School Committee Chair Responds To Rash Of Hate Incidents At Belmont Schools

Photo: Racial, homophobic and anti-Semitic incidents have occurred in Belmont schools in the past three years.

In October, there were multiple reports of racist, homophobic, and antisemitic hate speech scrawled on the walls of Chenery Middle School and racist slurs posted in the library of Belmont High School. These incidents, and the beliefs that they reflect, are not new to Belmont or any other community, and cannot be interpreted as another troubling outcome of the pandemic. 

I write as an individual School Committee member, Town Meeting member, and parent to condemn these acts. Every time a slur is written or spoken, there are people who feel less welcome in Belmont. We should all be concerned about the impact of recent incidents and what could happen next. I also worry about how to ensure that responses not only help heal and bring us closer together, but also help prevent future incidents.

I urge everyone – especially those with systemic privilege and power – to not stay silent, to denounce injustice when it happens, and to contribute to actions to improve our systems.

Amy Checkoway, Belmont School Committee

I witness the hard work that our leaders, educators, and staff are doing to foster safe and supportive environments for all students. More detailed protocols are being developed to ensure immediate and effective responses. The district is working to add layers of preventative measures to try to stop incidents before they happen.

Achieving a more inclusive and equitable school communitywill not happen overnight. As leaders, we must identify where the system is falling short. One current focus is the external equity audit of the Belmont Public Schools. The audit is identifying issues and challenges that the district – and our students and families – face with the goal of supporting each student to reach his/her/their potential. With the audit findings in hand by early 2022, the district will develop a strategic actionplan that includes concrete steps forward by the spring.

I urge everyone – especially those with systemic privilege and power – to not stay silent, to denounce injustice when it happens, and to contribute to actions to improve our systems. We must be clear that racist, homophobic, and antisemitic actsare unacceptable, that those who threaten others will face consequences for their actions, and that it is our collective responsibility to speak up for one another. We especially owe this to our children, who are watching, listening, and counting on us. I should have made this public statement sooner.

Amy Checkoway

Pequossette Road

Checkoway Named School Committee Chair. Vice Chair? Let’s Wait On That

Photo: A Zoom capture of Amy Checkoway

Amy Checkoway was unanimously elected chair of the Belmont School Committee at its organizational meeting a week after the Town Election. She takes over the reins of the six member board from Andrea Prestwich.

An education policy researcher for a large international consulting firm, Checkoway enters her third year on the committee having won a seat in 2019.

“I’m really committed to building and fostering really strong working relationships with all members of the committee, with our town leaders and perhaps most importantly with our community,” said the Pequossette Road resident, adding there is also a need to improve the committee’s governance structure, decision making and communications.

“I don’t think I have all the answers. I recognize what a challenging time this is, and the trust that needs to be repaired on many fronts,” she told the committee.

Newcomer Meg Moriarty was named the committee’s secretary.

A request to create the position of vice chair to the committee never got a chance to be voted as the committee decided to spend the fortnight between gatherings to allow the proposal to sit and wait.

Committee member Mike Crowley noted the need for the new post was necessary due to the avalanche of work Prestwich undertook during the height of the pandemic without a designated second in line to help manage it.

“The role of the chair in ordinary times, it can be an overwhelming amount of workload,” said Crowley. “It would be very helpful to be able to share the work that the chair currently has as their responsibility in order for this committee to be more effective,” said Crowley.

Prestwich, who led the committee for nearly the past year, said it was not just the volume of work but also the wide range of meetings – executive, negotiating, finance – that requires coverage.

While the vice chair position would be similar to the Select Board’s post, Moriarty wondered if anyone would wish to undertake the position noting that no one was eager to step into the secretary’s role – Moriarty was nominated for the role and accepted after one member deferred and the four remaining members were left quietly eyeing the others resembling a scene from the western “Deadwood.”

“That’s a very fair point,” said Checkoway.

While she acknowledges the need for the position, member Kate Bowen felt it would be helpful to have clearer guidance about the leadership roles and spreading the authority.

While Crowley pointed to an urgency to vote to add the vice chair position since the burden and volume facing the chair remains considerable, the measure was tabled as there are two new members who weren’t involved in previous dialogue, and despite having been discussed in the past, some agreed with an obscure parliamentary point that it wasn’t listed as an item in past meeting agendas.

Final Say: Amy Checkoway, Belmont School Committee

Photo: Amy Checkoway, Belmont School Committee candidate (Credit: Campaign Facebook)

Belmont is a community that deeply values and invests in its schools. I am running for School Committee because the Belmont Public Schools will experience a lot of change in the next few years as we transition all schools to new grade configurations and build the new grade 7-12 school. I am confident that I can serve as a strong leader and bring valuable expertise and perspective as a School Committee member during this important time.

