday, March 9: Recommendations presented to at School Committee Meeting
Thursday, March 11: Q&A session with school administrators
Friday, March 12: Survey to all K-4 parents asking for remote/in-person choice
Wednesday, March 17: Survey due by 5 p.m.

And as Phelan promised when the group was formed, the working group has begun making “rolling recommendations” to the district on meeting his new goal. After its meeting on Monday, March 1, Phelan along with school principals and central office staff have begun reviewing emerging recommendations focusing on creating guidelines for social distancing in classrooms and non-learning spaces in the four elementary schools.

One of the leading constraints identified last summer hampering a return to full-time in-school learning throughout the district has been the lack of physical learning space required for 100 percent student participation with a required six-foot separation between students.

In addition to social distancing, the working group has also focused on addressing concerns related to the remote-only experience for those students and families that select to remain remote for the rest of the year, and taking stock of current PPE equipment, and make any recommendations so the schools are ready for a return to increased in-person learning.

The Working Group will meet again on Monday, March 8, and could issue recommendations at that time. If there are proposals from the Group, they will be made public at the School Committee the next day, March 9.

In an attempt to have families fully briefed on each learning option – in-person or remote – Phelan said the district will hold a Q&A session with school administrators on Thursday, March 11 at 6:30 p.m. 

The district will send a survey to parents on Friday, March 12, on whether they would like to choose the remote or in-person option for their child.  The survey will be due Wednesday, March 17 and this selection will be binding for the remainder of the school year.

After the Working Group has completed its K-4 recommendations, it will then move into discussions of how to increase in-person learning at the middle and high schools. Initially, the Working Group will start with grade 5 by leveraging their recommendations from the K-4 given the self-contained grade 5 model which is more similar to our elementary schools.

On a personal note, Phelan said he was well aware of the considerable hardship the school community – students, staff, parents – has taken on since the pandemic halted in-school learning in March 2020.

“I want to recognize that this has been a difficult year for students, as well as for parents and families. It has also been the most significant challenge our educators have ever faced. There are no easy answers as we battle COVID-19,” said Phelan.

“I appreciate and acknowledge that change can be disruptive and that these plans will be met with happiness by some and concern by others. I look forward to working together to deliver on three big commitments: finish the year better than we started; return more students to in-person learning this spring, and focus on a full in-person start to the year in the fall.”

“I … want to thank the families of Belmont for the grace they have shown–and continue to show–as we work through this devastating public health crisis,” said Phelan.

Driver Killed In Single-Vehicle Truck Accident on Common Street [Video]

Photo: An accident on Common Street involving a box truck left the driver dead

The driver of a box truck was killed in an early-morning one-vehicle accident on Common Street on Thursday, March 4.

According to Belmont Fire Capt. Rick Nohl, Belmont Police and Fire arrived at the scene near the World War 1 memorial triangle at Dunbarton Road after receiving a 911 call at 2:50 a.m. They found a white box truck on its side and a 45-year-old man dead inside the severely damaged diver’s compartment.

It is believe the driver lost control of the vehicle and rolled it over while driving on Common Street, said Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac in a press release.

Nohl said his department began a recovery operation which took some time to retrieve the body. By daybreak, two large recovery trucks uprighted the truck, which was fully loaded with produce, before it was taken from the scene around 8:30 a.m.

The accident is under investigation by Belmont Police and the Massachusetts State Police’s Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit, according to Nohl.

Letter To The Editor: Override Will Allow The Arts To Enrich Students Lives

Photo: The BHS PAC production of the musical “Urinetown” produced in 2016.

