School Committee Hears Teacher Feedback

Jan. 19, 2021—The exigencies of being a Bedford teacher during the Covid-19 pandemic are taking their toll.

Principals of Bedford four schools told the School Committee last week that most teachers are hurting. But they are also models of “flexibility, adaptability, resiliency.”

“People are tired and frustrated – and we don’t blame them,” said John Glenn Middle School Principal Kevin Tracy. But he emphasized, “You would not be able to tell that if you were in our schools.” He added that appreciation for town support was clear from staff feedback.

Bedford High School Heather Galante said the feedback was acquired through several channels: surveys at the end of last school year and at the beginning of this one, school council meetings, faculty, and departmental meetings, and, less formally, emails, phone conversations, and principals’ walks through their buildings.

She said general themes emerged from the scores of comments: health and safety, self-care and wellness, expectations and workload, and teaching and learning.

The goal of the summary, Galante said, is to provide a perspective from pre-kindergarten through high school, based on feedback received this year.

Life Sciences and the Move to the Suburbs ~ Part II ~ Ultragenyx Builds in Bedford

Bedford local government’s welcoming approach was a big part of the reason why Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical decided to locate a major operation in the town.

Gil Stevens, senior director of capital projects for the 10-year-old California-based firm, told a virtual meeting sponsored by the Middlesex 3 collaborative that “the responsiveness has been absolutely stellar.” Stevens was a guest panelist on a virtual program entitled “Life Sciences and the Move to the Suburbs.”

“Not all communities are like that. We had a number of towns that just not did even respond,” Stevens continued. “The folks in Bedford were just phenomenal — Sarah (Town Manager Sarah Stanton) and Alyssa (Economic Development Director Alyssa Sandoval) coming out to discuss the town’s capabilities.”

Candidate Statement: Catherine VanPraagh ~ Bedford Board of Health

My name is Catherine Van Praagh, and I am seeking your vote for a seat on the Bedford Board of Health. As a microbiologist with over 25 years of experience in a wide variety of scientific and medical areas, I have been following the activities of the Board of Health for quite some time; and the current pandemic has greatly motivated me to offer my skills and expertise to the town.

My professional background has given me a deep understanding and appreciation of public health and the roles of front-line medical workers and research scientists in efforts to prevent disease. As a young adult, I worked as a Nurse’s Aide in a long-term care facility, then went on to earn both a B.S. and an M.S. in microbiology from UMass Amherst. While working on my graduate degree in molecular genetics and bioremediation, I volunteered my time at a local free healthcare clinic, working with various at-risk populations. I spent several years working on DNA-based vaccines in the pharmaceutical industry, followed by over a decade teaching microbiology to nursing students at Middlesex Community College. I am currently the laboratory manager of the Group 23 Biological Labs at MIT Lincoln Labs where I support ongoing research as well as assist staff as we pivot to address the pandemic. As the Environmental Health and Safety representative, I am well versed in the constantly evolving research and data around the pandemic and have used that information to develop systems and adaptations to keep our labs operational while preventing the spread of COVID within our research team.

The coming year is going to be challenging for every community in the country, and our Board of Health’s vision has never been more important: “Helping neighbors live healthy lives in Bedford”.  We’ve already seen how adaptive everyone has needed to be during this pandemic, and that will continue to be true as we address the new, more highly infectious COVID variants circulating in the population, roll out vaccinations for our residents and recover from the pandemic.

Dot’s Reading Room ~ ‘The Conversation’ a Compendium of Research Papers from Various Universities

For today I’m not calling your attention to a specific article but to an online source that I think is worth following.

It’s The Conversation and it is a compendium of research papers from authors at various universities. In the posting on Jan. 16, the subjects range from Covid-19, to white supremacists, to the rollout of the polio vaccine.

Briefly, The Conversation is a nonprofit, independent news organization dedicated to unlocking the knowledge of experts for the public good. “We publish trustworthy and informative articles written by academic experts for the general public and edited by our team of journalists.”

Bedford’s Town Election: Who Is Running and What Seats Remain Open ~ Update ~ Jan. 15, 2021

Bedford’s Town Election will take place just 3 months from today, on Saturday, March 15.

Because of current restrictions on gatherings, Bedford’s annual Caucus could not be held in person, and all candidates must collect signatures on nomination papers. As of Friday, Jan. 15, candidates have taken out nomination papers for the following offices, with several offices still without candidates.

Candidates for Office, as of Jan. 15, 2021

Keeping the Peace ~ The Bedford Flag at the US Capitol

Ralph Waldo Emerson put Bedford on the map in 1837 with his poem “Concord Hymn.” Many of us know the opening stanza by heart:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard ’round the world.

