Bills would limit commercial pet sales

Published in The Lowell Sun and the Sentinel & Enterprise April 1, 2017

BOSTON — New restrictions on the commercial sale of dogs and cats under consideration by the Massachusetts Legislature are designed to improve animal welfare and consumer protection.

Several bills call for banning commercial dog and cat sales, prohibiting the sale of dogs and cats less than eight weeks old and requiring pet stores to work with licensed breeders that have not violated the Animal Welfare Act.

State Rep. Colleen Garry said she supports the legislation because it would provide more oversight for stores and breeders.

“(People) absolutely love their pets and they are buying them because they want to have an animal in their life,” said Garry, a Dracut Democrat. “To just have someone breeding them and not caring for them is a real issue and just making money off of another living thing.”

Garry joined more than 50 legislators to co-sponsor bills filed by Rep. Jennifer Benson, D-Lunenburg, and Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, that would help improve conditions for puppies and kittens and give owners options if they were not aware the animal they purchased was sick.

“As an animal lover, pet owner and occasional small-scale breeder, I am deeply aware of the emotional challenges for families when a pet falls ill, as well as the need to protect the health and safety of young animals,” Spilka, the Senate Ways and Means Chair, said in a statement.

Reps. Jim Miceli, D-Wilmington, and James Arciero, D-Westford, and Sens. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, and Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, also co-sponsored the bills. They were not available for comment.

Mike Keiley manages adoptions at Nevins Farm in Methuen, which is one of three MSPCA adoption centers in the state.

In addition to horses, potbelly pigs and hissing cockroaches, the center often takes in pets purchased from stores or breeders, Kelley said.

“One of the most common issues that we see is that impulse purchase of a dog,” said Keiley, who has worked at Nevins Farm for more than 20 years.

Some people who pick up a puppy at the mall or buy one online and ship them in from out of state may not anticipate what is needed to take care of a dog.

“Your expectations may totally change over time as that dog grows,” he said. “I think people pay a lot of money for those animals and then it’s surprising to see that they don’t put the other resources in to have them be successful with their family.”

About 14 bills have been filed that aim to protect pets and improve conditions for them at stores or kennels.

Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, said he filed the bill to end cat and dog sales at pet stores after learning about puppy mills and seeing some animals “confined in Plexiglass containers” at a local pet store.

“It’s not the way to operate a business,” said O’Connor, who serves as a minority whip. “We’re in the 21st century and there’s an overpopulation right now (of pets.) Let’s focus on that, focus on adoption, and focus on stopping the process, including at commercial pet shops, of puppy mill breeding going on in the country.”

O’Connor’s bill would affect nine stores across the state, including Just Pups in Tyngsboro, whose owner was charged with animal cruelty for selling a sick Yorkie puppy last year.

The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office said the case has been disposed. A call to Just Pups led to a disconnected number.

The largest of the stores, Pet Express, has three stores that sell nearly 60 breeds of puppies in Eastern Massachusetts

Breeders as well as pet stores that work with animals for adoption would be exempt.

O’Connor’s bill has garnered 20 co-sponsors, including Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster. She was not did not respond to requests for comment.

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a nonprofit based in Alexandria, Virginia, does not support the legislation, saying it would harm small businesses.

“Frequently independent, small business retailers that sell pets have designed their business model around the sale of the animals, the purchases that are made in conjunction with that sale, and creating a relationship that will encourage customers to continue to shop with them,” wrote Robert Likins, vice president of governmental affairs, in an email.

Banning dog and cat sales at pet stores could also harm veterinarians, groomers and pet food manufacturers, Likins said.

Kara Holmquist, director of advocacy at the MSPCA, said the nonprofit has worked with legislators including Spilka to put standards in place and reduce the number of sick animals.

The state has been a leader for animal protection, Holmquist said, and will continue its efforts.

“Massachusetts does have strong animal-protection laws,” she said, “but from answering my phone and talking to people and learning from different departments here what is happening in the state, that is certainly clear there is a lot more work to be done.”

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Nangle tax bill targets largest nonprofits

Published in The Lowell Sun March 23, 2017

BOSTON — Large nonprofit organizations with top-earning employees could be required to pay their share of property taxes to the communities where they operate under terms of proposed new legislation.

