New Principals Named For Winn Brook, Burbank Elementary

Photo: The Winn Brook Elementary School

Two of Belmont’s four elementary schools will have new principals for the start of the 2020-21 school year starting in September, according to an email from Belmont Superintendent John Phelan.

Anita Mecklenburg, an assistant principal and curriculum director in Norfolk, will become principal of the Winn Brook, and J. Seeley Okie, the interim principal of the Burbank since July, 2019 will take over the position permanently. Both educators will officially start on July 1.

For the past six years, Mecklenburg has been the assistant principal at the H. Olive Day School, a Pre-K to second grade facility, and director of curriculum and instruction in English Language Arts and History and Social Science for Pre-K to 6th grade.

Before her stay in Norfolk, Mecklenburg spent 22 years at the John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Franklin, 13 years as a first grade teacher. Mecklenburg received her BA in Elementary Education from the University of Iowa and an Master’s degree in organizational management from Endicott College.

A resident of Norfolk, Mecklenburg is a candidate for Norfolk’s Select Board in its upcoming election.

Before coming to Belmont, Okie was an assistant principal at the MacArthur Elementary School in Waltham for seven years. Prior to becoming an administrator, Okie taught third and fourth grade in the Natick Public Schools, the Charles River School in Dover, and the Keys School in Palo Alto, Calif. Okie began his career in education as a K-12 science teacher in the Foothills Academy, Wheatridge, Colo.

Okie earned a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies from Colby College. He obtained a Master’s Degree in School Leadership from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from Lesley College.

Waltham’s Okie Named Burbank’s Interim Principal

Photo: The rear of the Burbank School.

Waltham educator J. Seeley Okie has been named interim principal of the Burbank Elementary School for the 2019-2020 school year, according to a news release from Belmont Superintendent John Phelan.

He will begin his tenure at the Burbank on July 1.

For the past seven years, Okie was an assistant principal at the MacArthur Elementary School in Waltham. Prior to becoming an administrator, Okie taught third and fourth grade in the Natick Public Schools, the Charles River School in Dover, and the Keys School in Palo Alto, Calif. Okie began his career in education as a K-12 science teacher in the Foothills Academy, Wheatridge, Colo.

Okie earned a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies from Colby College. He obtained a Master’s Degree in School Leadership from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from Lesley College.

Burbank Students Trick-Or-Treat For UNICEF

Photo: Ms. Cox’s class with some special guests.

In October students of Mary Lee Burbank Elementary School embraced the “Kids Helping Kids” spirit and collected more than $1,800 for the annual Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF drive. The money raised will provide 3,600 children with therapeutic ready-to-use food or UNICEF backpacks for 360 students to attend school.

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF began in 1950 as a way to help kids who were still affected by World War II.

A friendly intraschool competition for the highest percentage of participation was won by Coleen Cox’s class pictured here with Principal Dr. Tricia Clifford, Jean Travia and Robyn Greenberg. 

Schools Asking $2.6 Million For Burbank Modulars At Special Town Meeting

Photo: Modular classrooms.

The Belmont School Committee will seek $2.6 million from November’s Special Town meeting to purchase and install four modular classrooms and pay for long-anticipated repairs at the Burbank Elementary School.

The classrooms are expected to be up and running by the first day of the 2018-19 school year in September 2018, according to Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan who spoke before the Belmont School Committee Tuesday night, Sept. 26.

Phelan told the school committee his talk ‘is a preview of the presentation” he will be making to the 290 Town Meeting members on Nov. 13, which is an update of a report in June after the Burbank was selected to receive the modulars. 

The added short-term space is needed due to the rapid growth of student enrollment throughout the district. In the past year, 132 new students entered the system taking the school population to 4,540 as of September 2017. Additionally, there are more teachers in the elementary schools to help reduce class sizes that reach into the mid to high 20s.

The Burbank’s four modulars, which will cost $1,070,400, will be sited adjacent to the rear of the school building which will allow for a covered walkway between the two structures. A good chunk of the money – $1.1 million – will be dedicated to utility work including bringing electrical, water and gas from School Street to the rear of the school. 

