The School Committee, during its Wednesday, Sept. 13 meeting, unanimously voted to approve sending the $135,289,673 plan for a new grade five to eight Whitman Middle School building — with an auditorium — intended to last and serve educational needs for 50 years, to the voters at the Oct. 30 special Town Meeting and to a Nov. 4 special election ballot.
The town stands to obtain $89,673,000 in reimbursements from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for the project.
The plan had been approved by the WMS Building Committee at its Aug. 15 meeting and survived an effort to rescind it in favor of a grade six to eight plan with a cafetorium instead of an auditorium at the building panel’s Aug. 28 meeting.
“We were accepted [by MSBA] in our first go-round because they saw the need for a new middle school,” Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak said, asking if that was a common occurrence for school projects. “If you postpone, you start rolling the dice.”
He said the project is at a critical point, if a middle school is to open in 2027.
“If I had a district calling me today … I would say to expect to potentially get in within three to five years,” said the committee’s Owner Project Manager Michael Carroll “It’s very unusual to put a statement of interest in the first time and get accepted right away.”
Carroll attended the School Committee meeting to brief them on the plan and the events of the Aug. 28 meeting.
“The Building Committee voted 9-0, with one abstention [former member John Galvin] to move the project forward,” said Szymaniak. He noted that the Whitman Select Board, on the other hand, had voted 3 to 2 [with Justin Evans and Shawn Kain against] on Tuesday, Sept. 12 to ask the School Committee to consider not voting on the project Wednesday.
impact of delay
Carroll was also asked to explain what could happen if the School Committee postponed its vote.
“Would we be out of the queue?” Szymaniak asked. “Would MSBA turn its back to us?”
He noted that Carroll is “relatively new to us,” having come on board with the project three weeks ago, but Szymaniak added, he had hit the ground running.
“There was a lot of discussion about budgets, there was a lot of discussion about the project, and we looked at different options,” Carroll said of the Aug. 28 meeting. “At the end of that meeting there was a vote taken to move forward with the school project as it currently stands.”
Carroll described an atmosphere of urgency as the committee worked on a schematic design package to submit to the MSBA, sending it to the building authority on Aug. 31 after the Aug. 28 vote.
“They’re reviewing it, they’ve given us a few questions,” he said. “They’re actually looking to talk to us about budgets next week. [The week of Sept. 18-22].
The MSBA project coordinator and project manager, who work specifically on the WMS plans, review it first and then with authority higher-ups with the ultimate objective to bring it before the MSBA board on Oct. 25.
“The assumption here is that they would be approving us,” Carroll said. When that happens, MSBA will forward a project funding agreement to the district and town. Carroll said that defines the funding agreement and, therefore, the overall project budget, which would go to Town Meeting and then the ballot question on Nov. 4.
Szymaniak asked how a postponement, as the Select Board had urged them to do, would affect the process.
“The MSBA would have to grant us a postponement, is that correct?” he asked. “It’s not a done deal?”
“When we entered into our agreement and feasibility study, we agreed to provide them our schematic design package within a certain time period,” Connor said, noting that, while he did not have that date on him, he believed it was Oct. 17. “If we were to withdraw our proposal, or ask to withdraw our proposal, one of the first things that we’d have to do is ask for an extension of that time. We’d have to explain to them why and … if we hadn’t submitted our package already … the MSBA is very accommodating.”
He said they do not want to continue to extend and extend and extend, but if there is a logical reason you need to do some reconsideration, there’s really typically no problem there.
They have, however, already submitted the schematic design plan and, while it has not gone to the MSBA board for a vote yet, he said he would think they would allow the district to withdraw it, but “we certainly ought to have a discussion on that before I would say that we could.”
Chair Beth Stafford, who pointed out that it would cost about $60 million just to get the current building up to code, said her concern was losing time as they worked to vote on whether to trim the $5 million in Teir 1 options from the plan. Funds for repairing the current school would also not be reimbursable, nor would the cost of the portable classrooms that would be needed while work is done.
Connor confirmed that they would have to confer with MSBA on how changes might impact the project.
While MSBA has not finalized their budget form, which will feed into the project funding agreement and what the vote entailed could have lowered that number.
“If we raised the number, we’d have to withdraw it, but if we’re lowering the number, I don’t know what the answer is,” Connor said. “We’d have to have that discussion.”
If a change is made to the project, it makes the process less definitive, he said. Building costs are also escalating, he explained.
“We can’t make that decision on this without talking to them and getting advice from them,” Carroll explained. The town could reconsider and do nothing, reconsider and ask for an adjustment to the overall project, ask the MSBA for an adjustment or to withdraw the proposal, which would require their input on what that withdrawal would mean and what duration they would be thinking about.
“The important thing here is, once they vote – if we do nothing – if they’ve approved us for a funding agreement, that’s kind of the point of no return,” he said. “Once they’ve done that, we’ve got to move forward with that project.”
Carroll said contingency funds are built into the budget in case change-orders come about.
“Virtually all my jobs, I’ve had the ability to send some of that contingency back,” he said.
A quartet of residents spoke in favor of the project as approved by the WMS Building Committee on Aug. 28. expressing concern about the “near certainty of increased building costs” if the project is rejected or delayed.
“As we debate this huge topic, it’s important to remember that in order to just renovate the building and get it up to code has approximately a $60 million price tag on it and that would be 100-percent on the residents of Whitman,” said Leah Donovan, of 81 Old Mansion Lane, said during the public comment period. “There’s no funding available from the state. That’s a hefty sum or money for fixes that need to be done again and again and again.”
Small pointed out that the $60 million would not be a renovation, it’s a repair of what is broken and bring things to code.
Donovan said the town wants to take advantage of available MSBA funding, and that means a new school.
“That price tag is between $73 and $89 million at this point,” she said, noting that $10 million of that is contingency that might not be needed and residents would not be taxed on that. “That’s a staggering number for sure – I get it – but that price is not going to go down.”
Contingency funds are budgeted in case an unforseen problem adds to the cost of a project after a building budget is approved.
She said her fear is that, if the district doesn’t go ahead with a new school, they will end up paying the same price for a lesser school at some point down the road.
“We have an opportunity to do what’s right for the younger residents of the town,” Donovan said, asking the committee to give residents a chance to speak through their votes at Town Meeting and a ballot question.
Elizabteh Dagnall of 316 School St., also spoke in favor of the new WSM plan during the public forum.
“There seems to be a lot of fear surrounding this project,” she said. “Fear that it’s too large in scope, fear that it won’t be voted through, and fear as the main motivation in any situation can be a very damaging thing.”
She noted that, as the mother of a 13-year-old boy, she could be scared all the time, if she allowed herself to be.
“I can tell you that worrying amounts to nothing more than a state of worry,” Dagnall said. “What I’m learning as the parent of a teen is that Trust is far better than fear. Trust. When I allow for trust, the answer to ‘Are we going to be OK?’ surprises me. It often turns out to be something like this: ‘We are going to be more than OK. We are going to be great.’”
She challenged officials to, instead of fearing that it won’t pass at the ballot box, that “we trusted that it can.”
Julia Sheehan of 38 Beal Ave., thanked the committee and the building committee for their work on the WMS project so far.