State Rep. David Nangle, a Lowell Democrat, filed a bill expected to reach the clerk’s office Thursday to get nonprofits that are generally tax-exempt to help ease a burden on cities and towns.

“Cities and towns are always looking for additional assistance to help them meet their budgetary needs,” said Nangle, who serves as assistant majority leader in the House. “The largest nonprofits could and should be the perfect partner to accomplish this.”

There are thousands of nonprofit organizations in the state, including hospitals, higher-education and cultural organizations and churches. Under Nangle’s proposal, a nonprofit would need to pay property taxes if the combined compensation of its top five highest-paid employees surpasses $2.5 million. Nangle said his bill would affect a few hundred nonprofits.

Cities and towns can decide whether they want to participate.

The property tax payments could generate up to $1 billion, he said. That money could go to education and infrastructure and help keep property taxes down for residents.

Nonprofits would pay property taxes on a scale within four years. In the first year, they would pay 100 percent of property tax, 75 percent the next year, 50 percent the third year and 25 percent in the years after.

Jim Klocke, CEO of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, expressed concern over the proposal, saying it is important to preserve tax-exempt status for nonprofits because of their contribution to communities.

“It’s a position this whole sector holds,” he said. “It’s a fundamental part of the nonprofit world that they have these charitable missions and part of supporting those missions is tax-exemption status and doing whatever we can do enable nonprofits to do as much as they can — large, medium, or small — to deliver services is really critical.”

Nangle emphasized that smaller organizations such as the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs and shelters would not have to pay unless they meet the compensation requirements. Places of worship and religious organizations would also exempt.

In his last push to get nonprofits to pay property taxes, Nangle said some legislators worried that these groups would be hurt.

“It is not the case,” he said. “I wouldn’t do that to my local Y club, sober houses or other small nonprofits.”

Organizations can set up agreements with cities or towns to make an alternative payment, a program known as payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT.

Nangle credited UMass Lowell and the city for working together on a tax agreement after the university purchased the Perkins Park residential development last year.

Last session Nangle offered a bill focusing on getting nonprofit hospitals to pay property taxes. The legislation had a hearing, but it did not make out of committee.

The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, which includes nonprofits like Massachusetts General Hospital and Lowell General Hospital, said they do not support the legislation.

“Massachusetts has a vibrant not-for-profit sector that offers innumerable services and benefits to the citizens and communities of the state,” the association said in a statement. “MHA and our non-profit member facilities are working collaboratively with other not-for-profit organizations to educate policy makers about the benefits offered by tax-exempt organizations and the expectations and requirements that accompany nonprofit status.”

Nangle said the bill will help start conversation with the nonprofit community that he says is long overdue.

“If some of these nonprofits have compensation like Fortune 500 companies, they should have tax obligations of Fortune 500 companies,” he said. “It’s about participating in and helping the communities they’re a part of.”

Tewksbury civic leader wants fanfare for first responders

Published in The Lowell Sun March 8, 2017

BOSTON — A Tewksbury official is expressing disappointment that Gov. Charlie Baker has failed to visit the town after nearly a year since promising a formal signing ceremony for a bill to honor first responders that originated there.

First Responders Day, which falls on the third Sunday of April preceding Patriots Day, was the idea of former selectman and outgoing Town Moderator Jerry Selissen. State Rep. Jim Miceli, D-Wilmington, filed a bill on Selissen’s behalf to establish the day in 2015. Rep. James Arciero, D-Westford, Rep. Rady Mom, D-Lowell, and Sen. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover, were among co-sponsors.

Although the original date Miceli proposed was changed, Baker signed the bill into law on April 15, 2016, two days before the inaugural First Responders Day.

The quick signing was “the biggest disappointment” because it didn’t allow for enough time to prepare “anything of significance,” Selissen said.

“I’m in hopes that now almost a whole year has gone by that we can do something a little bit what would be more appropriate to recognize local police and fire,” he said.

“First responders put their own lives on the line to save others in danger, and we have a responsibility to ensure they receive strong leadership, representation and recognition on Beacon Hill,” Baker said in a statement after he signed the legislation.

