Tag Archives: Peabody schools

Right approach to school safety by Peabody superintendent

9 Jan

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

schoolsHis approach makes sense without playing into the hysteria. The recent tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, have caused Peabody Schools Superintendent Joe Mastrocola to do what commonsense, and not hysteria, dictates.

He’s received approval from the school committee for obtaining an expert to do a safety/security assessment of Peabody’s schools.

There’s no talk here of putting armed guards at all of the doors. No one is panicking people by insisting it could happen here. No knee-jerk reactions.

Just a well-conducted assessment, and action plan to ensure that we’re doing all of the right things to protect the safety of out kids, and school department staff.

“I want to let the community know, and the school committee know, we continue always to make safety our first priority in the school district,” said Mastrocola at Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting, as reported by the Peabody Patch.

Like all school systems,  Peabody currently has comprehensive procedures and protocols designed to protect its students and teachers.  But what this expert will help us learn is where gaps might exist,  and where we can do better.  It might mean replacing locks or altering some protocols, but it won’t be extreme,  and it won’t turn our schools into unwelcoming, intimidating, armed fortresses.

Mastrocola says safety within the city’s schools is a “primary goal” for the district,  along with teaching and learning, and I think that’s right.

It’s a commonsense approach amid national hysteria and suggestions that we should arm our teachers.

So far, so good on a number of fronts for Peabody’s new super.

High grades in Year 1 for Mayor Bettencourt

28 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Among Mayor Bettencourt's accomplishments was the approval of a new middle school

Among Mayor Bettencourt’s accomplishments in his first year was the approval of a new middle school

There are challenges yet to come, but as we prepare for the ball to drop in Peabody Square in a few days (OK, not really), we pause to assess the rookie year for Mayor Ted Bettencourt.  

From where I sit as a taxpayer, I’d sum up the Mayor’s first year performance this way:

It hasn’t been perfect, but it has been very good.

Not an A-plus, but certainly a very high B, bordering on an A-minus. Look folks, even Ted, we feel, would appreciate it if we left in some room here for growth.

So here goes … a look at what just one taxpayer, this taxpayer thinks of Year 1 of the Bettencourt Administration. These are what I feel were his three best and biggest accomplishments:

1. Passing an early challenge on healthcare

With the city stuck in neutral when it comes to revenue growth, the Mayor gets an A-plus for his leadership when it came to reaching an agreement in June with the city’s unions to enter the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC). Going the GIC route could end up saving the city between $10 and $15 million over the next four years.

Just months into his first term, it took guts for this rookie mayor to first draw a line in the sand, and then bring all of the city’s unions to the table to work out a smart, commonsense solution. But some of the credit also goes to the unions too. In these days when stories abound about the greediness of some union leaders, Peabody’s unions proved that collective bargaining can be a wonderful thing when neither side acts exclusively in their own self interests.

2.  The Education Mayor

Bettencourt showed leadership again in the spring, getting unanimous support from both the city council and school committee on the construction of a new Higgins Middle School, as the city scraped its original plan for renovating the existing, dilapidated, sprawling facility.  The new school will cost Peabody taxpayers about $45 million after state reimbursement, but it’s definitely much-needed, and for Bettencourt—a young mayor with a young family—it shows that he is intent on becoming the Education Mayor.

Getting new schools built in Peabody the past 20 years has been a huge struggle, but somehow this one seemed easy, and it came with almost universal acceptance from taxpayers. I know it wasn’t all Ted’s doing, but he deserves a lot of the credit here.

 3. The Pro Business Mayor  

Understanding right from the start that Peabody has a revenue problem, Bettencourt made good on a campaign promise to make the city more business friendly in an effort to expand our commercial tax base. If we’re going to get the money we need to pay existing and upcoming bills, and also improve infrastructure and schools, the burden can’t keep landing on residential taxpayers. More businesses, mean more tax dollars. So, with that in mind, Bettencourt did the following in Year 1:

  • Made it known (and even cleaned house somewhat) that he wants those city departments that deal with businesses to make the process for setting up and maintaining shop a lot easier. In 2013 he is also establishing a business liaison position.  to assist businesses in this regard.
  • Established the Economic Development Council, which is looking at bringing business back to Peabody Square and Centennial Park.
  • Got city council approval on a 1.60 tax classification for businesses, meaning businesses will only pay 1.6 times higher than the residential tax rate. In many surrounding communities it’s 1.75.

