On Monday morning, Margarita Nievez kept busy folding a sheet and some clothing that was set to be trucked out to New Jersey – and later to Puerto Rico.
The day before, she and her friends helped load rice onto pallets.
Last Thursday evening, they participated in a vigil at City Hall, and then helped collect more food that was loaded onto trucks provided by the Teamsters Local 25. That collection was also being shipped to Puerto Rico.
For Nievez, it’s all about staying busy and keeping her mind off her home island, which has been wiped out by two hurricanes this month, most recently Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20.
“It feels good to help here and not think about it,” said Nievez on Monday while folding a sheet at the Chelsea Collaborative. “They are suffering down there from not having food and water. They could be dying now.”
She began to tear up, and then went back to her work.
Nievez said she has family in Ponce and Comerio – among other remote places that were hit directly.
“I haven’t heard anything from any of them,” she said. “I don’t know where they are.”
Maria Figueroa has a sister in Mayaguez, and she said it has been encouraging to see the community in Chelsea band together so quickly to help.
Indeed, Chelsea historically has one of the largest Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast per capita, and so such a devastating impact on many in the City.
On Monday, Chelsea Police officers and Public Works crews were stationed in the Collaborative racing against the clock to load everything up before the tractor trailer arrived at 3 p.m.
Thousands of pounds of food waited in a hallway.
“I’ve been here doing something from last week until now,” said Figueroa. “Thank God everyone is helping each other. Different cultures and different races are all coming together.”
As they worked, David Rodas came through the doors to bring a variety of rice bags, water and canned goods.
“I’m not even Puerto Rican,” he said. “I’m from El Salvador, but we’re all humans and I see people in need. This is what you do.”
Collaborative Director Gladys Vega said keeping busy has helped her, and helped many like Nievez and Figueroa.
“It’s a way of them coping with what they see on TV,” she said. “They don’t want to sit around the house and not do anything and not know what’s happening. So, I’ve had a lot of people who have showed up and wanted to help since last week. They fold clothes, organize food, or whatever they can do.”
Margarita Nievez folds a sheet at the Chelsea Collaborative on Monday while Leanna Cruz organizes clothing in the background. Many Chelsea residents who have family in Puerto Rico haven’t heard any news of their whereabouts since the devastating Hurricane Maria struck on Sept. 20. To cope, they keep busy.
Chelsea attorney, Olivia Anne Walsh, has announced her candidacy for election to the City Council, District 2 Seat, where she will be a fulltime Councilor. As a longtime resident of District 2, I have a true and unwavering sense of appreciation and loyalty to the City and my fellow residents,” said Walsh.
Walsh brings over four decades of experience in government at both the City and State levels, serving most recently as Legislative Chief of Staff to a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. She also has the educational credentials to match this experience:
1976 University of Massachusetts, Boston
BS in Management
1981 Suffolk University, Boston
Master of Public Administration
1987 New England Law, Boston
Doctor of Juris Prudence
She has been a member of the Massachusetts Bar for almost 30 years. “I have been fighting for Progressive values my whole life, growing up in the Mattapan section of Boston, and for many years in the City of Chelsea,” Walsh noted.
Among community affiliations Walsh included:
Chair, Chelsea Ward 4 Democratic Committee
Commander, Chelsea Disabled American Veterans Chapter 10
Member, The Neighborhood Developers
Member, Green Roots Chelsea
“Progressive change takes a willingness to listen, hard work, and a commitment to bring people together for the common good. That’s what I will do each day for everyone in District 2,” added Walsh. “So many issues must be addressed: City services, economic development, affordable housing, public safety, elder services, Veteran care and traffic concerns, to name a few,” Walsh stressed.
“Together we can ensure that we have a strong consistent voice for our community. I look forward to having your support and ask for your vote in the City Election on Tuesday, November 7,” Walsh added.
Attorney Olivia Anne Walsh resides at 91 Crest Avenue and is available to hear your concerns at 617-306-5501.
Supt. Mary Bourque called on faculty and staff from around the district at her annual breakfast on Monday, Aug. 28, to lead students, families and the district to social justice.