“Every day, these brave men and women and their families provide extraordinary service to the commonwealth. We strive to follow their example and will use this occasion every year to recommit ourselves to doing so.”

But, a spokeswoman acknowledged, “the governor has not participated in a ceremonial signing in Tewksbury as of today.”

Selissen said he has worked with first responders, has respect for veterans, like his father who served in the Coast Guard and his father-in-law who served in World War II and later the Boston Fire Department.

Miceli said a day of thanks for first responders was long overdue.

“For many years, we have rightfully honored the veterans and service-members, and we rightfully honor our presidents and other public servants, but we had forgotten about the men and women who put on fire, police, and EMT uniforms to serve us every day in our communities,” Miceli said in a statement.

Especially after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Selissen and Miceli felt more of a need to honor first responders and “correct that situation.”

“I hope that for many years to come that this day will honor all those who have fallen in the line of duty, such as Wilmington’s own son Sean Collier, who choose to take a tremendous risk each day so that we may live in a peaceful, stable community without fear,” Miceli said.

Collier, a 26-year-old MIT police officer, died a few days later after a confrontation with the Tsarnaev brothers.

His family has pushed for a National First Responder’s Day. U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano introduced the legislation in 2013, but it did not make it out of committee.

Several departments said they have heard about First Responders Day, but they don’t currently have plans to celebrate it.

Lowell Fire Chief Jeffrey Winward said the department has other “special days” throughout the year to honor firefighters.

An awards ceremony for those who have gone above and beyond in the line of duty and a memorial march for retired firefighters who have lost their lives are some ways the department honors its members, Winward said.

Chelmsford Fire Chief Gary Ryan also said his department doesn’t have anything planned and that the day “snuck up on us.”

In lieu of a formal celebration, Ryan said the department will be honoring former chief Fred Reid who served in the department 31 years and died last week.

“We’ll take First Responders Day as a day to honor some of the other firefighters who have come before us and try to carry Chief Reid’s legacy and commitment to public safety forward,” Ryan said.

Miceli’s office said there are plans to have a large event for First Responders Day around the time of the Marathon and is working on details with the governor’s office.

In the month leading up to the next First Responders Day, Selissen said he would like to see the state put together guidelines for how cities and towns should recognize first responders.

Selissen also said he is still hoping to hear from Baker’s office.

“If someone from the governor’s office wants to reach out to me,” he said, “I would be more than happy to talk to them about what we can do to make this a memorable day going forward.”

Lowell philanthropist Nancy Donahue honored by state arts group

Published in The Lowell Sun February 15, 2017

BOSTON — Nancy Donahue found a lifelong passion for the arts at a young age. She took that love and blended it with a mission to give back to the Lowell-area community.

Donahue, 87, said she wants to continue her work for as long as she can.

“I do what I can for everyone,” she said. “As I’ve told my children, all we can do is to make our part of the world a better place.”

The Massachusetts Cultural Council recognized Donahue for her lasting contributions to the arts in the Greater Lowell area during a Wednesday ceremony at the Statehouse.

Donahue has played a role in developing the Lowell arts community for the past few decades. She helped found cultural hubs, including the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in 1987 and the New England Quilt Museum. She now leads the Lowell Arts Associations and serves on several boards.

As state Sen. Eileen Donoghue of Lowell presented Donahue with the award, the two women hugged and Donahue’s family and friends clapped as Donahue made her way on stage.

“The truth is, the cultural renaissance in Lowell that happened many years ago would not have been possible without the leadership, the support, the example and tenacity (of Nancy Donahue),” Donoghue said during her introduction.

More than 200 guests attended the ceremony in the flag-lined Great Hall.

The Springfield SciTech High School band performed near the Grand Staircase and a world-renowned Syrian artist, Kenan Adnawi, played folk tunes on his Oud, a lute-like instrument.

Donahue’s philanthropy also includes donations at UMass Lowell to establish an arts professorship and a fund in her name at the Greater Lowell Community Foundation to help nonprofit organizations.

She and her late husband, Richard, an aide to President John F. Kennedy, who died in September 2015, raised 11 children and were both involved in charitable giving in the community.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, spoke briefly about the impact of the work by the award recipients and how arts play a vital role in communities.

Donahue said she looks forward to giving back in Lowell and encouraging others.

