Members of the Chelsea High School Class of 2019 are a step closer to getting their wish of an outdoor graduation on the new high school field.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino is requesting the City Council approve spending $170,000 from the City’s Stabilization Account to buy a protective mat for the new turf field at the high school.
“This removable, plastic covering will allow for greater use of the field for non-sporting events, including allowing for an outdoor graduation for the Chelsea High School Class of 2019,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the Council.
The city is in the midst of a $3 million-plus upgrade of Veterans Field at Chelsea High School. The first phase of the project, replacement of the artificial turf and the new track, is scheduled for completion this fall, according to Ambrosino. A second phase involving lighting and restrooms will continue in the spring.
The new turf field comes with an eight-year warranty, but that warranty is voided if certain uses occur on the field, including large static crowds, spiked heels, or chairs with four legs. The City Manager said these restrictions would all but eliminate the use of the surface for any non-sporting events.
“One method for eliminating this problem is to purchase a removable, protective surface for the turf, which is how the problem is handled in many large artificial turf stadiums across the country,” Ambrosino stated. “However, we did not budget for such a protective surface in this project.”
At the request of the school, Ambrosino is asking the Council to approve the additional funding through the School Capital Stabilization Account, which Ambrosino said was specifically established for these types of School Department capital expenditures.
At its Monday night meeting, the council voted to take up the issue in its Finance Subcommittee.
The request from the City Manager was good news for Chelsea High Senior Manuel Teshe, who addressed the Council earlier this month about senior class fundraising efforts to secure an outdoor graduation.
“Mr. Tom Ambrosino made me feel like people were listening to us after all the work we did,” said Teshe. “We felt alone, and now we appreciate the chance that the City is even considering it.”
Prior to hearing from Ambrosino, Councillors Ray Avellaneda, Leo Robinson, and Yamir Rodriguez introduced an order asking the City Manager to explore the purchase of an event decking system. After hearing about Ambrosino’s request to use the stabilization funds for the purchase, Avellaneda withdrew the order.
Chelsea School officials are looking for one last vote from the City Council in order to restore several cut positions from the existing School Department Budget, this after getting nearly $1 million in additional funds from the state recently.
Supt. Mary Bourque said it was nice to get the additional monies, but she didn’t want anyone to think that it has ended the funding problems in the Chelsea schools.
“We were actually not ‘held harmless’ because that fund was only funded at 56 percent,” she said. “We should have received $1.1 million if we were really held harmless. I’m thankful, but they are still not addressing the funding gap. We’ve applied a very small Band-Aid to a large wound…I don’t want the community to think we fixed this. This is $900,000, but we had a $3.2 million budget gap.”
Supt. Mary Bourque said a combination of additional monies came in in September from State Legislature appropriations for English Language Learners and for the “hold harmless” fund to help districts with uncounted low-income students.
Bourque said Chelsea was able to get $630,000 for ELL students, and another $296,000 for the “hold harmless” account. That equaled $926,000 that they were able to appropriate to restore “painful” cuts made during last spring’s budget process.
Bourque said with the ELL money they were able to bring back two crossing guards, restore one yellow bus route, a special education teacher at the Clark Avenue Middle, a special education paraprofessional and intervention tutors.
Meanwhile, she said the “hold harmless” monies will be used to, among other things, restore a full-time librarian that will operate at Chelsea High School 75 percent of the time, and the Mary C. Burke Complex 25 percent of the time.
The librarian cut was controversial because it accompanied cuts in the previous years to librarians at the elementary school. The restoration allows a librarian presence at both the high school and elementary school once again.
“The reason we split the time is because two years ago we cut the elementary librarian completely and we’ve gone a full year without a librarian down there,” she said. “I’m all for the digital technology piece, but I also feel you instill the love of reading in children when you put a book in their hands. The 25 percent at the Complex isn’t enough for me and I want more time there going down the road.”
The School Committee has approved the acceptance of the additional monies, and the Council has had one reading on the issue. They are expected to vote on it at their Oct. 15 meeting.
MCAS results at Chelsea High reflect high dropout rate from surge of unaccompanied minors
The School Department has received the public rollout of the MCAS results for the district and the schools ranked in the lowest 10 percent of districts statewide, with Chelsea High School particularly cited for having a high dropout rate.