Why was resistance to the British Crown figuratively heard around the world? And why am I writing about a battle when this is for the Keeping the Peace segment?

I hope I can explain.

On January 6, when insurrectionists desecrated the US Capitol, someone told me that among the many banners on the Washington Mall was a reproduction of the Bedford Flag. Indeed, this has been confirmed with a photograph.

Our community recoiled. How did this happen? Perhaps someone serious about research discovered the flag that was carried on April 19, 1775, and in his or her mind was replicating the revolutionary spirit of that day. If that was the intent, it was not only misguided. It was borderline blasphemous.

Bedford Schools are Safe Places to be During the Pandemic

Jan. 12, 2021—Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad Tuesday presented the School Committee with four months of Covid-19 case data that indicate Bedford schools are safe places to be during the pandemic.

Between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, there were 26 cases of the coronavirus verified among faculty and staff and 14 involving students. Only one of those 40 cases was possibly transmitted in school, Conrad said, adding that even that one is categorized only because the source could not be ascertained.

The school-by-school breakdown is Davis School, five adults, and three students; Lane School, three adults, and three students; John Glenn Middle School, three adults, and one student; Bedford High School, 15 adults, and seven students.

“We had one case where there was no real clear transmission from person to person. We had to make the assumption that it was an in-school transmission,” Conrad reported. “All the others have been confirmed as outside of school.”

“It sounds like the schools are a very safe place,” said committee member Brad Morrison. His colleague JoAnn Santiago pointed out that the policy of six-foot physical distancing precluded close contact that could have resulted in transmission.

Community Preservation Committee Chair Fields Innovative Affordable Housing Proposals

Christina Wilgren is a drum major for affordable housing opportunities in the town.

A member of the town Housing Partnership since 2004, she is a tireless advocate for expanding the inventory of government-managed units.

Wilgren presented and explained five innovative ideas for expanded affordable housing at last Wednesday’s meeting of the Community Preservation Committee. And although none of them was added to the fiscal 2022 preservation plan, fellow committee members were open-minded about longer-term prospects.

Affordable housing is one of the statutory pillars of community preservation expenses (open space, recreation, and historic preservation are the others.)

Proposals for assistance through community preservation funding were:

Letter to the Editor: Not Seeking Another Planning Board Term

I am writing as a follow up to the announcement I made at the Planning Board’s December 15, 2020 meeting to inform residents that I have decided to not seek another term on the Planning Board.

My decision is based on a personal need to find more time to devote to my growing family, my career, and other personal interests. Considering the projects currently on the horizon will require even more of the board’s time to properly vet, I believe it would be unfair to my fellow board members and residents that I would not be able to give it 100%.

A Message of Deep Concern from The Bedford Citizen

Although The Bedford Citizen does not ordinarily comment on events happening outside of Bedford, we, the Editorial Committee, feel compelled to express our shock and dismay at the threat to our democracy witnessed at the US Capitol yesterday.

Whatever your political views, and we respect and acknowledge a range of opinions among our readers, we hope you will join with us in condemning the mob violence that threatens our democratic institutions.  How can we teach our children to uphold the rule of law when the very heart of our government was held hostage yesterday?

Optimal Social Distancing in Schools Debated at Board of Health Meeting

Optimal social distancing in the school environment (including but not limited to classrooms, hallways, lunchrooms, school buses) was discussed at length at the meeting of the Board of Health on January 4. 

Board member Ann Kiessling, consistent with the position taken at prior meetings, argued that there is no published data that clearly establishes the relative value of 6’ over 3’ of social distancing between students as a way of slowing or preventing virus transmission.  After the Board’s last meeting on December 21 during which the issue was discussed, Kiessling asked that Health Director Heidi Porter and Community Nurse Mark Waksmonski research the question further.   Based on the information they provided, Kiessling noted that “The bottom line is that there are no public studies on the relative value of 6’ vs. 3’ for children…Nobody has looked at it.  Nobody has studied it.  And there is quite a bit of evidence that 3’ of distance is probably ok….I am not advocating either but I am advocating that there is no science that drives 6’ is better than 3’ in a child’s classroom.” 

Bedford 2021 ~ A Town Election in the Time of Pandemic

Editor’s Note—Breaking News: At least four town offices on Bedford’s March 13 ballot are wide open on the night when the citizens caucus would have taken place if it was a virus-free year.

Planning Board member Jeffrey Cohen, Assessor Ronald Cordes, Housing Authority member Lewis Putney and Glenn McIntyre, a member of the Shawsheen Valley Technical High School Committee, have all confirmed that they are not running for re-election.