“I hope what I’ve given to the community keeps on going, getting better and inspires others to contribute,” she said.

Mass. bills seek to lift criminal justice age for juveniles

Published in The Lowell Sun and the Sentinel & Enterprise February 13, 2017

BOSTON — Jeff Alvarez remembers how he often got into trouble as a teenager in Lawrence. He spent three months on the streets and later two years in an Essex County lockup.

Alvarez, now 23, is a member of Lowell-based nonprofit UTEC that helps young adults through education and employment. He has joined the effort to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 18 to 21 to help others get the support they need.

“If you go to a juvenile jail you’ll get the support that you need like education (and) help with life in general,” he said. “When you’re in an adult jail, they just send you there and you just wait until you’re done doing your time.”

Bills offered by Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, and others aim to raise the juvenile criminal justice age to 21, making Massachusetts the first in the country to do so.

“Young people have unique developmental needs, and our juvenile justice system plays a critical role in helping them get back on track,” Spilka, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement. “Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction will increase public safety and provide young people with the age-appropriate rehabilitation and support services they need to lead successful adult lives and positively contribute to their communities.”

Spilka previously sponsored legislation signed into law by former Gov. Deval Patrick in 2013 that made 17-year-olds part of the juvenile court system.

Rep. Stephan Hay, D-Fitchburg, said he supports raising the juvenile court age because it would help young adults from all backgrounds.

“Treating an 18-year-old the same as you’re treating a 28- or 38-year-old is inappropriate,” he said. “Although we can say at 18 you’re old enough to do certain things, I don’t think that jail time and criminal records are necessarily the appropriate measures to take for that idea.”

In his district, Hay said, police and local activist groups have worked together for community outreach to help keep young people out of jail.

“It’s encouraging that people aren’t just talking about it or complaining about it,” he said. “They’re saying let’s actually step forward and put together an action plan and let’s work together to try and make this better from both sides.”

Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian said his office supports efforts to work with young offenders.

“Evidence clearly shows we have to reevaluate how the justice system deals with young adults,” Koutoujian said in a statement. “We believe this will help these individuals return to the community more prepared to be engaged, productive citizens.”

The Middlesex Sheriff’s Office works with UTEC through its Streetworker Program and is preparing to open a Young Adult Unit.

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan was not available for an interview. However, her spokesman, Meghan Kelly, said in an email: “It is important that juveniles are treated appropriately in the criminal justice system. The rights of juveniles must be balanced with the rights of victims and the protection of the general public. Several bills relating to the treatment of juveniles are presently pending in the legislature. The MDAA is in the process of carefully reviewing these bills to make sure that they are consistent with these goals.”

The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office currently doesn’t work with anyone under the age of 18, said Superintendent David Tuttle.

Some young adults could be diverted from the sheriff’s office if the legislation were to pass, Tuttle said, but it is too early to know how many people this would affect.

Police departments in Lowell declined comment as did the Worcester and Middlesex district attorney’s offices. Fitchburg Police Chief Ernest Martineau was not available for comment.

Several organizations, including UTEC and Citizens for Juvenile Justice, support the legislation.

UTEC Executive Director Gregg Croteau, said the proposals can help reduce recidivism rates for young adults. About 11 percent of young adults in UTEC are re-arrested within a year, Croteau said, compared to 52 percent statewide.

“It’s one of the better paths for allowing young people a true clean slate,” he said.

Naoka Carey, executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, said she hoped that the effort will gain bipartisan support and affirm the state’s role as a leader for juvenile justice reform.

“Massachusetts has a history, especially in juvenile justice, of being a national leader,” she said. “We have a lot to teach other places about how to do this well and how to do it a way that protects public safety, but you’re getting much better outcomes for kids.”

Bills aimed to empower schools get backing

Published in The Lowell Sun February 1, 2017

BOSTON — Lowell officials expressed support for two bills in the Massachusetts Legislature that aim to create “empowerment zones” to give public school districts more freedom and the tools to fend off state takeover.

The companion measures, offered by Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, and Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, would help schools among the lowest 20 percent statewide by offering more freedom to change curriculum, encourage creative teaching, and use resources in a way that best fits their needs.