“We are a district committed to ongoing improvement on behalf of our students and as such we have four schools implementing Turnaround Plans this year and five schools implementing Accelerated Improvement Plans,” she said. “We believe we can do better for our students and these plans are a reflection of where we will work to do a better job in the coming year. This is social justice… Our profession of education is one of leadership and service—service to young people and service to the next generation. Our work is about building the future. Our profession of ‘urban’ education is one of social justice. We open the doors of opportunity for our students.”
Her comments come one year after unveiling a new five-year plan for the district at last year’s breakfast.
A good part of her speech detailed some of the goals that have been met.
One major accomplishment laid out last year was the ability to get computers in the hands of students and to use them to focus on the new trend of student-centered learning. This year, she said a major part of that goal of getting computers – or one-to-one technology – has been accomplished.
“We expanded our technology initiative and proudly boast that we now have one-to-one devices in grades 2-12,” said Bourque.
Other initiatives achieved and pointed out in the plan included:
We expanded our Caminos dual enrollment program at the ELC and will continue to expand annually.
We continue to build the internal and external pipelines and career ladders for future teachers and administrators with our partnerships with Lesley, Endicott, and Harvard Colleges to name a few.
At Chelsea High School (CHS) the district successfully initiated the biliteracy credential and 11 graduating seniors received the award upon graduation in June.
At CHS, Advance Placement scores show a 4 percent increase in qualifying scores of 3, 4, or 5 from 32 percent last year to 36 percent of AP tests administered this year.
Another major achievement she pointed out was the growth in the dual enrollment program with Bunker Hill Community College.
She said in 2017, CHS graduates earned 1,162 college credits equaling 385 courses during their years at CHS and while working on their high school diploma.
“That was a savings of over $200,000 on college tuition and fees and over $50,000 on books,” she said. “Does anyone doubt that we will be offering a pathway for students to complete their Associate’s Degree at the same time they are receiving their high school diploma from Chelsea High by June 30, 2021? Let us be the first high school in the State to offer this pathway.”
Going back to her theme of social justice, Bourque said the times are very uncertain, and with teachers and staff in the Chelsea Schools leading on a social justice mission, they are also leading in accordance with the district’s mission.
“Our foundational beliefs center around our mission statement: ‘We welcome and educate ALL students,’” she said. “This is social justice in action, to welcome and educate– inclusive of all– to seek equity in educational opportunities for career and college success for each and every student…
“As a school system, our goal remains to ensure all of our students graduate with the skills, confidence, and habits of mind they need to be successful in college, career, and life,” she continued. “We have no misplaced compassion for our students. We hold them to the same standards of excellence as all other students in our State of Massachusetts are held to. This is Chelsea Public Schools’ social justice.”
It may be hard to believe, but the summer of 2017 is entering its final week as we approach the traditional Labor Day weekend.
“Time and tide wait for no man,” said the poet. The calendar never lies and soon the summer of ‘17 will be just a memory. The college kids already have returned and many of our public schools already have opened this week.
Although it would be nice if the temperatures were just a bit warmer, none of us really can complain about the gorgeous weather we have been enjoying these past two weeks, with abundant sunshine and temperatures in the 70s and low 80s. And with ocean water temperatures locally in the 65-degree range, conditions have been ideal for a swim or a quick dip after work.
With the summer season winding down to just a few precious days, we fully understand the sentiments of those who might express the refrain, “If this is the last, let’s make it a blast.”
We certainly do not wish to rain on anyone’s parade, so to speak, but we would be remiss if we did not urge our readers that if they intend to have a good time, they should do so safely, both for themselves and their loved ones.
Excessive drinking does not mix with anything — whether it be boating, driving, water sports, hiking, bicycling, or just about any activity that requires some degree of coordination and observance of the rules of safety.
The newspapers and news reports will be full of tragic stories over the weekend of those who died or were seriously injured in accidents that could have been avoided had excessive drinking not been involved. We must do our part to ensure that none of our loved ones — let alone ourselves — are among those inevitable sad statistics.
