A Request For Your Vote: Jamal Saeh, School Committee

Photo: Jamal Saeh for School Committee (Saeh For Schools Facebook Page)

The Belmontonian is providing candidates/campaigners of ballot questions in contested races the opportunity to make a request for votes in the final week of the election race.

I am running for Belmont School Committee because I want to bring a sense of urgency to tackle challenges, bring disciplined data-driven decision making and leverage my experience with budgeting and long-term planning to help Belmont public schools support every student in reaching their potential. I believe my background and experience bring needed skills and diversity to the committee. 

I am an immigrant, son of a teacher. I moved to the US for education and to Belmont to provide my two boys with the best public education. I understand the path a good education provides, specifically to marginalized communities.  

I believe in the vision of Belmont Public Schools that all students are capable of learning at a high level and that it’s the duty of the SC to provide leadership and oversight to ensure that we maintain that promise. 

In the near term, we must deal with the fundamental challenge of operating schools during the pandemic. This requires science-based, data-driven decisions at the intersection of health, policy, and quality that must be done within a budget envelope. That’s my day-to-day job. I believe my professional experience adds a unique perspective to the SC. I am an executive at a pharmaceutical company. As a scientist and a leader, I am accountable for the research and clinical development of innovative medicines for cancer patients, and I do it with the requisite sense of urgency that cancer patients deserve 

I believe that good leaders identify and remove obstacles. In August, when it was clear that COVID testing could enable a safe return to in-person learning, I partnered with the community to offer solutions. I proposed a developmentally appropriate, cost-effective pooled testing proposal to the SC in September. It allowed us to get a baseline for all students and teachers and provide teachers with weekly testing and surveillance for the student population at all grades. It was ignored. Neighboring towns adopted it and operationalized it soon thereafter. The state implemented a similar program four months later. Belmont could have been a leader but chose not to act. Surveillance enabled schools to have data on the in-school transmission which enabled them to move to full in-person ahead of any Department of Elementary and Secondary Education mandate. As a member of the SC, I pledge to continue to collaborate with Belmont’s talented community to address new challenges and listen with authenticity to build creative solutions.  

It is also critical that mid and long-range planning be prioritized. With two new schools opening soon and a shift of fourth grade to the Chenery, a comprehensive plan needs to be in place to ensure these transitions are smooth for students and teachers. New opportunities will exist for 7-8 grade students when they are collocated with the high school, including access to the accelerated and collaborative curriculum. Clear budget decisions and oversight will be crucial in order to take advantage of these opportunities. I will work to ensure collaborative and stretch goals are in place, and outcomes routinely monitored.

I believe in greater transparency from the SC and School District. Transparency requires an open and honest decision-making process; it allows biases to be confronted and assumptions to be fully vetted. Transparency empowers the community and improves decisions and outcomes. Doing so rebuilds public trust, our biggest asset as leaders.

I pledge to protect excellence and equity for all students. I believe that we need to identify the causes of imbalance in access to parts of the Belmont Public School curriculum (e.g. uneven or ineffective communication with families; failure of earlier or prerequisite classes), confront and call out biases, revamp our curriculum where appropriate, and remedy the achievement gap.  I am encouraged that the Student Opportunity Act will more fully fund English Language Learner and Special Education programs and pledge to make sure the SC takes full advantage of this state program. I also believe that all students need to have the opportunity to find and pursue their passion. This means that we need to maintain or increase options in core and elective classes as well as extracurriculars that allow students to be sufficiently challenged in their areas of interest because it is then that they are really inspired and can learn and grow.

If elected on April 6th, I will bring my collaborative data-driven decision-making, and my focus on transparency and accountability to improve oversight and help keep BPS Belmont’s jewel in the crown.

Jamal Carlos Saeh, Watson Road, Precinct 1

Editorial: Vote Yes On 4; An Investment In Our Shared Future

Photo: An outward expression of our investment in the future of our community, our children and the nation.

A no vote on Question 4 Tuesday to approve a $213 million debt authorization for a new 7th-12th-grade school building is not a rejection of a tax increase but an admission Belmont’s collective futures are not worth the investment.

