Select Board, School Committee Votes Monday To End Town, Schools Mask Mandates After Teachers Union OKs Move

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After a final possible stumbling block was cleared Friday, it’s all but certain that nearly two years of mask mandates for public spaces and school venues in Belmont will end at midnight, Tuesday, March 8 as the three main town bodies responsible for the requirements will, in all likelihood, vote to vacate the measures.

“We are moving forward with the knowledge that the mask mandate will likely be ending on Tuesday,” said Belmont Superintendent John Phelan on Friday, March 4, during the “topping off” ceremony for the middle school section of the new Middle and High School.

Monday’s busy schedule will include:

  • The Board of Health has scheduled at 4:30 p.m. a review, discussion and “possible vote” on face covering mandate in town followed immediately by a similar vote on school mask requirements at 4:40 p.m.
  • The Belmont School Committee will then assemble for a special meeting to discuss any recommendation and then vote on its mask policy at 6 p.m.
  • Finally, the Select Board, in a joint meeting with the Board of Health at 7 p.m., will meet to vote on lifting the town’s mask mandate followed by a vote to reinstate in-person meetings for town boards, commissions and committees.

Belmont’s move to lift its mandates come as government health agencies and many states and municipalities across the country have removed their mask requirements as infection rates due to Covid have fallen while vaccination rates have steadily risen.

Under the new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued on Friday, March 4, residents in counties where the community risk determined through a metrics including hospital capacity levels, new cases and hospitalizations is considered “low” residents can do away with masks. Middlesex county, where Belmont is located, is like 90 percent of US counties which are classified as “low.”

This past week, Belmont has seen some of the lowest infection rates since the beginning of the coronavirus in March, 2020. In addition, residential vaccination rates are over 80 percent and 9 our of 10 students are vaccinated in the higher grades.

While Belmont will likely remove the mask mandates on Monday, the action is not coming as a surprise. In the first week of March, the Health Board began reviewing the data used to justify imposing the mask requirement with both the school committee and select board expressing confidence the mandate would be removed.

In fact, the Health Board had called for an “emergency” meeting on Monday Feb. 28 – the day Gov. Baker’s ended the state requirement for masks in school – take a vote on the mandate’s future. But just as quickly as the notice was posted, the meeting was cancelled as it was determined by town officials not to have met the criteria for an “emergency” and thus would violate the state’s 48-hour notice requirement for government meetings.

As the town was moving towards a vote, the school district began working with the Belmont Education Association to prepare for a future mask transition as required by a joint Memorandum of Agreement on Covid-19 protection measure with the existing contract.

After meeting with the School Committee and representatives of the school district on Wednesday, March 2, BEA members two days later approved in near unanimity – there was a single ‘no’ of the more than 70 Unit A members voting – to accept the MOA change. Under the new agreement, educators will not be punished for continuing to wear a mask or seek to keep a safe distance between them and students to lessen possible infection.

Anti-Mask Mandate Protest At School Dept Monday – Will Students Show Up To Schools UnCovered?

Photo: the Change.org petition on ending the Belmont schools mask mandate

At the final Belmont School Committee meeting before the February vacation break, Brian Brady directed a provocative hypothetical to School Superintendent John Phelan and the committee.

”I’m curious … what would occur if students came to school on February 28 without masks?” asked the father of three, then pointing to a decision by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Feb. 9 to end mask mandates in schools on the last day of the month.

Brady continued tossing “what-if” scenarios at Phelan including what the town’s “remedies” would be for those “children who simply chose to go to school without … a mask on.”

A few minutes later, Patrick Whittemore would echo Brady’s interest in the causality of not wearing masks.

”I want to kind of double down on Brian’s question,” said Whittemore, who has been a regular participant at committee meetings advocating against the wearing of masks. “If kids show up on February 28 without masks on, what actions, if any, will the school department take?”

[Phelan would not provide details of a schools response to the two, seemingly prepared for the question by recognizing “that this has been a hard two years and … [going to school with a mask] is a common goal that everyone has in doing so in a safe way” and the community should continue to show “some patience” until that can be done.]

