January 22: The death of a friend is always an unfathomable loss, especially when the friend would seem by all expectations to have many more years ahead and many more contributions to make to the common good. Monday morning I sent the staff of the Belmont Public Schools the following message:
“With deepest sorrow I must announce the death of School Committee member Dan Scharfman. Sunday night Dan succumbed to the effects of the heart attack he had suffered last week. Dan was deeply devoted to the Town of Belmont and especially to the students of the Belmont Public Schools. The loss of his leadership is immense, as is the loss of his friendship and counsel. Our sympathies and condolences go to his wife Merle Kummer, his children Rachel and Jacob, and his extended family. Just as Dan loved the community of Belmont and devoted so much attention to its well-being, the community of Belmont loved Dan, his vision, his gift of humor, his wisdom.”
To me personally Dan had become a close friend in the common goal of envisioning excellence for public education. He was an imaginative innovator, friendly critic, and personal counselor. He was the kind of intelligent and devoted school committee member every school superintendent should hope to have as a partner. During my interview to become interim superintendent in Belmont, one of my most memorable conversations centered upon Dan’s probing question about my philosophy of education. We engaged in a discussion deeply informed by his own training as a classicist and his knowledge about the foundations of civic responsibility for teaching the young. To lose Dan now when envisioning the future of public education is so critical seems unfair. Yet, as a community we owe Dan’s memory our rededication to his high aspirations for the commonweal.
January 14, 2013: Nine years ago (October 2004) the Town of Belmont submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority a “Master Plan and Feasibility Study for Renovations to Belmont High School.” That plan envisioned a phased but single-project renovation to the high school, a building opened as a new facility in 1971. After the reorganization of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the Town submitted an addendum to the plan calling for the addition of a wing devoted to the sciences. Each year since October 2004 the Town has revised and updated its Statement of Interest. Following an initial approval of a project plan by MSBA, a Town then authorizes a project feasibility study in accord with MSBA guidelines; and if all goes well, including a vote by the Town for a capital debt exclusion, then the project gets underway with somewhat less than a third of the cost borne by the Commonwealth.
The case for renovating and expanding Belmont High School is compelling. While the building remains safe, the auditorium has torn and squeaking seats that cannot be replaced without major renovation to the floor and room. The classrooms are outdated, and the science rooms suffer from a lack of preparation space or adequate work tables. The floor of the field house needs to be replaced. While informational technology has become a part of general operations, the building does not support or sustain the kind of wiring and infrastructure necessary for teaching and learning in the 21st century. The location of departmental offices isolates teachers from one another and complicates efforts to build integrated cross-disciplinary curricula. Most structural systems, including boilers and water heaters, are out-of-date.
Working with a small advisory group consisting of high school personnel, former and present school committee members, and representatives of Town boards, the School Department is developing a new Statement of Interest to submit to MSBA against an April 10 deadline. The Statement requires approval by the Select Board, and a proposal will go before the Board in March. The recent NEASC (New England Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges) accreditation report, once finally drafted, will place the high school on “Warning” because of the condition of the building. If all goes well, the Town should learn by late summer if the long wait to proceed with the project has a green light.
January 2: With the new year comes a new district strategic plan. Beginning a year ago, the District Leadership Council—the district leadership team consisting of all principals, assistant principals, program directors, and central office leaders—began working on what would emerge from upon the previous eighteen-month strategy that focused upon six overall goals. The Council revisited the district’s mission and vision statements and centered the successor strategy on progress achieved to accomplish the original six goals.
The Council presented to the School Committee early in November a summary of progress against the original plan that had been set to expire in October 2012. At its second meeting in November, the School Committee formally received the new plan that focuses upon three broad goals: 1) To prepare all students for college, career, and life-ling learning through a balanced and healthy school experience, continuity of curricula aligned with Commonwealth and community standards, support for educators to experiment and innovate, and clear articulation of instructional models; 2) To support continuous improvement and overall programmatic and fiscal stability by engaging administrators, teachers, students, and community stakeholders in generally accepted practices of long-term strategic planning; 3) To ensure that students receive instruction from consistently highly qualified educators who pursue continuous improvement of their art by hiring well-prepared and diverse professionals, sustaining continuous professional development by means of clear and coherent plans, and implementing a successful educator evaluation system in line with new Commonwealth standards.
The new goals are thoroughly compatible with the School Committee goals adopted in February 2012. To begin work for achieving the three broad goals, the Council identified nineteen focused initiatives, several of which will continue overall foreseeable future years. For a full description and copy of the strategy, click on the following link: http://www.belmont.k12.ma.us/mission/.