In a world where every threat to a school has to be taken seriously, that played out on Monday morning at Chelsea High when the schools were put on alert by a social media threat to “CHS” that turned out to be a month old and referring to a school in New Mexico.
Supt. Mary Bourque said around 7:15 a.m. Monday, Officer Dan Delaney was alerted to a threat observed on social media by a parent, a threat that indicated the person was “going to shoot up CHS.”
Bourque said it was unfortunate, but it was something that’s going to happen more often.
“It turns out it was a month old and was referring to a school in New Mexico,” she said. “Every threat has to be taken seriously. We can’t afford to not take threats seriously. At the same time, this is going to be what it’s like in the times we live in…It’s a sign of the times these weekly incidents for schools will be happening. It’s happening around the nation and we’re no different.”
The high school was functioning normally shortly after the threat was investigated.
Chelsea Supt. Mary Bourque said just when urban educators plagued with a flawed funding formula thought they made some progress, the state yanked all that progress from under them recently.
Bourque, the past president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents and the co-chair of the Urban Superintendents Network, has been working with the state for more than two years to fix a problem for Chelsea and many surrounding districts involving low income students – now called economically disadvantaged. The change has cost the Chelsea Schools millions of dollars per year in funding that they expected, but no longer qualified for.
“In the urban districts, we’re all on fragile ice right now,” she said. “Everything is coming at us at one time. It really begs the question about whether the allocation for education of students of poverty going to be the place where the state goes to make cuts and balance the budget every year. That’s not what the Foundation Formula budget is meant to do. It’s really almost immoral.”
Schools like Chelsea, Revere, Everett and Brockton – among others – have been hamstrung for the last two years due to major reductions in state funding due to the change in the formula. That change entailed making economically disadvantaged students qualify for that title only if their families were on some sort of public welfare benefit. Unfortunately, in communities like Chelsea, many families don’t qualify for those benefits due to their immigration status or because they haven’t been in the country legally for five years. Without that, the schools don’t receive nearly as much money to educate a very difficult and needy population.
This year, Bourque said, they added several new “qualifiers” for the economically disadvantaged tag – such as programs that students in Chelsea might qualify for despite immigration status.
However, as soon as that battle was won, Bourque said the state turned around and lowered the amount of money given for each student – making the gain a complete wash.
“We worked hard with the state to come up with solutions and they did add more students to qualify,” she said. “But as soon as we got more students, they reduced the amount of money given for each student.”
Bourque said the Chelsea Schools are likely going to be down another $1 million from where they feel they should be in the coming budget year. She said they will keep working on it, though.
It has been a real learning experience for the long-time administrator, though maybe not a positive one.
“To ignore systemic injustice and failure while children’s futures are compromised is morally and ethically, wrong,” she said. “It is not who we are as a Commonwealth nor is it who we want to be. The Grand Bargain of 1993 (for Education Reform) is not more and hasn’t been for many years. It is time for courage and time for action; our children and their futures are far too important.”
Elsy Sanchez, 17, is one of 11 Chelsea High students to be awarded the new Seal of Bi-Literacy this year during graduation.
Eleven new Chelsea High School (CHS) graduates will carry at least one more award with them this year than did other classes at CHS, and that award is the newly piloted Seal of Bi-Literacy that Chelsea and several other districts are implementing.
Sarah Warren of Chelsea Public Schools said Supt. Mary Bourque and the administration was looking for a way to recognize students who had strong bi-literacy skills. In Chelsea, because so many students are fluent in Spanish and English, the designation was meaning and was a way to market this unique skill to colleges and employers.
The Awards were given out at the annual Chelsea High Awards Night on Monday, June 5.
“We have just started this,” said Warren. “Dr. Bourque wanted us to see how we could get a meaningful designation in place that would recognize students that achieve bi-literacy,” said Warren. “As a district, we want to recognize students that become proficient in more than one language. We believe that is a very valuable skill for college and in the workplace. In Chelsea, we have a great amount of people who are proficient in more than just English. We’re very excited to be able to introduce this award when students achieve full proficiency in two languages.”