We are writing as parents of students involved in BHS’s outstanding Performing Arts Company (PAC) and PAC alumnae/i to ask our neighbors to please consider voting YES for the Proposition 2 ½ override on April 6. Since our town’s last override passed in 2015, our expenses have risen beyond what our property taxes are able to cover, and our student population has grown by 333 students (a total of more than 900 since 2007). As we witnessed six years ago, overrides don’t just fill in our town’s economic gaps; they make it possible to hire new teachers, who in turn enrich our students’ lives. Among the tremendous benefits of the 2015 budget was the continued enhancement and development of the high school’s Theater program under the exceptional guidance of Theater Director and teacher Ezra Flam. Appointed fulltime in 2015 thanks to the override, Mr. Flam has expanded performing arts curricula to include new acting and production

Student Directed One Act Plays are a staple of the BHS PAC year. Above is from 2018’s WORDS, WORDS, WORDS By David Ives.

classes as well as extracurricular opportunities for students of varying skill sets and interests. Even as our exceptional Theater program has helped prepare students for some of the most prestigious college performing arts programs, including Berkeley, Tisch, Northwestern, Marymount Manhattan, and Syracuse, the program is also characterized by inclusion: there is space for any/all students in the musical and the Improv team. And those who prefer not to sing, dance, play instruments, or act may participate in set and costume design, lighting, sound, writing, and directing. Each of these roles is essential not only in producing entertaining and thought-provoking performances that the whole community enjoys, but in cultivating vital capacities – like technical production and project management, collaboration, self-confidence, responsibility, and perhaps above all, empathy – in young participants.

We’ve witnessed a dramatic increase in student participation in stage productions; last year more than 150 took part in the spring production of “Shrek” (compared to 100 just six years ago). Since 2013, Improv participation has doubled. At the school’s last Improv performance – just weeks prior to the coronavirus shutdown – the talented assemblage of “Improvites” barely fit on the stage of the school’s “black box” theater. Yet

We ask you to consider the tremendous good that was made possible from the last override, alongside the likelihood that – should this override fail to pass – we will face difficulty maintaining our current levels of funding for theater, music, and athletics.

Matt Cubstead and Caroline Light

the expanding numbers of student participants tell only part of the story of the benefits we reaped from the 2015 override. That vital funding contributed to the appointment of 33 teachers and staff, many of whom were appointed fulltime. Instead of having to juggle multiple part-time jobs, fulltime teachers can invest their energies where they are most needed: getting to know individual students, imagining and implementing new initiatives, collaborating with colleagues, and strengthening existing programs.

As we reflect with gratitude on what the last budget override achieved, we recognize that Belmont’s Theater program continues to do more with less. Our middle school currently lacks a theater teacher, making it difficult to support a high quality and inclusive program. And while the high school continues to “get by” with only one fulltime theater staff person, most comparable high school programs (taking into consideration number of students, number of shows, and scale of shows) have at least a part time technical director or facilities manager, and many have more than one theater teacher. Even as student interest grows, our resources have become stretched thin to the point where our levels of success and inclusion are not sustainable in the long term. Our Theater program is just one example where we lack the resources and professional personnel to imagine and implement the ways of improving our curricula and achieving excellence, since all energies are invested in just maintaining current levels of achievement for a growing population of students. 

2017’s musical Chicago, directed by Ezra Flam.

This year has been especially challenging for our students, as the pandemic extinguished so many social and enrichment opportunities, and our performing arts program came through to provide generative space for creativity and collaboration. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mr. Flam, along with dance choreographer Jenny Lifson and pianist Jonathan Kessler, students were able to stage their highly popular annual Broadway Night with full on-line access. This involved the resourceful construction of an outdoor stage, including lighting, filming, and audio capacities. The school is preparing for a March production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” as well as a spring Improv show. 

As we look ahead to April 6, we are grateful for the town’s generous support in the last override, which made so many things possible for Belmont’s young performing artists. We recognize too that the past year has been economically challenging, and that this additional imposition on top of our existing property taxes comes at a difficult time. But we ask you to consider the tremendous good that was made possible from the last override, alongside the likelihood that – should this override fail to pass – we will face difficulty maintaining our current levels of funding for theater, music, and athletics. As our town’s population of school-age children has grown in the past decade, we hope we may continue to provide them with the range of transformative co-curricular learning opportunities that distinguish our community as a uniquely special place to call home.

