#OneWaltham...

It's that time of year when campaign signs add that extra spot of color to the changing foliage in yards. In Waltham we have a very active political cycle happening. On November 3rd we will have elections for city council, school committee and mayor. Last week I attended a candidate forum for the school committee, sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

There are five candidates running for three spots on the SC. Three of the five candidates are incumbents. John Graceffa, who has been in the Waltham education system for most of his career, including as principal of the Waltham High School; Edmund "Teddy" Tarallo, math teacher in Salem and Waltham native whose father has been very active in local politics as well; Margaret Donnelly, former teacher in the Marlboro school system who has been on the school committee for decades.

The two new candidates are Liz AlJammal, a parent of two students in the Waltham system, one at McDevitt Middle School and one at Fitzgerald Elementary. Liz is a social worker as well as the child of immigrant parents who grew up speaking Portuguese as her first language. The final candidate is David Matayabas, who works in the insurance industry and has been involved in what he refers to as a national youth organization since he was 8. I assume we are referring to the Boy Scouts, but I could be wrong.

The forum last night did not deliver as much by way of actual information as I would have liked. During the last election for school committee, which happens every two years, the forum was longer and seemed to be meatier in terms of questions and substance. It did offer some telling moments though.

I will note at this point that I have been a candidate for the Waltham SC in the past. I obviously did not get elected. I never got past the primaries. Ancient history. However, I continue to be heavily invested in the school system and watch our school committee closely. I and many of my fellow Waltham parents continue to be frustrated, even angered by the lack of movement on coming up with any sort of real plan for dealing with the issue of overcrowding in some of our schools by our SC.

The question of redistricting came up during the forum. All of the candidates agree there is a problem and "something needs to be done." John Graceffa, an incumbent, continued what appears to be his agenda of not moving forward with ANY plan to deal with the overcrowding issues experienced at three of our six elementary schools by stating he feels a very small redistricting effort, moving the fewest number of students possible, is what should happen. Then recently in the Waltham Tribune he is quoted stating that redistricting is both a short term and long term goal and should move the fewest number of students. He feels building a new building is inevitable. Which would be fine. If the SC would ever actually decide that this is what needs to happen. As it is, for the 4 years I have had a child in the school system, and for much longer than that, the SC has been hemming and hawing over this subject, and has let our students, teachers and staff deal with the ramifications of that inaction.

We have been having this same conversation for YEARS in Waltham. We have had surveys, evaluations, presentations and analysis done by architects. We have had predictive modeling on population growth. The fact remains there are some schools which need more space and some schools that have some wiggle room. We do need a new building, and we need to expand where we can existing buildings.

Dr. Drew Echelson, the new superintendent is a very very very smart man. He has great experience with large urban schools systems, and experience bringing struggling schools back to productive and exciting places. I want him to bring his vision to Waltham. I want the SC to work with him and the city to make what I believe is a great school system even better.

All of our elementary schools should have dedicated science classes. We should have dedicated art and music spaces. Title I and other special programming need space. If achieving that means some students need to relocate to a different school, then so be it. In fact, I volunteer. My son is in 3rd grade and loves Stanley but if he had to attend another one of our fine schools, he would be fine. He would flourish and learn and grow.

Recently there has been conversation on social media regarding some of the possible redistricting plans that MIGHT be put forward to the SC. A set of parents at one school in particular is decidedly upset about what this would mean to them, and to their school. They don't want to have to attend another school, nor do they want the students who would relocate from another school in their school.

Here's the thing. When you say the things that are being said about "those kids" coming from the other school, you sound a little tiny bit racist. All students have value. All students deserve the great education your kids are getting. Also, these are OUR schools. The schools are for the kids, all of the kids, in Waltham. We are #OneWaltham. Stanley isn't my school. It's our school. The diversity we have in Waltham is what makes it great. I have said it before and I will continue saying it. I love that my son goes to school with kids who don't all look exactly like him. I love that he came home last year from the first week of 2nd grade to tell me that of the 5 kids sitting in his desk group, he was the only one who didn't speak two languages. He said it because he was disappointed he couldn't speak another language, not because it was weird that they could. I appreciate that he realizes not everyone learns the same way, or thinks the same way. When you disrespect a group of kids because of where they live or who they are, you not only make yourself look foolish, you diminish Waltham.

This is my charge to the School Committee: Be brave. Be the School Committee Waltham deserves, not the one some people think you should be. Stand up for ALL the students of Waltham, not just some. Draw those district lines wherever you need to. Build a building, re-purpose a different one. Whatever needs to be done to provide the best possible education to ALL of the students in Waltham.

Voters: VOTE. Get to the polls. Do it for yourself, for the kids, for #OneWaltham.



















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