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Reflections of 2021 in Saugus and looking ahead

EMBRACING A NEW ERA FOR SAUGUS PUBLIC SCHOOLS School Committee Chair Thomas Whittredge and members Joseph “Dennis” Gould, John Hatch and Ryan Fisher
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Selectmen and School Committee members pick their top stories for 2021 and share their New Year’s resolutions

Editor’s Note: For this week’s column, we reached out to each of the members of the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee and asked them to pick what they thought was the top story of 2020. We also invited them to share their New Year’s resolutions. Their comments to each of the questions follow.

  Q: In the world of Saugus, what would you consider the top story of 2021? Please give me one and a runner-up, if you like.

  Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano: For me, the biggest story of the year continues to be the virus. I would’ve never thought we’d still be in this situation today. Operation WARP speed handed the incoming President three vaccines in a nine month period where there were none, Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson….only to find out Six months later we’d need booster shots, then along came The Delta variant and now the Omicron. Today our numbers are worse than they were a year ago, testing lines are never ending and take home tests are hard to find. Our kids are still wearing masks in school, sports teams can’t use locker rooms…and now the City of Boston is going to check vaccine cards beginning January 15, 2022 in order to dine out. Are we making progress…not as I see it. The Biden administration promised to shut down the virus….but they can’t even shut down the border. Millions of illegal aliens continue to pour into this country. Unvaccinated in the midst of the worst pandemic of our lifetime. Does anyone believe this is “Building Back Better”. Certainly not me.

  On a personal note, I lost my Dad to cancer in 2021, just six days after the birth of his first great grandchild, Luciana Cross, my first grandchild. I never thought I could love someone as much as my wife and children but Luci is right there with them. Her beautiful little smile lights up my world and I can’t spend enough time with her.

  Board of Selectmen Vice-Chair Debra Panetta: In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues, we were able to substantially complete the school projects, and had three school buildings open in September for the start of the school year.

  The pandemic struck Saugus and our neighboring communities hard. The health and safety of all our residents is always my top concern. In the last 7 days, we’ve had 286 reported new cases of COVID and 2 (new) deaths in Saugus, so it’s important that people take the necessary precautions to stay safe. I sincerely appreciate how Saugus residents continue to go above and beyond to help their fellow neighbors.

  We also had some wonderful people pass away this year, including residents that were very active in our Town. The passing of Wendy Reed (Board of Selectmen Clerk & past School Committee Chairman), Greg Nickolas (Director of Saugus Youth and Recreation Center & Town Meeting member), Arthur Gustafson (past Saugus Selectman & past Town Meeting member), Cam Cicolini (past Charter Commission member & past President of Saugus Kiwanis), Theresa Whittredge (Saugus Little League & active fundraiser), and Kimberly Lepito Rossi (active fundraiser, Toys for Tots helper) were among some of the heartbreaking deaths we had this year.

  Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini: I feel like the biggest story in the last year still surrounds the pandemic and the continued impact it had on our residents and businesses in town. I am not only speaking healthwise but also from a financial and emotional standpoint. There are so many businesses closing throughout the country given the lasting impact and unfortunately Saugus is not isolated from the impact. We have seen so many wonderful, long standing businesses shut their doors and it truly is sad and unfortunate. I do feel the town is doing a good job with providing information to our residents as well as offering resources to help soften the impact as much as possible. Unfortunately many feel the government offered assistance to some businesses, namely restaurants and the like, a little too late and the negative impact was too much to overcome even with the assistance that was offered.

  Selectman Corinne Riley: The top news story for 2021 continued to be COVID. It affected our health, how we work, how our students are educated, our local government, our economy both nationally and locally, recreational activities, and even how we interact with our family and friends.

  I also feel another story that was important and very concerning was the proposal to move Methadone Mile to the hotel on Route 1 on the Revere/Saugus line. We took immediate preventative measures to address the issue and, working with the State delegation, sent a message to the Mayor of Boston that this wasn’t the answer to Boston’s problem. I hope the plan that the new Mayor of Boston initiates takes care of moving those affected into a facility that helps them and gives them the care and services they need. It was great to see everyone work together.

