Abeyta is School Committee Choice for Superintendent

In the end, it was a unanimous vote by the School Committee to enter into negotiations with Almudena Abeyta as the next superintendent of schools, although it took a handful of votes to reach that decision.

The Committee met Thursday, May 9 to consider three finalists to replace Mary Bourque, who is retiring this year after more than 30 years in the Chelsea schools.

While each of the three finalists for superintendent garnered some support from Committee members Thursday night, Abeyta, currently the assistant superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for the Somerville Public schools, had the majority of the support from the board throughout four votes.

While there was not unanimous support for Abeyta from the get-go, Committee members universally praised the high quality of all three finalists. In addition to Abeyta, the other two finalists were Anthony Parker, the Weston High School principal, and Ligia Noriega-Murphy, assistant superintendent of secondary schools in the Boston Public Schools.

“Chelsea is very lucky tonight to have three outstanding candidates,” said At-Large School Committee member Frank DePatto. “The city is in good hands with any of the candidates.”

DePatto noted that having three highly qualified candidates did make for a difficult decision for the Committee members, a sentiment echoed by District Five School Committee member Henry Wilson – who just joined the Committee a few weeks ago.

“I changed my mind and then I changed my mind again,” said Wilson. “Today, I did a lot of praying.”

District Seven School Committee member Kelly Garcia said Abeyta was the candidate who spoke most to her as an educator.

“She answered every question with calmness, urgency, confidence, and experience,” said Garcia.

In the first round of voting, it looked like Abeyta was in as the choice of the School Committee with a 5-3 vote. The Committee’s ninth member, Rosemarie Carlisle, could not attend the meeting because of a medical issue.

However, after some legal consultation, it was determined that the vote was taken after only one name was entered into nomination. Under procedure, the Committee should have entered all candidates being considered into nomination.

During that round of voting, Abeyta fell just short of a majority, garnering four votes, with Noriega-Murphy getting three and Parker grabbing one vote. A second round with the top-two vote getters ended with a 5-3 majority for Abeyta, enough to secure approval.

DePatto, who voted for Noriega-Murphy during the open nominations, made the motion to make the vote unanimous for Abeyta.

Even though he backed Noriega-Murphy, after the meeting, DePatto said he was happy with the outcome of the meeting.

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Night Market Plans are on Fire…Quite Literally

The Chelsea Night Market plans is smoking, and that’s because the first installment on June 8 will have fire jugglers, amongst musicians, comedians and a full slate of food and craft vendors.

Unveiled earlier this year, the Night Market is part of the City’s Chelsea Prospers campaign and looks to add activity to the downtown area on summer evenings with a creative and exciting market in the Luther Place municipal parking lot once a month.

As the plans come together for the first Market, Downtown Coordinator Mimi Graney said she couldn’t be happier with the way things have come together.

“It’s going amazingly,” she said. “We’ve got this really cool Turkish band that’s playing on the first day. We will also have the Boston Circus Guild coming and they will have two performances. There will be folks on stilts, jugglers, people juggling fire and close interactive magicians. They will have a 20-minute fire performance during the evening. Think juggling things on fire with incredible music behind it.”

Graney said she couldn’t yet reveal the vendors, but they have 13 signed up so far that will be a great mix of exciting items and food.

“I’m really excited so many local businesses and food businesses are looking to take part,” she said. “We’re not doing food trucks because we want an intimate atmosphere with open BBQs and food service.”

All of that will be flanked with creative lighting that is meant to ‘wow’ visitors as they come via the newly-refurbished Chelsea Walk.

“Our plan is to encourage people to come into the Market using the Chelsea Walk and it will be like ‘kapow,’” she said. “They’ll be hit with the lights and music and circus acts and vendors.”

There will also be community entries into the Market, with a group of comedians participating and the Chelsea Pride Committee having a booth.

“The Pride Committee will be having their flag raising the day afterward, but they will have a booth at the Market too,” she said. “They plan to use grease body paint to have people write things on themselves that they are proud of. I love a lot of the community vendors are trying to do new and different things instead of just standing behind a table.”

The first Night Market will be on June 8 from 7-10 p.m. with a rain date of June 15.