“At this point, there is no way to drastically change the scope of the project without significant delays and even risking our grant from the MSBA,” she said. “Given that, I hope this committee will move forward with the Oct. 30 Town Meeting and the Nov. 4 vote. I believe the people of Whitman should have the opportunity to get out and vote.”
Julia Nanigan of 28 Forest St., who was born and raised in Whitman, said of all the schools she attended in Whitman, only WMS is still here and exactly the same as when she grew up.
“It’s pretty awful,” she said of the need for a new middle school. “We have to do this, and kicking the can down the road, we know is going to end up costing us more money. I think we just need to do it.”
HANOVER — There’s no construction price tag available yet, but South Shore Tech Building Committee heard updates on the feasibility study toward a renovation project or completely new building during its Thursday, Sept. 7 meeting.
Project Manager Jen Carlson of LeftField, a Boston firm that specializes in project management and Carl R. Franceschi, president of architectural firm Drummer Roxane Anderson Inc. (DRA) of Waltham made the presentation.
Alternative options for the project took up the lion’s share of the meeting, while will be completed this month.
“We will have some ballpark figures based on narrative and square footage [at a joint School Committee/Building Committee meeting Thursday, Oct. 5],” Carlson said. “They will definitely flux, going forward, but they are a tool to compare options against each other when we move into the next phase.”
A virtual public forum will also be held on the PDP Oct. 5.
“We will push that out so the larger community is aware,” Superintendent/Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey said, noting there will be other public forums held through December.
Before that meeting, the School Committee will have to vote on the preliminary design program [PDP], planned on Wednesday, Sept 20, as will Building Committee meeting again on Thursday, Sept. 28. Building Committee might want to give feedback in a joint meeting Sept. 20.
That does give us some wiggle room,” Carlson said. A second round of public forums will invite community feedback on the final design in April and May 2024.
“As you might imagine, the forums this fall are going to be about issues, ‘Should we renovate this building? Should we build new?’ — very high-level discussions,” Franceschi said. “But by next spring, we’ll have focused on one preferred option and, people may still have issues in their mind, but the meaningful input will be on the one design we’re working on.” [See related story]
“We haven’t quite quantified the price, but we’ve quantified the size,” he said.
About a year behind Whitman’s middle school project in the Massachusetts School Building Authority approval process, SST is still in the feasibility stage, having spent $248,500 so far of $2 million budgeted for that purpose. Carlson said $1.4 million has been committed to date — representing 76 percent of the project’s budget.
“We still have plenty to pull from the environmental and site line item,” Carlson said, noting that another line item had been pulled from for budget transfers, putting the total spent so far at $248,500. “Our total spent to date represents 12 percent of the budget.”
A total of $84,000 has been invoiced on the project so far, including $29,000 for Left Field’s services for the month of August and DRA’s second invoice of $55,000 for the same period.
The building committee unanimously approved the budget update. The committee unanimously approved those expenditures, as well.
The study presented three possible deigns if the committee opts to do a complete rebuild, and two potential renovation plans — all based on a student body of 805 students, with the recent addition of Marshfield to the district. But Franceschi, noted there are also ways to design for 900 or 975 students. From the lowest to the highest student population figure, there is a difference of 40,000 square feet to consider in planning.
“We need to show the building could be expanded in the future, too. They aways want to see that at the state level, but we don’t want to see a situation where we’d be talking about expansion in five years,” he said. “Projects we’re estimating right now – just in the construction costs alone – are somewhere in the vicinity of $800 per square foot with sitework and building.”
It could add at least $30 million to the plan to base it on 975 students.
The condition report on the school highlights the wetlands on the site as well as the drainpipe that runs across the athletic fields, “just to highlight some of the constraints that we’re dealing with,” Franceschi said. “We’re updating those wetland flags and we will be in conversation with the Conservation Commission soon, too, before we even design anything, just to get their understanding and agreement that, ‘Yes, these are the limits of the wetlands’ so that everybody’s working with the same information.”
Massachusetts allows filling up to 5,000 square feet of wetlands, but it would have to be replicated somewhere else, sometimes as much as a 2:1 ratio.
Whitman representative on the School Committee and building panel Dan Salvucci asked if it would be possible to create a curriculum program for horticulture students on working with wetlands regulations as a way toward obtaining funding.
Hickey said there could be an opportunity there.
“We use our campus as our curriculum,” he said. “This is just another way.”
Franceschi said the athletic fields are also topographically lower than the school and close to groundwater. A conventional Title 5 septic system at the front of the property now serves the school, with a “high probability” that a wastewater treatment plant and leaving field would have to be included on another area of the property.
The plans would also need to highlight how spaces meet current educational standards, not just in relation to the condition of spaces, but size. With Marshfield already having joined the district, he said designers have agreed internally that the design, at minimum should fit about 805 students.
“We’re trying to get the state to agree,” he said. “It’s a little variable in the shops, because we have to project what the enrollment would be in each shop, and it’s not a hard and fast number just yet, but we’re close enough that we could do this kind of a calculation.”
DRA has, in fact calculated that there is a high-level need to expand the building.
Salvucci asked if adding a second floor in some areas might be an option.
“We don’t consider it practical to put a second floor on the existing building,” Franceschi said. “We’re thinking multiple stories to the new construction or addition portions of the building, or maybe even demolishing part of the existing building and building multiple stories, but not building on top of what’s here.”
While it could be done, it’s too complicated because the building couldn’t be safely occupied while a new story is being added above. In 40 years in the industry, Franeschi said he has not added additional floors to an existing building yet.
“You don’t really have small group spaces, collaborative spaces that we see and desire in schools nowadays,” Franceschi said. “Teacher planning spaces are kind of not up to par for what you’d want. The science labs are another one that would have to be increased in size to meet space standards.”
Where science lab standards are 1,400 square feet today, SST’s labs are 800 square feet.
How the school’s educational plan and programs are to be organized was another consideration in the preliminary plans DRA and LeftField reviewed with the committee. In developing the plan, the district identified six possible new programs they would ideally like to include.
“In all of these things, and independent of whether it’s going to be an addition or renovation, or new construction, in a way we and the state kind of uses the education plan to measure against our proposed solution,” Franceschi said. “That’s why the education plan is an important guideline for all of us.”
They’ve already moved nine administrative offices, and the parking spaces that go along with them, including Hickey’s, to a house next door to the school purchased and renovated by the district. Cafeteria staff who park in front of the school are done for the day by 1 p.m.
“Parent pick-up has been much more pronounced since the pandemic,” he said, so making room for that traffic has been a priority, although the data is not available to support that observation.’
At first, Hickey said, he thought a renovation would be a lot cheaper than brand-new. But it’s not. To bring a 1962 building up to code entails some unpleasant surprises.
Carlson also walked the committee through a schedule and budget update.
“The scope of this [budget] amendment includes a visual inspection of the hazardous building materials —looking for hazardous building materials and identifying them,” she said. “This will include a report identifying the hazardous materials and then estimate services … of what the [cost] of removing hazardous materials might be.”
The work on a first draft is expected to be completed this month and costs are in line with the costs decided in the PRA contract.
The schedule provides a “zoomed-in look” and what to expect between now and the submission of the schematic design to MSBA in December.
The preliminary design program (PDP) will be the first submission to MSBA, scheduled for Oct. 5 — including a conditions evaluation, educational visioning, a draft educational plan, initial space summary (spaces aligned with the educational plan), an evaluation of alternative options and comparative cost estimates.