Supt. Mary Bourque said five of the district’s schools did well, with two flatlining and Chelsea High declining.
The results have qualified the district as one of 59 statewide that are required to have state assistance.
Bourque said the dropout rate hasn’t been a major issue at CHS in the past, but she said the change comes as a result of the unaccompanied minor surge that happened about four years ago. The dropout rate is a four-year look at the students starting and graduating.
“The kids we’re getting now are from the major surge we had four years ago and that’s the reason we’re seeing the graduation rate issue,” she said. “You don’t feel that for four years down the road. However, we’re going to continue to feel it.”
Alexander “Lex” Mathews was seen enthusiastically welcoming Chelsea High School students on their first day of
Lex Mathews, new principal of Chelsea High School, is pictured in front of the school sign.
school this week. That personable approach is an indicator of the accessible manner he will bring to his new position of principal.
Mathews, 49, also brings elite academic credentials to the principal’s office, having graduated from prestigious prep school Milton Academy and earned an undergraduate degree from Columbia University, and advanced degrees from Harvard University, and Hunter College in New York City.
Mathews began officially on July 1, succeeding Priti Johari, who is now an assistant superintendent of Chelsea schools. His administrative team at CHS includes Assistant Principals Linda Barber, Kim Murphy, Mark Martineau, and Magali Oldander, ELL Coordinator Deidre Collins, and Special Education Coordinators Alan Beausoleil and Daymon Peykar.
Originally from Alaska and California, Mathews previously served in school principal and assistant principal positions in Somerville, South Boston, Somerville, and the Bronx in New York City. He has 23 years of experience in the field of education.
Mathews will be in charge of the day-to-day operations at Chelsea High which has approximately 1,500 students.
“I strongly believe in teamwork and the idea that every employee in the school matters tremendously to students,” said Mathews. “The principal may seem like a really important person, but to some students, there’s a paraprofessional that matters a lot more than the principal. To some families, there’s a teacher that matters a whole lot more.”
Mathews also believes that for Chelsea High School to be successful, “we have to be able to work together.”
He will expect administrators to be in the hallways “making connections, building community and raising expectations.”
Mathews organized a freshman class trip to Tufts University this summer. “The goal was to get them thinking about college in the ninth grade, instead of waiting for tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grade, because by that time, if you have a bad grade point average, it’s hard to recover,” said Mathews, who is married and has three children.
He is excited to be working with Supt. of Schools Dr. Mary Bourque and the faculty and staff at CHS.
“Dr. Bourque has been supportive, inspirational, accessible – just extremely helpful,” said Mathews. “The other employees have also been inspiring and helpful and all are seeking to make an improvement in the school. I also look forward to any opportunities to meet with members of the community.”
Tom Thompson, Class of 2018, goes up for a dipsy-do layup against Josh Concepcion and Hamza Abdul (L) during the championship of the Battle of the Classes, which kicked off The Movement summer basketball league. Class of 2018 and the Class of 2008 battled it out at Chelsea High on Saturday, June 30. Despite having youth on their side, the Class of 2018 lost out to the champion Class of 2008.
Chelsea has a new leader for what will be a new school, as current Chelsea High Assistant Principal Ron Schmidt has been tapped to lead the new Chelsea Opportunity Academy, which starts on July 1.
Supt. Mary Bourque announced the hire this week, soon after she announced the organization of the Opportunity Academy, which is funded through a $750,000 grant from the Barr Foundation.
“A new school, needs a new principal,” she wrote. “It is therefore, with great pleasure that I announce the appointment of Chelsea High School’s Assistant Principal, Mr. Ronald Schmidt, to Principal of the Chelsea Opportunity Academy, effective July 1, 2018. The appointment of Mr. Schmidt to Principal of COA was an easy one to make as a Superintendent. Mr. Schmidt’s education as well as his deep career experience has prepared him to run his own school – a different type of school. He is committed to students in need of a different high school experience to be successful… Mr. Schmidt was hired as Assistant Principal of Chelsea High School in 2003 and has served the students and families of Chelsea with all of his energy and heart.”
The Barr Foundation awarded Chelsea Schools the ‘Engage New England: Doing High School Differently’ grant to purposefully implement the Opportunity Academy in the 2018-2019 school year. It will be the district’s 10th school and second high school.
