As Middle School Preps For Next Year, There Are Changes In Leadership At Chenery And District

Photo: Karla Koza at the topping off celebration of the new middle school section of the Belmont Middle and High School.

With the one-year countdown is underway for the opening of the new Middle School on Concord Avenue and the transformation of the Chenery into a town-wide 4-6 grade elementary school, there has been some major shuffling going on at the Middle School on Washington Street this summer.

In a series of press releases from the Belmont School District, Karla Koza has moved from being principal of the 5-8 grade school and is the working as director of the newly-created District Configuration Transition post effective Sept. 1. Koza was the Principal at the Chenery for the past two years.

The purpose of this one-year position was to dedicate a single “point person” to focus all of their time and attention on leading the evolution of a 9-12 Belmont High School building to a 7-12 Belmont Middle and High School building by September, 2023. 

Koza experience and expertise in Grades 7-12, especially, will serve her well as she works to ensure that all stakeholders involved with the district reconfiguration feel supported and successful.  Having already built strong relationships with many in our school community, she represents a trusted point of contact.  She is a valued member of our leadership council and we have confidence that she will be successful in this new capacity. 

In proposing this role, the district said it emphasized the importance of:

  • Taking input from stakeholders
  • Focusing on timelines, scheduling, and logistics
  • Handling all public communication

Koza joined the Belmont Public Schools in 2020. Prior to her Chenery principalship she was an educator in the Grafton Public Schools, working as a classroom teacher (15 years), English Department Head (6 years) and Assistant Principal (5 years), from 2003-2020. She also underwent a similar transition into a new building in that role, which she spoke about passionately during her interview. 

“Her experience and expertise in Grades 7-12, especially, will serve her well as she works to ensure that all stakeholders involved with the district reconfiguration feel supported and successful. Having already built strong relationships with many in our school community, she represents a trusted point of contact,” said the release.

Taking Koza’s place, Chenery’s former assistant principal Nicolette Foundas has been named the Interim 5-8 Chenery Middle School Principal for the 2022-2023 school year which is the final year for the Chenery as a middle school. The one-year appointment began effective Aug. 8. But Foundas will not need to clear out her desk when the one-year appointment ends as she was named the future Principal of the Chenery Upper Elementary School, Grades 4-6, which will start in the 2023-2024 year beginning next September.

Nicolette Foundas

Foundas began her career in public education as a Grade 4 classroom teacher in Hartford. She joined the Belmont Public Schools 2008 and has served as a Grade 5 classroom teacher for 10 years and as a member of our leadership team overseeing encore programming and Grades 5 and 6 for the last four years. 

Foundas’ prior experience in a similar interim capacity as the Chenery Principal in May and June of 2020, will serve her well as she works to ensure stability for students, family, and staff through this period of transition. 

“We have seen her work up close as a member of our own leadership council and have confidence that she will continue to thrive in this new role,” according to the release.

And the school district will soon be seeking the first leader of the new 7-8 middle school in the Concord Avenue facility.

In January, 2023, the district will post for a permanent principal for a July 1, 2023 start. The hiring for that position will follow our traditional process, including a screening team made up of teachers and parents/guardians, public interviews, and community input.

As Anti-Gay Laws Increase Nationwide, Belmont’s Pride Parade Demonstrates Support For Equity, Inclusion

Photo: The third Belmont Pride Parade in Belmont Center

Ziza Soares would likely be fired from her job if she was working in Florida. And in some states, what the Chenery Middle School six grade teacher did on Saturday would have been seen as worthy of prosecution.

In Florida under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which becomes law on July 1, Soares would find her teaching position in jeopardy just by being an openly gay educator. While the Florida law prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity to kindergarten and elementary students up to third grade, critics contend the ultimate goal of the legislation is to “muzzle any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity” by all public educators.

Chenery Middle School educator Ziza Soares

“I am out in school … and I’m pretty confident that I would, at least at the end of the school year, not be invited back if I taught there,” said Soares, who is in her second year as an English Arts educator.

And as co-advisor with Crystal Waters of the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Soares came to the Town Green on Saturday, June 11 with approximately 40 Chenery 5th to 8th grade students – between 10 and 14 years old – to march in Belmont’s third Pride Parade, the town’s celebration promoting awareness, inclusion and equity. In states in the US South and Midwest, Soares’ action would be viewed as promoting the gay lifestyle onto children which would bring her to the attention of state officials.