We wish all of our readers a happy — and safe — Labor Day weekend.
Look Up! Kristin Edwardsen, Lisa Makrinikolas and Michael Brannigan focus in on the eclipse.
As the moon began to pass in front of the Sun on Monday, Aug. 21, the line of people who wanted to get in on the Eclipse Party on City Hall Lawn began to grow and grow.
Soon, hundreds had gathered to witness the spectacle, far more than anyone had expected.
But it was a marvel that grabbed the attention of the nation, and Chelsea was no different in that hordes of people gathered to have fun on a beautiful Monday and see something quite unique.
For some of the hundreds that gathered at City Hall, they understood that it might be a once in a lifetime event. Only 63 percent of the Sun was blocked out in Chelsea, and another coast to coast event like Monday’s isn’t going to happen until 2040 – though a total eclipse will occur in New England in 2024.
“This isn’t going to happen again here until 2024 and I might not be alive to see another one,” said Naomi Zabot, who attended with her sister, Devra Zabot. “I’ve been talking about this for a long time. My grandparents came from Chelsea and we have roots in Chelsea. This is the place to see history like this.”
Ivonny Carrillo attends the Pioneer Charter School of Science, and said she is good at science but doesn’t necessarily like it. However, the one exception is astronomy. So it was that she and her entire family came to City Hall to make sure to get special glasses and a prime viewing spot.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” she said. “I don’t really like science, but I am good at it. Astronomy is about the only science I do like.”
Aimmi Velez said she simply enjoyed everyone coming out for a non-traditional event. It wasn’t a community meeting or a block party, but a natural event.
“I didn’t think I would see this in my lifetime,” she said. “I think it’s cool people wanted to come out and be together to look at this very unique natural occurrence. It’s interesting people wanted to be together to see it.”
The event at City Hall was put on by the Chelsea Public Library as part of a grant from NASA, and that partnership helped a lot to get people in the area interested in the eclipse.
Librarian Martha Boksenbaum has been preparing for the event for quite some time and was very excited to see everyone want to attend the Chelsea event. She said it gives some momentum to the other activities that will be included as part of the NASA partnership.
For the better part of 20 minutes, Milena Carvalho used her glasses to watch the movement of the moon across the Sun. She said it was a very patient and slow process.
“This was something I wanted my whole family to see,” she said, noting that her children, husband and mother were there. “It was really interesting to watch. It was like looking at a half moon, but instead it was a half Sun. That was very cool.”
The United States House of Representatives passed an immigration bill in June that includes harsh penalties for self-declared Sanctuary Cities like Chelsea, and even though it has a long way to go in passing the U.S. Senate to become law, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he would be ready to go back to Federal Court to fight it.
“I’m hoping the Senate does not go ahead with that,” he said. “If the Senate does go ahead and it is signed by the president, I expect we’ll look at at filing another lawsuit for violation of the 10th Amendment. Hopefully, the Senate will be more reasonable. I’m going to worry about legislation that passes the House.”
The law that passed the House deals with many issues, but when it comes to Sanctuary Cities, it takes away all grant money from cities that self-declare as a Sanctuary City – as Chelsea does. That would likely mean steep losses for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), for public safety grants (police and fire) and for grants to the Public Schools.
Ambrosino said he doesn’t envision the law clearing the Senate and isn’t too worried about that happening, but did say if the Senate happened to approve the legislation, Chelsea would look at another lawsuit.
The City filed a lawsuit earlier this year with Lawrence when President Donald Trump issued his executive order penalizing Sanctuary Cities. That order was also challenged by several other municipalities, and a stay of the order was granted by a Federal Appeals Court in California. That stay also applied to Chelsea’s case, making the executive order moot.
However, the new legislation does take away one of the key arguments in Chelsea’s original case – that being the executive order actions weren’t authorized by legislation.
However, Ambrosino said he and the City’s lawyers still believe a 10th Amendment violation would be grounds for another suit if need be.
“Obviously, the fact that legislation exists would make that argument go away, but there are other arguments we made and one is that legislation would violate the separation of powers in the 10th Amendment.”