As for Year 2 …

Not that he’s taking advice from me, but if I were Ted Bettencourt I’d start leveraging some of my “political capital” in 2013, something that I feel will make him unbeatable when it comes to re-election next fall.

What do I mean by that? Well, sometimes I get the impression that the Mayor doesn’t fully realize that there is power in his popularity. We saw this during the spring when he sat on the sidelines during the special election to replace Senator Fred Berry. Meanwhile, Mayor Kim Driscoll got every Salem elected official on board behind Joan Lovely, who is now our State Senator. Suddenly, when it comes to that very influential seat, the power has shifted to Salem.

Love him or not, you have to respect how former Mayor Peter Torigian would have anointed one of the two Peabody candidates, either John Slattery or Mary Ellen Manning, and strongly insisted that every city councilor, every school committee member, light commissioner and library trustee support that candidate to ensure we didn’t lose that seat to Salem.

Ted Bettencourt has earned some tremendous “juice” in Year 1. He is popular in Peabody, and has done the job. Now, will he use that “juice” to take it to the next level, and wield the type of regional clout we saw in the past from politically powerful Mayors Nick Mavroules and Peter Torigian?

Want to let us know how you feel Mayor Bettencourt has fared in his first year? Let us know by taking our poll.

Peabody kids to wear green and white to support Sandy Hook

16 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

greenJust a quick post to let people know of this very nice tribute tomorrow in Peabody’s Schools to the victims in Newtown, CT.

The Peabody Patch reports that the citywide parent-teacher organization, Peabody PTC, is asking all students, parents, faculty, staff and the community at-large to wear green and white for the day. Green and white are the school colors at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Very nice idea.  Can I also suggest that everyone else wears green to work tomorrow?

Our top 5 posts of the week

7 Dec

Want to catch up on your Eye on Peabody reading this weekend?

eyeWell, here are the Top 5 most-read posts here on the blog this week:

1. Dunne, Gould, and Gravel positioning for potential run for open State Rep seat

2. Want to run for State Rep? Here’s your chance

3. Hey Nellie, how can we miss you, if you just won’t go away

4. A positive foreign concept to consider for Peabody High

5. Check out your Peabody property valuation here

Please let us know in the comments section which posts you enjoyed most, or got the most value from this week. You can also use the “Send a hot tip” link to let us know what you’d like to see us right about go forward.

Today officially is the three-week anniversary of Eye On Peabody. During that brief span, we’ve had 41 posts, almost 400 comments, and more than 10,000 visitors. Thanks so much for visiting. We hope it’s been informative, entertaining, and helped spark some discussions where you live. 

A positive foreign concept to consider for Peabody High

4 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

pvmhsIt’s a good idea. It’s an innovative idea, and Joe Mastracola, Peabody’s Superintendent of Schools,  should get props for coming up with something that could add a nice chunk of incremental revenue, while giving our school system some positive diversity.

Mastrocola wants to attract foreign students to attend Peabody High School with the assistance of an agency called Educatius International. The big benefit to taxpayers would be that each of these students would pay Peabody $12,000 per year to attend.

In the small school district of Groton-Dunstable, where Matsrocola previously served as super, the policy reaped up to $175,000, according to the Salem News. The program this year alone has meant almost $300k of found money for Arlington High.

All of the students, who would be here on F1 visas provided through Homeland Security, would be put up with host families, who would be compensated by the students’ families. The students undergo strict background checks.

Not only would this give the Peabody schools some much-needed extra revenue, but these international students typically come from strong academic backgrounds, and having more kids with scholarly track records is never a bad thing for Peabody High.

The question might be, how can Peabody be competitive when it comes to attracting these students? For example, both Arlington and Groton-Dunstable have better academic credentials right now than Peabody, and we’ll also be competing against Catholic high schools. Speaking from personal experience of having seen this program work well at Wakefield’s all-girl NazarethAcademy, many of the students come from upper class conservative families, and have parents who seek schools that offer religion and the type of disciplined atmosphere you typically find at a small or private high school.

But it’s a great idea for Peabody to apply, and I don’t see any negatives. It’s definitely innovative thinking by our new superintendent.

Report: Peabody High 5th in state when it comes to violent crimes that get reported

27 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

No matter how you look at it, this isn’t good for Peabody High. Recently, Channel 4’s I-Team reported that our high school was the fifth worst in the state when it came to violent crimes committed by and against students.