”I feel so bad for the students but also I feel so bad for the teachers who are put in impossible positions that no one should be put in,” she said.

Countering anti-gay laws spreading throughout the country, more than 300 residents, supporters, students and parents took to the streets on a warm Saturday for a boisterous trek through Belmont to support pride and the progress made in gender and sexual equality. With speeches and a town proclamation read by Adam Dash to start the day, the parade got underway with a Belmont Police detail as Soares’ middle schoolers demonstrated a non-stop energy that was evident from start to finish.

Marchers were greeted by honking horns along with cheers and waves as the event was the largest and most successful in its history.

”This is a great day to come together and celebrate each other and our allies and recognize the progress that we’ve made in the community over the past years,” said Dr. John Davis, a member of the Belmont LGBTQ+ Alliance leadership team which co-sponsors the annual march.

While Belmont and Massachusetts are viewed as progressive on the subject of equality, the same can not be said for nearly half the states in the US, according to Davis.

“Anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation is occurring at an unprecedented level across the country. And this includes 25 bills in more than 20 states.” While laws and measures taking place around the country “may not affect us directly here in Belmont or in Massachusetts, it does have an effect particularly on our youth who hear these discriminatory bills and feel threatened and powerless,” said Davis.

“So we cannot give up the fight. That’s why participating in this march in Belmont, to support LGBTQ+ individuals and groups as they fight discrimination anywhere in the country is so important.”

At the Chenery, that advocacy is provided by the Alliance which provides a safe space for LGBTQ students and allies as well as an opportunity to community build, said Soares.

“We have kids connect with each other. It’s a really important space for them to make sure that they know that there are people in the school that support them, and that want to advocate for them,” she said.

“I just think it’s a great that there’s a community to feel supported by,” said Maia Readi, an eighth grader who came with Alliance.

Letter To The Editor: How Restoring A Pair Of Reading Specialists Will Change How Belmont Schools Support Literacy Growth

Photo: A reading specialist’s job

Seventeen.

That is the number of students who, out of the roughly 1,400 children between grades 5-8 in Chenery Middle School, were able to receive in-school reading support prior to January 31st, 2022. That is the date that funding took effect to create two dedicated Reading Specialist positions for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year, fundamentally changing how the school has been able to support the literacy growth of its students.

We are writing this letter to the decision-makers of this town because these positions have been eliminated for the 2022-23 school year, and the time to act to restore them is now – before we leave more of our neediest students behind.

Since their transition to this role in January, the impact that Jen Mathews and Taylor Moroso – our two trained and certified Reading Specialists – have had on growing the reading skills of our students has been profound, and we would be failing some of our highest-need students to not have these positions continue into next year.

Due to their other job requirements prior to the funding taking effect, Jen and Taylor were previously able to spend only one 47-minute block per day offering Reading Enrichment classes to students identified as most needing this extra support during the school day. Since being able to pivot to working with students as full-time Reading Specialists in January, Jen and Taylor have been able to focus entirely on supporting students as they strive to achieve their literacy goals, not only through facilitating the small Reading Enrichment groups but also by supporting students in their ELA classrooms – something that was previously not possible.

Since these positions were added, the following positive impacts have been observed:

  • The amount of students being able to receive regular reading intervention services increased from 17 to 59. That is 42 students who were screened and identified as requiring additional support to reach grade-level reading goals but that previously received no reading intervention beyond what was offered in the classroom.
  • Students who receive reading support have also been able to be supported in their ELA classrooms on a regular basis – this helps the teachers and specialists observe how they work not only in small groups, but also support the development of bespoke interventions that can be applied in the classroom for each student individually. In the 14 ELA classrooms the Reading Specialists have been able to support, they have been able to work with students from a variety of skill levels to help lift the confidence and skill levels of all students through their classroom work. Further, this work has enabled the specialists to identify students who may benefit from additional reading support.
  • Some of our highest need students, including those from diverse racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds, have been able to be supported in the classroom in ways that were previously not possible. Further, students whose literacy skills atrophied due to COVID and remote-related challenges have been able to experience success while supported by these interventions.

The proposed 2022-23 budget eliminates both of these positions, and as a result eliminates every single one of these benefits.