No new action has taken place on the House Bill since it passed in late June, but City officials are keeping close tabs on the Senate’s actions in relation to the Bill.
As around 40 residents assembled at the Williams School Monday night on a beautiful summer evening, their greetings to one another and their conversations had to be punctuated by numerous pauses to accommodate the endless parade of airplanes passing loudly overhead.
By a quick count, about 40 planes passed over in 30 minutes before the meeting started.
It’s that sort of thing that brought out so many to the meeting, and it’s also what spawned activists and neighbors to announce that it’s time to stop working cooperatively with the airport as it’s getting the community nowhere.
“We go from Chelsea to East Boston to enjoy the parks they get as mitigation for the airport,” said Roseann Bongiovanni of GreenRoots. “A little mitigation goes a long way on helping the burden. It’s a sign of goodwill and good faith to say, ‘We understand the burden you are facing.’ That’s not happening with MassPort. We tried for six to eight months to get a meeting with them and we finally did. They heard our concerns and absorbed it and said, ‘We’re going to come back to you.’ It was positive. Eighteen months later, where are we? Nowhere. We don’t have a park or any mitigation or any amenities. They just don’t give a rat’s (expletive deleted),” she said.
MassPort has long been a thorn in the side of Chelsea as many residents have contended that the noise and frequency of the planes over Chelsea are just as obtrusive as many parts of East Boston, the host community. Meanwhile, the City also hosts an airport overlay district that serves to provide a district on Eastern Avenue and Marginal Street for airport-related uses like heavy trucking, fuel storage and rental car storage.
None of it is exactly an ideal use for residents to endure.
That said, City Councillors, Bongiovanni and scores of residents have detailed that the last couple of months have been unbearable as the airport has engaged in a Runway Improvement Project to pave the runways. That has resulted in more flights temporarily going over Chelsea, Everett and other air corridors. It has been the straw that seemingly has broken the back of Chelsea’s relationship with the airport and its regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Bongiovanni said Logan announced two weeks ago that the runway project was to end on June 23, and that things would be far less intrusive. However, residents and officials have said nothing has changed.
“June 23 came and went and today is June 26,” said Bongiovanni. “Planes are going over every 90 seconds or more. They said it would be all done. We’re seeing other communities getting up and fighting, such as in Milton. In Chelsea, we’re doing little things…It’s time for the community to stand up here and fight. We need to give them a little bit of trouble so they will listen.”
Residents at the meeting detailed being able to see planes so close that they can and have waved to passengers from their balconies. One man said the noise is so loud – occurring late in the night and resuming early in the morning – that his five-month-old baby has disturbed sleep patterns.
Others joked that they can’t watch television without the Closed Captioning – even with the windows closed.
Some even said they were frightened by how low the planes were coming in – saying it causes anxiety that they might hit something or go down.
Residents said they would like to begin taking action, and Bongiovanni said it would be important to dig up some facts and studies to bolster Chelsea’s position.
One study that never got a lot of play in Chelsea, but made big waves in Eastie, was a Department of Public Health study 10 years ago. That Environmental Health Assessment focused on Eastie, but also proved that some parts of Chelsea were just as impacted as Eastie – the airport host community.
The meeting also featured a guest speaker, John Walkey of Air, Inc, an East Boston organization that is sanctioned to work on environmental impacts of Logan Airport.
Many in the audience left the meeting with a charge to gather information and to get on the agenda of the MassPort Board meeting on July 20. There, they hope to begin making a strong point for Chelsea.
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.”
The Chelsea City Council voted 10-0 to approve the City Budget for fiscal year 2018 during its meeting on Monday night, approving an increase in the budget to $163.39 million.
The Council also approved a Water Enterprise Fund of $7.7 million and a Sewer Enterprise Fund of $11.74 million – all of which is funded by the ratepayers and the tax levy.
The budget is slightly out of balance, with an expenditure of $674,154 in Free Cash necessary to balance the books – less than has been used in year’s past despite an aggressive spending plan put forth by City Manager Tom Ambrosino.