Bourque said she was very excited to be able to premiere the new award to 11 students in the class. She said they will move forward with it in the future as well.
“The Seal is a recognition of the fact that Chelsea Public Schools values students’ language skills and heritage as a huge asset,” said Bourque. “This credential will travel with our graduates as they move on to higher education and future employment. There is increasing demand – both in Massachusetts and nationally – for employees who are literate in two or more languages. By encouraging students to earn the Seal, we are sending the message that the ability to communicate in more than one language and to bridge different cultures is part of being a well-rounded global citizen in the 21st Century. It takes a lot of hard work to become fully proficient in two or more languages, and I couldn’t be more proud of these young people for their high level of achievement.”
Warren said there are three levels for the Chelsea seal.
Platinum winners achieve a 5 on their Advanced Placement Spanish Test and an advanced on their MCAS English Language Arts (ELA) test.
A gold winner scores a proficient on their MCAS test and a 5 on their AP Spanish.
A silver winner scores a proficient on their MCAS test and a 3 or 4 on their AP Spanish.
Elsy Sanchez, 17, was one of the first Gold Seal winners, and came to that point after starting out her high school experience in the English Language Learner (ELL) program.
Sanchez was born in Chelsea and attended the Sokolowski School and the Clark Avenue Middle School. However, after fifth grade, tired of going back and forth to Honduras where her parents had moved – having left Chelsea behind – she decided to stay in Honduras. However, after being in Honduras for some time, Sanchez realized that she had some pretty big goals for her future. She decided that getting to an American university from Honduras was going to be very tough, but getting there from Chelsea was more likely a successful path.
“My father asked me if I wanted a Quincenaera party or to go back to Chelsea,” said Sanchez. “I decided to come back here. So I came and quickly realized my English wasn’t as good as when I left for Honduras in 5th grade. One thing I wanted to do was go to college here. When I came back to Chelsea, I understood what people were saying, but i couldn’t express myself…Sometimes I would start a sentence and not be able to finish it because I couldn’t think of the right word.”
Sanchez entered the ELL program, known as the Bridge Academy at CHS. There, her teachers saw she was talented and had big goals and just needed a push.
“The teachers always pushed me to challenge myself,” she said. “They are always there to support you. They work to make connections with you. If they see someone who they thinks needs a push, they will push you to do better.”
With that support upon moving back, Sanchez was able to move to the regular Chelsea High program by her sophomore year, regaining her English fluency again.
In her senior year, Sanchez has put her English headaches behind her and took six Advanced Placement classes, including Physics, Stats and Language.
She said she plans to go to Salem State in the fall to study biology and Spanish, with the goal of becoming a pediatrician.
“I really like kids,” she said. “I always thought that because I also like science, I could become a doctor and help kids and people feel better. That is the perfect combination for me.”
As for the seal, she said it has the potential to open doors not only for school, but also in the workplace.
“I think it will help me in many different ways,” she said. “We live in a country with many different languages and being able to be fluent in multiple languages will open doors for me along the way. This helps me to market that and it goes on my transcript and on my resume.”
Graduating seniors processing into the gym during the opening ceremony. It was the largest class in 15 years at Chelsea High, with 309 members.
The last time Chelsea High School (CHS) graduated a class as large as the Class of 2017, the Boston Red Sox still hadn’t won a World Series in more than 90 years.
This year’s class featured more than 300 students in the class, the most since 2002, and teachers at CHS said it is one of the most accomplished in many years.
Supt. Mary Bourque said the class is noteworthy not just from the data, but also from their character.
“The class president came to us from Africa when she was 5 years old,” said Bourque. “She spoke movingly at graduation of having returned to her birth country for a visit last year for the first time in 13 years. She came back to CHS with the beginning of the school year, but she came back with open eyes of how she and her peers need to value this country and the opportunities that are presented. She thanked CPS for embracing and supporting her and her peers along the way.