I am already deeply involved in educational issues as a parent, a volunteer, and a 20-plus year career in education policy. My two children (grades 3 and 6) are in the middle of their school careers. We feel fortunate to live in such an excellent school district and see the benefits of our substantial community investment in education first-hand every day.

Since moving to Belmont in 2012, I have spent hundreds of hours volunteering in our school buildings through PTO leadership roles and as a Board member of the Wellington Student Care program. I have frequent discussions with families, teachers, and school leaders about the issues that matter to them, and would bring to the School Committee role a broader perspective on what is going well and what can be improved.

In my professional life, I work as an education policy researcher for a large international consulting firm. I work with districts and programs across Massachusetts on a range of issues such as educator effectiveness, teacher preparation, mentoring and coaching supports, and preschool programming. I am a trusted adviser to state policy leaders about how to invest our resources to support positive child outcomes.

I am also responsible for managing complex budgets; currently, I manage almost $20 million in public resources as one of my job responsibilities. My experience managing finances along with a strong understanding of what is in district budgets and how districts and schools operate in practice will allow me to contribute immediately to important discussions that the School Committee will need to engage in.

If elected to the School Committee, I will approach all discussions and decisions with a focus on what’s best for our students in the center. We need to provide every student in our district – including those with different learning styles, abilities, and backgrounds – with an excellent education. The district should continue its focus on social-emotional development as well as additional critical skills that are necessary to succeed beyond high school, including persistence, collaboration, and critical thinking. I hope that the new grade 7-12 school will inspire more opportunities for project-based learning and that we can consider additional opportunities across all grades for students to build their technology skills.

We need to continue to focus on reducing class sizes and investing in critical support staff such as guidance counselors, social workers, and academic support specialists. Our educators deserve ongoing high-quality professional development and collaboration opportunities so that they can continue to grow their skills and innovate in the classroom. We need to improve the diversity of our district workforce so that it better reflects the make-up of our student body.

If elected, I am committed to listening to the diverse perspectives in our town. In addition to listening to residents who come to share their views at meetings, I would also be present in a variety of other forums and make myself available to meet with community members about particular issues. Meeting with students and reflecting their voices in discussions is a particular interest of mine.

I am a strong advocate for the funding our schools need to support high-quality teaching and learning environments for students. I am also attuned to our town’s constrained resources and hope that we can find ways to recognize efficiencies across our town departments and identify new revenue sources.

Serving on the School Committee is a big responsibility and I am ready to jump in as a well-prepared, pragmatic, and hard-working leader. This role is not a passing interest; I am committed to involvement in our schools over the long haul.

Please visit my website for more details about my priorities: https://electamycheckoway.com/  It would be a great privilege to serve the residents of Belmont on the School Committee, and I would be truly honored to have your vote on April 2.

Letter to the Editor: Enthusiastic Support Of Amy Checkoway For School Committee

Photo: Amy Checkoway’s campaign poster

To the editor:

I am writing in enthusiastic support of Amy Checkoway for School Committee member.

Amy is an outstanding choice for a School Committee member. She is an intelligent, devoted candidate who will do an exceptional job helping the School Committee navigate the challenging road ahead — building a new school and the reorganization that will follow. Amy is an excellent communicator and she is a consummate professional. I can think of no one else better suited for this role than Amy.

I have known Amy for more than five years as we served together on the Wellington PTO Student Care Board together from 2014 through 2018. I had an opportunity to see Amy and her tireless efforts for the benefit of the Wellington community. Now she is ready to dedicate her time to ensure that the Belmont Public Schools are the best they can be for our kids, the educational professionals, and the community.

Working with Amy has taught me a number of things about her. First, Amy is very bright and is able to appreciate complex situations at multiple levels; she understands the finer details but is able to keep the larger goal in mind. Second, Amy is a highly effective communicator and she understands the importance of clear, open dialog with the community. Further, she has experience as an education professional and therefore knows how to communicate with others in the education field. Third, she is about as organized and dependable as one can be. Amy is the type of person that you know will get the job done, and get it done well. Finally, Amy is extremely ethical, professional, and dedicated to any endeavor she undertakes.

While Amy is just about one of the nicest people you will meet, that doesn’t mean she won’t stand up to do what she believes is right for our schools, our children, and our community. I completely trust that Amy will always do the right thing for Belmont Schools.

Please join me in voting for Amy Checkoway for School Committee member on April 2.

Brooke Bevis

Cedar Road