  Selectman Mike Serino: I believe the Covid virus was the top 2021 Town story this year, as it has been around the world. Our residents have been hit significantly with the virus. Our administration has been doing the best we can by putting in place the proper procedures and equipment in order to protect everybody in town. Thank God, to date, I have not contracted the virus. I try to be very diligent in protecting myself by getting my vaccine shots and wearing a mask when I enter a store. On a personal note, the passing of close colleagues whom I have known and worked with for over twenty years has been hard. Steve Horlick, Wendy Reed and Greg Nicholas.

  School Committee Vice-Chair Vincent Serino: I believe the top town story of the year is and has been the Covid-19 pandemic. We have lost many great people from Saugus and around the world this year to the pandemic and many more were ill from the virus. We continue to struggle with Covid’s effects and how we go about our day-to-day life.

  As a School Committee member, I look back on how the educators and support staff have worked through these trying times. They all had the same focus and resolve, to get the students of Saugus through the pandemic and keep them learning. The administration and educators and staff have done a phenomenal job of keeping the students engaged and active in learning, as well as keeping them safe in the classroom and school events.

  As we look back on this year and look forward to the next, let us always remember the first responders and teachers who keep us safe and educated during these trying times. I am sure this too will pass and when it does, let’s remember those who we have lost and those who helped us along the way.

  School Committee Member Ryan Fisher: The hopeful, positive side of me says the top news story is that Saugus schools are back. We began the year still in remote learning, but through vaccines and the test and stay program, our schools and classrooms opened safely, and stayed open. We have kids in front of teachers every day, we’ve made big progress on restoring Kids Come First and bus service, all day kindergarten is now free and Superintendent McMahon, her team and all the teachers and staff are doing amazing work helping students not only recover from the pandemic, but raise achievement. That news story that we ended hybrid learning and went back full time was just the start of good things to come.

  I’m also reminded today how many residents Saugus lost in the past year. It wasn’t a single news story or on a single day, but ending the year, it’s notable who was here with us at the beginning, who we miss deeply today. They’ll never be forgotten, but we will make them proud.

  School Committee Member Joseph “Dennis” Gould: In my opinion, we had two top stories for 2021 for the Saugus School District and Town of Saugus.

  First, was the finishing of Veterans Early Learning Center, Belmonte STEAM Academy and Saugus Middle High School and transitioning all the students and teachers into a new three school system.

  This was a huge effort started by the previous School Committee led by Jeannie Meredith, that got the Saugus School District to the point of having all new and/or refurbished schools, new computers, state of the art learning aids and what I believe is a new sense of pride in our District.

  I am confident all the work to get us to this point and launch the three school system will enhance the learning experience for all students and will show academic measurement improvements in the next couple of years plus will assist us to address many of the deficiencies and/or improvements needed listed in the State DESE report.

  The second top story in School District and Town I believe was the hiring of Ms Erin McMahon, as School Superintendent to lead the district forward.

  With the opportunity ahead of us with the new three school system, having all students and teachers from the same grade in one school and with the vision and leadership of Ms McMahon, I am very confident we will enhance all students educational experience and opportunities.

  The future under Ms McMahon looks bright, and we are shooting for the moon!

  School Committee Member John Hatch: I think obviously the top story of the year was the pandemic and how the entire town and every department came together to take care of the town’s people. As far as the school district, our vote for to put in free all day kindergarten was the starting off point to bring about the culture change for our district, second to the school committee hiring such a qualified individual such as Erin McMahon to really change the district and the standards of education in our town.

  Q: What is your resolution for the New Year?

  Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano: As for a New Years resolution, I was thrilled to be re-elected as the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen and will continue to work hard with my colleagues to make Saugus the best it can be. We have a lot of work to do with the vocational school vote, finding the right fit for our school buildings that came offline, signing a Host community agreement with Wheelabrator and building the much needed West Side fire station. I promise to keep my hand on the pulse community, always be accessible and accountable to all the residents of our town.