Now, it might come with a caveat: It could turn out that the administration at Peabody High is more diligent than other schools when it comes to filing police reports. But still, being fifth out of 138 schools is not a good place to be. The school committee, if it hasn’t already, needs to take this report seriously, and work with the Peabody Police Department to ensure that the environment at the high school is safe for all students. The I-Team report rated Peabody fifth based on physical attacks, sexual assaults, and drugs and alcohol.

“I simply think what it does is mis-characterize what the school is,” Peabody High Principal Ed Sapienza told the I-Team. “When you look at the incidents, because we do report them, and we’re conscientious about maintaining discipline in school and things do get recorded, I think that just simply adds to the list.”

But it also doesn’t excuse the fact that there is a problem here. Hats off to Principal Sapienza and his staff, but more definitely needs to be done here. Nothing should be more important than the safety of Peabody’s students.

Let me know what you think after looking at the I-Team report.

Also, thanks to a loyal reader for tipping off EOP on this story. If you have a story you feel should be reported here, you can use the Send Us A Hot Tip link.

Peabody High grad rate better than before, but still lags behind state average

27 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

A pair of related topics collides today as we receive word that Peabody’s high school graduation rate remains below the state average, and the school committee tonight announces the process of hiring a new high school principal.

The two are definitely connected, since the CEO of PVMHS will be integral when it comes to improving grad rates, and overall academic standards. I won’t bore you with the details of the principal search process here, but you can read about it in this Salem news article.

What I do want to point out, though, is that Peabody  continues to lag when it comes to gradation rates, and while some school committee members might tell you how it’s better than it used to be, we should still view it as unacceptable that we’re below state average.

The state average of 83% puts Massachusetts at just 11th nationwide, and Peabody’s adjusted rate is 82.2. That not only puts Peabody well behind other area communities such as Beverly and Danvers, but we’re pretty much tied with Salem. To be fair, it does represent improvement over a graduation rate that, in recent years, had hovered around 79%.

But can’t we do better than this?

Let me know what you think.

You can read more details about how Peabody compares in this article from the Patch.

Poll: If you were mayor, what would you focus on first?

19 Nov

By Eye on Peabody

So let’s play pretend today, and give you a chance to play Mayor For A Day. Please participate in our poll below, so we can see which issues interest our EOP audience the most.

This post brought to you by “You Make the Call,” Peabody’s longest-running cable show on the issues of the day.

We need a new middle school, but officials also need to be careful to avoid overruns

17 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

I guess you could call this our very first cost overrun on the new Middle School project. But this one was also pretty much unavoidable.

Turns out that Peabody won’t be invited to participate  in the Mass. School Building Authority‘s model school program  for the construction of a new Higgins, and as a result the new school could end up costing taxpayers at least $3 million more, putting the new estimated price tag at $90 million.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt recently revealed that the MSBA  voted against inviting Peabody into the model school program  because there is no model middle school that matches Peabody’s needs. In other words, our middle school population is too large to fit one of the existing, off-the-shelf models.

Another  big advantage of being in the model school program is the guarantee of a 5-point higher reimbursement rate from the state. Next step in this process is for the School Building Committee to present a final plan to the MSBA for approval in the spring.

Sounds like this first overrun was definitely unavoidable, but this might also be a good time to insist that our elected officials proceed cautiously with our tax dollars when it comes to avoiding future overruns.

Although not many would disagree that we definitely need to build a new middle school, it’s important that the Mayor also keep his eye on escalating costs, and cut back on the plan and some “amenities” to avoid a larger tax burden. We want a nice, new modern building for our kids, but it’s important to note that the education that goes on in that new building is more important than the structure itself.

As with all publicly funded construction projects, it’s likely that there will be more cost overruns.

We need that new school, but we also want to make sure we manage this in a fiscally responsible way, so that already overburdened taxpayers don’t get fleeced.

Here are some more details in the Peabody Patch about these latest developments.

This post brought to you by “You Make the Call,” Peabody’s longest-running cable show on the issues of the day.

Hats off and thanks to this wonderful educator

17 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Forget about the teachers unions and politicians thinking they know what’s best when it comes to educating our kids. Forget all of them, and think about wonderful educators such as Maryellen McGrath. 

All she ever wanted to be was a teacher. And all she ever wanted to do was teach in her hometown of Peabody. Now, 41 years later, after being a memorable and positive influence on generations of kids, this terrific educator is retiring at the end of January.

Most recently, Maryellen served as principal at the South School, but before that she spent her entire teaching career on the elementary school level in Peabody.

I’m just one citizen, one taxpayer, but from the bottom of my heart, I thank her for her service.

Here’s a nice take on her story from the Peabody Patch

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