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New Chelsea Stadium Pegged to Be Completed by End of May

The new Chelsea Stadium is only a few weeks from being completed and put into use, school officials said this week.

The new track will be named after late teacher/track coach Bernard Berenson, who is in the state Coaches Hall of Fame.

Facilities Director Joe Cooney said the rainy weather has slowed down the surfacing of the track, but that most everything else in the long-awaited Stadium project is completed.

“We’re getting very close,” he said. “When it’s done, it’s going to look dynamite.”

The football field is completely done, he said, but the track has been tricky.

An overview of the new football field looks spectacular but getting the track down has been tricky in the recent rainy weather. The project began last summer and will be completed at the end of May.

Already there has been a base coat of asphalt put down, but the rubberized surface on the track cannot be placed down in the rain – which pretty much means it has been delayed for quite some due to the deluge that has been seen lately.

He said there are two layers of rubberized surface, and that when it is done, it will be a very fast track for the runners.

The only other things outstanding are the conduits for the lights, permanent bathrooms, and bleacher improvements.

He said they have to complete the project by early May because graduation is taking place on the new field on June 9.

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New Group Looks to Raise the Profile of Bicycling

With National Bicycle Month underway, a new group of cyclists and pedestrians in Chelsea are looking to create momentum and visibility on safety issues for those that aren’t using vehicles.

The Chelsea Bike and Pedestrian Committee has formed over the winter and got things rolling with their first community bike ride on May 8. Now, they said they would continue those rides every Weds. evening at 6 p.m.

Resident Asad Rahman, an avid cyclist who commutes to Boston daily from his Broadway home, has been involved in biking safety issues for a number of years and said he worked with City Planners to try to get more of a community built around bicycling and walking.

While he thought it might take some time, surprisingly the movement has grown quickly and they are already planning their first event and several events beyond that.

“More than ever, I think Chelsea is at a crossroads to put people and bicycles first instead of cars,” he said. “We’re a City with five or six street lights and several thousand people and cars go very, very fast. We hope we can shift the paradigm that people come first and cars come second…Right now we have a passionate group of people in Chelsea, and we’ll ride around town on May 8th for about a half-hour and then have a social time to continue building this community.”

With the help of the City and MassBike, the Committee is planning several events such as a Bike Repair workshops and a bike rodeo – this coming at future City events like Fiesta Verano and the Night Markets.

The group is on Facebook at BikeWalkChelsea, and anyone interested in joining them can show up at City Hall 6 p.m. on May 8.

The Vision for the Committee includes:

•To advance cycling and walking as leading modes of transportation in order to promote the health, wealth, and quality of life for Chelsea residents.

The Mission of the Committee is:

•To establish safe, interconnected, and enjoyable infrastructure in Chelsea for cycling and walking, through strategy with the Planning and Development department, resident education on practical use, and community engagement to build awareness and enthusiasm.

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In Contentious Vote, Council Votes to Allow Change to Insurance

Current and former municipal employees crowded into Monday night’s City Council meeting as the council took up a vote to allow City Manager Thomas Ambrosino to negotiate changes to the city’s group health insurance policies.

Most of those employees did not leave happily or quietly as the council voted 8-2 to grant Ambrosino that authority to negotiate the changes. Councillors Roy Avellaneda and Yamir Rodriguez voted against the order, while Councillor Calvin T. Brown was not present at the meeting.

The city’s current group health plan is governed by a three-year agreement with the Public Employee Committee (PEC) that expires on June 30 of this year.

“During the months of November through March, I did attempt to negotiate with the PEC a new multi-year agreement that would provide some cost savings to the group health plan,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the council. “Unfortunately, I have not been able to reach agreement with the unions.”

Under Massachusetts General Laws, Ambrosino stated, in the absence of a new agreement, the old PEC agreement will remain in effect indefinitely. Without City Council action, Ambrosino said he cannot put any health care cost savings in place.

The action approved by the City Council allows the city to take advantage of recent state legislation that allows municipalities to implement cost saving plan design changes on its own if no agreement can be reached with the PEC as long as the city agrees to share a percentage of its first year cost savings with the unions.

