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News

School Committee to start from scratch in superintendent search

It’s back to the drawing board for the Peabody School Committee. After a months-long search that yielded six finalists, then two, then one, the school board will have to go through the process all over again. In the meantime, interim Superintendent Herb Levine will pick up the slack for another year.

It was nothing personal for the committee members in their decision to waive the top slot to the E.J. Harrington Elementary School Principal, Debra Ruggiero. Ultimately, none of the candidates that the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) chose were sufficiently qualified for the position. The city hired MASC to conduct interviews and parse through applications. “We had candidates who did not have experience with collective bargaining, and not one candidate had experience formulating a budget beyond the building or department level,” said Committee Member Jarrod Hochman.

During the third interview earlier this month, Ruggiero, who is a Peabody resident, attempted to persuade the board otherwise. Committee members were concerned that Ruggiero may not be able to handle the $70 million budget that the schools receive, given that she is experienced only with handling the budget of one school. She explained that including the senior leadership team was helpful to her making any decisions about spending, and that they were also informed by taking a hard look at data. “I don’t want to make a decision just because we think we need something,” she said. “I do have the drive and passion.” She added, “I’m reaching for the stars, and Peabody is my star.”

John Oteri, another candidate, dropped out at the last minute, opting to go with the superintendent position in Malden. Oteri was formerly the headmaster at Somerville High School and was tied with Ruggiero for the top position.

Another candidate, former assistant superintendent in Gloucester Arthur Unobskey, left to assume the superintendent post in Wayland.

Lourenco Garcia, principal of Revere High School, Laura Chesson, the assistant superintendent in Arlington, Peter Badalament, an educational consultant and former principal of Concord-Carlisle High School, did not make the cut.

Ultimately, the board felt it was better for Levine, who is an experienced administrator and already has years under the belt working with Peabody, to remain in the position.

The Peabody School Committee has a lot on its plate in the upcoming year, with overcrowded schools, the Middle School Building Project wrapping up its final phase and the city taking a hard look at redistricting. The board has yet to say when the search will resume.

By Melanie Higgins


 

Peabody honors Revolutionary War heroes at Patriots’ Day ceremony

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A little more than 242 years ago, seven Peabody men (then from South Danvers) died defending their country from injustices. The city honored these men for their deeds at a solemn ceremony last Monday, held at the War Memorial on the corner of Sewall and Washington Streets. Surrounded by local dignitaries, including the mayor, veterans, Reverend Dr. Bert White and residents, their present-day counterparts fired off shots from their muskets to commemorate the occasion. Nearby, veteran commandant in the Marine Corps Steve Coddens played “Taps” from his bugle.

Calling the fallen men “saints,” Reverend White told a narrative of the first few days of the war and asked attendees to reflect on the “humiliation” and “inhuman bloodshed” of those days. He called attention to the fact that many of the fallen were “just boys” at 21 years old. He then led a prayer.

“As I look at the names on this statue, I think of the times we are in today,” Peabody Historical Society President Richard St. Pierre, who helped organize the event, remarked moments later. “We are living in some pretty dangerous times. These men who paid the ultimate sacrifice were living in dangerous times, too. I like to think that the spirit and the sacrifices they made remind of us of the ideals we have as Americans.”

“So many times our nation is tested.” said Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who paused to reflect on the occasion. “These men who sacrificed for our country, to build our country, are something special.”

Samuel Cook, 33, Benjamin Daland, 25, George Southwick, 25, Jotham Webb, 22, and Ebenezer Goldthwaite, 21, rested yards away. Jacobs, 21, is buried at the Jacobs Family Cemetery, while the locations of Putnam, 21, and Webb, 21, are unknown – although they are believed to lie in Danvers.

The group bravely descended on Lexington on April 19, 1775, to fight the British soldiers in a battle that would set off the Revolutionary War and eventually lead to American independence. Led by Colonel Pickering, the seven men were of an original 477 of local Boston-area troops that fought the British that day, which brought them through Arlington (Menotomy), Lexington and Concord; 49 were killed in the battle, with 39 wounded and 5 missing. The seven Danvers men were killed in a particularly violent skirmish at the Jason Russell house in Menotomy, when the British soldiers attacked them with bayonets.

