In May, The Reading Post found itself drawn to stories about what residents were doing in order to reintroduce some normalcy back into their lives, whether that be celebrating graduating seniors, returning to an old recipe, reimagining a staple of the fall season, or revisiting a beloved restaurant. During this time, we saw the reintroduction of synchronous learning in Reading Public Schools, the addition of modular classrooms at Birch Meadow, and the announced end of Dr. John Doherty’s tenure as the Superintendent of Schools. In the background of all of this, the recall election that would come to dominate the fall loomed.
With schools closing abruptly in March, many parents found themselves wondering how they could celebrate their seniors’ hard work after they suddenly discovered their last year in the Reading Public Schools cut short.
“For the parents of RMHS Senior Class of 2020, the answer has come in the form of a Facebook group. As of April 30th, “Adopt a RMHS Senior 2020” has over 586 members and is devoted to celebrating the hard work of the seniors of Reading Memorial High School,” reported Julia Corbett.
The group sought to connect graduating seniors with the Reading community members who would want to celebrate their achievements by sending the students a letter, gift card, or snack of their choice.
“The group states that its mission is to celebrate the RMHS Class of 2020 and bring some light to the lives of seniors who suddenly find themselves unable to celebrate their graduation in the same way, so many before them have done,” reported Corbett.
On May 1st, Reading Public Schools Director of Finance Gail Dowd reported to the School Committee that the district’s bid for three modular classrooms had been accepted. The modular classrooms were to be installed at Birch Meadow Elementary School.
“The winning bid, for just over $764,000, was sufficiently under what Town Meeting appropriated for the project, and all three units have been ordered. The district asked for bids for two or three units, making a final choice based on pricing. Dowd was careful to point out that the bid does not include costs for desks and other equipment, but includes full installation,” reported Kevin Vendt.
Director of Facilities Joe Huggins reported that the units would be ready for use in September, with installation in July.
Reading residents Virginia Adams and Virginia Blodgett created a virtual walking tour of the Summer Avenue Historic District Tour, which encouraged residents to explore this historic neighborhood and learn more about their town.
“The tour begins at the northeast corner of Summer Avenue and Woburn Street, facing the Unitarian Church. From there, we will head north on Summer Ave, on the east side of the street. (the even-numbered houses). At the far end of the district, we will cross the street and head south on Summer Avenue on the west side of the road (the odd-numbered houses) and finish back where we started. However, it should be pointed out that the first house on the tour has a Woburn Street address. All the rest are on Summer Avenue,” writes Adams and Blodgett.
As residents found themselves more home-bound than ever before, they turned to new, or in some cases, old activities to help them pass the time.
“Cooking, during the usual beat of life, is often something that gets pushed aside; shoved between our commutes, work, after school activities, favorite programs, schoolwork, or whatever else that fills our days. Suddenly devoid of this, Reading residents have been able to return to recipes that they would not normally make during the week,” reported Julia Corbett.
In a series of interviews, Corbett asked Reading residents what food had been calling them during this trying time, and why they found themselves revisiting certain recipes.
In a May 14th meeting, the Select Board voted 4-0 to set the speed limit on Haverhill Street to 35 mph, excepting the school zone at Killam Elementary School.
As Kevin Vendt reports, the street has had a somewhat turbulent past regarding its speed limit.
“Over a year ago, the board had set the limit to 30 miles per hour, but the state department of transportation (MassDOT), referring to a decision by the board decades ago, declared that it had jurisdiction over the road, not the Select Board. MassDOT did its traffic study and determined the new 35 miles per hour limit would be supported, dependent on Select Board approval. The new speed limit will commence upon final MassDOT endorsement and the placement of new signs,” reported Vendt.
On May 26th, The Reading Rotary Club announced that they were working to bring a new, reimagined Fall Street Faire to the town to keep the event alive and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“According to Fall Street Faire co-chair Gregg Johnson, ‘This is both a challenge and an opportunity. We know the importance of celebrating our town and our local businesses. Right now, it’s more important than ever.; Fall Street Faire co-chair John Feudo is excited about the event, saying ‘We know we can bring our community together, even though we have to stay apart,’” reported The Reading Post.
In a May 27th meeting with the Select Board, Town Moderator Alan Foulds informed the Board that the next Town Meeting, which was scheduled for June 15th, would be held virtually.
“According to Foulds, Town Meeting members have been polled regarding their preferences for the meeting, and the members overwhelmingly endorsed the idea of it being held virtually. Town Clerk Laura Gemme reported that she has heard back from 119 of the 192 members with no negative comments regarding the idea,” reported Kevin Vendt.
Foulds informed the Board that Town Meeting members would be able to participate in the meeting either over Zoom, or, if they did not have access to the proper technology, they would be able to attend the meeting from a “base” with technical staff there to aid them. All motions would be shared on screen, and various tools on Zoom would allow the moderator to call on members who wished to speak and count their votes.
During his report to the School Committee on May 28th, Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Doherty announced that he would be stepping down from his position at the end of his contract, which was due to expire at the end of June 2021.
“Doherty promised to continue to provide strong leadership through the COVID-19 crisis and the transition to what schools will look like in the fall. While not offering a reason for his decision, Doherty did stress that it, ‘is the right decision for me personally.’ He reflected briefly on the challenges he has faced through his years in the RPS, commenting, ‘We have always led by our moral compass in what is best for students.’ Doherty concluded his prepared statement stating, ‘The journey has been and will continue to be amazing.’ School Committee chair Chuck Robinson thanked Doherty for his years of leadership, saying that he “needs time to process” Doherty’s revelation,” reported Kevin Vendt.
In a 1-3 vote, the Select Board voted down a motion to hold the recall election of Select Board Member Vanessa Alvarado on August 1st. The motion failed in part due to the Board of Health Chair Emmy Dove’s suggestion that it may be unsafe to hold two elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dove shared her belief that the double exposure risk from having two separate elections was too great to justify the August 1 date. Dove believes that a double election to be held on the state’s primary date of September 1 is preferable. ‘It’s a no brainer,’ Dove declared. ‘Is double the risk tolerable to you?’ She asked. ‘To me, it’s not”’ reported Kevin Vendt.
With the Town Charter stating that any recall election has to be held between 64 and 90 days after the Select Board vote, Select Board Chair Mark Dockser moved the vote to approve the recall election to the June 3rd meeting agenda.
Remote learning, a strategy designed by the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education to limit the spread of COVID-19, was in full swing this month by May. By May 28th, schools within the Reading Public School System were entering the third phase of remote learning, which meant re-introducing synchronous activities, office hours, and student-teacher calls.
“In the constantly changing environment of social distancing, this phased implementation of remote learning has been a purposefully slow one, allowing for educators from around the state to learn what is, and more importantly, what is not, working for their districts,” reported Julia Corbett.
With limited guidance from the state, RPS staff often relied on feedback from teachers and parents to build a model of remote learning that best-suited Reading students.