The bills are “revenue neutral,” according to the legislators, although schools could face additional costs depending on how they choose to proceed.

“The idea is to keep this focused, directed attention at schools that are most in need of this kind of help,” Lesser said. “The idea is to help them get caught up so that they don’t fall off into the threshold of requiring state takeover.”

Gov. Charlie Baker expressed support for empowerment zones partnerships in his State of the Commonwealth address and promised to work with legislators to create a statewide model.

“These zones create more flexibility in schools, and allow educators to make the changes necessary to provide a better learning environment for our kids,” Baker said in his address.

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, D-Lowell, said having flexibility and creativity for district schools is a thoughtful approach.

“I’m interested in anything that we can do to provide that type of innovative aspect and innovative approach to education,” she said. “It’s certainly worth exploring.”

Lowell Mayor Ed Kennedy, who also chairs the School Committee, said the district’s schools have seen “unprecedented improvement” in the past two years.

Roughly two-thirds of Lowell schools are considered high performing by the state, Kennedy said. Many of the district’s Level 3 schools are on the cusp of moving up a level, he added.

The state ranks schools on a scale of 1 to 5, with Level 1 as the highest performing and Level 5 as the lowest based on state test scores and other factors.

“Lowell doesn’t need (empowerment zones) now,” he said, “but if we find ourselves in a situation similar to Springfield, or Holyoke, or Lawrence, it could be a tool for us.”

Peisch said her bill builds on past legislation, including the 2010 achievement gap law signed by former Gov. Deval Patrick.

“We’ve seen what has worked with the receiverships … that having more flexibility and autonomy is one element that seems to be common in schools improving themselves,” she said.

Lesser said his bill draws on ideas from both sides of the charter-school expansion debate. Ballot Question 2 was defeated in November.

The bills would expand a program that started in Springfield.

The Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership, which began during the 2015-16 school year, is the first in the state, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Within one year of the partnership, a majority of students attending nine middle schools in the zone had modest improvement on state tests, said Jacqueline Reis, a spokeswoman for DESE.

If everything goes right, empowerment zone partnerships could be ready for the next school year, Lesser said.

Optimism amid the bustle at Boston University

 

This piece was originally part of an online collection of vignettes from New England about the Inauguration and incoming administration. The print version in The Boston Globe is here

Students settled in front of five televisions in the George Sherman Union at Boston University. The chatter of the nearby food court and groups of students chatting nearly drowned out the inauguration festivities playing.

As Donald Trump placed his hand on the Bible, arms were crossed, brows furrowed, and mouths fell agape.

Raffi Oekasah, 23, who is from Indonesia, was one of a handful of students who watched the ceremony. He leaned toward the screen as Trump began his remarks and used his well-known hand gestures.

Oekasah said hearing Trump speaking negatively about Muslims during the campaign made him afraid to come study in the United States. But he wants to be optimistic about the new president.

“Let’s see what happens next,” he said. “Many people feel that [Trump] is unpredictable, so just be prepared.”

As students shuffled into the GSU to eat or prepare between classes, some glanced up at the screens to see leaders attending the ceremony, but most kept their eyes trained on computers phones, and books.

Nicole Haftel, 18, of Philadelphia, said she checked up on the ceremony on social media but mostly tried to avoid the inauguration.

“I’m very disappointed with the president-elect,” she said. “I hope this is kind of a message to everyone who didn’t vote, that their vote matters.”

Greg Sanders, 18, who is studying business, said that although he does not agree with many of Trump’s policies, he wants to see the president succeed. Sanders, who is from Long Island, N.Y., also voted for Clinton.

“Change is not such a bad thing as long as it’s the right thing,” he said. “As long as [Trump] does a good job, I don’t mind.”

Brighton High School gears up for turn around plan

Note: This was my final piece for a beat reporting class in which I covered the Allston-Brighton neighborhood of Boston. The article was written in December. 

Brighton High School teacher Emily Bozeman stepped into her role as headmaster in May knowing the nearly century-old school was struggling.

Before the start of the school year, she poured over data about test scores, graduation rates, and dropout rates and saw the school was not up to par. Bozeman educated the staff about Brighton’s numbers and together they worked to slow the school’s downward trajectory.

