Opinion: Chenery Students Credit to Horace Mann’s Legacy

Photo: Horace Mann

Eighth-grade History is all about our changing American nation. It’s focused on the issues of 2015, but the amount of connections that students make between the past and the present by looking at the American Revolution, how our system of government formed, and how society grew and changed during the 19th century is remarkable. I’m fortunate to work at the Chenery Middle School with a group of passionate educators and motivated students. Your students care – not just about their learning, but also about their role in the bigger picture as the next generation of leaders. For them, the override vote and the debate that it brings up couldn’t have come at a better time.

Together we’ve been looking at how our founders set up the system of government, reaching back through the Jacksonian era, when public participation and involvement in government was heavily promoted. Just last week, we were looking at reforms our country made in the 19th century, one of which was the push by Horace Mann for public education. We looked at excerpts of Mann’s The Common School Journal and one of the biggest principles it emphasized was the idea that education should be paid for, controlled and sustained by an interested public.

I can’t tell how you excited as an educator it made me when students came in early; or stayed after school just to tell stories of the forum that they attended on the override’s yes/no debate and how many connections they made to the Jacksonian era because of it. They had about arguments both for and against the override, and how those made them think of the principles that Horace Mann was promoting. One of my students proudly proclaimed last week how great it felt to be able to go canvassing with her father, and be able to add something to the discussion when meeting and talking to potential voters not just about the work that goes on in our public schools but about why they should care about it.  

Much of the learning and sense of community we have is possible because of our “team model.” At Chenery we focus on fostering a safe learning environment that allows kids to step out of their comfort zones and become better students and bigger thinkers. Getting to know each and every one of my students not just as learners but also as people is the best part of my job. We build relationships and give kids the community they need looking out for them, caring for them, and giving them the tools and support to succeed. We meet in our teams to discuss their progress, growth, and social/emotional well being regularly. Each year our classes get a little bit bigger, and each year it gets a little bit harder to keep maintaining those relationships with a growing student body, and keep fitting those meetings into the busy daily schedule – but it still gets done. We know how important it is not just to the kids, but to their families as well.

The public forum at the Beech Street Center last Monday was a great example of your students in action. I was so proud to be standing with some of my colleagues listening to high school students, and even a middle schooler too, talk about the cuts they feared would make their way into our system if the override didn’t pass. Those participants are the ones we should recognize the most. They might not have a vote, but they care about what will happen and one day will be the thoughtful decision makers in Belmont. Throughout each and every step of their journey this community, and the educators who love to serve it, have supported them. Students have benefited from the strong team model at the Chenery among many other academic and extracurricular opportunities and support systems that our system is able to provide.

Horace Mann would probably be proud. Belmont is definitely a place where there is an interested public, and they certainly care about their public education system. Belmontonians should be proud too, because the “kid constituency” in town that might not be able to vote is definitely a part of the debate. They’re not just watching it; they’re participating in it and learning from it. Let’s make sure to preserve the supports they deserve and the educational community that they need so that when years from now they become the next generation of leaders they’ve been well prepared because of their strong foundation built in the Belmont Public Schools.

Adam Weldai
Chenery Grade 8 History 
Member of the Malden School Committee

Opinion: Vote ‘Yes’ Tuesday to End Cycle of Underfunding Education

Photo: Campaigners at a recent Precinct Meeting.

What are the schools our students deserve? That is the question facing our community next Tuesday.  

As an educator, union member, taxpayer and resident of Belmont all my life, I have seen a cycle of underfunding education that has brought us to this point.  The response now from those against the override sounds familiar; they simply say we can solve the problem without an override. That solution, however, simply places greater burdens on students and educators.

Our town has one of the state’s best public school systems, and it is essential to invest in our students’ future to maintain that excellence. Attacking educators’ compensation is deceptive and ignores how hard the Belmont Education Association and Belmont School Committee have worked together to operate within the town’s means.

An override is needed to sustain the schools and address increasing enrollment over the next three years. We need to support the children of Belmont and to support the town’s Financial Task Force, which is recommending passage of the override.

Since 2009, an additional 317 students have entered into grades K-12. Even with a highly trained and capable staff, larger class size means less individualized attention for our students. Class sizes have increased beyond School Committee-recommended maximums. Without additional staff and resources to address these concerns, students will not have the same learning opportunities and programming as this year’s graduates.   

Belmont is a residential community, and homeowners bear much of the funding for our schools.  This is a choice we make to maintain Belmont’s character and ensure our students continue to perform to the best of their abilities. If we do not want commercial development, then we need to be prepared to pass this override to address increasing enrollment.  This override is an essential investment to maintain the value and quality of the entire community.  

Over the past six years, teachers have forgone compensation to support our students. Your child’s teacher has given back salary increases to fund the schools and prevent the need for an override. It is erroneous to characterize our agreement as expensive and our methods as “more aggressive.”   

While some choose to criticize teacher salaries, ours are lower than competitive communities. In a state analysis of average teacher salaries in towns with the top public high schools, Belmont places last behind Concord-Carlisle, Wayland, Weston, Dover and Wellesley.   

As educators, Belmont teachers strive to provide the best possible outcomes for all students. We have been doing more with less for too long. Based on comparable communities, our salaries are not the issue.  

As residents we must place our children at the center of the conversation and this decision.  Please raise your hand to support our students and vote “Yes” next Tuesday.

John Sullivan

Palfrey Road

(Editor’s note: Sullivan is the president of the Belmont Education Association, the negotiating agent for Belmont’s educators.)