Amy O’Connor

Swampscott teachers sign for 3.5% raise


SWAMPSCOTT — After more than a year of negotiations, the Swampscott Education Association (SEA), or the teacher’s union, and the school committee have come to an agreement on a three-year teachers’ contract with a 3.5 percent raise.

The union successfully ratified the agreement two weeks ago, which was unanimously approved by the school committee last Wednesday. The contract outlines a 1 percent retroactive raise for the 2016-17 school year, 1 percent for 2017-18 and a 1.5 percent increase for 2018-19.

“I couldn’t be happier that the teachers’ contract was ratified unanimously by the school committee,” Superintendent Pamela Angelakis said in an email. “It has been a long 17 months of negotiations for both sides. It’s time to put all of the hurt feelings behind us and continue to move this district forward, and as always, we will do it together.”

The contract includes an early retirement incentive, which was sought by both sides, and the creation of a health and safety advisory committee, according to Carin Marshall, school committee chairwoman.

She said the committee was on the minds of many people, including teachers, parents and the rest of the school district, “to keep the health and safety of everybody in our buildings in mind.” The committee will be made up of one SEA representative from each building and up to five appointees by Angelakis, according to the contract.

The retirement incentive would go into effect upon confirmation of at least six teachers giving notice of intent to retire under the program by April 13. As of last week, Angelakis said there have been eight members who signed up under the program, exceeding the minimum.

Teachers, with at least 12 years of service in the district, receive a single payment of $15,000 and receive any end of year longevity payment which they have earned. Amy O’Connor, school committee vice-chair, said the incentive allows the school district to hire new teachers at lower salaries.

Marshall said “this is the result of a year-and-a-half-long arduous, but ultimately fruitful endeavor that we worked very hard on, both sides.”

Nancy Hanlon, SEA president, could not be reached for comment on the ratification of the contract after numerous attempts by phone and email.

The teachers’ union turned down a proposed contract in January, issuing a statement on Facebook at the time about why they “overwhelmingly rejected” it. The SEA said there was no language in the contract to protect the professional autonomy and educators’ judgment, and no language giving educators sufficient voice in school-based decisions.

As part of the statement, the union also questioned the “dramatic change in statement” of the school district’s budget deficit, which was reported as “$1.6 million at the start of mediation when salary bargaining was underway and was…pegged at $275,000 after a tentative agreement had been reached.”

Hanlon issued a separate statement to The Item at the time that the contract rejection was based on several factors, the least of which was monetary, and that the SEA thought that teachers were not being treated with respect as professionals.

Contract negotiations continued as school officials struggled to achieve a balanced budget while initially facing a $1.722 million spending gap. Officials were able to reduce that gap to $275,000 through salary and expense reductions, but were still faced with the unpopular scenario of potentially eliminating free all-day kindergarten.

Ultimately a balanced budget was achieved through an increase in town allocation to the school department and further expense reductions, and free full-day kindergarten was saved.

Town and school officials have said that 80 percent of the school budget is already devoted to salaries and that contractual increases are outpacing the revenue the town could give to the schools. Before opting to increase town allocation by $200,000 more than was initially projected, town officials argued they would not advocate for allocating more funds to the school department if it would potentially go toward payroll, rather than keeping programs.

O’Connor echoed that sentiment. She said contractual increases take up so much of the school budget that it disallows them from doing other things, and cuts have to be made in other places, such as program updates and maintenance of buildings.

In addition to cost of living increases each year, teachers also get paid step (determined by the number of years a teacher is there) and lane (furthering education may trigger an increase in pay) increases. Teachers can also earn money through stipends from extracurricular and other responsibilities, O’Connor said.

O’Connor said, like the 1.5 percent raise the school committee gave the superintendent, “we would have loved to have given significantly higher raises,  but with the town finances how they are, this was really the maximum of how much we could give, based on how much the cost of all our contracts take up from the budget.” She said all contracts, in addition to the teachers, such as those for custodians, secretaries and other personnel, make up that 80 percent figure.

‘We’re really happy that after 17 months of very difficult negotiations, we’ve come to a contract agreement that both the teachers’ union and the school district is happy with,” said O’Connor. “We think it reflects a good working relationship between the administration and its valuable teachers.”