The Opportunity Academy will be a school within a school model, so it will be located on the campus of Chelsea High School.
The design of the school is to serve students who are overage, under-credited, and who are struggling with the traditional American high school experience.
It will provide students with flexible scheduling, blended learning, and individualized support in order that students make continual progress towards earning a high school diploma.
“Mr. Schmidt is the only one I want to lead this high school, so great is my faith and confidence in him,” wrote Bourque.
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.
More than 500 Chelsea High students walked out of class on Thursday, March 15, as part of the national school walk-out movement to promote more efforts towards school safety.
Armed with only a megaphone, students marched into shin-deep snow and cold temperatures to participate in the movement locally, and to draw attention to school safety.
They were supported by the Chelsea Public Schools and the Chelsea Police, who stood in solidarity with the students, who ranged in age from 13 to 18.
“P-O-W-E-R,” yelled Stephanie Rodrigues, one of the key coordinators along with Diego Estrada. “We have the power. We have a voice. We can use our power…We deserve to be heard. We deserve to be safe. We don’t deserve to stand around and wait for someone to come kill us. You could be next. Unfortunately, the 17 students in Florida were killed by a man who should not have had a gun. This is not normal. We should not stand around and wait for someone to take action for us. We can take action.”
Student Eric Lazo entertained the crowd with impromptu chants and songs on the megaphone, for which most everyone in the crowd followed.
“I came out because this can’t happen again,” said Imane Rharbi. “We can’t have students being killed and unsafe. We need gun control right now. That’s why I came out.”
Junior Angel Vargas said he and many other students are concerned that they could be next, that the fear of something at Chelsea High is real.
“It’s important for all of us to come out here,” he said. “It was terrible what happened in Florida. That was the reason I came out. We are scared.”
Students cheered loudly, hats and scarves wrapped tightly around them, and then broke into a solemn moment as Rodrigues read the names of the 17 students killed in Florida on Feb. 14.
The national walk-out day was supposed to occur on March 14, and all over the state and country students staged walk-outs to call for more gun ownership restrictions and more funding for mental health services inside and outside of school. In Chelsea, the effort had to be postponed because of the blizzard on March 13 that cancelled school for two days.
Originally, the plan called for Chelsea students to have their walk-out in the school gym to avoid having to go in the snow. However, Rodrigues said she and Estrada were approached by students who said it should go on outside.
“We were approached by some students who felt we shouldn’t be focused on comfort by going in the gym,” said Rodrigues, who described herself as just another student and a track athlete. “We agreed. We shouldn’t be comfortable when making a stand. We wanted to show we were standing up no matter what the conditions were outside.”
Outside on Thursday, students carried signs that made many different statements.
Some depicted an anti-gun message, while others called for funding to help people who are mentally ill. Some signs blasted the National Rifle Association (NRA) and others called for remembrance of the Florida students.
Most striking, however, were the hand-made signs that read, “Am I Next?”
Rodrigues said it isn’t an overreaction in Chelsea.
She said students and adults are concerned about their safety in school, and it’s something that is a bit new.
“Honestly, I feel we are all scared, even the adults,” she said. “That’s what pulled us all together. We shouldn’t let our safety in school be in question. That brought us together…One day it could be us.”
Stephany Villatoro and Masireh Ceesay were two of about 500 Chelsea High students that participated in a walk-out for school safety on Thursday, March 15. Students said they came together because they were scared that one day they could be school shooting victims.
Nancy Baguada and Mauricio Rubi march through the snow to the walk-out.
Co-Organizer Stephanie Rodrigues fires up the student crowd at the Stadium with a megaphone.
Student Erik Lazo shouted out interesting chants and songs during the walk-out to get the crowd fired up.
Imane Rharbi said there can be no more school shootings. She said now is the time for stricter gun control.
Students rally on the Stadium field in the snow.
Junior Angel Vargas signs the petition from Chelsea High.
Student organizers standing with Chelsea Police Officers. Chelsea Police and Chelsea High security provided a safe perimeter for the students during the walk-out.
It wasn’t magic, but rather someone creepin’ ‘round the corner. Alex Tran performed ‘Mack the Knife’ by Bobby Darin (and/or Louis Armstrong) during the Chelsea High School Talent Show on Friday night, Jan. 19, in the Auditorium. Scores of acts took the stage to display their talents for students in attendance.