Matt Cubstead and Caroline Light

Anelise Allen ‘18

Annie Baker ‘17

Conor Bean ‘16

Silke Berlinghof-Nielsen

Elizabeth Biondo ‘19

Nicholas Borelli ‘18

James Boyle ‘18

Lilikoi Bronson ‘18

Holly Chen

Jocelyn Cubstead ‘16

Miriam Cubstead ‘18

Julia Cunningham ‘18

Sonya Epstein ‘18

Ben Geiger

David Green ‘15

Hannah Haines ‘15

Jonathan Haines 

Marcia Haines 

Rebecca Haines ‘11

Sammy Haines ‘19

Seneca Hart ‘18

Eva Hill ‘18

Alison Hughes ‘18

Amelia Ickes ‘18

Sri Kaushik ‘19

David Korn ‘17

Josh Lowenstein

Joshua Lubarr

Lisa Lubarr

Sophia Lubarr ‘16

Raffi Manjikian ‘18

Natalie Marcus-Bauer ‘18

Alexander Nielson

Maerose Pepe ‘17

Hannah Pierce ‘20

Olivia Pierce ‘18

Greta Propp ‘18

Anjali Ramakrishnan ‘19

Samuel Rogers ‘18

Elizabeth Sattler ‘20

Rebecca Schwartz ‘18

Dillon Sheehan ‘18

Kathleen Sheehan

Kevin Sheehan

Jesse Souweine

Tess Stromberg ‘18

Georgia Sundahl ‘18

Maria Triccia

Evan Wagner ‘18

Bruce Westgate

Bruce Westgate, Jr. ‘18

Marilyn Westgate

Michelle Yan ‘17

Belmont Back In The Green As COVID Infection Rates Continue To Fall In Town, State and Nation

Photo: COVID update for Feb. 26

With positive cases of COVID-19 over the past week nearing single digits, Belmont has returned to the state’s green color designation on Feb. 26, according to data from the state’s Department of Public Health.

Only 14 new cases were reported in Belmont over a seven day period beginning on Feb. 19, the new case count over the past two weeks indicates an average daily incidence rate of 9.1 per 100,000, and a positivity percentage of 0.98 percent positivity.

Belmont has entered the state’s green designation for the first time since Nov. 26, 2020 with less than 10 average cases per 100,000 or less than 5% positivity, over the past two weeks.

Belmont has reported 997 cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the state began reporting the data. There have been a total of 78 COVID-19 related deaths in the town to date, all of which are confirmed by filed death certificates with the Town Clerk’s Office.

Belmont schools reported six new cases in the six public schools; two each at the High School and Wellington, one at the Chenery and another district wide.

Nationwide COVID-19 transmission continued to fall in the past week as new cases are down by 14 percent, while hospitalizations and deaths are down by 15.6 percent and 5 percent, according to the New York Times.

Public Forum Set To Brainstorm Ideas On Structural Change

Photo: The event will take place on Thursday, March 4.

“There are no dumb suggestions,” proclaimed the Select Board’s Adam Dash when it comes to Belmont closing the ever-present funding gap created by the town’s structural deficit.

The recently formed Structural Change Impact Group will be holding a virtual public forum on Thursday, March 4, starting at 7 p.m., designed to solicit ideas – smart, dumb and out of the box – from residents, business owners and town employees to reduce expenses, increase revenues and improve town services.

The Public Forum will be held on Zoom
and it will be aired by the Belmont Media Center.

The public forum also will provide the opportunity to learn more about the work of this new group, which has been charged to investigate and recommend a list of potential changes for the town to positively impact the structural deficit challenges the town faces, and improve operational approaches to delivering town services.

Part of this charge is to gather broad input through forums like public meetings. The Structural Change Impact Group wants the community to know that Belmont needs everyone’s ideas to save money, raise funds, and improve our town. All ideas are welcome. All suggestions will be compiled, evaluated, and a final list of recommendations will be presented to the Select Board by the end of the year.

The Structural Change Impact Group also has set up an online portal to collect ideas from those who may not be able to attend a