Gayla Cawley can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott school race draws contenders


SWAMPSCOTT — Two incumbents are vying to retain their seats on the School Committee.

Suzanne Wright and Gargi Cooper could face a challenge from Melissa Camire, who also pulled nomination papers for a chance to fill one of the two open seats.

Wright and Cooper are running for a second, three-year term on the school committee.

Candidates have until March 3 to obtain nomination papers and until March 7 to return them. Fifty certified signatures are required for a candidate to appear on the ballot. The local election is April 25.

Wright said she decided to run because she is enjoying the whole process of being on the committee. She said it took almost a full year to get up to speed after initially being elected.

“Now, I feel we’re working really well as a committee,” Wright said. “It’s been really rewarding.”

If re-elected, Wright said she is looking forward to some new projects, including seeing a new school get built. School officials intend to submit a statement of intent to the Massachusetts School Building Authority by April. Officials are seeking state support for one or several new school buildings in Swampscott, which would be for a new elementary or middle school.

Wright said she wants to be a part of the continuation of the mental health initiative in town. Two new programs were recently unveiled at Swampscott High School, aimed at providing a supportive environment for students suffering from mental or emotional health concerns. Wright said she wants to see those programs introduced at the middle school. She also wants to see a comprehensive technology plan for the entire district.

Cooper said she decided to run for a second term because she believes in her tenure, the committee has created transparency between the school department and the community.

“I feel that we have made positive movement on many initiative(s) that help unite resources for the town and the school department,” Cooper said in an email. “The school department underwent a large amount of changes over the past three years during my term and I am proud that during this process a lot of important initiatives have occurred, including a new facilities director that has helped unite the school and town on improving our aging facilities.

“I believe continuity is also important in our school department and feel that I will help continue this positive momentum,” she said.

Camire could not be reached for comment.

Elections taking shape in Swampscott

Amy O’Connor, vice-chair of the school committee, also spoke about the importance of continuity on the board, and endorsed her fellow members. If Wright and Cooper win, she said it would be the first time in more than 10 years that there is consistency on the board.

“With all the turnovers in school leadership in the past decade, Swampscott can’t seem to maintain any traction,” O’Connor wrote in a text message. “Hopefully, we will this time … We’ve had so many (superintendents) and principals. This is traction we need. We are in the midst of making difficult decisions.

“If you had asked me two years ago if I would support their re-election, I’m not sure what my answer would have been,” O’Connor said. “It was a slow start. But I can say categorically that I support them now. We disagree on a lot, but it is great discourse and positive friction. Each one of us is pushing the others to be our best.”

There is one open seat on the Planning Board. Angela Ippolito, chairwoman of the board, is running for a second five-year term.

“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to run again for another term,” Ippolito said. “I love the work that we do on the planning board. I think it’s really important.”

Ippolito said the planning board is the authority for site plan review. She said the board manages the town’s zoning bylaws and any change comes before it. The board doesn’t look at zoning as putting restrictions on what a developer can do, but rather as trying to encourage the right type of development in town.

She said the board also develops and executes a master plan. The town’s master plan was completed last spring, and will be implemented over a 10-year period. Many municipal departments and boards have responsibility for various parts of the plan, but the planning board coordinates and oversees the process, she added.

Ippolito said she also wants to continue to work on spearheading the town’s effort to purchase White Court, the former Marian Court College, and utilize the property for a public use. The 6.2-acre site is owned by the Sisters of Mercy.

“We are doing all those things finally,” she said. “I feel that it’s a board working really well together.”

As reported in The Item on Wednesday, Naomi Dreeben and Laura Spathanas, chair and vice-chair of the Board of Selectmen respectively, have announced they will be running for a second, three-year term. Both said they want to continue to see town projects move forward, as part of their reason for running.

There are four other open seats in town, and all of the incumbents are running. As of Thursday afternoon, no challengers have pulled papers. Only Michael McClung, town moderator, has returned his papers and is guaranteed to appear on the ballot, according to Town Clerk Susan Duplin. He is running for a second, one-year term.

William Sullivan is running for another three-year term on the Board of Assessors. Martha Dansdill is trying for another three-year term on the Board of Health.

Duplin said local elections usually average about 20 percent voter turnout.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott tries to bridge a gap


SWAMPSCOTT — Parents are not happy that the $275,000 school budget deficit could threaten free full-day kindergarten.