While similar queries from a pair of parents could be serendipity, the questions of the likely reaction by school principals on coverless students could also announce a specific challenge to the district’s mask directive by a determined group in town. While on-line parent boards and Facebook pages have been quiet on taking direct action protests on school property, the question remains whether some believe a demonstration would be a viable act to commit.

While not contacted to questions directed to Whittemore, Brady contacted the Belmontonian to clarify his public statement.

“Absolutely not,” Brady said on facilitating a mask protest. “The notion that I am part of protest movement that encourages anyone, especially school children, to break to law, is deeply offensive. It’s also pretty dumb.”

“I would only endorse removal of masks for children in schools after it is approved by the [Board of Health] and [School Committee],” he said.

“I called school committee last night because I wanted to,” said Brady. “My questions were actually pretty simple.”

While eastern Massachusetts has been spared the aggressive confrontations seen in other parts of the country, protests are occurring. On Feb. 18, a Boston Globe article (Boston Public Library children’s rooms targeted by group opposing mask requirements, staff say)focused on maskless families encamping in Children’s Room at branches of the Boston Public Library, refusing to comply with the city’s indoor mask mandate. The scofflaws confronted librarians while making videos of the confrontation with staff and eventually police.

Since the beginning of the year, a growing number of Belmont parents have been questioning the need of mask and other protections to the Covid-19 virus. The call for the end of requirements are varied and long standing: masks are ineffective, they are the cause of mental health issues, they escalate learning loss especially among early learners and others.

Those parents have seen their positions bolstered by actions by state and local governments and by the federal health. On Friday, Feb. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance in which healthy people can go maskless if they live in a county with low rates of infection and their hospitals are not overwhelmed with Covid patients. And Middlesex county rates a low risk in those measures.

While anti-mask parents are pointing to the changing mask landscape, Belmont – which under state law has final say on health policy – isn’t eager to deviate from the course it has set for more than two years. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, 2020, the town and schools have given the Board of Health and the Heath Department ultimate leeway in dictating the direction the town would keep its residents safe and healthy, including mandating masks for indoor spaces and schools.

While residents have debated and argued with officials on aspects of health issues – two candidates were elected to the school committee in April 2021 to advocate, in part, for in-school instruction – the Health Board’s policies have been followed with little real opposition.

While a possible Monday protest by students and parents at schools is, at best, speculative, one set of parents has announced its intention to face up to school officials and call for the end of masking in Belmont.

Led by Antonio Molle, the ad hoc body dubbed Belmont MA Against Mandates will be knocking on the door of the School Administration Building on Pleasant Street at 3 p.m., Monday, Feb. 28 to deliver a physical copy of a Change.org petition – currently signed by 264 residents – which “demands” the immediately lifting of “the mask mandate for ALL Belmont Public School students, staff, visitors.”

“The group of Belmont residents is handing in the petition in light of the School Committee’s recent delay in the unmasking of Belmont public school students,” stated Molle, who has recently been a frequent participant at Zoom meetings advocating anti-mask positions, including calling for the Select Board not to impose a Covid passport in Belmont, which the board found to be a bit of a head scratcher as no board member or residents has ever advocated for it in the Town of Homes.

And as the group arrives at the school administration’s door, town and school officials are preparing to discuss and likely vote on continuing the indoor mask requirement. In early February, the Board of Health discussed creating a new data rubric for ending the mandate relying on CDC guidelines.

“Mandates are not going on forever,” said Health Board Chair Donna David at the February meeting. The board voted to meet on March 7 to take a likely vote on a recommendation whether to end the requirement or continue the mandate. And the next day, Tuesday, March 8, the School Committee will discuss the guidance and possible vote on the measure, said Amy Checkoway, chair of the school committee.

Despite Gov. Baker Ending State Mask Mandate Feb. 28, Belmont Schools Will Wait Until School Committee Decision March 8

Photo: Belmont School Committee will likely vote on the future of the mask mandate on March 8

The Belmont School District will keep its mask mandate in effect until at least Tuesday, March 8 despite Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent announcement calling for the lifting of the state’s school mask requirement on Monday, Feb. 28.

Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan said in a press release the district will wait for both the Belmont Board of Health and the School Committee to discuss and then possibly vote on the future of its mask mandate on Monday, March 7 and Tuesday, March 8 respectively.

At its Monday, Feb. 7 meeting, the Health Board said it would be revisiting the issue at its next meeting on March 7 when it will review the latest state and county data on Covid-19 infection and hospitalization rates with the goal of possibly lifting the town-wide mandate which includes the six Belmont public schools.

Two days later, on Wednesday, Feb. 9, Baker and the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced the end of the state mask mandate, at which time, “masking policies will revert to local control.”

“In response to this updated information and given the Board of Health’s schedule, the School Committee plans to discuss this matter at their March 8, 2022 meeting,” said Phelan.

A New York Times article, “Why Liberal Suburbs Face a New Round of School Mask Battles” dated Feb. 10 points to the competing camps and difficult decision the Health Board and School Committee will face on the future of masks in Belmont schools.

Letter To The Editor: Re-Election Announcement From Amy Checkoway, School Committee

Photo: Amy Checkoway

To the editor:

I am pleased to announce my candidacy for re-election to the Belmont School Committee. I believe my experience, capabilities, and demonstrated effectiveness working collaboratively to meet challenges will advance the excellence of the Belmont Public Schools.

I was first elected to the School Committee in April 2019, and since April 2021 I have had the honor to serve as its chair. My term has been intense, meaningful, busy, and challenging. I care deeply about the future of our schools and feel strongly that I will continue to make a positive impact. If re-elected, key goals for my next term will include focus on continued engagement with our wonderful community and a strong commitment to working closely with the leadership of our school district and the Town.

I ran for School Committee three years ago because of my professional background and expertise in federal and state education policy, experience volunteering in our schools, personal investment in the district as a parent, and deep commitment to public service. In my first term, I have led or participated in multiple subcommittees and working groups that focus on school finance, district-wide policy, curriculum and instruction, educational equity, capital needs, and town-wide structural change to improve efficiency and reduce costs. I also represent Belmont on the board of EDCO, a regional educational collaborative that provides high-quality professional development for teaching staff and special education services at a reduced cost to the district.

The COVID pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to our schools, school leadership, and School Committee. An important focus of my time as chair in the last nine months has been rebuilding trust and confidence in our district, improving communications with all stakeholders, and increasing the level of transparency in decision-making. I have prioritized a welcoming environment at our meetings, including meaningful opportunities for parents and community members to share their views and concerns. I value the strong relationships that I have built with my colleagues on the School Committee, town leaders, and members of the school district staff, which enable me to be a more effective and informed leader.

My priorities looking forward include building even stronger district-family-community partnerships; working toward a more equitable and inclusive educational community for all students and staff; supporting students’ academic recovery and their social-emotional and mental health needs; and strategically managing the district’s financial resources, including one-time COVID recovery federal funds, to ensure that our schools are positioned to provide the kind of educational experiences and supports that our students need and deserve.

There is enormous talent and potential in the Belmont Public Schools. In the coming months, we have an exciting opportunity to work together as a community in constructing a dynamic vision for the future of public education in Belmont as we reconfigure the grades in our school buildings.

Serving in this role is incredibly humbling and consuming. I do not pretend to have all the answers, and we will need the help of the entire community to ensure our schools’ success. For my part, I can – and will – commit to offering my proven work ethic, empathy, critical thinking, even handedness, and constructive problem-solving skills in tackling the many challenges and issues at hand for the Belmont Public Schools. With your support, I hope to have the opportunity to help steer our district to a better place and provide steady and knowledgeable leadership as well as important stability to our community for another term.

Amy Checkoway

Checkoway Submitting Papers For Re-Election To School Committee

Photo: Amy Checkoway

There will a familiar name on the ballot at Town Election in April as current School Committee Chair Amy Checkoway said she will be taking out nomination papers this week for re-election.