The funds will also pay for the repair and expansion of the parking lot and the overhaul of the asphalt playground area, including possibly adding a turf playing surface at “Maeve’s Corner” a shaded area whose grass surface is turned muddy throughout the year.

“These upgrades at the Burbank were overdue. That back playground should have been replaced years ago. The parking has been insufficient,” said Phelan. 

As in June, the furniture, instructional materials and technology will be paid out of the department’s account rather than add to an already substantial request. 

‘We are asking a lot from the town by asking more money for the modulars, said Phelan. “We want to be mindful that we are advocating for the schools as part of the larger community.”                                    

Burbank Picked To Be Modulars’ New Home With a $2.2M Pricetag

Photo: Belmont Superintendent John Phelan.

The fall Special Town Meeting now has a price tag for the big ticket item on its agenda as Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan recommended four new modular classrooms be sited at the Mary Lee Burbank Elementary School on School Street.

The anticipated cost of the project – which will be up and running in September 2018 – is $2.2 million, excluding furniture and teaching equipment, Phelan told the Belmont School Committee at its Tuesday meeting, June 20.

“This is a very significant ‘ask’ to the town for the Burbank to take on the modulars,” said Phelan.

The Burbank was selected at the Butler Elementary School to be the home of the third set of modulars used by the district – there are several at the High School while six were installed at the Chenery Middle School in November 2016 – to alleviate the skyrocketing enrollment gains occurring throughout the district.

Phelan said adding the classrooms will help reduce class sizes in elementary grades from 25 and 26 students per room to a more acceptable 22 to 23 students.

Last month, administrators and staff held a pair of two-hour meetings at each school to discuss the concerns of residents and parents of adding prefab structures, afterward was a walk of the sites with an architect.  

The Burbank four modular will be sited adjacent to the rear of the school building which will allow for a covered walkway. The location will also have a minimal impact on neighboring houses as it’s lower than nearby Richardson Road and next to a stone wall.

Another factor leading to the Burbank taking on the modulars was its ability to take on additional students without affecting the teaching going on at the school. While it could have met the needs of students if selected, Phelan said the Butler had been home to a historically smaller school community, which has worked educating students successfully.

The greatest difference between the two proposals was the extensive infrastructure proposed at the Burbank. Including the repair and expansion of the parking lot and the overhaul of the playground area while the Bulter’s improvements would be limited to adding sod to the school’s two playgrounds.

In dollars and cents, the Burbank’s infrastructure costs exceed $692,000 compared to $172,000 at the Butler.

Heather Rubeski of Dalton Road, a Burbank parent and Precinct 7 Town Meeting Member told the committee and Phelan that presenting the most expensive option to the town’s legislative body could result in pushback by members.

“When I look at the cost difference of almost $500,000 … I think there is gonna be a lot of questions at Town Meeting on why are we spending all this extra money to put them at Burbank when the town has many things it needs to spend money on,” Rubeki said.

Putting on her “parent’s hat,” Rubeki also asked why would the district select the Burbank for additional space when the school population has been static resulting in children being bused to the school in September 2019.

“It has a feeling of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ and that has become very noticeable in the parent conversations,” she said.

Town officials and Town Meeting members had already begun on how to pay for the modulars with discussions on whether to dip into the “free” cash account which paid for the prefab classrooms at the middle school (a total of $1.4 million) or to finance the project through a bond.

Phelan said moving forward with the project is the best solution until a decision is made on the future of the new Belmont High School which will impact the district’s building requirements. 

“This is something that I believe is a good decision for the town … that this is a short-term trend that will help inform our long-term planning as well,” he said.

Belmont Elementary Schools Honored On Beacon Hill

Photo: Burbank Principal Tricia Clifford with state rep Dave Rogers (left) and state sen. Will Brownsberger. 

A pair of Belmont elementary schools were the toast of Beacon Hill as each received recognition for stellar work in education.