Last Monday, they were represented by the Danvers Alarm List, a modern day adaptation of the actual “alarm list” – a regiment serving as the last line of defense, typically composed of elderly men who remained in their homes. Henry Rutkowski, Bill Clemens, Dan Cripps, Skip Wiley, Jim Driscoll and Billy Clemens represented the fallen men, dressed in authentic military uniform of the time period.

“It means everything,” said veteran of the 2nd Corps Cadets Ron Morneau of the ceremony. “[The revolutionary war] was the beginning of our freedom. Morneau is the commander of the Veterans Association; its office is at the armory in Danvers. Joined by fellow cadets Jim Sweet and Russ Bowden, Morneau said he was thankful for the sacrifices of the seven men celebrated last Monday. Looking to the future, he said that that we should be careful not to take our liberty for granted – “We must not be complacent.”

By Melanie Higgins


 

Northshore Mall brings the heat with renovations, additions

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In Greek mythology, when one head of the Hydra is cut off, two grows in its place. That is certainly the case for the Northshore Mall, where Bancroft & Co. and Tony C’s Sports Bar & Grill will replace the late P.F. Chang’s. The huge Asian restaurant, which came with the mall’s last renovation in 2008, closed last week.

Tony C’s Sports Bar & Grill, named in honor of the legendary Red Sox outfielder and Revere native, Tony Conigliaro, will be a sports-themed restaurant. It will primarily serve “contemporary American comfort food” and will naturally offer HD television screens to catch the game. Bancroft & Co., which brands itself as a “modern steakhouse” that also specializes in craft cocktails, will also be making its way in the mall. Bancroft, according to its press release, will be 10,000 square feet in total, with two floors. Meals will be served up by head chef Mario Capone.

“We are really looking forward to introducing these two popular restaurants to shoppers here at Northshore Mall, creating a dining destination that will cater to a wide variety of preferences,” said Mark Whiting, Northshore Mall’s Manager, in a press release. “These redevelopment plans have been in the works for some time, and we have kept the community and our shoppers’ comfort and convenience top of mind by designing an inviting atmosphere for dining and socializing both inside and out. We can’t wait to share further details of our vision, and we will be announcing the additional dining concepts in the near future.”

In the accompanying press release, the mall revealed that the restaurants would also come with significant updates to the exterior of the building along with experiential upgrades. Those include the placement of an “outdoor stage” that can be used for performances, and outdoor patios for alfresco dining.

The changes are notable in light of the recent strategies of nearby competitor MarketStreet, which is also currently trying to move towards more “experiential” offerings. Developer Ted Tye, who manages the sprawling outdoor mall, has warned of the decline of malls with the increased popularity of online sales, and said that the way to keep malls relevant is to offer products that customers can “engage” in. Tye notably used this pitch to try to bring a movie theatre to the mall, which would join its other “experiential” offerings, such as golf, yoga and painting.

In a phone call, Whiting rejected any notion that malls are in trouble, and refused to comment on MarketStreet’s strategy. He also declined to comment on whether the renovations were part of a trend among malls nationwide – according to Tye – which is adding experiential components to their offerings. He pointed to the throngs of thousands of people at the mall on Black Friday as evidence that any speculation of the mall’s decline is a myth.

“Malls are a highly social experience and are flourishing,” Whiting said. “We’re trying to build on that trend.”

He did acknowledge that constant change and attention to trends is important in its future. He said that the key to any business’s success is staying ahead of the trends and constantly evolving, two key approaches that have helped the mall remain alive for more than half a century.

“I think we offer a highly relevant experience, and outdoor dining is a very important trend to embrace,” Whiting said.

The Northshore Mall was built in 1958 and remains a stalwart on the North Shore in terms of shopping experience. “Anchored” by Nordstrom, JC Penney, and Macy’s, the mall also brings in top-notch retailers, such as Pink and H&M, and more recently, Brooks Brothers and Michael Kors.

Construction on the restaurants and renovations will begin at the end of this month and should be completed by the following April.