The numbers and facts concerning the design, cost, and history of the proposed high school (here and here) has been public for several months. Town Meeting spent $1.75 million in a feasibility study that breaks down the project to the cost of the final nut and bolt. The changes in taxes have been calculated by the town treasurer. The school district has forecast a continued increase in students enrolling in the six public schools that requires a large building project. Those are the facts. 

But Tuesday’s vote is more than a series of self-interested personal decisions; it is an opportunity to show how this community views the most important function for all municipal government, educating its children.

Marking the ballot “no” on Tuesday may feel penny wise but it is indeed pound foolish to the extreme. A negative response is not simply a rejection of the future, its a clarion call for the slow decay of the outstanding education system it took nearly five decades to create. 

My standard response to people who ask why people live here is “You don’t move to Belmont for the roads. You come for the schools.” What prospective homeowner would knowingly bring their children into a community that won’t make a commitment to education? Home values will likely begin lag behind surrounding cities and towns which have decided to make education a priority. 

Rejecting a decade of work by committed volunteers and professionals will require Town Meeting to vote over a decade on three ever increasing large debt exclusion measures to house the skyrocketing number of students entering the district for the next decade and extending the life of a fifty-year-old school building that has no business being renovated. How likely will a future Town Meeting be willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on putting lipstick on a pig?

If any of the three debt questions – totaling $50 million more than the debt exclusion being considered Tuesday – is rejected, the outcome would be jammed packed classrooms that will swiftly bring the school district’s accreditation into question. It’s truly an unimaginable conclusion to   

Tuesday’s vote is also an opportunity for Belmont to recommit itself to the great American uniter of public education which has increasingly come under attack by reactionary forces who believe “government schools” – a new pejorative created by the right – are wasteful, run by overpaid bureaucrats who spew progressive messages rather than “real” learning. They call for education to be run as a publicly funded business with vouchers, charter and private schools replacing our shared heritage.

But for communities that take pride in and nurture public schools, the benefits are boundless. Belmont ranks in the top percentile of public schools in a state which leads the country in the quality of schools. While the nation as a whole meanders with lackluster rankings in the core curriculum, Belmont students are on par with the top-ranked education provided in the schools of Europe and Asia. The education our students receive from first-rate teachers and educators provides a world of future options that children from too many communities lack.

And one important component to keeping the stellar standard the Belmont schools have created is for its residents to commit the financial resources in teaching, activities and, yes, modern facilities. There are no other options.

Public education binds us as Americans, it is in our common ethos that an enlightened young is the best path to preserving our country for generations to come.

The time is not to look inward with provincial expectations, but to approve a building project that will become an outward expression of our investment in the future of our community, our children and the nation.

Vote Yes on 4.

Belmontonian/Belmont Media Hosting Selectmen Candidates Debate March 31

Photo: Two debates between the candidates for Belmont Selectman will be broadcast live by the Belmont Media Center. 

A pair of candidate debates focusing on the contested election for Selectman have been scheduled and will be televised on Belmont’s media outlets.

• On the evening of Tuesday, March 31, the Belmont Media Center will cablecast a live debate with candidates Jim Williams and Andy Rojas for Board of Selectmen sponsored by The Belmontonian and moderated by its editor, Franklin B. Tucker. The one-hour debate will be seen live on BMC Ch. 8 (Comcast) and 28 (Verizon), online at belmontmedia.org/live and on the Belmontonian news website. Stay tuned for more details.

• One week earlier, on Thursday, March 26 at 7:30 p.m., BMC will cover live the Belmont League of Women Voters “Candidates Night” which will include a question and answer panel with Williams and Rojas. This program will air on Ch 8 & 28, on online and will be replayed as part of the campaign programming block.

• On the BMC Community Bulletin Board (Ch. 96-Comcast and Ch. 30-Verizon and on the web @ belmontmedia.org/bulletin-board), BMC will provide town-wide office candidates the opportunity to host a “Candidate Page.” If interested, please submit a photo electronically, and the name and office for which you are running. Email all photos and information to julie@belmontmedia.org.

• BMC will cover the 2015 Town Election Live on Tuesday, April 7 from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tune in to Channels 8 (Comcast) and 28 (Verizon) for results, analysis, and interviews.