We implore the decision-makers of the town: the School Committee, Select/Planning Boards, and the citizens of Belmont, to not accept the fact that our school of 1,400 students will only have seventeen students receive small group reading instruction. To, rather than perpetuate a problem that has existed for years where we underserve these students, take a step toward a solution.

To make the decision to support all students, including our highest-need students still reeling from pandemic setbacks, in building their literacy skills. All it will cost to restore all of these crucial supports for many of our most vulnerable students is the 1.6 teacher positions that were added for the second half of this school year.

We are of the belief that there are not many ways to spend the town’s resources more effectively than this. If you agree that there are more than 17 students out of the 1,400 children in Chenery Middle School that need reading support, then you need to raise your voice, be heard, and restore these positions immediately for the 2022-23 school year and beyond.

Alex Goldsmith and Caitlin Corrieri

English/Language Arts Teachers

Chenery Middle School

UPDATE: Missing Chenery Middle School Student Found

Photo: Belmont Police was seeking the public’s help finding a missing Chenery Middle School student

Update: Jonathan McHugh, the 12-year-old Chenery Middle School student who was reported missing Wednesday, has been found and reunited with this family, according to Belmont Police.

The Belmont Police Dept is seeking assistance from the community to locate a missing Chenery Middle School student.

Jonathan McHugh was last seen at the Chenery Middle School, 95 Washington St., at approximately 9 a.m., Wednesday, May 25. McHugh is a 12 year old white male. He is 5’4”, weighs approximately 100 lbs. and has sandy blonde hair.

Courtesy photo

He was last seen wearing a white Champion’s sweatshirt, gray pants and he was carrying a reddish maroon backpack.

If anyone has seen Jonathan, or has information regarding his whereabouts, please contact the Belmont Police Dept at 617-484-1212.

Belmont Police Will Be At District Schools Wednesday After ‘Incident’ At The Chenery

Photo: Chenery Middle School where an “incident” occurred on Tuesday which was resolved by Belmont Police.

Belmont Police will have an increased presence at all district schools Wednesday morning, May 25, after an incident Tuesday at the Chenery Middle School and yesterday’s mass killing of elementary school children in Uvalde, Texas.

At 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 24, Belmont Police were made aware of a social media post showing pictures of the inside of the Chenery Middle School that included comments from the poster which were deemed “concerning” to the police, according to Chief James MacIsaac.

“Officers immediately responded to the Chenery Middle School along with our Co-Responder Clinician and located the person responsible for the social media posts,” said MacIsaac in an email press release.   Officers and the clinician were able to successfully address the matter.

Belmont Police would not expand on the nature of the comments in the posts, whether they could be perceived as a threat or a call for help.

“Out of an abundance of caution and due to today’s incident in Texas,” police will be at each of Belmont’s six schools Tuesday, said MacIsaac.

Also on Tuesday, the Belmont School Committee led by Chair Meg Moriarty paused for a moment of silence at the start of its business meeting to remember the 19 students and two faculty members murdered by a lone gunman in Texas earlier in the day.

‘Disney’s Little Mermaid’ (The Junior Version)On Stage At Chenery Middle School, May 19-21

Photo: The poster to the show this weekend.

The Chenery Middle School Theater will present its production of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid JR.

Journey “under the sea” with Ariel and her aquatic friends in this production adapted from Disney’s Broadway production and the motion picture featuring the enormously popular Academy Award-winning music and delightfully charming book and lyrics. Based on one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories, Disney’s The Little Mermaid JR. is an enchanting look at the sacrifices we all make for love and acceptance.

In a magical underwater kingdom, the beautiful young mermaid, Ariel, longs to leave her ocean home — and her fins — behind and live in the world above. But first, she’ll have to defy her father, King Triton, make a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula, and convince the handsome Prince Eric that she’s the girl whose enchanting voice he’s been seeking.

Shows are:

  • Thursday, May 19 at 7 p.m.
  • Friday, May 20 at 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 21 at 2 p.m.

The shows will take place at the Chenery Middle School auditorium.