Under a scenario where the budget deficit is not eliminated, school officials are exploring an option to transition full-day kindergarten to a half-day program at no charge. Parents would have to pay tuition for the full-day program.

Katie Holt, who recently moved to Swampscott, and has a daughter who will start kindergarten in the fall, said the idea of going from full-day kindergarten to a half day bothers her in many ways. She wondered what kind of burden that would place on the first grade teachers if their students didn’t learn enough in the previous grade.

Claire Beckett said she moved to the seaside town about a year ago partly for the good school system. She got emotional at the thought of losing full day-kindergarten for her 2½-year-old child.

“As a working mother, it feels incredibly regressive to lose full-day service for me,” Beckett said. “We can do better than that.”

Parents such as Holt and Beckett spoke at a public hearing for the FY18 school budget, held during a school committee meeting on Wednesday.

But officials say cutting kindergarten is a last resort and that they’ve been scrambling for weeks to come up with ways to eliminate the initial projected $1.5 million deficit. Through some cuts and fee increases, the deficit has been reduced to $275,000.

“When we had the $1.5 million gap, we were faced with bad choices, all of them being bad choices,” said Superintendent Pamela Angelakis. “And it came down to, if we need several hundred thousands of dollars, what is the least of the bad choices? That’s where kindergarten tuition came in (to) this discussion. Do I want to go there? I absolutely do not. Do I believe it’s the right thing to do? I absolutely do not. And given that the gap is getting smaller and smaller, my hope is that we don’t have to go there. It would set our district back tremendously.”

Roberts to lead North Shore Medical Center

School Business Administrator Evan Katz presented a $30.49 million budget to a room of more than 100 residents. After revolving funds and grants are taken into account, the school district budgeted for $28,272,500 in town allocation. But the town is only allocating an additional $750,000 from last year’s amount, or $27,997,500. Therein lies the $275,000 budget deficit.

In mid-December, school officials were faced with a darker situation. Before Angelakis and her administrative team started cutting into the budget, the projected FY18 school budget exceeded available revenue by $1.5 million.

To get that gap down to a more reasonable amount, Katz said there have been revenue increases of $240,000, personnel transition savings of $200,000, program reductions of $314,000 and the $300,000 budgeted for the unknown amount of students who may join the district and require special education services has been eliminated.

One increase will be in athletic user fees and is projected to save the district $80,000. As a result, each student will be paying an additional $75 to play each sport. Currently, athletic user fees only cover about 30 percent of the cost to run the school district’s sports programs. With the increase, Katz said the fees would cover 40 percent of the cost. The district covers the rest of the cost.

“The idea that athletic user fees are only covering 30 percent of the actual cost, while we’re talking about cutting full-day kindergarten is something I cannot support,” said Amy O’Connor, school committee vice-chair.

Three teacher retirements are anticipated, which saved $100,000. An unfilled technical director position has been eliminated, saving another $100,000.

For program reductions, Katz said about four additional teacher positions are expected to be eliminated, along with the administrative assistant position in the METCO program. The Hadley Elementary School special education job is being cut, as the student population there doesn’t require one, he said.

Elementary health will merge into the physical education program. The middle school red, white and you class is getting the ax. Mandarin is switching to online only.

“I think that it’s important to notice this is going to have a ripple effect on the world language program,” said Jessica-Gahm-Diaz, head of the school world language department.

Gahm-Diaz predicted larger class sizes for French and Spanish, with Mandarin potentially getting phased out. With potential class sizes of 30 students, classes would be unable to go to the language lab, which only has 28 computers.

Another large piece of reducing the deficit, Katz said, was eliminating the $300,000 set aside for students who may come into the district and need out of district services for special education. He said officials are pretty comfortable with the money set aside for students the district is currently educating, and can’t afford to set aside any money for students who may move into the district in the next 18 months.

“We have weathermen who can’t predict the forecast and we’re expected to predict special education students 16 months ahead of time,” Angelakis said. “To add an additional $300,000 into our budget for unknown costs is ridiculous and it’s the way we’ve been doing it in the district for years. So, that is a huge change and one that I’m in support of.”

Katz said as a backup, school officials are recommending that the town fund a special education stabilization fund, which would be money set aside for students requiring those services who may come into the school district. The fund would require a Town Meeting vote.

