Question of the week for candidates in School Committee race

Every week leading up to the election, Belmont Journal will ask the three candidates in the race for the two School Committee seats a question of the week.

Here's this week's question:

What challenges do you foresee in opening the new middle school and what are your ideas to meet those challenges?

The answers were limited to 150 words or less.

Rachel Watson

Opening a new school is a challenging process. Belmont must staff the new middle school despite fiscal constraints and cope with already troublesome area traffic. To increase staff at the middle school without major cost increases, the district could examine the feasibility of some staff, such as social workers and inclusion specialists, to travel between schools and to move staff from schools with fewer students to the new middle school.  

To reduce traffic in the area, the district can encourage bus ridership by simplifying and reducing fees and ensuring routes are efficient.  Walking and biking should also be encouraged by helping students and their families feel confident that these options are safe.  The middle school could also assist families who would be willing to carpool to connect.  The opening of the middle school is bound to have its hiccups, but by working together, we can find solutions.   

Amy Zuccarello

One challenge of opening of the new Belmont Middle High School will be to develop a schedule for shared space which accommodates both the 7/8th grade students and the 9-12th grade students.  With shared facilities, it is important that our younger students are not incorporated into the high school environment prematurely and can still enjoy use of lunch facilities and the field house without becoming integrated within the older high school population.  At the same time, we should aim to provide a schedule for our high schoolers which preserves their current level of autonomy.

To do this, we need to be creative and flexible in our approach.  I understand that a pilot schedule has been developed and while I am optimistic that this schedule will meet students’ needs, we should be willing to make modifications once it has been introduced and put into practice.

Jung Yueh

The transition to separate 7/8 grade BMS and 4/5/6 CUE is a tremendous opportunity to structure the environment specifically to those age ranges.  The current Chenery environment has been challenging for many kids because the school is big, and the flow of the school day is not ideal for either the lower school or the upper school.  We can provide better schedules for start times, lunch, recess, and after-school activities tailored to the students in each grade.

I love solving puzzles, and the transition plan is a big puzzle being put together by our educators.  I do and will continue to pay close attention as the schedules develop.

In addition to having a plan, we need to be flexible and willing to change as the 7/8 graders move to BMS.  We will experience growing pains in traffic patterns, cafeteria usage, and shared facilities that will have unforeseen issues. I trust our educators to manage and resolve these, all while running excellent schools. It’s a very challenging job!  It is likely that these are all solvable problems as long as we are willing to call audibles and do what is best with the student experience as the ultimate focus.