Category Archives: 50 days in the schools

Support Melrose Grad Night Tonight!

Head on down to the Saugus Friendly’s tonight to support Melrose Grad Night for the class of 2015. Stop by for dinner or a sweet treat between 4 and 9 p.m.; 15% of the total take will be used to fund the event this year. Be sure to get a coupon at the door, so your meal will count toward the total.

Still hungry? Head to Whole Foods on March 24 and stock up: 5% of the till that day will go to Melrose Grad Night.


Celebrate Our Schools During Red Raiders Week


As you know Melrose High School is going to the Super Bowl on December 6. This is an opportunity to showcase all of the great achievements of our football team, our band our cheerleaders, our student body, and our staff and to celebrate all of our schools and the great things that are happening every day! Let’s celebrate Melrose!

Next week starting on Monday and going on to the game on Saturday will be Melrose Red Raiders week for the City of Melrose. We are planning some great activities:

  • On Monday morning we will raise the Melrose High School flag at City Hall to declare the week of December 1 Melrose Red Raiders Week. We will display a special banner and light the City Hall tree in brilliant red and white to celebrate Melrose High School.
  • Let’s make this a city-wide event! Via the Chamber of Commerce, I am inviting local businesses to decorate their windows and citizens to decorate their homes to show their Red Raider spirit. E-mail pictures of your decorations to or Tweet them to the city Twitter account, @CityofMelrose, and we will re-Tweet them and put them on our blog for all to see.
  • Follow our blog next week as we do feature stories on the Melrose High School football seniors, band members, cheerleaders, and some unsung Melrose High School student heroes during the run-up to the game.
  • Next Friday, December 5, city-wide, from the ECC to Melrose High School, from the Melrose-Wakefield Hospital to all our businesses to City Hall, will be Red and White Day. I encourage everyone in the city to wear red and white. Tweet pictures of your family and co-workers dressed in red and white and we will re-Tweet them and put them on our blog.
  • Melrose Red Raider Week will culminate on Friday, December 5, with Home for the Holidays, including the tree lighting on the City Hall lawn at 6 p.m., the stroll down Main Street at 6:30, and the arrival of Santa immediately afterward.
  • Let’s get as many people as possible to Gillette Stadium at 6 p.m. on December 6 as Melrose takes on Dartmouth for the 2014 MIAA Super Bowl.

Go Melrose!

Lebanon Street Update

The work on Lebanon Street is moving into a new stage this week, as the City of Melrose completes its water main improvements and National Grid finishes its gas main improvements on the street and the surrounding area. Here’s what has been done so far:

  • The City has upgraded 1,800 feet of water main on Lebanon Street between Porter Street and Upham Street and 270 feet at the intersection of Lebanon Street, Grove Street, and Lynde Street.
  • National Grid has upgraded approximately 4,000 feet of gas main and 65 gas services on Lebanon Street, Upham Street, Porter Street, Green Street, and East Emerson Street.

With that work done, the roadway improvement project got under way this week. The scope of the entire project includes curb realignment, the installation of ADA compliant sidewalks and ramps, roadway paving, new traffic signals, and drainage improvements. This project will run from Lynde Street to the Main Street/Green Street/Lebanon Street intersection and is being overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

The first stage of the project is drainage improvements and installation of electrical conduit; this will continue throughout the remainder of the construction season and possibly into the winter. Curb work, sidewalk installation, and roadway paving are scheduled for next year. All sidewalks disturbed during the construction this year will be temporarily patched with asphalt before being replaced with concrete next year. The final sidewalk and roadway improvement phase of the project will begin next construction season.

The Engineering Division will be working closely with the Department of Transportation throughout the project. Please feel free to contact City Engineer Andrew Street, 781-979-4172 or, with any questions or concerns.

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.

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.”

50 Days in the Schools #47: Apps Boost Learning at the ECC

Jill Tully

Preschoolers have naturally short attention spans, but Jill Tully and her colleagues at the ECC are finding ways to keep them engaged using technology they are already familiar with: TVs and iPads.

Tully is finalizing the purchase of a TV, TV stand, and iPad for each floor of the ECC, purchases that are supported by a Melrose Education Foundation grant. She already knows how effective they are in the classroom because she has been using her own iPad and TV all year long.

Tully uses the TVs for whole group instruction and the iPads for small-group activities. Both reinforce the school’s regular curriculum by allowing children to try different activities. “What we are trying to do is make a connection between the math and English Language Arts curriculum we are implementing and tie it into apps that reinforce the skills we are teaching and get kids excited and motivated,” she said. An abacus app helps the students practice the math skills they have just learned, adding and grouping numbers, while a handwriting app allows a child to trace over a letter with his or her finger. A sound-sorting app lets children select pictures of objects that begin with a particular sound. “These are really meant for quick, five-minute transition activities, ten-minute small group activities,” she said. “It’s not something we have out the whole day.”