Despite the work done to close the deficit, school officials are saying the $750,000 increase in town allocation is not even enough to cover their teacher- and staff-anticipated salary increases. In December, Katz projected there would be $960,000 in projected salary increases for school employees and teachers. He said officials are trying to raise people’s awareness that the school committee has done a good job of negotiating favorable contracts with staff.

“I think the message I’m putting out there tonight is we need a little bit more help than that $750,000,” Angelakis said. “If that doesn’t even meet the salary requirements that we’re contractually obligated to give, how are we supposed to balance the budget?”

The school committee is scheduled to vote on the budget on Feb. 8.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott in search of $1.6m eraser for schools


SWAMPSCOTT — School officials are scrambling to come up with ways to erase a $1.6 million budget deficit.

Swampscott School Business Administrator Evan Katz said the projected FY18 school budget exceeds available revenue by $1.6 million. He said school officials have been notified that the town’s allocation increase for the school budget is roughly $750,000. Last year, the town allocated an additional $1.1 million to the schools.

Katz said the $750,000 town increase won’t even cover the projected $960,000 in salary increases for school employees and teachers. The school district is in the midst of teacher contract negotiations, and the figure is based on an anticipated 1.5 percent raise for educators.

“The school committee has done a really good job of negotiating favorable contracts with staff,” Katz said. “The town needs to understand that $750,000 doesn’t even cover our favorable contract settlements.”

Another $700,000 is needed to fully fund the FY17 budget, which was underfunded in areas such as facilities maintenance and special education tuition and transportation. He said those areas that were underfunded last year need to be planned for in the upcoming budget.

The third major area driving the deficit is the projected additional $700,000 needed for anticipated budget increases such as special education and facilities.

Katz, Superintendent Pamela Angelakis and the School Committee are faced with cuts in the budget or raising fees to reduce expenses, if they can’t count on more town funds. Katz said a staff vacancy might not be filled when an employee leaves, and staff and programming cuts are likely with the size of the budget gap.

“We want to maintain the educational quality we have,” he said. “We don’t want to cut positions. We don’t want to do anything that’s going to affect the quality of classroom instruction. At the same time, we want to settle the teachers’ contracts.”

Angelakis said cuts and other options to reduce expenses is not the direction she wants to see the district moving forward, but said the reality is in the numbers.

The school leadership team will present some options to reduce expenses to the school committee at their scheduled Jan. 11 meeting.

“We’re sort of in a crunch and feeling it hard and sort of wanting the town to know what we’re feeling,” said Amy O’Connor, school committee vice-chair.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott has high grades for superintendent

Pamela Angelakis


SWAMPSCOTT — Superintendent Pamela Angelakis has received a raise, based on a positive evaluation from the Swampscott School Committee.

The school committee unanimously approved a 1.5 percent raise for Angelakis on Wednesday night. Before the raise, her salary was $158,488, according to School Business Administrator Evan Katz.

The $2,377 raise, for a new $160,865 salary, is effective immediately, and retroactive to last July. Last year, Angelakis received a 2.25 percent raise, increasing her $155,000 former salary, Katz said.

“We really want the people of Swampscott to know that she has a 1.5 percent (raise), but this isn’t indicative of anything less than a job very well done,” said Amy O’Connor, school committee vice-chair. “If we were in a different financial situation, she would have a larger raise, but we just can’t do that at this time.”

The 27-year veteran of Swampscott schools was hired as superintendent in January 2014. Before that, she served as assistant superintendent for more than a year. Angelakis was also principal of Stanley School for eight years and was a teacher before that.

Angelakis received a “proficient” on her evaluation from the school committee, which was unanimously approved at the end of September. O’Connor said the superintendent met expectations across the board, with some areas where she was strong, and others that she was growing towards.

“All in all, she did well,” O’Connor said.

One notable strength for Angelakis in the review is an exemplary response to crisis situations. O’Connor said that more specifically refers to incidents such as the disgraced former Swampscott High School Principal Edward Rozmiarek and a hazing incident involving football players from the school.

Rozmiarek resigned in 2015, after a Beverly Police investigation revealed that he had a series of graphic Internet chats with someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl. The police report said that he was actually corresponding with a decoy from a nonprofit group called the Perverted Justice Foundation.