“We are a proud immigrant community; we welcome and educate everyone,” she continued. “The students in our schools are from 58 countries and speak 36 languages. We are not perfect and we still have much work to do to improve our student outcomes, but it is for days like Chelsea High School’s graduation for which we work. It is the renewal and joy we feel when we celebrate our students’ accomplishments.”
One of the most telling statistics is that some 70 percent of the class is moving on to attend a two- or four-year college next year. Another 13 percent are going directly into the workforce, while 6 percent are entering a certificate program or trade school.
Some 3 percent are going to the military.
Of those going to college, the list of schools includes:
Boston College – Woods College of Advancing Studies
Johnson and Wales University
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
University of Connecticut
Additionally, Bourque said students earned $2.3 million in local scholarship programs and scholarships from colleges and universities. That was the most ever.
Students in the Class of 2017 also took advantage of dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses.
More than half of the senior class, 160 in total, enrolled in an AP course.
Students enrolled in dual enrollment at Bunker Hill Community College earned 1,162 college credits while still in high school. Those credits will transfer to their new school in the fall, saving them valuable time and money.
“Dual enrollment graduates saved on future college debt, in tuition and fees, more than $200,000 and $50,000 on books,” said Bourque. “On average, dual enrollment students earned eight credits each; one student earned 27 credits. This student in effect completed one-third of an Associate’s Degree before she even received her high school diploma. Within the next four years, we will have students graduating with an Associate’s Degree at the same time as they graduate from Chelsea High School.”
The Chelsea Public Schools has conducted a laborious sampling of all the water fountains and faucets used for food preparation in its buildings this summer and found that 17 of 313 fixtures had levels above the limits.
The testing was reported by Supt. Mary Bourque on Wednesday morning and indicated that the schools have tested randomly every year throughout the schools over the last 20 years, but had never tested every fixture and, this year, had to test with newer, stricter standards.. This year, likely in light of the fountain problems discovered in Boston schools this past term, the Chelsea schools decided to conduct thorough tests using the new, stricter lead level standards recently adopted by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“A total of 313 water samples have been recently tested,” wrote Bourque in a letter to parents that went out Thursday (today) morning. “While we are pleased to report that the Silber Early Learning Center, the Wright Academy, the Browne Middle School and Chelsea High School passed with no samples tested above the lead action level, the sampling did indicate that 17 fountains and sinks had lead levels that exceeded the Massachusetts action level for lead in drinking water.”
The problems were detected mostly at the Burke Complex. Those exceeding levels were at the following schools:
One water fountain and one sink at the Clark Avenue Middle School.
Two water fountains at the Kelly School.
Four water fountains at the Berkowitz School.
Four water fountains at the Hooks School.
Five water fountains at the Sokolowski School.
The problems at the school buildings, especially the Burke Complex, is a bit confounding due to the fact that it is such a new facility with fully updated plumbing. Bourque said an analysis has indicated that they don’t believe the water source is contaminated nor is the plumbing faulty.
“Because our schools are relatively new, and based on an analysis of our recent test results, we do not believe the internal school plumbing is contributing to lead levels,” she wrote. “We have also confirmed that our water source does not contain lead. The testing is indicating isolated instances of excessive lead levels which are likely caused by the installation of these faucets or water bubblers or the fixtures themselves…We will be replacing the fixtures identified above and retested before they are available for use.”
Bourque said the administration is taking the 17 problem fountains very seriously, and have taken five action steps to prevent the problem by the time school starts later this month.
First, the fixtures have been shut off and enclosed. Second, parents and school staff were notified. Third, the Chelsea School Committee and Board of Health were notified. Fourth, the fixture is evaluated by a licensed plumber to determine the source of the problem and the fixture is remediated or replaced.
Finally, the fixture is retested to determine if lead levels are below the new Massachusetts standards.
The letter describing the problems and the non-problems was sent out to parents and posted on the district’s online networks Thursday (today) morning, Aug. 11.
