50 Days in the Schools: A Final Word


After the last 50 Days in the Schools post, I would like to thank all the administrators, staff, and you, our readers, for making this effort possible.

The 50 Days series was about more than just bringing out the good news in our district. We wanted it to be an educational process for the community as a whole. Yes, we wanted to point out some of the many wonderful educators and support staff we have in the district, but we also felt it was critically important to show you, our readers, the complexities and the depth of the different programs that make up the Melrose Public Schools.

Superintendent Taymore has said again and again that the demands of a school district in 2014 are not only dramatically different than they were 20 years ago they are dramatically different than they were five years ago. It is my hope that over the last six months, whether you have children in the schools or not, you will have a better understanding and appreciation of the Melrose Public Schools and those who serve our children. I also hope you have learned a thing or two that you did not know before and that the blogs perhaps sparked some ideas for how you can participate and volunteer to make our schools even better. I would love to hear your ideas next year, as we are thinking about doing not just a 50 Days in our Schools but a 50 Days in our City series that would cover municipal employees, community volunteers, and the individual citizens who make our city great. We have been thrilled by the number of hits we received as we finish just over two years of this blog. Thank you for reading. Your ideas are always welcome. And to all our wonderful students and staff, have a great summer and we’ll see you on the first day of school, Tuesday, August 26.


50 Days in the Schools #50: Jean O’Neil Looks Back on 39 Years in the Classroom

Jean O'Neil

For our final post, I thought it would be fitting to talk to Jean O’Neil, who has just retired after 39 years teaching at the Lincoln School.

“One of the reasons I liked staying here my whole career is the culture,” Jean said. “It is very diverse. The parents are very willing to help their children, and the children work very hard. The staff works well together here. It’s a nice feeling that you can depend on each other.”

O’Neil grew up in Melrose and went to St. Mary’s for 12 years. “I played basketball here at the Lincoln School when I was young—they had CYO basketball—so it was kind of like coming home,” she said.

And she always wanted to be a teacher: “I love being with children. I feel like I learn from them sometimes more than they learn from me. I think the way children think sometimes is a different perspective; it opens your eye to new things.”

O’Neil taught fourth grade for 37 years, and two years ago, when there was a bubble class, she moved to second grade. “I think going up is easier than going down,” she said. “They have different needs in second grade. Reading is the emphasis in K-2, learning to read, and 3-5 is reading to learn, so there is a big difference.”

O’Neil says that classroom instruction is more open-ended now. “When I first started, I think it was more reading about a situation, especially science and math, reading and showing the children how to do it,” she said. “Now they explore by themselves, then we talk about it, talk about different ways of thinking. A lot more freedom is given to children to explore, for their own creativity. As far as the math goes, children have to explain themselves more than in the past. There is more of an emphasis on writing in general, which is wonderful. Children do need to write to explain themselves. Now that more children are going to college, that is an emphasis that the colleges do have that children be able to write. They are putting on emphasis from kindergarten on doing narratives, how to books, poetry, expository writing—we just finished an opinion piece where the children had to write a letter to convince someone that they needed something. It’s very different.”

“When we first started, the children did a lot of creative writing,” she said. “You gave them a prompt and they went with it. Now the writing is structured. They can be creative within the structure, but it’s good because it gives them that structure and they are exposed to more different kinds of writing at an earlier age.”

Even after 39 years, she says, her favorite part of the job is simply being with the children. “Being with the children every day. Watching them succeed and feel like they have accomplished something. Watching them do something they didn’t think they could do. Watching them interact with each other, and watching children from different countries in particular. The more they interact with children from different countries early on, the better a world it will be.”

Thank you, Ms. O’Neil! I wish you and all the other teachers who retired this June a healthy and happy retirement.

Messina Awards Recipients Honored

First row, left to right: John Maciejowski, Carol Dixon (Trinity Episcopal Church), Regina Lucas (Beethoven Society), Brendan Carroll (Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann Boston Music School), Joel Zimmerman (Melrose High School Band), Gina Tempesta, Chiara Pieri (Follow Your Art), Joe Messina (accepting for the Melrose Symphony Orchestra), Jenna Laidley (International Spring Fling), Lauren Parr (Intergenerational Spring Fling)   Back row, left to right: Mike Biddle (Melrose Arts), Ward 2 Alderman Jennifer Lemmerman, Mayor Rob Dolan, Ward 6 Alderman Peter Mortimer, State Senator Jason Lewis, State Rep. Paul Brodeur.
First row, left to right: John Maciejowski, Carol Dixon (Trinity Episcopal Church), Regina Lucas (Beethoven Society), Brendan Carroll (Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann Boston Music School), Joel Zimmerman (Melrose High School Band), Gina Tempesta, Chiara Pieri (Follow Your Art), Joe Messina (accepting for the Melrose Symphony Orchestra), Jenna Laidley (International Spring Fling), Lauren Parr (Intergenerational Spring Fling)
Back row, left to right: Mike Biddle (Melrose Arts), Ward 2 Alderman Jennifer Lemmerman, Mayor Rob Dolan, Ward 6 Alderman Peter Mortimer, State Senator Jason Lewis, State Rep. Paul Brodeur.

