Authors Posts by Rebecca Shwartz

Rebecca Shwartz

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by Rebecca Shwartz

Paul D’Alessandro is retiring this year after working at Hudson High for 32 years, teaching the workshop class that began along with his career. 

“I’ve been working in public schools for 36 years, and it’s not as common now for teachers to work at one place for their entire career, but I chose to work here for these past 32 years,” D’Alessandro says.

“David Quinn told me ‘Oh, you should work here, they need someone to run vocational classes,’ so I took his advice and applied,” D’Alessandro says. It had started out as a dropout prevention class called STRIVE, convincing students who were thinking of dropping out to stay and attend the class. It became something much more than that as the years went by.

After he graduated with a Special Education degree, D’Alessandro was hired as a special education teacher to teach vocational skills, thus creating the workshop class. The class, now connected through the Carpenters’ Union Training Facility, would help students prepare for entering that vocation.

“It’s amazing, watching them grow from knowing nothing about building to keeping an eye on them as they make their own cabinets,” D’Alessandro says. “My students usually go into the field of carpentry and woodworking, either working the wood or planning constructions.”

D’Alessandro has built many different products for customers with the help of his classes, ranging from barn doors to wardrobes and cabinets.

Since D’Alessandro is retiring, the future of the workshop is unclear. “It’s up in the air, what’s going to happen with the workshop class, but students won’t be able to get training before going to the facility.” 

In addition to starting the workshop, D’Alessandro has been involved in other important school programs, such as coteaching. The STRIVE class came to an end five years ago due to the fact that students weren’t passing MCAS. At that point D’Alessandro re-entered the classroom. When coteaching, a program that brought special education and regular education teachers together in the classroom, started, D’Alessandro taught with English teacher Shane McArdle and physics teacher Kate Chatellier. He taught Academic Support and two classes of woodworking as well.

“Even though I’m retiring, every moment here was memorable for me; every success and failure, teaching with McArdle, and all the years I spent here,” he said.

“He’s a great guy, and I’m going to miss him,” McArdle said. “He helped me build a shed, built an adjustable stool for my three year old. He’s great.”

“This was a great ride,” D’Alessandro said, “and it’s something I won’t forget.”

 

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by Rebecca Shwartz

Jake Marrazzo didn’t know he would stop walking at twelve years old.

He wasn’t prepared when he couldn’t walk up his own driveway and up the stairs, unable to get to his room in his three-story house. “We thought he was just being lazy,” said mother Sheryl Marrazzo once Jake stopped at the edge of the sidewalk. “We didn’t know he had this disease.”

Marrazzo was born with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a muscle degrading disorder similar to ALS. Duchenne is commonly found in children. It starts from the mid-section and spreads to their legs and arms over time. When Marrazzo began to fall in preschool too much to be just clumsy, his parents went to the Boston’s Children Hospital to see if there were any problems with his body that made him fall more often. Test results pointed to shortened heel cords as the cause for the falling, but he was not tested for Duchenne as he continued treatment for his heel cords.

As Marrazzo grew, he didn’t gain weight, he was falling even more than before getting treatment, and he had severe anxiety problems. They then met with a geneticist to search for possible errors in his X chromosome called Fragile X that may cause the constant falling. The tests showed high creatine kinase levels, which is what occurs during heart attacks, muscle death. He was diagnosed with the disorder before his eighth birthday. He stopped walking completely by twelve years old.

Mrs. Marrazzo couldn’t find much information on the disorder. “It occurs in about every one in 3,600 births,” she said, “and it’s rare that they live to their thirties and forties.”

One thing was for certain though; they needed a wheelchair and a way to get him to the top floor. They created a fundraiser with a Star Wars-themed 5K. They managed to raise enough money to install an elevator for Marrazzo in the house. “The town rallied around us. [Painters] painted the house for no charge, and we got siding installed on the house for no charge,” she said.

Even after his diagnosis, Marrazzo didn’t know what Duchenne would mean for his future. “He looked up what would happen to him, and I regretted not telling him sooner,” his mother said. He found out he would soon be unable to do anything, and because his heart is a muscle, it would grow weaker until he died. But Marrazzo continued to stay optimistic.

“Duchenne is just a part of me,” Marrazzo said. “It doesn’t shape who I am because I don’t consider myself suffering from it.”

“John [my husband] and I don’t want others affected by Duchenne to have this fear of death, so we made 4 Jake’s Sake,” Mrs. Marrazzo said. They became an official organization in 2016 with an annual 5K run. The money raised goes towards installing elevators and ramps in houses of families affected by Duchenne.