When Amanda Alpert takes office on July 1 as athle
New Chelsea High School director of athletics Amanda Alpert is pictured adjacent to the school sign. Alpert will take office July 1 as the leader of the athletic program
tic director (AD) at Chelsea High School, she will be the first woman to serve in the prestigious position.
Alpert’s official title is coordinator of physical education, comprehensive health, and athletics for the Chelsea school district but it’s those two letters – AD – that all will recognize for being the person in charge of all CHS sports programs.
The late Saul Nechtem held the position for a half century before Frank DePatto succeeded Nechtem in 1989. DePatto is stepping down this year after a sterling 27-year career.
Supt. of Schools Dr. Mary Bourque appointed Alpert to the new position that also includes overseeing physical education and health classes in all local schools. Alpert is a guidance counselor at CHS but has begun the transition to her new office.
“I’m excited about my new position and putting my thoughts in to action,” said the 32-year-old Alpert.
She is currently a CHS boys and girls assistant track coach and she previously served as an assistant coach on Mike Stellato’s football staff.
Alpert has made a name for herself as a women’s professional tackle football player, having won all-league honors as an offensive lineman 11 times. She has played on three Super Bowl championship teams and is still active as a player for the Boston Renegades, who play their home games at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville. This weekend, Alpert and her team will fly to Pittsburgh for a professional game that will be televised by the local Pittsburgh station.
Alpert played tennis and competed in indoor and outdoor track at Saugus High and went on to compete in track at Endicott College. She holds a Master’s degree in School Counseling from Suffolk University and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Athletic Administration.
She was a teacher at Malden High School before becoming a guidance counselor at CHS in 2009. Alpert is now poised to build on the success of the CHS athletic program that competes in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference.
Alpert feels that CHS athletes should be receiving more recognition for their accomplishments.
“I would like to see the community more involved in the athletic program,” said Alpert. “I think the accomplishments of our athletes need to be publicized. Some of our athletes are amazing scholars and I want the community to know about them and where they’re going to college. I want our student-athletes to focus more on their studies and be more serious about their education.”
She will also stress sportsmanship to the CHS student-athletes. “I would love to say that winning a championship for every team is my goal but realistically it’s not. I think what’s more important is what the students are learning through playing sports.”
Alpert intends to meet with Chelsea parents to discuss the school’s expectations for student-athletes. She will also reach out to the leaders of Chelsea youth sports programs.
She thanked Dr. Bourque for the opportunity and said the schools’ top administrator has been very helpful to her in her new role. “Dr. Bourque has been super supportive through this whole process and I’m very lucky to have someone like her involved in this transition.”
Amanda Alpert has been immersed in Chelsea for much of her life. She is a member of a well-known philanthropic Chelsea family. Her father, Allan, is the city’s emergency management director and the esteemed toastmaster general for local social events. Her grandfather, Norman Alpert, played sports at Chelsea High and was a CHS teacher, while his brother, Julius Alpert, was also a standout athlete at Chelsea High School.
She is grateful to her parents, Allan and Laraine Alpert, for their support and encouragement throughout her athletic and professional career.
“When I told my parents that athletic administration was a field I wanted to pursue, they were 100 percent supportive,” said Alpert. “Whether it’s been women’s pro football games or coming to track meets or tennis matches in high school, they would come by to watch me compete. I think my father has missed one only one home football game in my playing career. They’ve been great through everything. They’re excited for me and I think my dad is really excited for me to be so involved in sports in Chelsea because they were really important to his dad. I think he’s proud that I found a love for Chelsea that he has and that his father had.”
The state superintendent’s organization, which includes Chelsea Supt. Mary Bourque, has officially come out against the legalization of marijuana ballot question that will appear on the November ballot.
Superintendents across the state in the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS), including Revere Supt. Dianne Kelly and Chelsea’s Bourque – the incoming MASS president, have officially taken a position against the ballot question in November that would legalize marijuana.