With the newly granted authority by the council, the City Manager said he will negotiate reasonable design changes to the city’s group health policies, likely by imposing deductibles in line with deductibles paid for health insurance by state employees.

Ambrosino said even with any changes, Chelsea will always have health insurance at least as good as that provided to Massachusetts public employees.

However, a letter to the City Council submitted by the Chelsea Public Employees Committee outlined over two dozen reasons why members believe the adoption of the changes to the group health insurance should not be adopted.

“The PEC strongly believes that the adoption of Sections 21-23 is inappropriate and premature for multiple reasons: the Self-Insurance Trust Fund is running about a $2 million surplus; the PEC has agreed to apply any surplus to reduce future health insurance costs; City Manager Thomas Ambrosino wants the sickest families among City employees and retirees to pay $1 million more on an annual basis currently paid by the City; the PEC and City Manager Thomas Ambrosino agree that no changes to employee/retiree health insurance are needed until FY2022; Ambrosino has failed to bargain in good faith for a successor PEC agreement; a grievance, including an alleged unfair labor practice, are pending at this time; and Sections 21-23 will effectively disable bargaining on health insurance,” the letter summarizes.

City Council President Damali Vidot noted that her husband works for the Department of Public Works and that any changes in health insurance would directly affect her. However, she said the changes are necessary to allow Ambrosino to negotiate with city unions.

“We hire the Town Manager to negotiate with the unions, and I’m not comfortable when he does not have all the tools needed for the negotiations,” said Vidot.

Vidot she said she hopes Ambrosino can go back to the unions with the new negotiating tools and find common ground with the unions. In addition to wanting the best for city employees, Vidot said the council has a fiscal responsibility for the entire community.

The council president also said that there has been some miscommunication on the issue, especially when it comes to retirees. Vidot said changes to group health insurance plans would only affect a very few retirees who do not qualify for Medicare.

District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop said he agreed that the City Manager should have all the tools available as he negotiates with the city’s union.

As the vote took place, many in the audience shouted and voiced their displeasure, with several people stating the council should be ashamed of their vote. The meeting came to a brief halt as the crowd noisily filed out of the council meeting, with several audience members individually appealing to councillors.

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Bellingham-Cary House – Slade’s Mill

By Marianne Salza

Along the edge of Rumney Marsh in the late 19th Century, Slade’s Mill was bustling. The tidal-powered factory on the creek, with its rooms fragrant with the wafting aroma of exotic spices – paprika from Spain and ginger from the Orient – was where the spice grinding industry originated.

“It was here, in an old Massachusetts mill that the most interesting step in the distribution of spices began,” said educator and historian, Jeff Pearlman. “Inside Slade’s Mill the air was golden brown from grindings of pure spices.”

During the Bellingham-Cary House Association Annual Meeting on April 27, Pearlman presented a timeline of Slade’s Tidewater Mill, explaining the connections between Revere and Chelsea. Pearlman is a member of the Revere Society for Cultural and Historic Preservation, a non-profit organization that protects and promotes the history of the Revere community.

The Town of Chelsea originally consisted of four farms, the first of which was purchased by Henry Slade, who erected the first church, bank, and City Hall on the waterfront land. In 1734, Slade began grinding tobacco and corn in the mill.

“The charter states the following,” began Pearlman. “’This mill must at all times hold itself in the readiness to grind corn for any citizen of Chelsea, provided that the corn is raised in Chelsea.’”

In 1837, Slade’s sons, David and Levi, conceived the idea of grinding spices in the mill, and began importing spices from around the world. By 1850, D and L Slade Company became the largest producer of spices in New England.

“The boys ground up a half barrel of cinnamon, slung the barrel between two poles, and trudged across the marsh to Boston,” Pearlman explained. “The cinnamon was sold to grocers, and a new industry was born: the business of spice grinding.”

First, the spices passed through magnetized steel plates to remove foreign objects, such as nails and wire. Spices were then pulverized into fine powders beneath grinding rolls. Next, the powder was lifted into continuous buckets, sifted, and loaded into barrels that were delivered to packing plants in Boston.

“Spices were not only used to stimulate jaded appetites; but their sweet, pungent odor made them useful as medicine and deodorants,” mentioned Pearlman. “Up to this time, spice had been sold to the housewife whole, and each had a hand-grinder.”