TICKET INFO: ADULTS: $10, STUDENTS/CHILDREN: $5

TICKETS AND INFORMATION AT bhs-pac.org/cms

Pair Of Chenery Middle School Musicians Awarded Annual McLellen Scholarship

Photo: This year’s recipients of the annual John McLellan Music Scholarship (from left) Chenery Middle School students Markus Sendzik and Fiona Rodriguez-Clark with John McLellan

Markus Sendzik, a 7th grade violinist, violist and pianist, and Fiona Rodriguez-Clark, an 8th grade cellist, are the 2022 recipients of the annual John McLellan Music Scholarship, created to help Chenery Middle School students achieve new levels of musical accomplishment.

They received the $500 scholarship, which honors long-time Chenery Middle School band director John McLellan, who retired in 2018 after inspiring thousands of Belmont public school students to love music during his 35-year-career, at the Chenery honors ensemble choral and orchestra concert on April 12.

Sendzik and Rodriguez-Clark applied for the honor and were selected by the Scholarship Committee for their leadership, scholarship, musicianship, and mentorship. The students plan to use the awards to further their music education this summer. The scholarship is administered by POMs, Parents of Music Students. More information is at http://belmontpoms.weebly.com.

COVID Vaccine/Booster Clinic For Belmont Students 12+, Staff On Jan. 31 At Chenery

Photo: Vaccine/booster shots will be provided to public school students and staff on Jan. 31. (Credit: Wikimedia)

The Belmont Public Schools, working with VaxinateRx and Healthcare Family Pharmacy, is offering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine/booster shot to eligible students ages 12 and older at the Chenery Middle School on Monday, Jan. 31 from 8 a.m. to noon in the school’s Large Community Room.

Students are welcome to register to receive their first, second, or booster dose at this clinic.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW

VaccinateRx staff request all signed consent forms to be submitted to the school nurse by Noon Friday, Jan. 28. A Parent or Guardian signature is required for any students under the age of 18. 

Parent/guardian does not need to be present as long as the child has a signed consent form

Remember to bring your vaccination card from the previous vaccination(s) and submit a signed consent form to the school nurse.

  • Students who received their first dose of the Pfizer series at another location are welcome to register to receive their second dose at this clinic as long as it has been at least three weeks since their first dose.
  • If you are 12-17, and received the Pfizer vaccine, you can get a Pfizer booster dose six months after your second dose.
  • If you are 18+, and received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, you can get a booster dose six months after your second dose. *Booster shots can be any of the approved COVID-19 vaccines for those 18+, regardless of your original dose. The Pfizer vaccine will be provided at this clinic.
  • If you are 18+, and received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, you can get a booster dose two months after your original dose.

If you experience any issues with the registration process, please email info@VaxinateRx.com to resolve any issues.

All students will be vaccinated free of charge regardless of insurance coverage. If insured, please enter insurance information in the online registration. Once registered online there is no need to bring an insurance card to the clinic. 

Post-Thanksgiving Covid Testing in Belmont/Lexington on Dec. 4-5: Register Now

Photo: Covid testing will be held in Belmont and Lexington this week

In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, Belmont is partnering with Lexington to offer free COVID-19 PCR testing following Thanksgiving. There will be two upcoming testing events, and both are open to residents of Belmont and Lexington, regardless of the testing location.

Testing for the virus remains one of the most important tools we have to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19. Celebrate safely with your loved ones this holiday season and take advantage of this free testing service for residents.

You must have an appointment to be tested. Proof of residency is required. Testing is available for anyone who has reached their first birthday.

The dates and locations are:

  • Saturday, Dec. 4 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
    Chenery Middle School, 95 Washington St., Belmont (indoor testing)
    Limited walk-ins may be accepted 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., appointments strongly recommended.
  • Sunday, Dec. 5 from noon to 5 p.m.
    173 Bedford St., Lexington (drive-through testing—remain in your car)
    No walk-ins will be accepted at the Lexington event.

Register for a COVID-19 test on either Dec. 4 or Dec. 5 here:
Registration Link

PhysicianOne Urgent Care will be providing the testing.  Please note: You will need to set up an account on their website through the highlighted link below to register for a COVID-19 test, and to view your test results.

Further Info and Tips:

PhysicianOne Urgent Care uses the Project Beacon online platform for account registration and test scheduling. If you have any issues with registration or scheduling, please contact Project Beacon by email at help@beacontesting.com, or call 617-741-7310, Mon.-Fri. from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

1 in 5 Middle School Students Consider Self Harm, 9 Percent 7-12 ‘Made Suicide Plans’: Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Photo: the 2021 Belmont Youth Risk Behavior Survey (credit: CDC)

Jamal Saeh was shocked by what he had heard.