“This year, on May 21 we raised about $7,000 with about 150 runners,” Mrs. Marrazzo said, showing pictures of her son singing the national anthem at the race with his cousin Sadie by his side. “He’s so optimistic, and he even asks, ‘Why does nothing bad ever happen to us?’ I wish we were as positive as he was.”

“I’m happy knowing I can help others affected by this disease and that they’ll be having an easier time. Someone I know had to build a wooden ramp just to get in their van, and I can help this way,” Marrazzo said.

Marrazzo stays involved in the community other than 4 Jake’s Sake by participating in the Drama Society through Pippin and Oz.

Marrazzo takes his new high school life in stride, aiming for valedictorian in ninth grade, even forgetting sometimes, he says, that he’s strapped to a wheelchair and that people stare at him for being “different”.

His mom mirrors his optimism. “We live everyday like it’s our last and hope for many more years in the future.

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Dr. Brett Kustigian conferences over his ideas about becoming Hudson's Superintendent; By HudTV

by Rebecca Shwartz

Dr. Brett Kustigian

Why do you want to be the superintendent of Hudson Public Schools?

I think Hudson is an up and coming community. Hudson is also very similar to Quaboag in the demographics; they’re almost identical. The major difference is that Hudson has more students and is located next to major highways. The location of Hudson is very appealing, and I feel that it is a perfect match. Hudson aligns perfectly with my beliefs of maintaining high standards of academic excellence, preparing all students to be intellectually serious, academically competent, and being successful, active citizens in competitive global environments.

 

How will you address the growing mental health issues that students are facing?

That is not unique to Hudson. That is an issue that I’m dealing with currently in my district. It’s also a state and nationwide issue, and let me explain how I’m addressing it in my district. When I first came to Quaboag, we had four advanced placement classes, and we currently have thirteen, and it’s an example of how we raised the academic rigor at Quaboag. When you raise the academic rigor, it causes stress for students, and we have a lot of students that are taking three, four, five, sometimes even six AP classes. With that amount of stress, you need to make sure that students are healthy, that they feel safe, that they feel supported, and that they have an optimal learning environment.

One of the things we’ve done is we’ve created a districtwide wellness program, and what we do at the high school is that we have a wellness coordinator. What she does is that she has these videos we play around five minutes long, and before certain classes, they’ll relax and run through a few mental exercises and stretches to make sure kids are in the right mindset as they go on to learn new things. If you’re not in the right mindset to learn, it’s very difficult. I can tell you it’s been very, very successful at the high school level, and we’re also starting to do it at the elementary level, so we have students from the high school like athletes, singers, students the younger students look up to running through these mental exercises on video and showing it to the elementary students. It puts them at ease, makes them feel comfortable and safe, and it creates a positive learning environment. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the schools.

 

What do you see as strengths and weaknesses in our district?

I look forward to meeting everyone, as I’ve only met select people. I’ve been to the town many times. I like the downtown area, and it’s part of the appeal, the downtown revitalization project. I would have to wait until I get more information to make a determination on strengths and weaknesses. I can tell you that the community has a tremendous amount of strength, and it’s getting statewide recognition for the revitalization project. I think with the schools, the Level 3 school (one of the lowest levels a school can be) concerns me, and that would be something I’d really like to see the issues behind it there.

 

How does your experience make you a great candidate for this district?

So, I’ve been superintendent of Quaboag going on nine years now. My favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, he’s written many books, and one of the books called Outliers is where he talks about the ten thousand hour rule. The rule says people need to practice at least three hours a day for ten years in order to master a craft, and whether the craft is athletics or academics, he argues it takes at least ten thousand hours to get good at something. I would say that I’m somewhere between ten to twelve hours of work a day since becoming superintendent, and as a result, I’ve put in thousands of hours, and I’m very well versed when it comes to issues in education, so I’m ready to take on a larger school district.

 

Do you have a transition plan for the district?

I would say that I would hit the ground listening, and, you know, my mother used to tell me, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason,” and that is basically how I would start. I would listen, listen, listen. I would go out to the students, to the teachers, to the community members, to the parents, to pretty much anybody that will provide feedback. From there, gather all that data, and then come up with a plan to make Hudson a Level 1 school district, and that would be my goal – to reach Level 1 and to become one of the best school districts.

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Dr. Laura Chesson speaks out about her ideas of improving Hudson's education

by Rebecca Shwartz

Dr. Laura Chesson

Why do you want to be the superintendent of Hudson Public Schools?