The Melrose Messina Fine Arts Awards recipients were recognized Tuesday evening in a ceremony at the Beebe Estate. I was pleased to be there with MMFA Committee Chair Nancy Kukura to present the awards.

Although they have only been in existence for two years, I feel the MMFA Awards have already enriched our community immensely. They have provided support for longtime Melrose institutions such as the Melrose Symphony Orchestra, Polymnia, and the Beethoven Society, as well as new initiatives such as the wind sculpture that will be installed soon in Bowdoin Park. I want to thank all the committee members for their hard work over the past year, and I also want to recognize all the artists and arts organizations that bring us such a rich cultural life here in Melrose.

This year, the MMFA Committee granted a total of $9,990 to 11 different artists and arts organizations:

John Maciejowski, for a drop-in arts program for children at the Melrose Farmers Market;

Polymnia Choral Society, to help pay for the soloist at their gala 60th anniversary concert;

Trinity Episcopal Church, for a performance by the Solstice Sackbuts, a professional trombone group offering a musical tour beginning with Medieval and Renaissance music leading to classical, pop and jazz, which was part of the Trinity Community Concert Series;

The Beethoven Society, for a new all-weather, outdoor sign and support for general operating expenses for their free-to-the-public monthly concerts featuring primarily local artists;

Support for a Traditional Irish Music Series hosted at the Methodist Church in Melrose on behalf of the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann Boston Music School for a full day of teaching and performance—the first in a series of such events to be held in Melrose;

Local writer Gina Tempesta, for several illustrations for her children’s book Boston’s Other Green Monster, which she has been reading in classrooms in Melrose; she plans to mount a display of the illustrations at the Melrose Public Library;

The Melrose High School Band, for instruments and equipment;

Follow Your Art, to underwrite the cost of affordable art classes for schoolchildren, which were offered shortly after the close of school last summer;

The Melrose Symphony Orchestra, for music rental for The Composer is Dead, a musical mystery featured at their Spring Pops Concert;

Music for the Intergenerational Spring Fling, a dance held by high school students for senior citizens;

And finally, the MMFA provided a substantial part of the funding for the wind sculpture that will soon be placed in Bowdoin Park, thanks to a committee led by Melrose Arts.

“When we promote the arts in a community like Melrose, everyone benefits: Musicians, artists, writers, children, adults, seniors,” said MMFA Committee Chair Nancy Kukura. “The MMFA is grateful for the opportunity to assist so many diverse individual artists and art programs as they strive to enrich Melrose’s cultural landscape.”

In addition to Kukura, the members of the MMFA Committee are Bonnie Cronin, Brendan Carroll, Gina Tempesta, Jennifer Leclerc, Demi Dubois, Maggie Abdow, Tom Rosa, and Jean Dancewicz.

Music, Circus Arts, and Yoga at the Farmer’s Market Today

The Sally Frank Farmers Market at Cedar Park will feature a special performance today by Melrose resident Gina DeFreitas and her students at Aerialicious Entertainment, performing elevation aerial and circus arts. They will begin setting up about 3 and the performers will start at 5. There will be a balloon artist as well to add to the circus atmosphere.

In addition, today’s market will feature music by Neil Porter from 3-5 p.m. and free Yoga in the Park at 6.

The market has a knife sharpener from On the Edge Knife once a month, and this is the week, so bring your kitchen knives and garden tools—just be sure all the sharp edges are protected.

Today’s vendors will be 7 ate 9 Bakery, Ackermann Maple Farm, Beverly Farms Soapwerks, Roberto’s Seafood, Cannistraci Fine Foods, Coffee Tea and Me, Dick’s Market Garden, Doves and Figs, Fior D’Italia, Mary Ellen Crafts, On the Edge Knife, Shady Pine Farm, Sugar Kane’s Gluten Free Bakery, Soluna Garden Farm, Tooba’s.

Today’s artist is Joyful Crystals, offering custom jewelry.

The market is open from 1-7 p.m.

50 Days in the Schools #49: New Textbooks Mean New Ways to Learn

Kevin Tierney with one of the new textbooks
Kevin Tierney with one of the new textbooks

Students at Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School didn’t just get new social studies textbooks this year. They got a whole new way of learning.

The previous textbooks dated back to the 1990s—Saddam Hussein was still in power when they were published—and they didn’t align with modern teaching methods. “They were very recall based, so kids weren’t really reading, they were scanning for answers,” said teacher Kevin Tierney.