In March, 89 high school students and 56 middle schoolers in Belmont told health professionals that in the past year they had gone so far with a possible suicide to write out or record plans on taking their own lives.

“To say I’m stunned is an understatement,” said Saeh. “[It’s] mind boggling and frightening.”

The concerning statistics come from the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of Belmont’s 7-12 grade students presented to the Belmont School Committee on Nov. 9.

The survey’s data justifies Saeh concern: in terms of raw data nearly one-of-five middle school students has considered suicide and approximately 9 percent in both high and middle schools have gone so far as to detail the ultimate act of self-harm.

And among students who identify as gender Queer, the percentages are exponentially greater; 36 percent in high school have considered suicide while 31 percent have planned suicide.

“That is way too many kids,” said Lisa Gibalerio of the Belmont Wellness Coalition who authored the survey with the Education Development Center.

The survey comes as school systems nationwide are witnessing “a growing crisis” on mental health and risk issues, said Committee Chair Amy Checkoway. “Districts are not equipped to handle the number of issues that are arising,” she said after attending a conference of school committees.

The survey is the second conducted by the coalition surveyed a statistically large 1,710 students in 7 – 12 grades (655 at the Chenery Middle School and 1,055 at the high school) on substance abuse and mental health concerns before (in 2019) and during the Covid year 2021.

A PowerPoint summary of the survey can be viewed by linking to this site.

Survey highlights include:

  • a reduction in use of most drug categories including vaping and marijuana from 2019 to 2021.
  • a decline in bullying in the high school while it’s in-school bullying at the middle school has increased.
  • Stress continues to lead to loss of sleep and coping through risky alternatives such as alcohol and drugs.

The survey also looked at the top five stressors at the middle and high school, according to Ellie Lesser, a Belmont High sophomore serving as the study’s student ambassador. A third of all students point to school demands as the top reason for pressure in their lives with a busy school and extra curricular schedule and worries about the future such as college choices and career paths.

The Covid pandemic which halted in-school learning for more than a year added more to the plate of students with 70 percent feeling angry, fearful and sad.

For Belmont Superintendent John Phelan, the survey’s results are “startling” just how much stress – which has been at consistent levels for several years – is impacting so many students and how vulnerable they are to the repercussions that include abusing alcohol and self-harm. In recent years, Phelan admitted the district has not been keeping up with the professional services that students and staff need such as adjustment counselors, consulting services and professional development for teachers to identify and assist students.

But change has occurred during the pandemic. He pointed to the district hiring four social workers – the first hired by the district since Phelan came to Belmont in 2013 – in the current school year to meet the increasing demands for their services. He said the survey data calls for a two-fold approach focusing on providing community and school support from social emotional assistance.

“And [that district-wide clinical model] will be part of what we’re asking for moving forward,” Phelan told the committee.

“School is just not a place where it’s all about academics. If we are not having children feel safe, heard and valued, and able to be respected and known by the adults in the building, they’re not going to learn,” said Phelan.

The committee members all expressed a need not to allow the issue to fall by the wayside.

”The numbers should shock us,” said Mike Crowley of the data on suicide planning, which should force the committee to support the clinical model in future budgets. In additional, a community conversation with students, parents, the public and educators “because any child would be thinking of self harm in our schools, our community, we have to be concerned.”

Saeh said the conversation on risk behavior must be followed up with additional meetings on the proper level of staffing and assistance to students “because we cannot look at his data not react with incredible urgency.”

By reviewing the pre and post pandemic numbers, “the pandemic is not necessarily the culprit here, this is the environment of our high school and middle school,” said Saeh.

Ann Wang of the Education Development Center said Belmont can find successful programs being used in nearby communities such as Lexington and Newton which had student suicides. “These appear to have some impact that can be measured in reducing suicide attempts,” she noted.

Phelan said the solution in the schools is to start to put in place multiple layers of support to students at every level of the district.

“We are not looking to put numbers [in the upcoming school budget] right now, but we want to acknowledge the need and start with students talking about solutions and then start to price out those solutions so that the community can know whether they’re going to support that need or not.”