The Week to Come: Town Election, Great Music,
So Long Mr. Jones

It’s a busy week ahead for Belmont residents as voting, music and sporting events crowd the calendar:

• The annual Town Election is Tuesday, April 1 with polls opened from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. There are competitive races for Selectman, the Board of Library Trustees, in most of the precincts for representative to Town Meeting and there is the $2.9 million debt exclusion vote for a new Underwood Pool. Stay connected to the Belmontonian for up-to-the-minute results and analysis of the vote on Tuesday after 8 p.m.

• Music lovers, rejoice! Two great events are occurring this week: Tonight, Monday, March 31 at 7 p.m. at the High School is “Jazz Night” featuring the Belmont High Jazz Collective along with the Chenery Middle School Jazz Ensemble. The special guests at tonight’s concert is the Quintessential Brass and tenor sax extraordinaire Jim Repa.

Cruzamente (which means “crossroads” in Portuguese), a Boston-based, all-female band led by lead singer Maria ‘Lutchinha’ Neves will be preforming a variety of musical styles of Cape Verde as part of the Library’s  free “Music on Saturday” series on Saturday, April 5, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the library’s Assembly Room sponsored by the Friends of the Belmont Public Library.

• The Powers Music School is celebrating its half century of providing musical education to Belmont and Boston with the 50th annual Mildred Freiberg Piano Festival Student Concerts, Each concert will feature a special short performance by a regional teaching artist. The concerts are 

Saturday, April 5 and Sunday, April 6 at 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and  7:30 p.m.

The concerts are free and will take place at All Saints’ Church, 17 Clark St.
Concert admission is free.

• The town will be holding a retirement ceremony for Selectman Ralph Jones today, Monday, March 31, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Town Hall’s Board of Selectmen’s Meeting Room. There will be cake.Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 1.48.00 AM

What’s Up this Week in Belmont: Candidate’s Night Monday, Shopping at Wilson Farm

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 9.09.01 PMWith many residents apprehensive that the nor’easter anticipated mid-week will bring another blast of snow and with it a chance of a snow day for district schools and snow shoveling, there are several interesting events happening that should pique the interest of many Belmontonians:

• On Monday, March 24 at 7 p.m. at the Chenery Middle School, the Belmont League of Women Voters is holding its annual pre-Town Election greet and meet with the candidates for town-wide office and Town Meeting representatives. The town-wide candidates – including those in the contested seats for Board of Selectmen and Board of Library Trustees – will be asked questions by League members.

• Tuesday, March 25, the Belmont Public Schools will be holding its annual “Shop at Wilson Farm Day” in Lexington. Download the online flyer and present it at checkout on the date listed above and Wilson Farm will donate 20 percent of your pre-tax subtotal purchase to your Belmont school. Last year’s event raised $1296, making Belmont one of the top performing schools in the program. And that money was spent on:
– Supplies, equipment & materials such as computers, books & tablets.
– Plantings & school grounds improvements like additions, gardens & trees
– School field trips
– Clubs & extra-curricular activities
– School bands
– Sports teams & cheerleading squads Your school principal will decide how to allocate any funds earned through Shop at Wilson Farm Day so you know the money will go where it’s needed most. Wilson Farm is at 10 Pleasant St., Lexington. Call 781-862-3900 or go online to WilsonFarm.com

• At the Belmont School Committee’s scheduled meeting on Tuesday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m. the committee will vote on school choice within the district as well as discuss this year’s statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority to renovate the High School and create a science wing.

• If you are a high schooler looking for a job, head on down to the Belmont Public Library on Wednesday, March 26 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. for a Teen Interview Workshop. Join Gary Gekow in this interactive workshop and hone your interview skills. Space is limited & registration required so head to the library’s web site to sign up.

• The Belmont High School Band and Orchestra will be in concert at the High School’s auditorium beginning at 7 p.m.

• While there will likely be snow on the ground – you could film a documentary on living in the Alaskan outback in many Belmont backyards – spring is nearly on us as the Belmont Food Collaborative’s Stephen Pinkerton will be giving a Pomona Small Fruit and Bramble Plant Clinic in the Flett Room (across from the Children’s Room) at the Belmont Public Library at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 27. It’s free and open to the public. So come by to be reminded that the season’s do change, even in New England.