Another related strength listed for the superintendent is that she has shown leadership and flexibility in the realignment of the middle and high school leadership. Following Rozmiarek’s departure, Angelakis appointed Assistant Principal Frank Kowalski as interim principal through June 2016. Later, she appointed Robert Murphy, the former principal of Swampscott Middle School, as the high school principal for this school year. Jason Calichman, the former assistant principal of the middle school, was upgraded to the principal. She has said she hopes both will apply when their respective positions are posted.

Other notable strengths included her being transparent and open in all professional matters, creating and maintaining a positive and cooperative relationship with town government and diligent work to build a strong central office team.

Areas listed in the review that Angelakis needs to develop include technology vision and planning, a focus on site visits and the development of a communication strategy.

“Technology continues to be a major concern for all members of the school committee and will continue to insist that this be a major focus for the superintendent and the district,” the committee wrote in its review. “It is understood that successful completion of this goal was impeded by staffing issues in the technology department. The committee hopes that sufficient reorganization of that department will allow for forward progress to me in the upcoming year.”

Suzanne Wright, a school committee member, wrote in her review that Angelakis has improved her communication with the community, but she wanted to see more regular updates on the superintendent webpage and more internal communication with the school committee. But her overall review was positive.

“Overall, Ms. Angelakis continues to have a positive impact on the function and reputation of the SPS (Swampscott Public Schools),” she wrote. “This year saw the beneficial impact of central office reorganization, the hiring of a joint facilities director, human resource coordination, director of curriculum and instruction, and the smooth transition of a new director of student services. The central office seems to be running with many more efficiencies than ever.

“I appreciate Ms. Angelakis’ high expectations for all students, all staff, and especially for herself,” Wright continued. “I am hopeful that she will continue to challenge school practices that have been in place for a long time.”

Angelakis could not be reached for comment in time for the Daily Item deadline.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott looks inside for assistance

Swampscott High School.


SWAMPSCOTT — Superintendent Pamela Angelakis continues to hire internal candidates to fill administration vacancies at Swampscott Middle and High School.

Angelakis said at Wednesday’s School Committee meeting that High School Interim Principal Frank Kowalski would return to his former role as assistant principal while Assistant Principal Lytania Mackey would remain in her position.

“Mr. Kowalski and Ms. Mackey are important members of my team,” Angelakis said in an email. “They have been working with our high school students for a long time and they are invested in our students both emotionally and academically.”

Previously, Angelakis considered the possibility of having only one assistant principal at the high school. But the controversy involving Edward Rozmiarek, the former high school principal, and the teacher evaluation process at the school made her rethink her decision.

Rozmiarek resigned in 2015, after a Beverly Police investigation revealed that he had a series of graphic Internet chats with someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl. The police report said that he was actually corresponding with a decoy from a nonprofit group called the Perverted Justice Foundation.

Angelakis appointed Kowalski as interim principal of the high school from January until June. He had served as the school’s assistant principal since 2010.

Mackey remained at her post as assistant principal over that same time period, where she has served since 2012. Previously, she had also spent a year as the high school’s Dean of Students and Curriculum. Before that, she was a science teacher.

Robert Murphy, principal of Swampscott Middle School, was appointed in March as the interim principal of the high school for the next school year.

Angelakis said the other factor that contributed to sticking with two assistant principals relates to the teacher evaluation process at the high school.

“Years ago, department chairs at the high school level had evaluative responsibilities,” Angelakis wrote in an email. “In this last contract, their teaching load was increased by one class and the evaluative duties were removed from their responsibilities. This makes it difficult to have only two administrators, who would be responsible for 85 or so evaluations of staff members without any assistance. We haven’t been able to reverse this change through the collective bargaining process thus far, this spring.”

Amy O’Connor, vice-chair of the school committee, said the decision to stick with Kowalski and Mackey is a good one.

“I am pleased that Lytania and Frank are staying through the changes and have agreed to stay at the school under Bob Murphy’s leadership,” O’Connor said. “I think it’s a testament to Bob’s leadership skills and their commitment to the community.”

Following the reshuffle, a vacancy remains to be filled at the middle school.

In March, Jason Calichman, assistant principal of the middle school, was upgraded to the school’s interim principal for the next school year.