“As the MASS organization, we feel very deeply this is not the right path to go down,” Bourque said. “Much research has been done on brain development and adolescents and what we know about marijuana is that it impeded brain development and keeps kids from reaching their full potential academically and socially. When we decriminalized it (four years ago), we set a new community norm. When you make something legal, you make it seem like it’s not as bad…I do believe we have changed societal norms in favor of this and have made this very dangerous for the next generation.”
Kelly, from neighboring Revere, said it counters what has been taught about good health in the schools.
“My problem with the legalization of marijuana is it sends mixed-messages to kids,” said Kelly. “We understand marijuana to be a gateway drug. We do everything we can in the School Department to educate kids about health concerns. To legalize marijuana sends mixed messages to kids about what is healthy…It’s still a narcotic that’s not allowed in schools, just like alcohol. Kids are under the impression with legalization that marijuana is ok and legal even though it’s not allowed here. I don’t know that those who are pushing to make marijuana legal have considered these implications for kids.”
In November, in what is expected to be a large turnout for the presidential election, voters in Massachusetts will also vote on whether or not to legalize marijuana. It will come in the form of a ballot question.
The new law would make marijuana legal for those 21 and over, and users would be able to keep up to 10 ounces of marijuana in their homes. They would also be able to carry an ounce with them. Marijuana would be able to be bought in plant form and also within other products.
The state would like, if approved by the voters, start accepting applications for potential retailers in October 2017. Retail establishments would not likely be able to open until 2018.
Residents also would be able to grow up to six plants in their home, provided they are over 21, and no more than 12 plants in a household could be cultivated.
All recreational sales would be taxed at 6.25 percent sales tax, plus an excise tax of 3.75 percent. Local taxes could also be placed on sales. Smokers could not smoke in public places or anywhere that tobacco smoking is prohibited, but it does allow for the creation of cannabis cafes.
A three-person Cannabis Control Commission would regulate all things to do with marijuana at the state level within the State Treasurer’s Office.
Bourque, who will become the president of MASS on May 19, said it’s not the path that education leaders think is right for the state’s young people. She said one thing that needs to be pointed out is that the marijuana of today is much stronger than that 20 or 30 years ago.
“That’s a piece of information no really out in the public,” she said. “The THC content has about quadrupled from 20 years ago. One ounce today is drastically different than one ounce 20 years ago in terms of the high kids get and the damage done to the brain.”
MASS has issued an official letter opposing the legalization of marijuana this November.
Saying they will not tolerate such behavior, Chelsea Schools and Chelsea Police are working with State authorities in offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the successful prosecution of someone who made a hoax bomb threat on Chelsea High School last Thursday, Jan. 14.
“The superintendent and the Chelsea Police will not tolerate this kind of behavior,” said Supt. Mary Bourque. “ To this end, there is a $5,000 reward for information leading to the successful prosecution of the person who perpetrated this hoax. In this day and age, individuals such as this create an anxiety that people feel very deeply. It is not acceptable.”
The incident started on Thursday afternoon when officials were made aware of a possible bomb threat letter left unattended in an undisclosed location inside Chelsea High.
The threat indicated that the bombing would take place on Friday during regular school hours. Though officials said they were skeptical of the letter, they had to take it seriously.
So, a full contingent of bomb searching teams were called up. That included the Chelsea Police, the State Police Bomb Squad, and K-9 units from local surrounding departments.
On Thursday night, from 9-11 p.m., the entire building and the entire surrounding areas were combed for evidence of an explosive device. In the end, there was nothing found.
School, however, wasn’t cancelled.
There was a strong police presence at school on Friday, but officials did choose to go forward with the school day.
“Initiating a Bomb Threat – real or a hoax – is a felony in Massachusetts punishable by incarceration in State Prison, and we will prosecute those responsible directly or indirectly to the fullest extent of the law,” said Bourque.
If any individual believes he or she may possess any information that may lead to identifying those responsible for this violation of the law they may call the Chelsea Police at (617) 466-4855, or they may also call the anonymous “Crime Stoppers” Tip Line at (617) 466-4880.