The next phase — the preferred schematic report (PSR) — will feature a more detailed review of the PDP options, including a final education plan and the preferred design option based on three enrollment options, as well as and creation of a matrix of priorities and will be submitted to the MSBA on Dec. 28 in time for a vote on their approval two months later. Another, more refined, set of cost estimates will be made at this time, according to Carlson.
“Once you submit that PSR, then we’re into the schematic design phase and them it’s full steam ahead, developing that one [preferred] option,” she said.
After the two-month MSBA review, there is a meeting with the MSBA before officially submitting the final schematic design on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.
The final submission is due to MSBA by Thursday, June 27, 2024, including the final design program and total project budget.
“By the end of June, we’ll have some really good numbers that are reliable and that we need to live within for the rest of this project,” she said.
WHITMAN – The Whitman Middle School Building Committee sat down to crunch the numbers on how they might trim the new school plans in an effort to make the price tag more affordable to voters, but – in the end, the committee was split in its decision, but the majority agreed to stick with the original decision.
“Whatever the number we set today, if we set a number today and we go forward to the MSBA, that’s the highest number the MSBA’s ever going to participate in,” owner’s project manager Mike Carroll said. “We’re above the cap on most of this anyway, so we’re really talking mostly town money when we get to discussions about the options here.”
A problem in finding places to cut lies in the efficiency of the school’s design, he noted.
“They know where the low-hanging fruit is and they’ve already picked many of those,” he said.
Carroll said, as an example under a basic repair they would not be replacing all the windows, improving outside problems such as driveways or code upgrades the work would trigger.
“You’re bringing the building up to energy code as you can, but it’s within an existing building, so you’re not going to get as you would on a full gut/renovation or a brand-new building,” Carroll said.
The base repair is not a renovation or addition, it’s actually less than that, Carroll said.
It would not address potholes or other problems in the parking lot, either. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and new fire code update requirements, based on the building’s assessed value, would also be triggered with base repair, affecting building entrances, floors and ceilings, bathrooms, railings and stairs as well as sprinkler and electrical systems under a three-year window.
Committee member Beth Stafford said space needed for students is also not included, nor the cost of portable classrooms that would be needed.
“This is the take-home message for me,” Finance Committee representative Kathleen Ottina said. “There’s no discussion among the members of this committee that we need a new middle school,” she said.
Ottina said she wanted to reframe the discussion to consider their options – would the committee want to stay with the project, eliminate some costs to reduce it at level one through contingencies and soft costs, eliminate the auditorium and downsize the gym or change from grades five to eight back to six to eight.
“We can go through all sorts of budget discussions and what we should have known, what we wish we knew then back in January, that’s not going to get us where we need to go tonight, which is what building are we going to support?” she said. “I don’t think any of us have a real finger on the pulse of the voter in Whitman to say, ‘This is the way forward.’”
She argued the question is can the Committee justify supporting a building that will meet the needs of our current middle school children and the middle school children going to the next many decades.
Carroll described the effect of each tier:
Doesn’t substantially change the building, or the educational program and does not affect the building operations, but it does impact the district’s risk profile both at acceptable levels in the opinion of the architect and owner’s project manager. The average cost is $770 per square foot. Some possible reductions are:
Reducing the total contingency from 9 percent to 7 percent, saving the town about $2.1 million — $24 per year for the average taxpayer. [Each percent represents about $1 million]. Carroll said the MSBA treats the contingency for soft costs and hard costs as separate items.
The base building is 138,000 square feet. MSBA allows an expenditure of $1,200 per student for furniture, fixtures and equipment and an additional $1,200 per student for technology costs. Reducing FFE and technology costs may have saved $810,000. For most of his professional career, the FFE allotment has been sufficient, but even five years ago, the technology limit was difficult, Connor said. COVID’s effect on the cost of materials have meant the recommendation to increase the allowance for both costs by 50 percent to $1,800.
“You would just start to spend some of your soft costs on contingency, if you went with that option,” he said.
Reconsideration of ineligible square footages: The auditorium is expected to be consider an ineligible cost in its entirety, but the MSBA has been asked to reconsider the stage area in the past, which they have done because they accept cafetoriums. Reducing the stage area could trim $684,215 if it had been adopted.
“We feel we can make any or all of those changes and still make the Aug. 31 date,” he said.
Reductions in these plan components could impact educational program and operations.
Eliminating auditorium and wellness area, creating a cafetorium, which is more difficult from the design standpoint represents $5.1 million on the construction value but since the auditorium is an ineligible cost, the town would save quite a bit more than that. 7 to 8 million.
Reducing the size of the gym, represented a saving of $4,303,000, for the gym which is now 3,200 square feet over what the MSBA allows.
Reduce the teacher planning area by 304 square feet would have trimmed costs by about $390,000.
Reduction of outdoor storage, mostly for outdoor maintenance and sports equipment would have meant a price cut of $286,265. Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak said he is not specifically familiar with the middle school, but the high school, built in 2003, lack of storage is a major complaint.
“It may not seem like a big deal, but in 20 years, it could be a big deal,” he said.
No question, it will impact educational program and operations, it’s a matter of how much it will impact them.
Cutting 25 percent of the students by switching back to the current grade six to eight program would also eliminate 19,000 square feet from the building, but also causes a delay by way of a need to redesign the building.
Target construction changes would have eliminated $1 million and changing the grade configuration back to a five to six program would have trimmed $6.8 million.
“Any of these savings [in Tiers 2 and 3] have not considered any escalation due to delays or anything like that,” Carroll said. But they affect educational programs to continue meeting the time on learning requirements by DESE.
Select Board member Shawn Kain asked what happens if the voters do not pass the school issue – what action would the MSBA take?
Carroll said a re-vote could be allowed or the town could stop the project. Other cuts could also be made from the three tiers.
But missing the Aug. 31 deadline could require filing for an extension in any case.
The MSBA is willing to work with districts, however.
“They’re not looking to kick you out,” he said.
Select Board representative to the committee Justin Evans asked how much a delay could cost.
Architect said major changes such as eliminating the auditorium or a grade level would essentially been going back to the beginning of the design phase and the town would have to go back to the MSBA for guidance.
A delay could cost $350,000 per month for delay of project.
Small said he would be hesitant to save on contingency, which serves as a financial safety net in the event of problems, as well as FFE and the stage. He preferred to keep the contingency protection, hoping that they could get the stage money back and “covering ourselves for the FFE down the line.”
Library book selection and public comment poicies were clarified by school district officials as national debates came close to home on Wednesday, Aug. 23.
School Committee Chair Beth Stafford and Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak sought to “correct a couple of misunderstandings and miscommunications that have been going on” surrounding meeting protocol issues.
Aside from public comment guidelines, Stafford said the other miscommunication problem centers around the policy for selecting books used to augment instruction or to be included in the school libraries.
School book policies have been a hot-button topic nationwide.
Szymaniak addressed the policy on “groups that give us books.”
He said the words “books” and “donations” had been mentioned during a discussion of the crosswalk painting and library partnership Whitman PRIDE had appeared to ask be supported by the committee.