“I have decided to run for re-election to the School Committee,” said Checkoway in a Jan. 11 email. “I plan to go to Town Hall to pick up papers on Thursday or Friday of this week.”

“As you know, it has been an extremely busy, complicated, and challenging first term, and I hope that I have the opportunity to continue to help lead and serve our community,” she said in an email to the Belmontonian.

Checkoway won election to the committee in 2019 with 3,104 votes, topping the ticket with 41 percent of the ballots. The Pequossette Road resident became chair this past April after Andrea Prestwich resigned to take a position with the National Science Foundation.

An education policy researcher for a large international consulting firm, Checkoway as committee head has been a steadying influence on the board looking for committee-wide consensus on several issues including Covid mitigation and the school budget while chairing the committee during the opening of the high school wing of the Belmont Middle and High School project. She also led the committee in confronting a rash of racist messaging left at schools.

Phelan: District At ‘Breaking Point’ As Covid Cases Skyrocket In Belmont Schools

Photo: Belmont Superintendent John Phelan

A snow day this past Friday couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the Belmont District Schools.

As the Omicron variant of the Covid coronavirus sweeps through Belmont schools after students returned from the winter recess, absentees among educators and staff has placed the district close to a breaking point whether there’s enough teachers in each building.

The numbers say it all.

In the final week of 2021, 16 Belmont students, educators and staff reported being infected with a new case of COVID-19. A week later, on Jan. 5, that tally exploded to 228 novel positive cases across the district’s six schools.

New Covid positive cases
(students, staff, teachers)
Week endingnumber
01/05/2022228
12/29/202116
12/08/20214
11/17/20216

“The impact of the staff attendance and staffing levels is a real concern of the district,” Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan told the School Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 4 as 72 and 73 staff members were out on Monday and Tuesday respectively. And while praising substitute teachers and district employees for stepping up and filling in, Phelan told the committee the current patchwork approach for cover classrooms “is not sustainable.”

On Monday, Jan. 3, a staggering 605 district students (out of a total of approximately 4,600) were not in class while Tuesday showed an improvement where 473 were out due to Covid, traveling and those waiting for results of Covid tests. The usual number out on an average week is about 275. This is occurring in a system that has impressive numbers of vaccinated students. (See chart below)

“We believe that that we haven’t seen the worst of this phase of the virus at this point in time,” said Phelan, with the next weeks seeing staff and families make some “truly hard choices” related to going to school. Friday’s snow storm was a blessing for many teachers and family as it provided an extra day away from the classroom and added a day towards a quarantine total.

Phelan and his leadership team calculated teacher attendance would hover just below 90 percent which posed significant challenges requiring the district to set up a educational “triage” system to allow school to open on the first Monday of the new year.

On Sunday, teachers and staff came to Belmont to receive take home tests while on Monday the start of schools were delayed by one hour so teachers could receive KN95 masks, “ensure that we had time for our educators to get together, our principals with teachers and other administrators to support the setting up of the school day.”

Staff, central office personnel and other non-educators were redeployed and placed in classrooms to support teachers. The district also doubled its rate for substitute teachers while proactively recruiting to ensure it has sufficient numbers to place before students arrived on Monday

But even with adults in the classroom, Phelan said certain aspects of the school day have been lost such as small group instruction and parts of the traditional school day schedule that teachers can best perform effectively.

The challenge of lunch

Phelan also pointed to student lunch time as “one of the largest challenges moving forward.” With the large tents at the elementary and Chenery schools allowing for an outside option taken down for the winter, Phelan said he is attempting to balance Covid safety with feeding students. That will require keeping masked in the cafeteria, assigned seating, shortening lunch times by sending students to recess early, keep talking to a minimum and keeping their distance.

Sports and extracurriculars will soon see restrictions on the number of who can attend contests, restrictions on using locker rooms and a greater emphasize on proper mask wearing during play. This comes after a growing number of student/athletes and at least two sporting events were cancelled due to Covid outbreaks.