While enrollment has slowed down some this year, and the numbers coming to Chelsea from Central America aren’t at a breakneck pace, the schools are seeing some upticks from new places such as Puerto Rico – where a plunging economy has seen folks head to the mainland.
“We are a mirror of the world economy; we really are,” said Supt. Mary Bourque. “That makes it a fascinating place to work and serve. We serve the people in the country and the world that are the most underserved and disenfranchised …We find a great deal of fulfillment in that. That’s not a bad place to hand your hat as a professional.”
Enrollment in the Chelsea schools and in area schools has been a key number to watch for the last several years. In Chelsea, an influx of immigrants – also called unaccompanied minors – starting trickling into the district from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador three years ago. The numbers hit a zenith in January 2014 and into the summer when things got to a crisis level in Chelsea and nationwide.
Bourque said that has seemed to slow down.
“In some grade levels that has slowed down,” she said. “Our kindergarten numbers are down. It has slowed down from Central America – from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras too. We think there are some changes with the requirements at the border and that has resulted in this slow down.”
However, there has been an uptick in those coming from Puerto Rico – which is an American territory and make the students American Citizens and not immigrants.
“We are seeing an increase of families coming in from Puerto Rico,” she said. “Naturally, those are not immigrant families. There certainly is a connection to the economy in that. Their economy has changed in Puerto Rico. Families coming from there have told us at the Parent Information Center that there is an increase there in violent crime too.”
Many, she said, have fled to the mainland to get away from such things – and with Chelsea having a long-standing Puerto Rican community – the city was a natural landing spot.
Overall, enrollments are increasing mostly in the upper grades, she said.
“Definitely, that is still happening in the upper grades,” she said. “A couple of years ago we had that very large kindergarten and those kids are in second grade now, so we have a bubble there.”
Full enrollment numbers will be clearer after the 15th day of school passes, which is the legal day for enrollment numbers to be solidified.
In other district news:
Bourque said they are excited to implement a standard ‘Six District Instructional Practices’ that will standardize classrooms across the district.
“That will allow us to have more consistency from classroom to classroom across the district,” she said.
Also, the district is preparing to start meeting this year to form a new five-year vision.
In 2011, the district rallied around the ‘Bridge to Success’ model, and that will expire at the end of this school year. Bourque said they will begin this year in having meetings to form what the new model will be.
“We are entering the fifth year of a five-year plan and we are excited about the changes we’ve made – both to the culture and the structure,” she said. “The community really believes in us. However, we really need to start discussing our next five-year vision and we’re excited to start that.”
She said they would likely begin focus groups consisting of all types of stakeholders in January or February.
Bourque also said a major accreditation process has started at Chelsea High School, where the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASAC) evaluation and accreditation process has started.
This year will be the self-study year at Chelsea High and next fall, in 2016, NEASAC evaluators will be on site to review the school and its practices. A school must pass that evaluation to keep its accreditation with the organization.
“That is a really huge thing that is coming up for us,” she said.
The MCAS test will remain in place at Chelsea High School this year and next year until the state indicates exactly what direction they are going. However, the new national PARCC test has been implemented at the lower grades, grades 3-8.
The district received a review by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in June, and some of the comments were challenging. Six of the nine schools are at a Level 3 status and the state review suggested that some students are succeeding, but not all. It has caused Bourque to issue a challenge to all teachers to “accelerate learning,” something that will likely be heard a lot this year. Bourque has issued a One-Year plan that contains six identified instructional practices. She said she would like to have at least two of those six deeply implemented at every school by the end of this year.
State Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash was honored for his outstanding leadership as city manager at the Chelsea Chamber of Commerce Installation Dinner March 25 at Spinelli’s, Lynnfield. Among those joining the large crowd in the tribute to Ash were, from left, Dr. Deborah Wayne, Supt. of Schools Dr. Mary Bourque, and the Rev. Sandra Whitley.