“I got some questions from some parents [and I’m] trying to respond to it,” he said. “We have a set guideline that we use, and not everybody in the world can just send their books here, although I will tell people in the public that we get donations of books from all over the country sometimes.”
WHRSD does have a policy – IJL – on library materials selection and adoption under which the School Committee endorses the School Library Bill of Rights as adopted by the American Library Association [See box].
Initial purchase suggestions for library materials may come from all personnel – teachers, coordinators and administrators. Students will also be encouraged to make selections. The librarian will make recommendations to be included in the school library, but final approval and authority for distribution of funds will rest with the building principal, subject to the approval of the superintendent.
Gifts of books will be accepted for the library in keeping with the policy guidelines and complaints will be handled in line with the committee policy on complaints and instructional materials.
“So, we do actually have a policy on how we accept books,” Szymaniak said. He noted the American Legion donates calendars to the district, which are vetted that, like all other donations, they are age-appropriate and user-friendly for school librarians based on DESE criteria and the professional judgments of the district’s teachers, administrators and professional staff.
“It’s not just anybody in the world can send us a book and put it in the libraries,” he said.
Stafford, who is a retired grade six social studies teacher, agreed that the policy prevents donations that are not reviewed.
“It is with Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidelines, coupled with the research recommendations from the Educational and School Library organizations and the input from our professional staff, including the district librarian, curriculum coordinators and diretors, principals and my central office team that I rely on to make final decisions regarding textbooks and educational materials,” he said. “Suggestions or recommendations from any community member or organization about books or resources are simply that – recommendations.”
The School District goes by a formal review process based on the Massachusetts Students’ Rights Law, [MGL Ch. 76 Section 5] which states that all public-school systems, through their curricula, “encourage respect for the human and civil rights of all individuals, regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.”
School administrators and teachers will evaluate all students with a rubric and specify that the demographics include, but is not limited to those who identify as Black, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, indigenous and multi-racial students, those with disabilities, are English learners, are LGBTQ+, students experiencing homelessness and/or financial insecurity.
The law is intended to help schools implement state laws impacting LGBTQ+, + students – including the state’s anti-bullying law, gender identity law and student anti-discrimination law.
The law is a joint initiative between DESE and the Mass. Commission on LGBTQ+, + Youth.
The committee also voted to have the policy subcommittee review the public comment policy for meetings.
In 2020 the committee unanimously approved a policy permitting a 15-minute window at the beginning of meetings to give members of the public an opportunity to speak about any subject on or off the agenda an within the School Committee’s portfolio, without comment other than a “thank-you” from the committee. Individual speakers are limited to three minutes for their comments.
“There will be some exceptions like during budget times when we need to speak to union reps,” Stafford said. “I want you to understand that, if I call on somebody during a time such as with the union reps when we’re talking about employees, then I would be calling on them.”
Vice Chair Christopher Scriven said the issue of public comment had been brought to his attention by people outside of the committee. and he asked for it to be placed on the agenda because he felt it very worthy of discussion.
“I think a lot of us take very seriously the notion that we represent our constituents, and we should have their best interests in mind,” he said. “If they have something to come up and speak to, specifically, as part of a discussion, as important as some of the ones we’ve had recently, I think we should be open to that.”
Member Fred Small agreed.
Scriven said the committee should, at least, get input from the rest of the board to make decisions on some kind of consensus.
Stafford said she would like to put it to the policy subcommittee, since it is a policy already. Member Dawn Byers agreed and made the motion to send the matter to the policy subcommittee.
“Unfortunately, the last couple of years, the policy was not followed,” Stafford said.
Speaking as a private citizen, Select Board member Shawn Kain commented during the public comment period that the discussion of Pride crosswalks, a proposed partnership with the Whitman Library and an LGBTQ+ scholarship should have permitted citizen’s input, and asked that it be reconsidered.
“Unfortunately, before the vote, you refused to let the public comment on the issue,” he said, noting the room was filled with parents, therapists, former School Committee members and at least one student. “As an active citizen in our community, I believe this is a red flag.”
Kain had expressed that opinion in a letter to the editor published in the Express on July 27.
“When we refuse to allow public comment, we do not benefit from potentially vital information that we otherwise wouldn’t be aware of and we deprive ourselves of the diverse perspectives that are not always available on the board,” Kain said, noting it feels arrogant ant exclusive to him – the opposite of the inclusive project being discussed.
Dan McDonough of Carriage Road in Hanson also commented on partnership of Whitman PRIDE and the Committee, especially in connection with the school wellness program.
Noting the nationwide debate, he said the “issue of gender confusion is very deadly and divisive.
“My main concern as a father is how early these discussions are happening,” he said. “My only concern is the protection of elementary school and how early we’re talking about it, and parents should be included in that conversation when we are talking about it.”
Szymaniak said the wellness program comes directly from the Commonwealth and has no association with Whitman PRIDE at all. That new curriculum was open for public comment through Monday, Aug. 28.
By Linda Ibbitson Hurd
Special to the Express
In the Summer of 1953 I was 6 years old and would start first grade in the fall. I was both excited and scared at the thought.
I also was covered with poison ivy from head to toe when I landed in it falling out of a small tree. I wasn’t hurt otherwise but hated being covered with calamine lotion every day. My sister Penny was 3 at the time and I felt bad because she didn’t understand why she couldn’t hug me or hold my hand. We also had a new baby brother who had been born the end of August and was little more than a week old and I couldn’t hold him. My parents were hoping the poison ivy would clear up so I could start school in time and I was hoping it wouldn’t.
Just in the nick of time the last of the poison ivy faded away.
I had new clothes and a lunch box and finally the big day came. I stood with Mom at the end of our sidewalk holding her hand with Penny beside us and Davey in the carriage asleep. As the big yellow bus came down the street and stopped in front of our house opening it’s door, I gripped mom’s hand. She urged me to go ahead as I walked slowly up the steps of the bus.
Much to my surprise I knew the bus driver, he was a distant cousin named Sammy.
My mother and he greeted each another both happy to see each other which calmed me down and I think it also helped my mother. As Sammy drove down the street picking up other children, I realized I had forgotten my lunchbox and everything in it I needed. I was trying very hard not to cry. When Sammy asked me if I was OK, I told him what was wrong. He told me not to worry, he would take care of it. When the bus turned around and came back up the street getting closer to my house, there was mom standing there holding my lunch box. Sammy smiled as he stopped the bus, took the lunch box from mom and gave it to me. It seemed very strange going to an unknown place without my mother. I also worried about leaving her alone with no one to help her.
The bus finally pulled into the L.Z. Thomas school parking lot. It was a nice old red brick building with a big window in the front with an outside staircase going down either side that made me think of a castle. Teachers met the buses, leading us into the building and to our designated classrooms. I will always love the smell of old buildings and their old wood floors and I did love this building, the wooden desks and chairs, the coat closets and the nice big windows with their spacious panes that looked out onto the grounds.
I liked my first-grade teacher and was intrigued and interested by the classroom and it’s big chalkboards on the wall. Over the chalkboards hung big squares, each one a different color with a letter on it. A big calendar hung on the wall depicting a colorful Fall scene. On another wall were big colorful squares with numbers on them. There was a flag hanging up in one corner and we all had our very own desk and chair. The first couple of weeks, I mostly worried about my mom and wanted to go home. Some of my classmates seemed to be having the same problem.