Phelan has been in discussion with his fellow area superintendents on possible changes to the schedule or length of the school day for elementary, middle and high schools as a way of keeping them safe from spread while providing adequate education.

“We want to keep our options open,” Phelan told the committee. Moving forward, the district will be keeping an eagle eye on in-school transmission rates, new positive cases in the community and keep appropriate staffing levels to allow schooling to take place.

While more parents and guardians are calling for the district and committee to consider the role of remote learning during this surge, Belmont – along with school districts statewide – finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Districts are prohibited by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to return to full-time remote learning. And while DESE has established a protocol for when a school or entire district can seek permission to re-impose virtual learning, it has been done only in “a very few cases,” in the past months, said Phelan.

“{DESE) is keeping a very tight rein on [granting waivers],” he said.

Please Remember

When asked by the Belmontonian if the district has set a benchmark of when it would be prudent to close schools due to staff shortages, Phelan said there was no set percentage.

“We will assess our staffing levels daily to determine our coverage models. This looks different at each level. We need to assure that all students are engaged and properly supervised,” he said.

If a school or district simply must close due to staffing shortages, Phelan said DESE has informed districts they will need to use a “snow day” with the requirement it is made up at the end of the school year.

The district’s actions this week are at best a stop gap until the pandemic peters out which health experts said will not happen soon enough. All this is being played out as the district is facing ever “shifting guidance” from state and federal agencies on Covid safety.

Phelan told the committee the recommendations from the CDC and DPH are, at best, “inconsistent” such as the CDC requiring 10 days out of class and DESE five; no requirement for testing to return that many parents and school administrators find and DESE and CDC not on the same page on contract tracing (Belmont has abandoned it due to staffing issues).

The district will also step up its promote parents to sign up their students for pool testing, which “is more important now than ever for us to get a very clear picture through pool testing mechanism … for this upcoming year,” said Phelan.

While it has a plan in place to continue in-school education, Phelan said the new reality of variants and their impact will remain with the district when this current surge subsides.

“This is only one step in a long journey,” said Phelan.

Welcome Back: Jones To Fill Vacant School Committee Seat; Will Not Seek Full Term In April

Photo: Ralph Jones

Venerable town official Ralph Jones returns to the public stage after being appointed to fill the final five months remaining of Andrea Prestwich’s term on the School Committee.

Jones received five votes from the combined members of the Belmont Select Board and School Committee, outdistancing resident Jeff Liberty who garnered three votes at the joint meeting held on Wednesday, Nov. 10.

“I am prepared to serve as required and anytime it is necessary to get the job done,” said Jones.

Jones was also emphatic that he will not use the temporary five month post as a springboard to a full term.

“It takes a big person to take on this job in this climate,” said Adam Dash, chair of the Select Board. “You’re basically parachuting onto a ship that is in the middle of a hurricane.”

Jones’ extensive town experience was a chief factor in his selection, having once chaired each of the “Big Three” governmental bodies in town; the Select Board (then known as the Board of Selectmen), and the School and Warrant committees. Jones’ selection is a return for him to the committee he served on for three terms and also headed two decades ago.

“I understand the authority and responsibilities of the committee,” he said, noting his role in creating past budgets and twice leading bargaining between the committee and the teachers’ union. “I believe that my experience in negotiating those contracts would be a contribution to the committee as it enters into that final negotiation process.”

Jones said starting a conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion would be a priority of his with the hope that the hiring of Chon’tel Washington, the district’s first DEI director will bring immediate improvements to the issues.

A majority of the committee and board agreed a successful candidate needed the necessary background demonstrated by past successes. Select Board member Mark Paolillo said looking at the skills and experiences the group said it would consider, “which candidate … meets all of these expectations, understanding the issues facing the school committee and has the communication skills … the only conclusion I reached is Ralph Jones.”

”[If] you have a round hole, [Jones] is the round peg that fits in the hole at the moment to do what needs to be done,” said Dash.