I actually taught in Hudson when I first came back to Massachusetts. I’ve lived in New York and New Mexico because of my husband’s work and my work. I worked in industry before I became an educator. I taught math for eighth grade when eighth grade was incorporated in the high school, math for ninth and tenth graders, and I was one of the first teachers in Virtual High School. When I became a principal in Maynard, I interacted with the people in Hudson and learned about the school district in the area. It has a good reputation for being an innovative district, having a strong community to support it, and diversity in the community, which makes for a rich learning environment.

 

How will you address the growing mental health issues that students are facing?

Unfortunately, it starts at a very early age, sometimes as early as elementary school, and in Arlington we’ve put in a number of programs to try to help students with social and emotional health right from the elementary school. We have a program in kindergarten called Tools of The Mind, which tries to help students do self-regulation to control their responses to situations and their anger or express themselves with words when they’re upset to handle problems.

We then expand that program in grades one through five with Responsive Classroom, which teaches both teachers and students about the strength of words and how the words you choose can make a difference with positive or negative outcomes. We’ve also incorporated social workers at the elementary schools, so students can go get assistance or talk to them about problems. Both of these programs at the elementary schools help to create positive relationships between teachers and students, so students feel that there’s always somebody to talk to.

At the middle school, we’re planning to bring Responsive Classroom in two years because we’re in the process of providing professional development for teachers to get an idea of what to follow. There are other programs in the middle school, such as World of Difference and Care Coaching that also help create relationships between students and students with teachers. All the guidance counselors are certified school adjustment counselors so that they have the ability to handle and support students.

At the high school, we put in numerous programs to try to support connections between students, and we’ve been working a lot at the high school recently, introducing the Harbor Program for students that have social, emotional, and mental health problems, who have possibly had significant outpatient treatment to help make the transition back to school. We also have a program called the Millbrook Program for students with social and emotional problems that are unable to attend to their issues in a residential placement; it’s a smaller environment to really support them with their mental health issues. There would be similar programs in Hudson, but since I’m not in Hudson, I couldn’t tell you exactly what I would do. It’s important to come in, learn about the community, and talk to the teachers, administrators, and parents to find the specific needs.

 

What do you see as strengths and weaknesses in our district?

I definitely think one of the strengths is the attentiveness of the community to the educational process, so it’s definitely the support from the community and from the parents regarding the education. They want good schools for their children. They want to be involved in the school process and the educational process. Good education comes from what’s called a “three-legged stool,” one of the legs being the parents, another being the community, and the third being the school system. If you have those three things, you have a good, solid foundation on which to build an educational experience for students. In terms of weaknesses, I’m not entirely sure I’d count this as a weakness, but it’s a challenge every district in Massachusetts faces with the rising cost of education and the increase of students with social and emotional problems or mental health issues. Both of these issues are rising across the state, and our funding from the state isn’t sufficient anymore to alleviate the pressure on these communities. You have to be creative in your problem solving, work closely with the community in order to communicate our priorities and make sure all of the funding is focused on those priorities.

 

How does your experience make you a great candidate for this district?

I have a very unique background, since I worked in industry for ten years before coming into education, and I’ve been in education for twenty years now. The reason I think that was beneficial is that the company believed in teamwork, creative problem solving, thinking outside the box, and the importance of the individual with development well before it became fashionable; thirty-five years ago, we were learning how to develop people and recognize that people were your most valuable resource. In addition, I’ve taught a wide variety of subjects, possibly more than others just because of the places I’ve worked in. I’ve worked in a very poor school district in New Mexico where I taught English, math, and science to eighth graders. When I came to Massachusetts, I taught math in Hudson, and I taught math, music, and writing in a Boston school. I have been an administrator in small cities, like Leominster. I was the assistant principal at their high school, which is very large and holds about 1,900 students. I’ve also been principal of Maynard High School, which was very small and had 303 students attending. I’ve worked in Boston, in a school which was the only public high school for the visual and performing arts, and now I’m the assistant superintendent in Arlington. In Arlington, our district is almost like a microcosm of all those other experiences for me, because two of our elementary schools are on the eastern side of the town, and they’re very urban with populations similar to what you would get in Cambridge or Boston, while on the other side of town, we have more suburban schools. We have seven elementary schools that are contrasting and are similar in some ways, but we feel like we need to be committed to providing them the same education, whether we have a school with more economical challenges and English being taught as their second language or even wealthy families that know English as their first language. My experiences have given me a strong background and let me look at a wide variety of solutions that I think would make me a valuable candidate to the town of Hudson.

 

Can you describe your districtwide teacher leadership program?

That is correct, as sometimes, teachers would like to have a chance at learning leadership skills, want to have an opportunity to share with their colleagues, but don’t want to leave the classroom, and often times these ideas are valuable in the classroom with other teachers, as it gives them an opportunity to have a growth in their career path.