One morning the teacher passed out books. She said we were going to learn how to read. She started pointing to the lettered squares on the wall asking if any of us knew what letter it was and we learned the alphabet quite fast. Before long we were reading some of the words in the books she passed out. By the end of September, we were reading about Dick, Jane, Sally, their Cocker spaniel, Spot, and Puff the kitten; the town they lived in and all their adventures. When October came, we were learning how to cut shapes out of colorful construction paper and taping them on the windows. We decorated for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. We loved standing outside on the lawn looking at our decorated windows. There is always at least one kid who has to stick his or her tongue on the flagpole. The first year I was there it was a third grader as we all watched out the window while the Firetruck showed up to rescue him.
When Spring came that year, we were still decorating windows with our colorful cutouts. We also were taught about the Maypole and every Spring there was a ceremony. I remember the year my class was old enough to be in it and we were so proud. I was actually sad when it was time for Summer vacation at the end of first grade. I had stopped worrying about my mom, she was doing fine and Penny was helping her. Being both homesick and scared, first grade opened up a whole new world to me and as over the hill as I am, I’m still learning!
HANSON – So, who serves up the Best Burger in town?
Frank Milisi took the honors at the inaugural Hansoncontest hosted by Chimney Chap. He’s not only active on town boards and committees, he grills a mean burger, evidently.
The inaugural grill-off, held on the front lawn of the Chimney Chap, at the intersection of routes 27 and 58, was dedicated to deciding that very question, as local residents put their grilling skills to the fire. Streamed and recorded for rebroadcast on the Whitman-Hanson Community Access TV channels and website, the contest was also part of the service’s commitment to doing more “one-off” programs, rather than regular series shows in an effort to get more residents to use the service they invest in each month through their cable bills [See story Page 1], according to Executive Director Eric Dresser.
As the winner of the burger contest, Milisi took home a free grill and cart.
“This is a new location for us,” Rania and Scott Sarras, owners of Chimney Chap told WHCA-TV’s Ryan Tully said about the genesis of the July 29-30 event. “We would just love to hold events like this so the community can come together and have fun.”
Rania said the contest will return next year.
“It’s going to be an annual thing,” she said. “We hope to get bigger and better and hope to see everybody next year.”
Scott Sarras said the company also held a tax-free weekend event this past week during which they were grilling up goodies for customers.
Their once-home office for their business, is now at one of the more visible corners in Hanson. They took over the company in 2010, as it was passed on to them by the previous owners.
“When we took over, it was strictly chimney sweeping,” Rania said. “We took it from sweeping to full-service, A to Z, chimneys and fireplaces.”
That A to Z includes hearth stoves which run on wood pellets and gas-fueled stoves.
“We do outdoor living, meaning outdoor fireplaces, kitchens, patios, furniture and now we have electric fireplaces as well as infrared heaters,” Scott said.
Burger chefs were given free rein with the topping and condiments, but the “canvas” of this food art was a “basic burger – a patty on a bun.”
“That’s all that matters,” Scott told the grillers, in reference to the burgers.
The grills were impressive samples of Chimney Chap’s build-in outdoor kitchen work, as chefs prepared burgers and the accompanying go-withs, such as “over-salted bacon” as Milisi described the grilled pancetta on his burger, along with arugula and compound butter on a brioche bun.
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” said as he offered up his creation for judgement, but he said he was something of a burger connoisseur. “There’s a reason I look the way I do,” he joked.
A trio of judges sampled the contestant’s recipes and rated them on scorecards.
Another contestant on day one was frying up eggs to top off his burger, and still another used bacon cooked up on the grill’s cook top, yet another added sliced pineapple to their burger.
Milisi led in the two-day contest, after round one on July 29’s contest, with a score of 82 from the judging panel, with the competition trailing with scores of 68, 66 and 53.
Round Two the next morning saw ingredients and condiments such as spicy aioli, grilled onions, featured in a delightfully messy “Oklahoma Onion Burger.” Another day two offering featured savory seasoned Rueben burger, served on marble rye toast.
Milisi won with a score of 154.
John Snell, with a score of 145, took second place.
A dunk tank was featured and a raffle was also held during the event on both days.
WHITMAN – Who can and should care for and clean old headstones at historic site such as Whitman’s Mount Zion Cemetery?
Whitman resident Leslie DiOrio has asked the Select Board on Tuesday, Aug.1 for official permission to do that work at Mount Zion. The Board granted DiOrio’s request for official permission.
She had pointed out Mount Zion qualifies as a National Historic Site, due to the date on the oldest stone there – February 1733.
“As a result, we can, as a town, obtain funding through the state of Massachusetts and Community Preservation funding for the upkeep of the cemetery, the stones and some of the groundwork,” she said.
She shared with the Select Board on Tuesday, Aug. 1 a copy of a letter she had sent to the Department of Public Works in May outlining her request for formal permission to clean the stones at Mount Zion, which is not far from her residence.
She also advocated a Cemetery Committee for Mount Zion, since it is the only cemetery in Whitman that does not have one.
According to the National Park Service’s website, “Soiling and staining of cemetery gravestones, monuments, markers, and statuary can result from soil splashing, pollution, rusting bolts or other metal features, bird deposits, and berries or sap dropping onto the stone. Biological growth, such as algae, lichen, or moss, can cover the surface, cause the stone to decay, and make reading the stone difficult.”
“The reason I feel strongly that a person should ask the town for permission, and I’m coming to you for permission, is that a lot of damage can be done by just walking in and cleaning with any substance and not knowing what you’re doing,” DiOrio said.
She has sought out the specialized training involved, she said, including attending lots of seminars and work cleaning historic stones in every New England state.
“This is something that I care deeply about, and as I clean these stones, I actually keep a family tree, and go on familysearch.org, which is a free website with a universal tree,” she said. “I have created documentation and pulled the official document for all the residents of that cemetery.”
She offered to take interested officials with her on Friday. Aug. 4 for the next work she planned to do.
Select Board member Justin Evans asked whether there is a level of training they should look for if anyone else came forward to seek permission to clean historic gravestones.
“You never want to hear they are planning to use soap or bleach or any kind of metal brush,” she said. Biologically-based cleaners are used on historic gravestones and markers.
DiOrio suggested asking about techniques and materials they planned to use, noting she has been asked those very questions every time she has sought permission to clean stones.
Board Vice Chair Dan Salvucci asked about liability, but DiOrio said that should not be a concern unless stones were being moved or renovated.
She told the Select Board that she has been cleaning the stones for about a year, having first broached the topic with the late Marie Lailer of the Historic Commission.
Lailer learned that the DPW maintains cemetery grounds, but not the headstones.
“I didn’t receive a response to this, but they did cover it in one of their board meetings,” she said.
DiORio also provided the Select Board with a copy of Terra Firma, a state document which informs about best practices in historic cemetery care.
“The reason I didn’t receive a response [from the DPW Commission] was that they felt that while they were not going to ‘get in my way,’ and were willing to allow me to continue the work there, they were not willing to give anyone ‘official permission,’” she said.
DiOrio’s said her understanding about the DPW Commissioners’ meeting was that headstone care should be families that give permission.