And Jones’ long-standing political mentoring of many residents just entering town politics was noticeable as both Dash and the School Committee’s Meg Moriarty reported before the deliberations Jones had held important positions in their most recent election runs – as campaign manager for Dash and Treasurer for Moriarty’s successful 2021 committee run – while the Paolillo noted Jones was also his campaign manager in the past.

The night started with nine candidates in the field as three dropped out and later two more did not answer the call to the gate with seven remaining. In addition to Jones and Liberty, Alessandro Miglio, Frances Leighton, Glen Robertelli, Jung Yueh and Amy Zuccarello finished off the field.

In the first round of voting to see who would go into the five questions and answer portion of the selection process, Liberty and Zuccarello each received the maximum of eight votes with Jones at seven. Yueh took in six with Leighton and Robertelli tied for the final slot with four.

Liberty’s background as a principal and district leader in Boston and now a consultant proved an interesting mix for those looking to bring change to the town.

Mike Crowley said while areas such budgets and union negotiating are some of the most important, the committee and district needs a candidate who will bring a more holistic approach to educating Belmont’s children. “Jeff was a harsh critic during this past year, but I’ve found him to be extremely thoughtful, intelligent and he’s experienced design educational matters beyond measure.”

“I think we need Jeff,” said Crowley.

When the Q&A section ended, it was clear from the remarks from the joint group that the temporary seat would either go to Liberty or Jones. It appeared the board’s familiarity with Jones as the three Select Board members voted for the former Selectman. And it was the School Board’s newest members – Moriarty and Jamal Saeh – who backed Jones providing him the margin needed to claim the seat.

Jones’ decision not to run will likely result in a wide-open horse race for the three year term up for grabs in April.

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

A Dozen Candidates In The Mix To Fill School Committee Opening

Photo: The Belmont School District building

It may not be cheaper by the dozen but 12 residents are finalists to fill the Belmont School Committee seat vacated by Andrea Prestwich last month.

The 12 applicants is the same number as the last time a school committee position was filled in 2020, noted Board Chair Adam Dash, for “a thankless job but an important job.”

The candidates were announced at a Nov. 9 joint meeting of the Select Board and School Committee which will vote on Wednesday, Nov. 10, to select the new member.

The candidates are:

  • Diana Cepeda, Trapelo Road
  • Aisha Foxx Telfort, Betts Road
  • Phillip Fremont-Smith, Somerset Street
  • Ralph Jones, Summit Road
  • Marko Labudovic, Carleton Road
  • Frances Leighton, Thomas Street
  • Jeffrey Liberty, Worcester Street
  • Alessandro Miglio, Trapelo Road
  • Glen Robertelli, Bay State Road
  • Jerome West, Trapelo Road
  • Jung Yueh, Waverley Street
  • Amy Zuccarello, Elizabeth Road

A brief mission statement from each candidate can be found at the bottom of the article.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the two sets of members discussed the process of whittling down the candidates until the new member is selected. Following the lead of School Committee Chair Amy Checkoway, the selection will be a two step process. The first step is underway with a review of the application material made up of a statement off interest and the resume.

The second course of action, which the two groups hope will be completed within a two hour window, will take place Wednesday at a public meeting. There will be a “meet the candidate” during which each applicant will make a three minute opening statement which will focus on why they are applying for the role.

After this brief intro, the eight member voting group will reduce the pool to five finalists with a runoff if their is a tie for fifth. Those remaining residents will give short answers to questions from the group. Then a final vote will occur with the best candidate receiving a majority (five of eight voters) with additional rounds if no one reaches that threshold.

What type of skills and experience is the joint election group seeking? You name it! An understanding of the issues before the committee, communication experience, a background in negotiations, teamwork, budget and finance experience, knowing policy development and strategic planning, and being an inquisitive person would be perfect for this position.

Statement of interest from the candidates for Belmont School Committee (Cuts have been made for length)

Cepeda: “I would be a good candidate for this committee because my child attends Belmont High School and a racism incident occurred and I would like to join the committee to be a part of the solution to this issue. I have a background in accounting and want to share my experiences and talents.”