Two others said they are unsure of their plans: Anta Raj of the Board of Heath and Library Trustee Dennis Ahern.  Another Board of Health member whose term is expiring, Sarah Thompson, could not be reached.

Only three office-holders are currently candidates for re-election: School Committee member Dan Brosgol, Select Board member Margot Fleischman, and Michael Pulizzi of the Board of Library Trustees.

If these were normal times the Town Election season would start tonight January 5 with the annual Town Caucus.  Bedford registered voters would gather in the Reed Room in Town Hall to hear nominations, statements of support, candidate statements and vote to designate two candidates for each position as a “Caucus Nominee.” 

Additional candidates as well as those who were not nominated by the Caucus would still have the option of appearing on the ballot, but would need to complete nomination papers requiring the signatures of fifty registered Bedford voters.

Superintendent’s Update ~ 10 Positive Covid Cases Reported During Winter Break ~ January 5, 2021

Covid cases reported during Winter Break

* Davis School –  one (1) new COVID-19 positive case was identified over break (DS case #9) and was determined to have no in-school contacts.
* Lane School –  four (4) new COVID-19 positive cases were identified over break (LS cases # 7, 8, 9 & 10) and were determined to have no in-school contacts.
* John Glenn Middle School – one (1) new COVID-19 positive case was identified over break (JGMS case # 5) and was determined to have no in school contacts.
* Bedford High School – four (4) new COVID-19 positive cases reported over break (BHS cases #24, 25, 26, & 27) and were determined to have no in-school contacts.

There are currently seven (7) active COVID-19 positive cases in the Bedford Public School Community at this time.  One (1) at Davis School, four (4) at Lane School, one (1) at JGMS, and two (2) at Bedford High School.

A Holiday Letter from The Bedford Citizen 

Taking a page (literally) from the holiday letter tradition we thought we would update you on The Bedford Citizen’s year.  I’m sure you can relate.

The year started off with such promise.  A new boardwalk on Davis Road, a changing of the guard at the school department, new restaurants, new businesses, things seemed to be humming along.  Here at The Citizen we had just mailed our first Bedford Guide and were coming off a successful match fundraising campaign where we exceeded all our expectations.  2020 felt like it was going to be a good year.

….and then…. We hit a bump, a big bump, a bump that was shared with the world.  There was a lot of news, and we feel proud we were in position to keep our town informed.

2020 was a year of learning.  

Board of Health to Continue Important Discussions in its January 4 Meeting

The Bedford Board of Health on Monday, Jan.4 will continue its discussion of social distancing and criteria for school closings and classroom quarantining in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The virtual meeting, which begins at 7 pm on Zoom, will spotlight a topic launched by member Dr. Ann Kiessling at the last board meeting Dec. 21. The agenda allows for a possible vote.

Kiessling maintains that the key to successful management of the virus is testing, especially as the only way to identify and isolate asymptomatic people.

Complicating her presentation was a 3-1-1 vote by the Board of Health earlier in the meeting calling for an opinion from the state Ethics Commission on possible conflict of interest. Kiessling is director of Bedford Research Foundation, which has been testing for Covid-19 since responding to a federal plea to private laboratories several months ago. (As of Thursday afternoon, it could not be confirmed that the request has been filed with the Commission.)

Concord Christmas Bird Count ~ Sunday, January 3, includes a Segment of Bedford

Frank Gardner says his father used to push him in a stroller around a bird sanctuary in his hometown of Jamestown, NY (“it’s basically Ohio”). At age four, he was already an amateur ornithologist.

So it’s no surprise that Gardner is Bedford coordinator for the 61st annual Concord Christmas Bird Count, scheduled for this Sunday in parts of 18 area towns, including a segment of Bedford.

Teams of field observers will physically visit the trails and meadows and document, with notes and photographs, not only various bird species but also raw numbers. Their work will be supplemented by feeder watchers, who will record data in their backyards. Residents may contact Gardner at frg444@gmail.com for details on how to participate.

The geographic outline for the count includes much of southwest Bedford, bounded by an arc that crosses the Concord River just south of the Route 225 Hart Desiato Bridge and continues onto Hanscom Field, entering there from Hartwell Road near the Edge sports center. The segment features many natural areas — Clark Field, Little Meadow, Dellovo and Webber conservation lands, as well as much of the Concord River flood plain.

The National Audubon Society is the “operating agency” of the exercise, according to the Concord Christmas Bird Count website, https://concordcbc.org/. The sponsor is the regional land trust Sudbury Valley Trustees.