“The challenge with that is, it doesn’t follow best practices in cemetery care,” she said, emphasizing that is not meant to be criticism of the DPW. “But, when you talk about cemetery care and who grants permission, it really is the grounds of the cemetery, which is the town of Whitman in this case.”
Mount Zion is owned by the town of Whitman. Previously a family burial site, it was procured by the town in 1851.
“When you talk about families giving permission, it is down to the third generation,” she said. “For example, I can clean my great-grandmother’s stone, but not my great-great-grandmother’s stone.”
Her family is buried in Mount Hope in Boston, where DiOrio said she couldn’t just walk in and clean a stone, because it is a maintained, private cemetery in that case. Since Whitman owns Mount Zion, she needs town permission to care for stones there.
Historic Commission Chair Molly Schnabel said she agreed with everything DiOrio said, except for one thing.
“The state has the money for preservation and she’s right about these cemeteries,” Schnabel said. “We have money already.”
The Commission has $20,000 through the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and is seeking matching grants from the state.
“This cemetery should be on that group we’re looking to do,” she said. Once matching grants are obtained, they can hire state-approved workers come in and, while they don’t do stone preservation work, she said DiOrio’s idea is a good one, adding that the number of GAR stones [Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans’ organization of Union Army veterans after the Civil War] is remarkable, and that even though the town does not have a GAR building, its Civil War era history is remarkably well preserved.
“But it needs to be discussed, I think, with the historic commission,” Schnabel said of the stone project. “If you want to work with us on [the grant] that would be great.”
DiOrio said she is not applying for grant money.
Schnabel added there are three cemeteries in town that need to be watched, including one on Pine Street as well as Colebrook and Mount Zion.
“You can see some of the work [at Mount Zion] that Marie and I started and I’ve been continuing,” DiOrio said.
HANSON – What’s in store for the Hanson Fire Department now that there’s a new chief in the corner office?
More of the same, if you ask Chief Robert O’Brien – who sees himself as something of a conduit between the department’s past and its future. A 27-year fire service veteran, O’Brien took command officially in June, after some five years as a deputy chief and several weeks as acting chief after the retirement of Chief Jerome Thompson Jr.
“Chief Thompson was always very encouraging,” he said of new ideas he had suggested as he climbed the ranks. “Some of them work, some don’t work, and that’s where encouraging people is valuable.”
It is an approach he is continuing as chief of a department that Thompson had already brought a long way from where it was 16 years ago.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff going on, which is good,” he said. “We have a very young department. Their enthusiasm, their way of thinking, is – I’m going to call it non-traditional.
“That’s what I’m really pushing for the direction of the department now, for the firefighters and the officers to think outside the box … basically throw it against the wall, and if it sticks, great, If it doesn’t, then we continue the way we’ve been going.”
There have already been a lot of ideas they are trying, including use of the experience new hires have until they can go to fire academy. One has fire experience and has been put on shift, another has paramedic experience but not firefighting training, so he is assigned to the first ambulance out the door, which leaves three firefighters and a lieutant available to answer fire calls until he can attend the academy.
“Firewise, we don’t want to put him in a precarious position without being trained,” O’Brien said. It also allows the second ambulance to get out the door faster.
“My mantra to them is, ‘Let’s give it a try,’” he said. “Having a young department, the experience level is different from what I have.”
While maintaining a lot of the department’s traditions and respect for its history, O’Brien said technology is making a lot of changes as it adheres to the department’s tradition of aggressively seeking grant funding for equipment, projects and programs. Emergency management has provided a weather TV system – which, no doubt, came in handy during Saturday’s tornado warnings – and ROCC 911 funding pays for the department’s security and dispatch systems. Those are just two areas where grant funding has been secured for the department.
A lot of information on what to do to prepare for weather extremes, and what resources in town are available, for example, are posted to residents via social media on the department’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“We’re really fortunate here that Rob Heffernan is a big technology guru,” he said. “All these TVs and monitors that you see, especially the big one [in the main room which is used for virtual classes and webinars], the townspeople didn’t pay for any of it.”
As he spoke, one of those video screens, which displays a map most of the time, alarms went off as Whitman Fire was dealing with a heat emergency involving a person collapsed on South Avenue. A line of white LED lights was illuminated along the ceiling as well as a shorter line of red LED lights. Had it been at night the red lights would be more prominent at first, so it would be less jarring to the 24/7 crews being awakened by alarms until firefighters’ eyes adjust to the light.
“That’s why I’m encouraging people to come on in,” he said. “Come see your fire station. You paid for it, but what’s interesting is what they don’t have to pay for.”
While most technology equipment is funded by grant money, a majority of that in the apparatus bay is a combination of grant money and the ambulance account. The ladder truck replacement, for example, is being looked at as a 50-percent grant-sourced project.
“I’ve been very fortunate my whole career,” he said. “Other chiefs outside [of town], because of my involvement with technical rescue … I’ve gotten very involved with MEMA.”
It’s been a boon to networking, he said.
Hanson Fire and Mass. Maritime Academy plan to run a big tabletop exercise in April, that the school’s seniors are working.
“It’s going to be a little different for the town,” O’Brien said. “Chief Thompson allowed me to handle all the emergency management stuff, but I’m starting to go through things now of a continuity of operations plan for the town.”
Hanson does not currently have a robust emergency operation plan. A comprehensive plan was developed just about the time Thompson retired.
O’Brien has also presented a training course at Mass. Maritime for the helicopter aquatic rescue team, for which he is a program coordinator. The team specializes in flood and swift water rescues, from a concept developed in North Carolina.
“We’ve been working on it for five years and now it’s up and running,” he said.
O’Brien is also pushing for firefighters to be better educated in their craft and learning from what other departments have done or what they’ve experienced outside of Hanson Fire, to be more valuable members of the department.
Shifts are excited about new training techniques they can learn as a unit, as well.
“Firefighting is changing constantly and what it was 30 or 40 years ago is much different than what it is today,” he said, adding that department leadership is also sitting down with firefighters to discuss their short-term and long-term career goals.
While ambulance receipts also fund equipment like the new amulance being sought at the October Town Meeting, O’Brien said most ambulance costs to patients are handled through insurance.
“We don’t go to collections for it,” he said. “We don’t want people not to call the ambulance because of the cost.”
He also stressed the importance of calling 911 when help is needed, instead of the business line, because there might not be someone available to answer the business line if they are out on a call, prevention or training.
In fact, if O’Brien had an unlimited budget, staffing would be his top priority.
“Right now, we are looking at a SAFER grant,” he said. “It will pay 100-percent [of costs involved with] firefighter hiring – physicals, equipment, training, health care and retirement for three years, which is a great deal … But at the end of three years, the municipalities take ownership of that.”
He’s working with the Select Board and Finance Committee to determine how the department can afford that level of staffing.
More people on ambulances get them out the door quicker and more people on the fire line are important because fires burn hotter and faster than they used to because of chemicals used in buildings.
The May 2022 Town Meeting also approved funds for a feasibility study for the station, which should be going out to bid shortly, but O’Brien is aware a new Highway facility is a more pressing priority in town right now, and rightfully so, but the fire station is approaching 50 years old – and originally shared space with the library and senior center.
“The building was not designed for 24-hour occupancy,” he said. “Our bunkrooms are make-shift and are in the attic.”
It was also not designed for a co-ed fire crew, and the department now has two female firefighters.