Angelakis said she has gone internally to hire the middle school assistant principal. She said there are many teachers at the school who have administrative experience, but there was one person interested in the position. That female teacher will leave the classroom for a year, and that teaching position would be replaced for a year, she added.

The superintendent said she won’t name the hire until later this week, but was impressed by the teacher’s knowledge of the middle school and administrative experience. She is also excited by the candidate’s enthusiasm.

Angelakis plans to post the high school and middle school principal positions in December. But said she hopes Murphy and Calichman will apply. Filling the administrative positions following Rozmiarek’s departure is not something that came easy to her, she said.

“I’ve struggled with this plan for a really long time,” Angelakis said.

Kowalski and Mackey could not be reached for comment.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Three look to sit in an empty seat in Swampscott

Swampscott Town Clerk Susan Duplin gets ready for the town election on Tuesday.


SWAMPSCOTT — While the number of voters has swelled by 4.2 percent, Town Clerk Susan Duplin expects less than a third will show up for Tuesday’s election.

Duplin predicted voter turnout will be just 30 percent given there’s only one contested race, up slightly from last year’s race which yielded 25 percent.

There are three candidates seeking two open seats on the Board of Selectmen including incumbent Matthew Strauss, Donald Hause of the Zoning Board of Appeals and Patrick Jones, a former Planning Board member.

They are vying for a three-year term. John Callahan, the other incumbent, is not seeking re-election.

The three men recently participated in a forum, sponsored by the Item, where they discussed taxes, reuse for the former Machon Elementary School and regionalization.  

Strauss favors a split tax rate, arguing that providing businesses tax relief would put burden on homeowners, something he is opposed to. He favors transforming the Machon School on Burpee Road into senior housing, saying that the town’s master plan shows a need for elder apartments. He opposes regionalizing emergency response services, such as police and fire.

Hause said Swampscott must reduce the tax burden on homeowners, which could be done by attracting more upscale businesses to town that can afford higher taxes. He also favors senior housing at the shuttered Machon School, rather than using it for a park. He said the regionalization of 911 would increase emergency response times, adding that he is against regionalizing critical services.

Despite the lowered tax rate for for homeowners, Jones said the tax bill for residents still increased. He said placing the tax burden on the homeowner is too risky. He is in favor of the senior housing reuse for the Machon School and said consolidating life saving services would increase response times. He said the town should consider other options for regionalization, such as whether fire and police departments could share a business manager.

For School Committee, Carin Marshall, chairwoman, and Amy O’Connor, vice-chair, are each running unopposed for their second, three-year term.

O’Connor has said she would support Marshall remaining as school committee chair.

Michael McClung, who serves as chairman of the Article 6 Committee, is running unopposed for a one-year term as Town Moderator. Joseph Markarian is not seeking another term.

The Planning Board is also uncontested with incumbents Elizabeth Isler and George Potts seeking three- and five-year terms, respectively.

The Board of Health will gain a new member as Lawrence Block did not seek re-election. Alison Oxton is running unopposed for a three-year term.

The Trustees of the Public Library will also see a new member because Marianne McDermott did not seek another term. Sarah Pruett is the only candidate for the three-year term.

Housing Authority incumbent James Lombard will run opposed for a five-year term.

Only two candidates will run for three open seats for constable after incumbents Amy Camire and Christopher DiPietro chose not to seek re-election. Incumbent Stephen Simmons and new candidate, Gabriele Mongiello Jr. will be listed on the ballot. The last seat would be filled by a write-in candidate, according to Duplin.

There are also vacant seats for Town Meeting members. She said only one write-in vote is needed for someone to win. Town Meeting has been rescheduled to May 16.

Swampscott has 10,294 registered voters, up from last year’s total of 9,876. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m at three polling locations including the Swampscott Senior Center at 200 Essex St., First Church Congregational  at 40 Monument Avenue and Swampscott Middle School at 207 Forest Avenue.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

Hatred prompts call for dialogue in Swampscott

David Ratner looks at the spot on Pleasant Street in Swampscott where he and his wife found a swastika painted on the sidewalk.


SWAMPSCOTT — An enjoyable neighborhood stroll turned gloomy when a couple discovered a swastika chalked on a Pleasant Street sidewalk.