The Daniel Butler Elementary and Mary Lee Burbank Elementary schools were honored at the Massachusetts State House in a ceremony held Wednesday, Feb. 1 recogning 51 Bay State schools for high achievement, making strong progress, narrowing achievement gaps or a combination of all three.

The Butler school was honored for receiving the 2016 National Blue Ribbon Award given by the U.S. Department of Education for achieving at a “very high level,” while the Burbank school was saluted as a Massachusetts Commendation School for their high academic progress. The Butler received the National Blue Ribbon award in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in November.


State Rep. Dave Rogers (l) Principals Michael McAllister (formerly Butler, now heading the Chenery Middle School in Belmont) and Danielle Betancourt (Butler), State Sen. Will Brownsberger at the Massachusetts State House.

Principals Michael McAllister (formerly Butler, now heading the Chenery Middle School in Belmont), Danielle Betancourt (Butler), Tricia Clifford (Burbank), and Belmont Superintendent John Phelan attended the ceremony. Also in attendance were State Rep. David Rogers and State Sen. William Brownsberger. There were opening remarks by the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell D. Chester, the Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito presented the awards.

For more information, and a complete list of the 51 Massachusetts schools honored, head to the Mass Department of Education web site.

Burbank Community Protest Dangerous Roadway After Guard Hurt [VIDEO]

Photo: Concern on School Street.

When Kelly Fanning heard Wednesday, Jan. 11 well-liked crossing guard James Marcantonio was hit and then hospitalized by a vehicle on School Street in front of the Burbank Elementary School, the mother of two who lives steps from the crosswalk knew it was time for the community to take action.

“[James] is a friend to everyone, he knows all the children and really looks after them,” said Fanning.

(A press release from the Belmont Police said Marcantonio suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the accident that occurred at 8:11 a.m. The driver was cited for not yielding for a person in a crosswalk.)

“If this could happen to him, it shows how dangerous the road is now,” said the mom of Reece Bundy and Mabel Fanning. “There recently have been three accidents before [Marcantonio] including another pedestrian, all happening in front of the school.”

Parents have pointed to the increase in pass-through traffic along School Street, how the crosswalk is just beyond a blind corner as traffic travels from Washington Street and the lack of traffic-calming devices leading to the crosswalk.

“I know that the town knows the yellow [warning] lights don’t work. It’s just another thing that lets drivers not pay attention to the crosswalk,” said Jimmy Busa, who was standing in for his fellow crossing guard.

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Later Wednesday, Fanning and her husband, Red Bundy, began mobilizing their social media contacts to bring together parents, students and residents to demonstrate Thursday morning before school in support of better safety leading in both directions to the crosswalk.

“There are several things the town can do including put a curb along [the south side of] School Street up to the crosswalk and raise the crosswalk,” said Randolph Street’s Peter Dizikes, a parent, and a Precinct 1 Town Meeting member.

On a cloudy, chilly Thursday morning, Fanning brought colored poster board and Sharpies for students and parents to write out signs.

“Ten parents sent back messages that they would attend,” said Fanning. “That would be a good start.”

Soon, parents walking students to school came by and joined the growing numbers who carried signs – “Stay Alert and Slow Down” and “Kids Crossing” – and brought their voices and even cowbells (“More cowbells” advised one parent to the students ringing away).

By the beginning of the school day, more than 60 students and residents were loudly proclaiming their support to make the roadway and crosswalk safer.

“I hope that the [town] will see that there is a lot of people who want something to happen here. This is a serious safety issue that needs to be addressed,” said Fanning.

Crossing Guard Hit By Vehicle at Burbank Elementary, Hospitalized

Photo: The location of the accident.

A crossing guard was struck by a motor vehicle in front of the Mary Lee Burbank Elementary School at approximately 8:18 a.m. this morning, Wednesday, Jan. 11, according to a press release from the Belmont Police Department.