Foxx Telfort: “I worked as an RN for 15 years and currently stay home with 2 children who now attended the Wellington. After many years of nursing and being a mother and homemaker, multitasking, organization, planning, and caring about our community have become a major part of my life.”

Fremont-Smith: “In a time of elevated emotions and uncertainty I believe the School Committee needs people who are experienced, rational and empirical thinkers. Emotion can drive too much of the public discourse today and that can lead to distraction, or worse. In my HR & Talent Acquisition consulting business I have juggled and moderated a wide spectrum of issues serving many varied constituencies over the past several decades. I have developed a specific approach to problem solving over the years that is based on empiricism. I follow a simple MO; Calmly listen, calmly question/consider and then calmly proceed with what needs to get done.”

Jones: “As a former member of the School Committee, I can start immediately. This appointment comes at the start of the budget process for 2021-2022. My 25 years in elected and appointed positions in Belmont Town Government create a unique perspective on how to obtain the best school budget. Equally important is my experience in collective bargaining. During my nine years on the School Committee, I served on the bargaining teams for BEA Units A and B and AFSCME. Prior to my election to the School Committee in 1995, I conducted research for 12 years on the development of legal frameworks for municipal labor relations. I also worked as an apprentice arbitrator and mediator, developing skills in conflict resolution.”

Labudovic: “I believe I can provide leadership and help my community during these difficult times. I am particularly interested in helping with Special Education and Covid related activities. I believe in diversity and I challenge the status quo. I currently lead an organization of 1,000 people and I know how to get things done.”

Leighton: “I have over 20 years of experience in project and program management where I have learned to excel at managing large-scale processes and performing complex problem solving. I foster strong relationships within all levels of an organization, as well as with external vendors and clients. I am incredibly organized, detail- oriented and have strong communication skills.”

Liberty: “The Belmont Public Schools are at an important crossroads, and the Belmont School Committee faces many complex challenges and opportunities. I would like to put my nearly 30 years of experience in education at the service of the Town and the school system that our two children attend. I have broad, national expertise in a number of the areas that the School Committee oversees, and I have good working relationships with a number of the current Committee members as well as good insight into networks of students and families in town as a result of my volunteer activities over the years.”

Miglio: “Navigating modern day challenges requires curiosity, patience, kindness, and a steady hand. These are staples of my day-to-day life both as a manager at work and as a parent of two Belmont school kids.”

Robertelli: “20+ years running and leading life science organizations in the USA and overseas including invasive and non-invasive sensor technologies and diagnostics. Experience dealing directly with the FDA and regulatory authorities in Europe and other regions. Understanding of data and extensive experience presenting said data in front of live audiences and stakeholders including physicians, nurses and hospital executives. Senior Advisor to Metryx and its CEO, Shawn Rubin. Co-author of ‘Pathways to a Personalization: A Framework for School Change,’ in helping this educational startup maximize teacher efficiency and student achievement by increasing the frequency and accuracy of formative assessment in schools using tablet technology.”

West: “I’ve grown up and live around education. My mother was an elementary school literacy specialist, serving children who had fallen behind in literacy education. In the past, I have volunteered my time with the Maize Foundation and other tutoring groups, helping at-risk youth reach their peer goals in academic achievement. Beyond my passion for education, I am a risk management and security professional. This gives me experience in helping organizations implement applicable governance and policy requirements. Likewise, my professional technical and financial background will enable me to understand the budgeting process and drive the board’s decision-making.”

Yueh: “I have previously had the pleasure of working to help the Belmont school system. I served as the Butler PTA treasurer for 2 years and served on the Elementary School Advisory Committee on Hybrid Learning in 2020. When I worked as a pension and health actuary, I calculated the value of benefits in support of my corporate clients in union negotiations. I understand benefit terms, and how they potentially translate to current and future cashflow.
As a trained mediator, I was taught to look for creative solutions to reach consensus. It is often helpful to have someone who can listen to all sides and be able to play the role of a devil’s advocate in order to reach a thoughtful agreement.”