“This budget re-affirms our commitment to provide good services to the resident of Chelsea,” he said.
Some of the budget priorities include the downtown initiative, the downtown coordinator position, social service contracts, two new firefighters, youth programming, summer jobs for youth and additional positions and administrative support at City Hall.
However, the main expenditure comes to the Chelsea Public Schools, which was hit over the head with a funding hammer by the state in that the funding formula statewide has changed and to the detriment of Chelsea and other urban schools that have poor students who aren’t on welfare programs. The old funding system allowed for students in the district to self-report being low income. However, the new system requires students to be on an official welfare program to qualify as low income – unlocking additional funds for the schools.
This year, the City gave $4 million to help make up the gap created by this discrepancy in the state funding formula. Last year, the City gave $2 million for the same cause.
In a previous budget hearing, Ambrosino said it cannot continue forever.
“I want the school administration to hear this clearly, this cannot be sustained,” he said. “We cannot continue to make these expenditures to fill these funding gaps out of the City Budget.”
That will likely be a hot topic of debate next year as Budget season rolls around if the state has once again not taken action to fix the funding problem.
Chelsea City Council voted in a formal resolution on Monday night to take a stand in opposition to the statewide Question 2 charter school expansion ballot initiative.
The vote was 9-0, with Councillors Roy Avellaneda and Yamir Rodriguez not voting.
Rodriguez works for a Charter School in Boston and chose not to vote, and Avellaneda said he hasn’t made up his mind on the matter.
Other councillors, including Damali Vidot who has a child at Excel Charter School, were firmly against Question 2, citing that it would have very negative effects on the budget of the Chelsea Public Schools and other schools in the state.
“I haven’t made a decision on this; I’m still taking in the information,” Avellaneda said. “Chelsea is a little special because we’ve had a partnership with a charter school – Phoenix. The are kids who never would be able to graduate from our high school. I wonder if we’re going to take that same opportunity away from another community…I’m still struggling with the issue and haven’t made up my mind.”
Vidot said her daughter went to Chelsea schools and then she faced the decision to put her in middle school here or go to a charter. She chose a charter, but she said that didn’t mean she supports the expansion question.
“This isn’t an argument about charters versus public schools,” she said. “Question 2 is saying that in districts where schools are failing, they would be allowed to open up to 12 new charters each year. That would be a complete disaster for our public schools…I can’t sit here saying I am an advocate of the public and advocate something that would take away critical services from them.”
Councillor Judith Garcia said she believes in the teachers in the Chelsea Public Schools, where she attended school, and believes voting for Question 2 would be throwing them to the wind.
“I will vote ‘no’ for Question 2,” she said. “Not because I believe parents shouldn’t have options. It’s because I am not willing to give up on the teachers in our public schools.”
Councillor Leo Robinson said it was a matter of funding, and he said Chelsea School get a bad rap – which is undeserved.
He said statistics show that if more charters open up, more kids might choose the charters over the public schools. For one student leaving, that would be $12,000, and if 45 left, they would lose $306,000. For the most part, funding follows the student, but Robinson did indicate that the public schools get a payback for six years when a child leaves the public system for a charter. That includes 100 percent of the funding in the first year, and 25 percent of the funding for the remaining five years.
“That sounds great, but they’re not funding that at the state,” he said. “They only funded 63 percent of those costs this year. It’s an issue of dollars and sense. I think the school system here is doing an outstanding job.”
Added Council President Dan Cortell, “This isn’t an anti-charter school vote, but it is a pro-public school vote.”
Todd Taylor, a member of the Planning Board and a parent of kids in a charter school, said he didn’t think the vote was appropriate, and he was disappointed in the Council.
“The charter schools we have in this state give the best opportunity for disadvantaged kids in mostly minority community to lift themselves up,” he said. “The school my kids go to, the Brooke in East Boston, is successful at that. The whole thing just shows the need for more serious conversation about real issues and unfortunately they just wanted to do something to say ‘Rah Rah.’ We needed to engage in a real dialog about this issue.”
Question 2 will be on the statewide ballot for voters to choose in November.