It wasn’t enough.

The Massachusetts education commissioner reviewed similar data and saw a chronic inability for the high school to meet standards. At the end of September, Brighton High — a refuge to many low-income students, English language learners, and high-risk students — was deemed a failure.

“It was shocking even though we knew all of these things and that we were actively working to prevent it,” Bozeman said. It was staggering.”

Bozeman and half the staff could lose their jobs. Many teachers have said they want to continue working at Brighton High, but they will have to wait for the superintendent’s decision if they can say.

The state is calling on the school to come up with a “turn around” plan — a three-year school improvement plan with help from the district and state — to close the achievement gap.

Liza Veto, turnaround school director for Boston Public Schools, has been working with Brighton since the designation.

“Ultimately, for any school in Massachusetts, we would want students to be performing at their full potential,” Veto said in a phone interview. “We want them to have high performance, great levels of growth. We want all high school students graduating, none dropping out.”

Brighton High is perched on a hill near St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center. Nearly 1,000 students walk the halls of the gothic-style building, which was built in the 1930s.

Most students are Hispanic or African-American, a rate that is up to four times higher than the ethnicity makeup of students in the state, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

About 88 percent of Brighton High students are low income, according to the state. Up to 40 percent are English language learners. About 20 percent of students are enrolled in special education classes.

Brighton High ranked in the bottom 2 percent for performance compared to high schools in the state, Veto said.

State accountability standards that measure school performance look at how well the school eliminates proficiency gaps, according to the department.

The department’s report states that Brighton High is among the lowest achieving and least improving schools, has persistently low graduation rates, and has low test participation. The school scored 48 out of 100 for the state’s Cumulative Progress and Performance Index, putting it below target.

Schools receive a rank from one to five with Level 1 being the highest achieving and Level 5 as the lowest. The bottom two ranks require intervention from the state. Brighton High fell to a Level 4, which triggered the need for a turnaround plan, Veto said.

Patrick McQuillan, a professor at Boston College, has written about education reform and leadership.

The Level 4 designation, he said, can negatively affect teachers’ morale.

“[They] oftentimes feel as though they are not in a fair game, and that other schools have other advantages they don’t have,” he said in a phone interview. “Being designated publicly identified is a very painful experience.”

Teachers and students spoke at an Oct. 26 School Committee meeting at the Boston Public Schools headquarters to advocate for a “transformational model” that strengthens teacher effectiveness.

At the meeting, students from the Brighton High Leadership Team told the committee that looking at test scores as an indicator of performance ignores their accomplishments.

“We, the students, will lose so much if who we know and what we love about our school changes dramatically next year,” a member of the team said. “We are not nameless, anonymous numbers.”

Chris Unger, a professor at Northeastern University who has researched school policy changes, has analyzed how effective turnaround practices are in Massachusetts.

A capable leader is the key during the turnaround process, Unger said.

“You can’t just get anyone off the street and you can’t just get any principal,” he said in a telephone interview. “You need to get someone who knows that they’re doing to rally the staff around a common set of ideals, focus, and a revision of the structures of the school.”

Teachers, education professionals, neighborhood partners, and the city came together as a local stakeholders group toward the end of October to make recommendations for Brighton High to improve student achievement.

The group has been looking data from the state, understanding the school’s culture, and discussing what needs to be changed.

Bozeman said the meetings have grappled with teachers’ wishes to preserve the heart of Brighton High and look for solutions that may challenge those ideas and practices.

“It’s a process that asks you not to focus on the emotional,” she said after the meeting. “It’s a process that asks you to look analytically at something that is deeply personal, so it’s hard.”

Bozeman’s hope is at the end of the five-week process the group will come up with a set of recommendations that balance familiar and innovative approaches to help students.

The group’s recommendations for Superintendent Tommy Chang are expected in December.

About 30 parents, teachers, and former students attended the meeting on Nov. 9 in the school library to address the stakeholder group and advocate for students.

Robin Mankel, who has taught math for nine years, said it is difficult to work with students falling behind in classes that are over capacity.

In 2014, there were about 80 teachers for a population close to 1,000.

“How am I supposed teach this kid to multiply when I’m supposed to be moving on with rigorous curriculum for the rest of my students and getting them ready for the MCAS?” she said. “I need help.”