The new books, on the other hand, require more than that. “These are mostly inference based, taking the knowledge you have and developing your own thoughts and ideas, focusing on higher order ideas,” Tierney said.

The new textbooks, which are published by National Geographic, also provide teachers with a wealth of supplemental materials to help students interpret visual material such as charts and maps. “There are a lot of Smart Board ready activities, with electronic resources we can print out and give to the students,” said teacher Rob Mahoney. “One was graphing how India has cleaned up their water supply over the last 30 years and the relationship between water and life expectancy. We are focusing on visual analysis using maps, charts, and videos to draw conclusions.”

Tierney said that in meetings with teachers from other grades, being able to analyze visual material such as graphs and maps had been identified as an area that needed more focus, so the new books tie into that.

The teacher’s edition of each book includes strategies for teaching to different groups–inclusion classes, English language learners, and gifted and talented students–allowing teachers to offer material that all students can access, regardless of their level. And there’s more: “You can read the book online and change the reading level,” Mahoney said, “so for our English language learners, without changing the content they will make it a more accessible vocabulary.”

Because the package includes electronic resources, the teachers now have students read the material for a lesson online at home rather than in class. “If we want students to have some background on the British colonization of India, for instance, they read that the night before,” said Mahoney. “Then we have activities in class that cover the same material, but they already have the background because they have previewed it.”

“I am never going to say that textbooks are the be-all and end-all,” said Tierney, “but they are one of many components in a classroom, and having good textbooks makes a difference.”

50 Days in the Schools #48: A Custodian Goes Above and Beyond

Lenny MacLean

Replacing a lost tooth is all in a day’s work for Lenny MacLean.

MacLean isn’t a dentist—he’s the custodian at the Lincoln School, and when a kindergartener lost the tooth that had just fallen out, and was afraid the Tooth Fairy would pass her by, he knew just what to do. “I gave her a plastic soap key, ” he said, referring to the tooth-shaped device he uses to open up the soap containers in the restrooms. That’s MacLean’s standard remedy in that situation. “It looks like a tooth, so they take it home and put it under their pillow, and it works every time.”

As the custodian at the Lincoln School, MacLean’s chief job is to make sure the building is clean and secure. He works from 4:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., arriving early to clean the bathrooms after the previous day’s Education Stations afterschool program and sometimes staying late if there’s a basketball game. During the summer vacation, when students and staff are away, MacLean is still at the school. “We clean the walls top to bottom, we clean the furniture, shine it all up, so we are ready for them when school starts,” he said.

Principal Brent Conway had high praise for MacLean’s work, saying, “He has a vested interest in making sure the building looks good. We have talked about having him mentor some of the newer custodians.” The Lincoln School was renovated in 2000, and Conway says it’s still in great shape. “When the taxpayers put money out [for renovations], they want to know something is going to last, and this building is going to last.”

MacLean started as a helper for the Melrose Schools when he was 14 and became the custodian at the Winthrop School at 19. He worked at the Roosevelt School, both the old school and the new one, before moving to the Lincoln 12 years ago.

While keeping the school shipshape is his first concern, MacLean keeps an eye on the students as well; like all staff, the custodian is an important part of the school team. His favorite part of the job, he said, is watching the students grow from kindergarteners to fifth-graders. “When they hit fifth grade, they come back and say ‘Mr. MacLean, I appreciate your extra help, your kind words,'” he said. “The children who are in kindergarten will remember this. This girl that I gave a tooth to will certainly remember. They always do.”

July 4 Concert at Mount Hood

Fourth of July concert

The Mt. Hood Park Association, Melrose Recreation and Golf Management Company (G.M.C.) are sponsoring their 26th annual July 4th concert in front of the clubhouse at Mount Hood Memorial Park.

Festivities will begin Monday, July 4th, at 6:45 pm with the Middlesex Concert Band providing music. This year’s music program promises to be an exciting selection of new songs highlighting the patriotic theme of the day as well as popular show tunes. In addition, we have local singing sensation, Carissa Scudieri, singing our National Anthem to open the concert. Carissa is a recent graduate of Berklee College of Music and has won many regional singing contests.

Popcorn and lemonade will be provided compliments of the Melrose Recreation and Park Departments.

We are continuing the tradition of ending the concert with “Stars and Stripes Forever”, in which all children will be given free American flags to wave while marching in front of the clubhouse.

Come join us for a special July 4th celebration and bring your blankets and chairs to listen to music in one of the most beautiful and pristine venues in Melrose.

The Mt. Hood Park Association is dedicated to the protection, preservation, and promotion of Mount Hood Memorial Park. To learn more about the Association, please visit their web site at http://www.mthoodpa.com.