“We’re the best-looking building in town, and a lot of that is due to the [maintenance and upkeep] done by the firefighters,” O’Brien said, noting he does not see any reason to move the Fire Department to a different location – which leaves a decision on how to improve the building where it is.
“We’re doing the groundwork,” he said.
The School Committee has voted 5-3 to approve the painting of a progressive Pride crosswalk at WHRHS and Whitman Middle School and to accept a Whitman PRIDE scholarship for a graduating senior. The vote also allows a partnership with the district’s wellness program and the Whitman Public Library to provide age-appropriate materials to district students.
Opposing it for various aspects of the crosswalk portion of the proposal were Fred Small, Glen DiGravio and Stephen Cloutman. Not present were Vice Chair Christopher Scriven and Michele Bougelas.
“We are not here to advance an agenda,” said Whitman PRIDE President and Director Christopher DiOrio. “We’re here to try to save lives, that’s really what’s important here. [See accompanying story, page 3] … Having at least one accepting adult in a child’s life can reduce the amount of suicidal attempts among LGBTQ people by 40 percent.”
He presented the requests at the Wednesday, July 19 meeting, explaining that his organization was created to increase LGBTQ visibility in Whitman, as well as raising awareness and funds for organizations and funds for organizations that provide community programs, advocacy and activities for LGBTQ youth.
“We know that LGBTQ people and their allies exist in all corners of the community, but they may feel alone or unrepresented,” he said. “Our mission is to help them show that Whitman is a place of inclusion, acceptance and love.”
When students see the rainbow colors it demonstrates the school they attend and the community in which they live, accept them for who they are, DiOrio said.
“These colors are not for everybody, but they are to let the teen-ager who’s insecure and unsure about how safe it is to be who they are, to know that the community and school that they work and live in actually cares about them,” he said. “They are for folks who live in a world where we still have to worry about folks legislating away their future rights to work, to raise children, to get an education, to get married and even to exist. … I’m asking simply to place colors on the ground.”
DiOrio had researched the district’s mission statement, which points out, in part, that it is “committed to maintaining a safe, respectful and supportive working and learning environment in which all students and employees can thrive and succeed” … with core values of supporting an inclusive environment and makes all decisions in the best interests of students.
“Whitman PRIDE is here today asking to be a partner with the schools in fostering and furthering your mission, because your mission coincides with ours,” DiOrio said. The organization’s ask is that the district act in the best interests of its student body – specifically LGBTQ students – in a safe, secure and healthy environment and to be a good model for diversity, equity and inclusion, proposing that:
Whitman PRIDE provide progressive PRIDE crosswalks at the high school and at Whitman Middle School – not state-mandated crosswalks, but simply painting them the traditional rainbow colors, plus black, brown, light blue, white and pink (to include racial diversity and trans persons);
The organization is offering to create a Whitman PRIDE scholarship to be offered to a graduating W-H senior who has exhibited efforts toward advocating or strengthening the LGBTQ community; and
Offering to partner with the Whitman Library and libraries in all W-H schools to provide age-appropriate educational materials for students at all levels to understand diversity, equity and inclusion, specifically related to the LGBTQ community.
“Why is this important?” he said. “Because this community, specifically the young people in the LGBTQ community, are under active attack in this country.”
DiOrio pointed to more than 500 separate pieces of legislation – including a bill now before Congress to cut funding for HIV research – have been filed throughout the country, specifically attacking LGBTQ individuals. More than 220 of those bills specifically single out trans students.
“Attacking students,” he repeated. “Children. “Seventy of them have already been approved by individual states, banning necessary gender-affirming care for trans students, banning trans students from participating in sports and sporting activities and even limiting bathroom access for those people conforming to their person’s gender.”
Chair Beth Stafford said she hoped before he entered the building that DiOrio looked up to see a nice “Respect” sign and an inclusion sign, which to her is very important.
“I did,” he replied.
“Those were done by the students themselves, and I think that’s very important and an important thing for all of us to remember,” she said, noting that the WHRHS library where the committee meets had a number of Pride-related books on display.
A former teacher who had LGBTQ students in her classes over the years, Stafford admitted that, “I treated them differently, but not in the way you think.”
“When I know that they are trans or maybe going to be, and they were walking alone in the corridor, I would stop them and ask them how their day was and how they’re doing and how they were feeling,” she said, recalling one former student, now working in town, who insists on waiting on her and has friended her on Facebook. “I find it very important that each and every one of us think about that before we have our discussion.”
Committee member Fred Small, while agreeing with “probably 90-something percent” of what DiOrio was saying, and for the committee to pass a proclamation or resolution that it is an inclusive district would be a good thing and that the mission statement could be adjusted to specifically include the LGBTQ community.
“I believe we have counselors and people in place to provide that adult educational assistance … so they know it’s OK, they have someone to talk to,” he said. “The one part that I worry about …is that by putting a symbol on the ground, and if we can end up having that discretion to say yes to one group, what happens when another group comes and says, ‘We want our symbol there?’”
He said it could be a group the district does not agree with or is “very repulsive,” such as Nazis, and referred to the group that took the city of Boston to the Supreme Court over the issue of a Christian flag. They Supreme Court allowed it, even after every lower court rejected the suit.
“My big fear is ‘Who pays those legal expenses?’” Small said.
DiOrio, who is a lawyer and Constitutional law professor, said the difference is the Boston case dealt with an existing policy that the city had, but was not followed. They had never rejected anyone based on their written policy for flags going up the third pole. The Supreme Court said that because the policy was not followed, the content decision made by the city in contradiction to its stated policy, they were operating in violation of that policy and had to allow the Christian flag they had rejected.
“The difference here, is when you as a collective body make a determination of policy it is what we call ‘government speech,’” DiOrio said. “You are permitted, as a government entity, to speak as you choose, no different than any individual.”
Neither can government entities be compelled to say anything they don’t believe or wish to say.
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak said he did not see any mention of a flag in the Whitman PRIDE request.
“Not yet,” DiOrio said.
“What I see is a scholarship, which I feel would be beneficial to my student body, support for education of our students – age appropriate – and a crosswalk,” Szymaniak said. “In our country, in our commonwealth right now, that’s a hot-button issue – the flag, and what pole it goes on.”
He stressed that the district has education professionals to help select age-appropriate materials across the board.
School Committee member Dawn Byers noted there is already a gender and sexuality alliance (GSA) club at the high school called the Rainbow Alliance, and advocated embracing them and include them.
“I support Mr. DiOrio’s efforts coming forward, however I would not want a citizen in the community to be dictating how a message or a symbol is put on a school campus without [the Rainbow Alliance] input,” she said.
She noted there is “a variety of flags” on display in the WMS foyer and did not recall any of those placements coming before the School Committee before.
DiOrio said each of the three South Shore Communities he is working with that have done similar sidewalks – Hingham. Scituate and Weymouth – all of them have worked with GSAs on being approved by the town, and he would welcome that volunteer effort. Cohasset, Quincy and North Quincy have also approved the rainbow sidewalks.
Committee member Hillary Kniffen, who is a teacher, said she has read many college entrance essays about how seeing a painted crosswalk, or a sticker placed in a classroom by a teacher, led to students feeling more like they belonged.
“To me, all of these things are absolutely harmless,” she said.