Steffan Mesidor, a senior at Brighton High, told the group that the school is like a second home. He worked his way out of special education and English language learner classes.

Many teachers in the crowd smiled when he and several alumni mentioned how they helped them find a path to success.

“I want to say thank you to all my teachers for believing in me,” he said to the stakeholder group. “I feel like you should all just stay here.”

 

 

Students repaint school rock defaced with hate speech in Harvard

Published in The Boston Globe November 26, 2016 – Metro B4

Students from the Bromfield School in Harvard gathered at their school Saturday afternoon armed with cans of white paint and rollers to repaint their beloved rock that was defaced with hate speech and offensive symbols.

The rock that sits in front of the school was vandalized Friday with swastikas, anti-Semitic symbols and words, drawings of genitalia, and profanities, Harvard police said in a statement.

Bromfield, which has 700 students in grades six to 12, is one of two public schools in the town located about 45 miles northwest of Boston. The school was not open when the vandalism happened, and students are still on Thanksgiving break.

Superintendent Linda Dwight said it was wonderful to see students rally the community to come together to repaint the rock.

“It felt like a way to minimize the hate that had taken place just the day before,” she said by telephone Saturday night.

The rock usually is a place where seniors express themselves, such as celebrating a school team’s victory, said Emma Franzeim, a Bromfield graduate who worked with students to organize the painting.

“Giving the students the opportunity to make us proud was important to me,” said Franzeim, 34. “It’s something I hoped to channel in helping them organize [and] giving them resources. What happened today and how people came out … that is Harvard.”

About 50 students, teacher, parents, alumni, and town residents gathered to watch students paint the rock white, she said. Some used paint rollers with a long pole to lean over the rock. Others scaled the rock and painted it while perched atop.

Franzeim created a GoFundMe campaign called “Paint the Rock!” Friday to raise $2,000 to pay for the painting materials. As of Saturday afternoon, the campaign had raised $1,245 of its goal.

Students will return Monday to paint a design on the rock, Franzeim said.

Police said the department is working with the superintendent and that the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office will help investigate the vandalism.

Dwight said there is an assembly planned for Monday to help students feel safe and celebrate painting the rock. The goal is to foster a feeling of unity, she said.

“It’s a minority that expressed hateful views,” Dwight said. “We want to minimize that voice and expand the voice of inclusion and respect for each other.”

Goodwill workers honored at Thanks-for-giving dinner

Published in The Boston Globe Nov. 24

They fanned out to covered tables, wearing white aprons and carrying plates filled with staples of the annual feast — spoonfuls of sweet potatoes, slices of carved turkey, and, later, pumpkin pie.

But the Thanksgiving servers were some of the city and state’s most powerful leaders, seeking to provide about 250 workers a treat Wednesday at the Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries in Roxbury.

“Make sure you don’t tell anyone I have an apron on,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo to the hall. “I do it strictly for you.”

The annual Thanks-for-Giving Dinner has become a way to celebrate the holiday and the community, said Joanne Hilferty, president and chief executive of Morgan Memorial Goodwill. “It’s a chance to celebrate what everyone has accomplished,” she said. “It really helps everyone in our program feel valued.”

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh thanked program participants and officials for coming together for the celebration, praising “everyone at Goodwill and Goodwill for the great work that you do every single day for everyone in the city.”

Attorney General Maura Healey, who served stuffing, said Thanksgiving is about love and compassion.

“We are in a time right now when we need to see one another through the eyes of that other person,” she said, “and that’s what today is all about.”

Governor Charlie Baker thanked guests for their hard work across the city and state.

“They do it when the cameras aren’t on and they do it when nobody is watching,” he said. “They do it because they believe in it and they care about their fellow man.”

After the remarks, people gathered near the live band, dancing to “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. Baker twirled a few women around the floor.

After eating a slice of pie, Joshua Olson walked around the hall to watch people dance. Olson said he has been working at Goodwill since 2005 and is thankful for what he has learned on the job.

“I’m really happy here,” said Olson, 38, of Brookline. “It’s the first place that has been really good. I’ve been in other programs, but they’re nothing compared to this. It’s the best of the best.”