  Board of Selectmen Vice-Chair Debra Panetta: Every year, I have the same resolution. I try to become a better person: more giving, more understanding, and more patient than the year before. I also try to learn something new every year to continuously challenge myself.

  And I would like to wish everyone a happy & healthy new year!!

  Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini: As for my New Year’s resolution I feel the town needs to spend the next year assessing all of the school buildings that are coming offline and with community input sessions, decide the best use/purpose for each of the parcels. I can assure our residents these properties will not be sold to become more apartments. I have heard those rumors and they simply are not true. There are many needs and wants in town including much needed senior and veteran housing, green space, additional cemetery space, 3rd fire station, dog park, perhaps a larger youth and rec center etc. These are some of the things that have been discussed and community input will be the critical factor in determining next steps for each parcel.

  I wish everyone a happy holiday season and a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year!

  Selectman Corinne Riley: Regarding resolutions, aside from my personal goals, my resolution is to make progress on town goals despite COVID. Since COVID began, it has been at the forefront of local government, rightfully occupying much of the attention of the Town Manager, Health Department, School Department, and Board of Selectmen and others. However, the needs for a West-side Fire Station, Cliftondale Square revitalization, and improved communication and customer service are still very real. My resolution for 2021 is to make meaningful progress on these needs.

  I hope everyone has a healthy and happy 2022.

  Selectman Mike Serino: In closing, my New Year’s resolution is for the health experts to find a way to conquer the Covid virus so we can finally get back to having some type of normality. I wish everybody a happy and safe New Year. My best regards to all.

  School Committee Vice-Chair Vincent Serino: I am not a New Year’s resolution guy, I think if it is worth doing you shouldn’t have to wait a year to get around to it.

  School Committee Member Ryan Fisher: New Year’s Resolution? I want to get past omicron and see a normal year for my family. Vacations and play dates that you don’t have to screen past covid protocols would be a big deal for us.

  School Committee Member Joseph “Dennis” Gould: I do not have a specific New Years resolution other than to keep my family healthy and safe from the pandemic.

  School Committee Member John Hatch: My New Year’s resolution is to spend more quality time with family and friends, because this year showed me how short life is.

THE NEXT CHAIR School Committee Vice Chair Vincent Serino is the most likely successor of former School Committee Chair Thomas Whittredge, who resigned this week-2
MEETING THE COVID CHALLENGE: School Committee Vice-Chair Vincent Serino, a former School Committee member who was elected in November, says he’s impressed about how town educators and support staff have toiled through difficult months. “They all had the same focus and resolve, to get the students of Saugus through the pandemic and keep them learning,” Serino says. (Courtesy photo to The Saugus Advocate)
EMBRACING A NEW ERA FOR SAUGUS PUBLIC SCHOOLS School Committee Chair Thomas Whittredge and members Joseph “Dennis” Gould, John Hatch and Ryan Fisher
EMBRACING A NEW ERA FOR SAUGUS PUBLIC SCHOOLS: In a year fraught with challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the town reelected these four members, who are pictured from left to right: School Committee Chair Thomas Whittredge and Members Joseph “Dennis” Gould, John Hatch and Ryan Fisher. Despite the COVID-19 challenges, they look on 2021 as a year of great accomplishment – moving into a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility, consolidating into three school buildings and hiring a new superintendent, Erin McMahon, who has set lofty goals for student achievement. (Saugus Advocate file photo by Mark E. Vogler)
FACING COVID-19: The current Board of Selectmen served most of their first two-year term in the shadow of the pandemic. Getting sworn in by Town Clerk Ellen Schena after getting reelected to a second term in November, were, shown from left to right, Selectmen Debora Panetta, Anthony Cogliano, Jeff Cicolini, Corinne Riley and Mike Serino. In year-end interviews this week, each member cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the top story in Saugus during 2021. (Saugus Advocate file photo by Mark E. Vogler)

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