Zuccarello: “I was motivated to apply for this position because I am the right person to fill the open spot. I have more than twenty years of professional experience in a wide array of financial and legal matters which is directly relevant to the work of the School Committee. I work with clients to develop and negotiate budgets, often when substantial cost savings are required. I regularly work with different groups to bring people together to achieve a common goal. These skills will be valuable to the Committee in its work on the school budget and in negotiating with the teachers’ union, as and when needed.

Nominations For Open School Committee Seat Due On Nov. 8; Interviews Start Nov. 10

Photo: What’s up next for the school committee is selecting a new member (credit Belmont Media Center)

It is a voluntary position that demands hours of your time weekly, will add more stress to your life and goes largely unrewarded by the public.

If those attributes haven’t sent you heading for the door, then you’re just the person the Belmont School Committee is looking as its newest member!

At a joint meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25, the Committee and Select Board finalized the process on how they will replace former chair Andrea Prestwich who resigned last week as she starts a new job at the NIS.

And the committee wants the temporary position – the appointee, if they choose, will need to run for election in April’s Town Election to continue on the committee – filled soon, “before Thanksgiving” is the hope of current Chair Amy Checkoway.

“This is a key leadership position” thus it will be important “filling this open seat,” said Checkoway. “This is a really big opportunity to make an impact and difference in Belmont.”

Committee member Mike Crowley said with the town’s fiscal challenges the committee will face in the coming years, it would be advantageous that candidates with budgetary and financial “acumen” would be looked on favorably by the eight members who will vote on the applicants

Deadline for School Committee applications

Monday, Nov. 8 at 5 p.m.

While several of the committee and board want someone with board or committee related experience, Committee member Jamal Saeh doesn’t wish to discourage anyone who has limited education or fiscal expertise from applying which could limit the diversity of possible members on the committee.

School Committee members have included parents, lawyers, those in business, scientists, educators, researchers, and a variety of other backgrounds. 

With a pre-turkey day deadline as its goal, the committee will likely need to whittle down the list of candidates before entering the time consuming one-on-one public interview process

“Last time we had a glut of really good people to choose from,” said Board Chair Adam Dash of last year’s process replacing Susan Burgess-Cox, but he wasn’t sure if the committee wants to take that much time to fill the seat.

Committee member Meg Moriarty advanced creating a hiring rubric, a scoring tool that defines the qualifications and expectations by which each candidate will be evaluated so the “process is a little less subjective and more objective in whittling down a first group of candidates,” said Moriarty.

Kate Bowen said the type of questions the board and committee puts out will demonstrate the skill set and experience being sought in a successful candidate that also provides a high level of transparency to the applicants and public. While she agrees that all candidates should have some “face-time” with the groups, if there is a large number of applicants, Bowen suggests allowIng all candidates to answer one question with a two-minute response before conducting a poll to cut the number moving forward with the full set of questions.

All in all, Dash said he expects a good field to apply for the seat.

The most difficult issue of the night was coming up with a date when to review the candidates. And they are ready to go. Questions will be discussed at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 9 with initial interviews of applicants at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10. If a consensus candidate isn’t selected on Nov. 10, a second date will be determined at that time.

Who is qualified to run?

All Belmont residents age 18 and older are encouraged to apply via the Town’s website. The candidate must be a registered voter of Belmont.

To apply, go to “Volunteer Opportunities” on the Town of Belmont home page, click on the link for appointment to a Belmont Committee, and click yes to “Are you interested in specific committees.” Type “School Committee 2021” in the box labeled “Interested in a Committee not listed above?” You can then fill out the rest of the short form and upload a CV or resume. Please include a concise statement of interest in the text box.

Link to “Volunteer Opportunities” available here as well: https://www.belmont-ma.gov/home/pages/volunteer-opportunities

For further information, email the chair Amy Checkoway acheckoway@belmont.k12.ma.us or any member of the committee. Their contact information is available at https://www.belmont.k12.ma.us/bps/Committee.