Our teacher leadership program started in English Language Arts at the elementary level where we have teachers that would really like to be working with their peers, coach their peers, maybe offer others to join them in their classroom to see a new curriculum. What we do is we have teachers host other teachers in their room to see a unit, like opinion writing in third grade, and they’d watch the teachers teach, and the invited teacher would work with small groups of students until they finished with a debriefing session. The exemplary teacher would meet with the invited teacher after school or possibly an online discussion group and talk about what did or didn’t work in the lesson. The exemplary teacher would then videotape themselves and post the videos on the web, so other teachers could see the follow up lessons and teach that lesson to their own students. They’re there to provide coaching, assistance, provide professional development, and they get to spend their time in the classroom doing what they love while expanding their career.

We’ll be expanding that in the fall to include math and science at the elementary level. We chose to do the elementary level first because elementary teachers have to teach all the major subjects while laying the groundwork for social emotional development for students to learn how to study, how to behave in class, how to stand in a line correctly, ideas like that. By having these teacher leaders working with them on these challenging jobs, we give them a level of support we couldn’t afford otherwise.

We also have teacher leaders in technology, as some teachers offered to be trailblazers in the use of technology in the classroom, and they started this movement five years ago, and at this point, it’s spread across the district, but for the first couple of years when we had an influx of technology, these teachers would be the ones that would be using it in their classroom first, showing it every couple of weeks, talk about what was working, give back feedback to the IT department where there were problems, and ran development classes for peers. Our teacher leadership program really grew organically because these teachers really wanted to have this opportunity, and now, they’re eager to try all sorts of new programs for our peers. We like to sit and look at writing samples, talk about how we’d grade them, and they’re running with the ball while I’m just working on supporting them and getting them the funds.

 

Do you have a transition plan for the district?

When I was the principal in Maynard and when I became the assistant superintendent in Arlington, you developed a transition plan, so I developed a plan that involves really getting to know the community and listening a lot. For the first six to nine months, you’re basically listening and asking a lot of questions, and then playing back to the people that you asked questions and listened to make sure you actually heard them. Sometimes you might have some brief conceived notions about what’s going on, and that can color what you think you heard, so you have to say “I think I heard you say this, is that correct?”.

I’m meeting with people in the community, the town government, the town manager, the planning committee, going to community events, any senior centers or another organization in town that would be good to meet. In Arlington, I met with the Rotary club. I met with real estate workers to find out their opinion on the schools and what they tell their clients when coming to buy houses in Arlington, to really gather as much information as possible, even from teachers, the principal, students, staff members and people who work in the cafeteria. I often find the most interesting things from the custodians that work in my building, and they really know what’s going on and where some concerns are. Gathering information from all of those people and playing it back to them to make sure you heard them correctly is probably the largest part of my transition plan for the first year or so.

 

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by Rebecca Shwartz

The musical Once ended its run at the Hanover Theater on February 5. Enda Walsh adapted the hit movie Once, which premiered in 2007, into one of the most popular musicals of all time. The musical alone has won over 5 awards. The show draws the audience in from the very first moment . With a new cast and songs that stick with you days after watching the musical, the show is not to be missed.

The story is based on two nameless musicians. They meet by chance in Dublin after the guy (Sam Cieri) prepares to ditch his guitar on the side of the street. The girl (Mackenzie Lesser-Roy) convinces him to continue with his dream. After stealing a piece of music from Cieri, Lesser-Roy performs the song, forces Cieri to perform and sing along, and manages to make him perform in front of an audience. Following their dreams, they pursue a record deal in hopes of a possible career in music with a ragtag group of other struggling musicians.

One of the most powerful songs performed at the beginning and end of the musical is “Falling Slowly.” The song’s inspirational lyrics – “Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice/you make it now” – showcase stunning harmonies from Lesser-Roy and Cieri that raised goosebumps on my arms.

Cieri and Lesser-Roy are a wonderful duo on stage, sharing intimate moments that keep the audience on the edge of their seats as Lesser-Roy whispers in Czech that she loves Cieri, yet she betrays her own words. She doesn’t accept Cieri’s love when he asks for her to stay in Dublin and make music with him.

Once Instagram Photo

One of the best parts in the musical is how the ensemble is always on their toes, working as stage crew to move the props, but also waiting in the wings playing their own personalized instruments (cello, drum set, and ukelele) with the song the main actors are performing. Their instruments shine through the first song called “The North Strand” with a violin acting as the female voice and the drums playing a mesmerizing beat beneath the other instruments.