District Equity and MTSS Dr. Nicole Semas-Schneeweis said Massachusetts is the only state with a safe schools initiative so there is precedence to support LGBTQ students in the school setting.
“Going back to our pillars, one of them is safe schools,” said Committee member Steve Bois. “How would we want it any other way? … We’re here to educate the future.”
Small asked about the propriety of painting a crosswalk on Hanson property at the high school.
“This isn’t a social issue, I don’t think it’s a political issue, frankly, it’s a civil rights issue,” Committee member David Forth said. “I don’t think any statement is worthwhile unless there’s actions to back it up, and I think this is a great opportunity for us as a community, for as a district, to back it up.”
Member Glen DiGravio asked it there was a precent for a citizen request to make a change to school property. Szymaniak said there are Eagle Scout projects at schools all over the district that were approved by the committee. There have also been memorials placed on school grounds in the district.
He expressed concern that once a permanent change is permitted it shifts from inclusion to promotion.
Member Stephen Cloutman said a Pride flag is a statement of sexual preference that should not be present on school property. He advocated treating individuals as individuals.
“It’s a personal issue. We all need affirmation,” he said. “Every sentence or paragraph I read says inclusivity or diverse. I see it too much, it makes me think, what are we, all a bunch of bigots or racists? It’s put in our face.”
DiOrio corrected him that it is not an preference. It is an identity.
“I’ve also heard people saying it shouldn’t be taught,” Stafford said. “We do not teach you how to be gay. That’s not taught here just like Critical Race Theory is not taught here. We’re not promoting it. We’re helping the children who are under-recognized.”
How do you get to know a new town?
If you are Beth Sobiloff and Marcia Rothwell, you post your intention to visit on Facebook, and ask for suggestions as to where to eat and what to do when you arrive. That’s how the two of them ended up starting the day with a veggie omelet and French toast at Cowbells Café on Thursday, July
Sobiloff and Rothwell, known for their Facebook mission to visit every town in Massachusetts, record their adventures on a webcast travelogue called Two Grannies on the Road.
Something of a modern-day, high-tech combination of the late Scripps-Howard newspaper columnist Ernie Pyle’s Depression-era travels across America to introduce his countrymen to each other, revived on television by CBS’ Charles Kuralt in the 1970s. The Massachusetts mission is the latest Sobiloff has undertaken, with Rothwell as her third partner.
Whitman is the 56th Bay State community the vlog has visited and as they rattled of some of those towns, this writer couldn’t help but replay the vintage country tune, “I’ve Been Everywhere” in the back of my mind.
“We’ve been all over the state,” Sobiloff said as she began listing some of the towns. “Marion, Mattapoisett, Fairhaven, Dartmouth, New Bedford and then we’ve done a couple places on the Cape … we’ve been up in Newburyport, Newbury and West Newbury … we’ve also been out to North Adams and Adams and Williamstown and a five-day trip to the Berkshires.”
Quite a few towns in the greater Worcester area have also been destinations.
After breakfast, they had plans to head over to the Historical Society to chat about Whitman’s history and how they might add historical site drive-bys to the itinerary. They had an appointment to interview Josh Phippen, of the South Shore Boxing Gym on South Avenue and were going to fit in lunch at another Whitman eatery before stopping for an ice cream at Peaceful Meadows on the way out of town.
“We end our day with ice cream.” Sobiloff said.
They took photos of their breakfast entrees and video recorded their reactions to the menu items for their Facebook page before eating.
“I’ve got French toast made with French bread, which you don’t see all the time,” Sobiloff reported. “I’ve got real maple syrup, which is a must for me… Very good. I like the French toast, nice and thick..”
From the Plymouth area, Sobiloff said her son lives in Hanson and her daughter works in Whitman, so she is a bit familiar with it, but as always they let the community give suggestions for their specific destinations.
“We try to do something unusual,” Rothwell said, mentioning the boxing gym visit. “I hate boxing,” she laughed. She told gym owner Phippen the same thing in an often-funny interview posted the Grannies Facebook page: facebook.com/twogranniesontheroad.
That visit also included the ladies climbing into the ring to test their fighting stance as well as a round or two with the speedbag and heavy bag.
“We often will do drive-arounds to view historic buildings that aren’t necessarily open, monuments, parks, things of that nature,” Sobiloff said.
“This town seems to have a lot of things,” Rothwell said.
This writer interviewed them – and they interviewed me – it was a mutual meeting of the media mavens of the South Shore.
A native of Wethersfield, Conn., Rothwell is a retired nurse who worked at Hartford Hospital for 46 years, but Sobiloff, an Ohio native, still works as a web designer. Each of the women is a bona fide grandmother – with six grandchildren each. They also love to joke around that Rothwell is the third “second granny.”
“I actually started [her travels] in 2010,” Sobiloff said. “I’d had my business for about eight years and I was single at the time, my youngest son was getting ready to graduate from college … and I just started thinking about how I hadn’t had a vacation in eight years.”
Taking her kids cross county in an RV had always been a dream of hers, but she never had the chance to do it. Then she realized she had a job she could do anywhere.
“I thought maybe I could figure out a way to travel and work across the country,” she said. Not wanting to travel alone, Sobiloff asked friend Ginny Just, who, as a graphic designer, was also not tied to an office.
“That made me think of the name: ‘Two Grannies on the Road,’” she said. “I got together with her and told her my idea and she said, ‘I’m in.’”
Sobiloff’s first partner in travel vlogging created the logo and Sobiloff created the website: twogranniesontheroad.com.
“The deal was to get sponsorships from big companies like Winnebago,” she said. “We did some networking about it, we did some proposals to big companies for sponsorships, but we were coming out of absolutely nowhere – nobody knew who we were.”
RV life may be more of a thing now, but 12 years ago it was a strange notion to some of the recreational vehicle companies.
“We just evolved over the years,” Sobiloff said. The next idea was to interview Baby Boomers being forced out of jobs at a time of economic downturn and what they were doing to reinvent themselves, to inspire other Baby Boomers to go for their dreams.
She made that cable access program in East Bridgewater for a couple of years, before Sobiloff and her then-partner each met a new husband and boyfriend, respectively.
Sobiloff and her husband moved to Plymouth and her first partner retired.
“I had guest grannies a lot of times,” she said.
“She tells me these stories,” Rothwell laughed. “I’m worried about her freezer.”
Guest Grannie Debbie Phalen, a retired optician who had started candy business in her basement, agreed to come on board for the mission to visit every city and town in Massachusetts after she and Sobiloff had worked together on a few shows. Phalen moved to Florida to be near her daughter about a year ago.
Enter Rothwell, who met at a social luncheon when a mutual acquaintance introduced them.
“Here I am,” Rothwell said.
Once Rothwell writes down the responses to her Facebook inquiries about a town, she makes some calls to confirm schedules and it’s time to hit the road. She also calls each town’s historical society for an after-breakfast trip.
“Maybe there are sights that we need to see,” she said. “This town, it was interesting how much different things, historically have taken place. … It’s always exciting what we find.”
Then there’s the editing to do before an episode goes up on their web site.
Next week the Two Grannies follow their road back to Western Massachusetts to Shelburne and Buckland. Follow along on Facebook.
They also speak at senior centers. Libraries and over-55 communities on their travels. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, their websites and Facebook page.