For instance, if Tully is working with the whole class and it is time to get a snack or line up for the bathroom, she has each student trace a letter on the app. “Then we say ‘OK, great job, go get your snack,’ and meanwhile the other kids are watching and they are seeing it on the screen at the same time,” she said.

Alternatively, the iPad may be one of four or five different activities the children rotate through when the class is split into small groups. Many of the apps can be adapted for students at different levels, Tully said, and she may offer more guidance for some, such as holding their hand while they trace the letters.

The students are excited to be able to use the apps, which are like games to them, so they stay involved longer, Tully said. The ECC is the first school experience for most students, and many are not used to having to sit still and pay attention. “We are teaching them how to learn, how to be engaged,” Tully said. “When we can use the iPad, it helps to sustain that attention, and pretty soon they can sit for five to ten minutes.”

50 Days in the Schools #46: ECC students grow a mural

ECC teachers Marie Tirone and Melissa Maffie with the mural created by students from the school

ECC teachers Marie Tirone and Melissa Maffie with the mural created by students from the school

Four years ago, the teachers and students of the Franklin Early Childhood Center found a creative way to participate in the annual show of student art at the Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School.

“Because we don’t have a full time art teacher, we were never considered part of that wonderful experience,” said ECC teacher Marie Tirone. “It was for kindergarten up. So Jenny Corduck, our former principal, talked to someone and said ‘How about the ECC? Wouldn’t it be great if we could get the ECC involved? We don’t have a full time art teacher, but we teach our kids art and we are all creative.'”

So the organizers of the art show set aside some space for the ECC and Tirone teamed up with another teacher to create a collaborative mural that all the students could contribute to.

The first mural had a simple theme: “Spring.” This year, the theme was more specific: It was based on the books of Lois Ehlert, who uses vivid colors that would work well in a mural. “This is a big project, and we need to have a team effort,” said Tirone, so she and paraprofessional Kim Carroll put together a list of items that each class could make. “We came up with the idea of a gardening mural, so we had a sheet that said ‘If you are interested in doing delphiniums, here are a couple of ideas,'” she said. “We wanted it to be three-dimensional, so it would pop out at people rather than being flat, and we wanted to use recyclables.” Each class picked a part of the mural—flowers, worms, even dirt, which was real dirt sprinkled onto glue-coated poster boards. “Each of my kids made a strawberry from an egg carton and put a stem on it,” said ECC teacher Melissa Maffie, who has helped with the mural in previous years.

When the 8 x 5 foot mural was completed, Tirone brought it over to the middle school and put it up, with a sign that explained each class’s contribution. “It feels good to be part of the show,” she said. “Our students are just as talented as the others, and they are learning a lot as they do it. Even the middle school kids said ‘Wow, that is awesome!'”

50 Days in the Schools #45: Social Skills for the younger set

Franklin ECC School Psychologist Jaime Wicklund

Franklin ECC School Psychologist Jaime Wicklund

Students in a pre-kindergarten class at the Franklin Early Childhood Center are taking a special class in social skills.

No, they aren’t learning how to hold a teacup or fill out a dance card—the class focuses on making sure all children know the basic skills they need for school, and it also gives teachers and students a common language so they can communicate quickly and clearly.

In the past, such classes were limited to children with special needs or social skills delays, but ECC school psychologist Jaime Wicklund is piloting it in a general education classroom this year. Two kindergarten teachers are also offering the once-a-week class, which is funded by a Melrose Education Foundation grant.

“We talk about thoughts and feelings,” said Wicklund. “We talk about perspective taking—how other people are feeling about what you are doing, how you feel about what other people are doing. We discuss ‘thinking with your eyes,’ looking at cues in social situations to figure out what you need to do or whether you should change your behavior. And we talk about staying in a group, what your ears and eyes and mouth and your whole body should look like when you are listening in a group.”

The language used in the social skills class has become a shorthand for the teacher. “When you tell somebody ‘Keep your body in the group,’ it’s a few words versus figuring out what language to use,” she said. “It’s a common expectation because we have already gone over what it looks like when your body is in the group, so the student isn’t trying to struggle to figure out what that means.”

Next year, with the help of the grant, Wicklund hopes to expand the class to all six Pre-K classes at the ECC as well as one kindergarten class in each elementary school. “It is helpful when the teachers and the other students have that common language,” she said. “For most students, social skills are something they will learn intrinsically and through everyday interactions. Some students need more direct teaching, but if you are using more direct teaching and language for one group of students and no one else is using that language, it is hard to generalize.

“We know these strategies have worked for many years for special education students, so whether a student is going to intrinsically learn these things or not, if you provide them with a structure, it helps them to have a common ground with everyone else.

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