David and Diane Ratner spotted the emblem of the Nazi party Sunday night as they walked near their home. They called police, who checked the middle school where the Ratners saw another swastika scrawled in the parking lot.

The couple called police and the Anti-Defamation League, who told them Swampscott has a strong foundation for turning the symbol of hate into a teachable moment about rejecting discrimination and ending intolerance.

Police officials could not be reached for comment. But the police log for April 17 said officers were called to Lewis Road and Pleasant Street at 10:32 p.m.

David Ratner, the father of two middle school students and a high school student, said the graffiti was “sick and pretty disturbing.”

“I think it’s a couple of bad elements,” he said. “Kids who don’t get it.”  

Maureen Caron, assistant to School Superintendent Pamela Angelakis, said school officials have no comment.

Amy O’Connor, a parent and school committee member, said the vandalism was “scary and very disturbing” and added, “I don’t think it is indicative of our town.”

The Ratners reported the swastika to the Anti-Defamation League. Melissa Garlick, the group’s attorney, said league representatives spoke with police and school officials.

“They are investigating and taking the incident very seriously,” she said.

The graffiti and conversations about them among town residents offer educational opportunities on ending bias and discrimination, she added.  

The league has worked with Swampscott school officials to provide anti-bias peer training in the high school for four years. The league honored Lytania Mackey, assistant high school principal, for her anti-discrimination work. Garlick said 30 Swampscott students attended a youth congress this month where anti-bias peer training was offered.

Penny Hurwitz, league associate director in education, said anti-bias training helps students working with professional facilitators learn how to discuss social justice, racism and sexism with their peers.

She said high school students trained in peer-led conversations could meet and talk, with school officials’ permission, with middle school students.

“The power of students talking to one another is absolutely unmatched,” Hurwitz said.

David Ratner said a conversation between high school students and middle school students on bias and hate is a good idea, especially if the investigation into the graffiti leads to a town student.

“If they don’t learn the lesson now, when will they?” he said. “A lot of times kids do this and don’t know what it means.”  

Thor Jourgensen can be reached at

Swastika, racial epithet discovery probed

By Thor Jourgensen

Item News Editor

A Swampscott couple who discovered a swastika scrawled on a sidewalk next to the middle school Sunday said town police and the Anti Defamation League are aware of the discovery.
Diane and David Ratner said they spotted the swastika drawn in chalk on the sidewalk on Pleasant Street as they walked their dog Sunday night near the school.
They called police and Diane Ratner, a Swampscott native, said officers discovered additional graffiti.
“It’s so upsetting,” Diane Ratner said.
Police and school officials were not immediately available Tuesday to comment on the discovery. Amy O’Connor, a parent who also serves on the School Committee, said she was informed of the discovery and said at least one swastika was discovered.
“This is scary and very upsetting. I don’t think it is indicative of our town,” O’Connor said.

(Read itemlive for updates on this story.)

Brussels sprouts concern in Swampscott

From left, Alejandra Baralt, who will lead a group of exchange students in Spain, helps Jessica Gahm-Diaz find the location just south of Madrid where they will visit.


SWAMPSCOTT — In light of recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, officials are taking a second look at next year’s planned high school field trip to Spain.

The trip, scheduled for April vacation next year, was approved at a recent School Committee meeting. But the panel insisted that Prometour, a travel agency that provides educational tours, outline its safety plan for Spain. The travel company will appear before the committee on April 27.

“All of the districts are struggling with this decision, with whether to support international travel for our students,” said Superintendent Pamela Angelakis. “A lot of districts have stopped travel.”

Amy O’Connor, School Committee vice-chair, also wanted assurance from the travel firm that students could cancel the $2,500 trip and still get their money back if there’s another attack before next April. O’Connor said that will be part of the discussion with Prometour at the meeting.

“From my perspective, my concern would be in the practicalities of the money, and if we can get the money back should there be some sort of international incident,” she said.

Terrorist attacks are unpredictable and often impossible to prepare for, even when all safety precautions are taken.

“I do think, God forbid, if something happened like what happened in Brussels, there’s almost nothing that someone can do about it except for stay home,” she said. “And I would never advocate for staying home.”

Ted Delano, a School Committee member and a detective with the Swampscott Police Department, said he has concerns about possible terrorist attacks and health issues in Europe.