The mill was refurbished in 1918 following a fire and acquired by Bell Seasonings. In 1932, the mill was converted to electric power, and operated until July 1, 1976.

Slade’s Mill is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building was renovated in 2004, and today, Slade’s Mill Apartments contains 18 studio and one bedroom units. A museum on the ground floor exhibits original machinery, photographs, and a spice cabinet with glass and metal Slade’s and Bell containers.

“Spices are now a common household necessity. No longer are they counted as the choicest possession of the wealthy,” said Pearlman. “Men and women live longer in a spice-laden atmosphere. Perhaps there is something in the theory that spices have a beneficial effect on health and appetite of the human race. I wonder where the saying, ‘Spice of life,’ came from.”

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School Superintendent Finalists Visit Chelsea for Community Forums

The three finalists for the position of superintendent of schools have been on whirlwind tours of the district this week, concluding the day with a community forum at the Williams School.

On Monday, Weston High Principal Anthony Parker visited Chelsea and spoke with teachers/staff, business leaders and at a community forum in the evening. On Tuesday, Ligia Noriega-Murphy, currently the assistant superintendent of secondary schools in Boston Public Schools, went through the same agenda. Finally, today (May 2), Almudena Abeyta, currently the assistant superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for the Somerville Public Schools, will visit the city and have a forum at 4:30 p.m.

School Committeewoman Jeannette Velez said the School Committee would start with separate rounds of public interviews with the candidates. They would follow the same order as this week.

All interviews are open to the public. Interviews will be held at City Hall Council Chambers in the evening.

The goal of the Committee is to have a vote on May 9 – after the final interview – to decide who to pick and negotiate a contract with. If all goes well, that person would likely begin on July 1.

At Monday’s community forum, Parker said he was very interested in Chelsea because it was a challenge and a place to learn. Though he has spent most of his career in suburban schools like Newton and Weston, he said he feels like he could be very successful in Chelsea.

“I like what I read about Chelsea and I like the emphasis on building bridges and the pathways,” he said. “I like the diversity of it…It was different enough for me to be interesting. I think any district is a challenge. It’s the opportunity to build on what is here. What you have is Chelsea is you have a great district that wants to be excellent in many ways. I believe I can help you do that.”

He also said he hasn’t applied to any other districts, only Chelsea.

“This is where I want to be,” he said.

The forum was sparsely attended, and likely because it wasn’t well publicized ahead of the beginning of the forums by the Collins Center – which is running the superintendent search process.

However, numerous students from the Chelsea Collaborative and organizers from the Collaborative did show up with many questions.

The conversation went from opinions on expulsion to outside opportunities to gun violence.

At that, Parker said his students – like Chelsea last year – organized a walkout for school safety.

He said he believes in supporting student voices – something that has grown to be very important to students at the high school over the last year. Students at Chelsea High have successfully organized the walk-out, and also successfully advocated to move graduation back outside on the new turf field.

“I walked out with them,” he said. “We knew it was happening and supported it. It was a genuinely student-led effort. We need to support that even if we disagree with that they want to do. I think if a district didn’t support students on that particular situation, I think they missed out.”

When it came to challenges between suburban Weston and urban Chelsea, Parker said he would likely have a learning period with getting community and parent participation – which often lacks in Chelsea but is strong in Weston.

“If our parents cannot make meetings or conferences because they are working multiple jobs or are too busy, then we need to go to them,” he said. “I would spend time finding out where they are and where I need to go to engage them.”

The process with the School Committee next week on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday is open to the public.

Cutline –

Anthony Parker, currently the principal at Weston High, listens intently to a question from students during Monday’s community forum at the Williams School. The three finalists have been in Chelsea this week for whirlwind tours and forums. Next week, all three will meet with the School Committee for public interviews. A decision is expected May 9.

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Empty Bowl Fundraiser

The year 2019 marked the 8th annual Chelsea Empty Bowls fundraiser
to help raise awareness to and funds for combatting food insecurity. Here, Julia McDermott, Yahaira Guzman, and Sylvester Valdez hold their recently purchased bowls during the event on Thursday, April 18, at the Williams School.

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