The show is appropriate for an adult audience, with strong language and crude jokes scattered throughout scenes. Though the music played throughout the musical is directed towards all audiences, a majority of the songs are related to the guy’s love life and how he misses his lover.

The musical included a wonderful storyline that focused on struggling musicians, unreciprocated love, and different nationalities coming together in the melting pot of Dublin. I highly recommend this show.

 

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Sean Morton, Jacob Doherty Munro, Jack Snow, Garet Mildish, and Thaya Zalewski will perform in the District festival. | photo submitted by Jason Caron

by Rebecca Shwartz

Thirteen students auditioned for the Central Massachusetts District Senior Musical Festival on November 19, and five students were accepted. Seniors Thaya Zalewski and Jack Snow, juniors Garet Mildish and Jacob Doherty Munro, and sophomore Sean Morton have been accepted into Districts, with Snow, Zalewski, and Doherty Munro invited to audition for the All-State Festival.

Students will perform in a concert on January 14 at Mechanics Hall in Worcester.

Around 1400 students audition for the Central MA District Festival each year in 4 separate categories of voice, band, orchestra, and jazz. Only 140 students are selected for voice, 110 for band, 100 for orchestra, and 19 for jazz, according to Caron, who is a member of the Massachusetts Music Educators Association.

The music festival, run by the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA), has taken place for the past sixty years, and auditioners consider it an honor to be accepted into the festival.

“I’m surprised, excited, and I’ve never been in something this exclusive before,” Mildish said. “I’m proud of that.”

Zalewski, on the other hand, has auditioned for the past four years, has been in the festival three times, and was recommended for All-State last year.

However, during the past summer, Zalewski developed a vocal node from playing the clarinet and speaking too much. Not practicing for two weeks to recover after having surgery to remove the vocal node “was the longest and weirdest two weeks,” Zalewski said. She was able to recover and practice for two months, just in time for the audition.

Band director Jason Caron, who has helped students to prepare for the festival for years, says, “It really is an honor to play in this festival. You get to experience a full concert band that has every instrument, the right amount of instruments, and experience the music from a band repertoire,” Caron said. “You get to experience advanced music played by skilled students, and it can be life changing for the student.”

 

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by Rebecca Shwartz

Fourteen years passed since Kathleen McKenzie last directed one of the most popular musicals about the Bible, and for the past four years, she’s been searching for the right group of kids to perform Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This year, she finally found that group.

“I wanted to do a show that highlighted us as a group, and it just wasn’t the right show for that mix of kids [in previous years],” McKenzie admits. “I am blessed, being able to work with these kids.”

As the kids in the musical rehearse number after number, they never complain nor goof off, focusing on how to fit their role and portray the character in a realistic way as they race across stage to their designated spots.

“The rehearsals are pretty difficult, but it’s a nice way to end the school day,” actor Garet Mildish says as he shrugs. “But once tech weeks begins, it’s like Hell on Earth.”

In rehearsals week to week, everyone keeps their positive attitude, preparing for their opening night on November 18.

The actors take great pride in their roles and how this musical will turn out, especially main actor Ben Carme, who’s playing Joseph.

“I’m intrigued and compelled by the storyline of being a dreamer and never giving up,” Carme says. “I honestly love this musical.”

Carme’s positive energy spreads to all the other actors, who have been there for each other when a musical piece or dance confuses them. Eighth graders listen to seniors for guidance, and sophomores practice with freshmen to reach the required pitch for numerous songs.

Alicia Sagastume, ecstatic while she hit high notes in the middle of rehearsal, bounded around the auditorium with a grin from ear to ear.

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Actors practice their dance routine for the song “Grovel, Grovel.”

“Everyone has something to point to and say, ‘I did that. I’m proud of what I did. I feel like I belong,’” McKenzie says, and the statement stays true as rehearsals keep barreling forward day after day.

Throughout the play, there are many moments that bring out the side characters’ importance and their pride, such as the salsa scene between one of Joseph’s brothers and Potiphar’s wife. It shows how hard they’ve worked to reach this point, how the wives create harmonies for the vocalist to sing to, and how Joseph’s father reacts to his death. This small dancing scene draws in the audience, even if there are no vocals. The dance numbers as well as the songs can steal the show.

To McKenzie, this musical brings everyone together and shows that drama society isn’t about only the two main actors. She stresses that everyone in this play is equal to or even more important than Joseph in the end, as the ensemble is in every piece and every actor shows up at least once in each act.

“They’re such a welcoming group, and they’re there for each other,” McKenzie says. “That’s what I love about them.”