“Every time there’s a field trip, I bite my nails until the time those kids get home and they’re all safe,” he said.

Before 10 to 20 students and two chaperones make the trip to Spain, Delano said there must be a plan. He would like to see a “shelter in place” policy, should something go wrong on the trip.

Delano said he has been working with trip organizer Jessica Gahm-Diaz, chairperson of the high school world language department, and Angelakis on making sure the district has contacts with the State Department and U.S. Embassy in preparation for the trip.

Although he is in favor of hands-on learning for students through international travel, his support of the trip could change if another attack were to occur.

“To me, if there was an event that transpired, then I could not support it,” Delano said.

Gahm-Diaz said the high school goes on trips abroad every year. Within the month, she said a group of students will be traveling to Nicaragua.

The trip to Spain is different, however, as it is an exchange trip. In September, students from Spain will be visiting Swampscott before the town’s students make the trip to Aranjuez, outside of Madrid, next spring.

Gahm-Diaz said the main reason for the concern is the recent attacks in Brussels. She said the main mission is to keep students safe while introducing them to the outside world, adding that this is the first time the committee has brought up safety as an issue.

With the trip, she said students will have a chance to see how kids their own age live. Students will get to see things being studied in class and will get to use their Spanish language skills in real-life situations.

“The value of the trip is priceless,” Gahm-Diaz said. “It’s really an important thing for kids to do. I would hate to see the value of the trip be overshadowed by people’s fears of terrorism.”

Alejandra Baralt, a world language teacher who is a chaperone for the trip, said the students would be staying with a host family part of the time and going to school with the students in Aranjuez.

The group will also travel to Seville, where there will be a festival with music and food. Another stop would be the Alhambra, a castle that was built for the moors. The group would also travel to Malaga, Pablo Picasso’s birthplace.

“Hopefully it will happen,” Baralt said.

Frank Kowalski, the High School’s interim principal, said the school is monitoring what’s going on in Brussels, but has every intention of going ahead with the field trip. In his nine years with the school, he said Brussels is the closest case he’s heard of that could affect student travel.

“Right now, we’re just wait and see,” he said.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

Swampscott High School still searching for new principal


SWAMPSCOTT — Superintendent Pamela Angelakis has decided to halt the search for a new Swampscott High School principal.

Angelakis told the School Committee Wednesday night that after reviewing applications over the last several weeks with the human resources coordinator and the director of curriculum and instruction, she would not be moving forward with any of the applicants. Fifty-two applicants were submitted.

“Unfortunately, we have come to the unanimous conclusion that we would not envision any of the current candidates emerging as the next principal of Swampscott High School,” Angelakis wrote.

Former Principal Edward Rozmiarek resigned on Dec. 15, 2015, after a Beverly police investigation revealed that he had a series of graphic Internet chats with someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl. The police report revealed that he was actually corresponding with a trained decoy from a nonprofit group called The Perverted Justice Foundation.

The position was posted on Dec. 21, 2015 with a closing date of Jan. 29. On Jan. 7, Angelakis told the committee that there were 34 applicants.

“At the time, I was very candid — and perhaps too blunt — in my assessment that the caliber of applicants was not what we would have hoped for or expected,” Angelakis wrote.

Based on her prior update, Angelakis said her decision should not be “entirely unexpected.”

“I’m not surprised by her decision to not move forward,” School Committee Vice-Chair Amy O’Connor said in a phone interview.  

Angelakis said it is critical to identify a candidate who is the right fit for the high school because of the position’s significant turnover, with nine principals in the last 16 years, and the circumstances surrounding the departure of Rozmiarek. As superintendent, the hiring of a principal falls on her.

I take that obligation very seriously, which is why I cannot recommend taking this search process to the next step,” Angelakis wrote. “That would not be fair to the applicants or those who would be charged with interviewing them.”

Interim Principal Frank Kowalski is in place throughout the end of June. At the next school committee meeting, set for March 23, Angelakis will present a short- and long-term plan for the high school principal search. She said she is committed to taking as much time as necessary to find the best solution.

We have to get this right,” Angelakis wrote.

O’Connor said the School Committee has to approve the superintendent’s final decision.

“We are waiting for her to make an announcement in the next two weeks about what her plans are,” O’Connor said.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.