The guard, who are hired by the Belmont Police to assist residents and students to cross busy main roadways, was transported by Belmont Fire Rescue from the scene to a local area hospital with non-life threatening injuries, said Belmont Police Assistant Chief James MacIsaac.

The motor vehicle heading westbound on School Street struck the crossing guard in the crosswalk at School Street and Sharpe Road. The preliminary investigation indicates that speed was not a factor.

The vehicle driver was cited at the scene for Failure to Yield to a Pedestrian in the Crosswalk, according to Belmont Police.

Burbank Students Had A Great Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF

Photo: Ms. Wollner (right) class with Principal Tricia Clifford.

Last month, more than 150 students of the Mary Lee Burbank Elementary School embraced the “Kids Helping Kids” spirit and collected approximately $1,580 for the annual Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF drive, enough money to provide 1,100 malnourished children with lifesaving nutrition for one day or measles protection to nearly 4,100 children.

A friendly competition for the highest percentage of participation was narrowly won by Jodi Wollner’s class, who are pictured with school Principal Dr. Tricia Clifford (see above).

Letter To The Editor: Don’t Sacrifice Minuteman Because Of Other Concerns

Photo: The Garden Classroom at the Burbank.

To the editor:

In my capacity as Co-President of the Burbank Elementary Parent Teacher Association, I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with many students from Minuteman Career and Technical High School. Our gorgeous Garden Classroom would not have been possible without the hard work of students in the Minuteman Horticulture program under the guidance of their excellent teachers Sarah Ard and Peter Kelleher. They collaborated with the PTA to help us turn a sunken pit of weeds into an educationally valuable and beautiful part of the student experience at Burbank. This year, they are helping us turn a neglected patch on one of the school paths into a vibrant garden. Our school community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Minuteman.

The Board of Selectmen decided that it needed to send a message that the proposed new Minuteman High School would be “too big” for the students who attend. They felt that financial impact on the average Belmont tax bill was too much to spend on this “too big” school (estimates of the impact range from $33-$75 per household). This decision ignored the fact that Minuteman was following the MSBA’s guidelines regarding the size of the school (the MSBA will not contribute to a new school building designed for fewer than 600 students). It ignored the fact that this is the last chance for Minuteman to take advantage of a level of funding no longer available through MSBA. And it ignored the fact that the existing school is in need of $100 million of repairs. Guess who would shoulder that cost if a new school is not built? Taxpayers in member towns, and without the assistance of the MSBA.

The Board’s decision also ignored the impact a new school – one that serves the needs of vocational education in the 21st century – would have on enrollment at Minuteman. The Board of Selectmen does not seem to understand the role that vocational education can and should play in serving our community and in serving the towns that share Minuteman with Belmont. A state of the art facility that provides educational opportunities for fields in high demand in today’s economy – biotech, robotics, health care, fiber optics – along with the vocational stalwarts of plumbing, electricity, and automotive, will better attract the students that could most benefit from a hands-on, experience-based education. And a new facility is much more likely to attract new member towns. Staying with the status quo is more likely to lose students and member towns, further increasing the burden on the municipalities that stay.

I am sorry to say that the Warrant Committee also voted against the new Minuteman, but by a close margin. The other member towns have or are likely to support the plan because they know it is the best option. Town Meeting in Belmont overwhelmingly approved remaining in the Minuteman District, and our town has been part of the planning process every step of the way, do we want to be the town that votes against its future? I am well aware of our other capital obligations in town: Belmont High School, the Library, the Police Station, DPW. But we cannot sacrifice Minuteman High because we have these other concerns. They have been working a long time towards this desperately needed solution, and the students that benefit from it deserve much better than being snubbed by our town.

My sister attended a regional technical high school in Connecticut. It enabled her to begin working right away after high school, and she later went on to run her own business. While this model of technical education – one where graduates are employable from day one – is still a part of the vocational experience, many students at Minuteman continue their education in related fields: medicine, biochemistry, landscape architecture, programming, and much more. It’s a model that works, now more than ever, and our town should support it.

Jessie Bennett

Precinct 1