By Melanie Higgins


   

Fifteen arrested in massive drug sting include Peabody man

In a massive drug sting that involved the arrests of 15 individuals, police also apprehended 31-year-old Peabody man Vladimir Arias (aka Orlando Robles, aka Franklin Arias). Arias is charged with conspiracy to distribute a kilogram or more of heroin and unlawful use of communication facilities in committing or facilitating the commission of felony, controlled substance offenses.

Arias was allegedly one of two middlemen in an international drug operation that spanned three states and was being heavily tracked by the FBI for the past seven months in a sting called “Operation Triple Play,” possibly referring to the three states involved: Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. According to the police, the operation was centered in Providence, R.I., and is referred to as the “Valdez Drug Trafficking Organization,” after the three Valdez siblings – Hector (47), Juan (50) and Claudio (44) – who ran the group, originally from the Dominican Republic. The trio had been deported four previous times for drug-trafficking convictions, and were also picked up in the sting.

Arias was allegedly one of at least three other “suppliers” that the group relied on to procure its drugs for sale, which included heroin, fentanyl and cocaine. The other members included references to a man called “the Maestro” located in the Dominican Republic, and “the Doctor,” who authorities believe is located in Mexico, along with another middleman in Providence. Reportedly, the group hid their drugs at “stash houses” in Rhode Island, specifically 103-105 Woodbine St. in Cranston and Apt. 3F at 87 Dulude Ave. in Woonsocket.

Police began making arrests on Monday (April 10), which included Arias, who was nabbed by R.I. state police as he drove back to Massachusetts on Route 95. He was allegedly found with close to a kg of heroin stashed in his car, probably from what police determined was a drug transaction earlier that day. Two other individuals who were not associated with the drug operation were apprehended on charges of immigration violations. The rest of the arrests, which commenced at 6 p.m. the next day, took nine others into custody.

In addition to the suspects, authorities reportedly seized fentanyl, cocaine and crack cocaine valuing $680,000 and $95,000 in cash, and nine vehicles.

Authorities say their success was based on video and audio evidence of drug transactions, wiretaps and searching through the suspects’ trash, in addition to two informants. One suspect remains at large.

“As alleged, the Valdez brothers trafficked in all types of drugs and profited from the addictions that have destroyed lives and torn apart families here in New England,” said Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Field Division, in a press release dated April 13. “This case illustrates that drug cartels based in foreign countries will go anywhere to distribute their deadly products. The FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force will do everything it can to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations that threaten the safety and stability of our neighborhoods.”

The case is especially notable given the new president’s increased focus on fighting the illegal drug trade, which he argues is propagated mainly by illegal immigrants. Just days earlier, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had sent a memo to state Attorneys General asking them to focus on just that. Sessions praised the arrests as a step in that direction.

“The President has made the dismantlement and destruction of drug cartels a top priority, and cases like these are integral in that effort,” Sessions said. “When law enforcement – federal, state and local – work together like these partners in Rhode Island, we will be one step closer to fulfilling this goal and protecting our communities.”

The illegal drug trade brings in an estimated 150 billion dollars in revenue in North America and 360 billion worldwide, according to the D.C.--based Organization of American States statistics.

By Melanie Higgins


 

“What is Climate Change and Why Should I Care?” at the South Branch of the Peabody Library

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The South Branch is pleased to welcome Dr. Jeremy Shakun as he demystifies climate change. Climate change is mentioned frequently in the news media, but what is it exactly and how does it affect us? Dr. Shakun will be here to take his scientific expertise and relay it to attendees in plain, understandable language. His talk will cover what climate change is, how it affects us, both globally and locally, and what can be done about it.

Dr. Jeremy Shakun is a geologist teaching as an Assistant Professor at Boston College and working to understand the behavior of our global climate change system. His research works towards a holistic, big-picture view of global change, and he has a passion for communicating scientific ideas to those of us not well-versed in scientific principles.

The program is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. This program will take place at the South Branch of the Peabody Institute Library, which is located at 78 Lynn St., on Thursday, May 4 at 7 p.m. For more information and to register for this program, please go to www.peabodylibrary.org, call 978-531-3380 or stop by in person.

   

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