Matthew Buchanan selected as Somerville High principal, Justice for Flavia delivers letter to the City, McGrath Highway to have separated bike paths, and a call for artists from the Somerville Arts Council.
Welcome to the Somerville Wire’s April 13 Weekly Roundup—a fast look at local news published every Tuesday at somervillewire.news. Readers with Somerville-focused news tips or press releases or calendar items or letter and opinion submissions can send them to Wire staff at email@example.com. Or call us at (617) 209-9511.
A community candle vigil honoring victims of anti-Asian violence was held in Union Square in Somerville on April 10.
The resolution passed in February, focusing on women’s struggles in the workplace, moves into its next steps.
With development having been set back, due to the coronavirus, the conversation is moving forward.
Matthew Buchanan selected as new Somerville High principal
Matthew Buchanan, a veteran educator with more than 20 years of experience, has been chosen to serve as Somerville High School’s next principal. He is currently the principal at Hope High School in the Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island. He will be taking over in Somerville for the current principal, Sebastian “Sibby” LaGambina. Buchanan was one of four finalists considered out of an original pool of 33 candidates.
“I am incredibly excited to welcome Mr. Buchanan to our district as the next Somerville High School principal. I am fully confident that he will continue to build on the outstanding work of Mr. LaGambina and all the students and staff at Somerville High School,” wrote Superintendent Mary Skipper in a press release. “His focus on student-centered teaching and learning, his commitment to community and family engagement, and his energy and passion will allow us to continue to move forward on critical work we have undertaken at SHS over the last several years. I look forward to working with and supporting Mr. Buchanan in his new role as we continue to build on the proud and successful tradition of SHS with a new state-of-the-art facility and an educational plan that aligns with our commitment to equitable access to rich and authentic learning experiences for all students.”
Buchanan brings “a strong student-centered focus to his work,” with experience in teaching, counseling, and program development. As an educator, he has always used resources and connections in the community to develop programs and cultivate partnerships, the release says.
“After spending my entire professional career in Rhode Island, primarily in Providence and PPSD, I have enthusiastically accepted the role of principal at Somerville High School,” wrote Buchanan. I am extremely happy and excited about this challenge and look forward to continuing the amazing work that Mr. LaGambina has done,” commented Mr. Buchanan. “The process was arduous and exhaustive but extremely rewarding. My student-centered approach and ability to work with all stakeholders is something I can’t wait to continue implementing at Somerville.”
Justice for Flavia delivers letter to Mayor Curtatone
Somerville resident Flavia Perea and a group of representatives from the new organization Justice for Flavia met at Somerville High School on April 12 to deliver a letter to Mayor Joe Curtatone. For over a year, Perea has been trying to expunge the record of her six-year-old son, who was accused of inappropriately touching a girl in class in 2019. The letter states that this incident was “the embodiment of the school-to-prison pipeline, a racial justice crisis, and a function of systemic injustice in education that disproportionately impacts children of color.” It was signed by over 300 supporters.
Perea’s son was in first grade when police were called in because a classmate and friend of his told their teacher that he had “touched my bum.” According to the letter, while this behavior is common and developmentally appropriate, Perea’s son, who is Black and Latino, was treated like a sex offender. The use of harsh discipline, policing in school, and referrals to law enforcement are part of the problematic “constellation of factors” playing out in schools. Justice for Flavia is calling for police to be removed from schools and replaced by counselors, a fully funded restorative justice program, anti-racist and implicit bias training, an independent equity audit of schools.
“I was furious when I learned that police could be called on our elementary school children,” said Molly Fraust-Wylie, a second grade Argenziano parent. “And that to this day no one in leadership has acknowledged the harm that was done to the family or taken any action to make it right is unacceptable.”
McGrath Highway to have physical separations for bike paths
Jonathan Gulliver, highway administrator for MassDOT, revealed in a letter written on April 7 that for an upcoming maintenance resurfacing and safety project for McGrath Highway, there will be physical separations blocking bike paths from the automobile roadways. The McGrath Highway Resurfacing Project will reduce the number of automobile lanes from six to four and include the bike paths. Rep. Mike Connolly and others had been advocating for the separations for some time.
The barriers are expected to be installed in fall 2022, according to the letter. The project also includes repairs and upgrades to fix the damaged and missing bridge railings and sidewalks. The northbound ramp from Washington Street to McGrath Highway will become a single lane that includes a buffered bike lane. To the south, the design includes bike facility connections coordinated with the Cambridge Crossing and other developments close to the highway. To the north, the bike lanes will continue and connect with the Kensington Connector, as part of the Route 28/Route 38 Safety Improvement Project.
Somerville Arts Council announces open call
The Somerville Arts Council (SAC) and Assembly Row are collaborating together to create an art installation that will be hung on a façade along Great River Road, facing the Mystic River and the Orange Line. The project will take the form of three large, vertical banners and will be called “We Are Somerville.”
Organizers from SAC are currently seeking an artist to develop the public work. They are open to accepting a variety of mediums, but the person selected will have to be able to work with a production company to iron out technical issues, and they must have strong computer skills as well. Preference will be given to Somerville artists.
“We seek original work that is colorful, vibrant and captures a person’s—and our city’s—personality. We are open to three single images of three different people, as well as ‘collages’ that incorporate different people within a single banner,” reads a press release. “Somewhere in the design—it could be quite simply—we seek to include the text: ‘We are Somerville.’ We are looking for one artist to create and manage this project. Artists may choose to feature solely their own art, or work with other artists or an organization.”
Only one artist will be selected, and they will be paid $2,250. Proposals must include a budget, which can range from $3,000 to $4,000 and must include management costs and a breakdown of the stipend. SAC will be responsible for covering fabrication and installation expenses. The deadline for applications is May 7. Please contact Rachel Strutt (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions, and visit somervilleartscouncil.org to apply.
City Council passes tear gas ordinance
On April 8, the City Council unanimously voted in favor of passing an ordinance that would ban the use of tear gas and limit the use of other chemical crowd control agents and kinetic impact projectiles. The ordinance was also supported by the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild—which sent a letter to the City Council on April 7, voicing their belief in the importance of the legislation. Describing the problem of police brutality, the letter reads,
“… With the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castille and so many more, and the recent increased activism of the Black Lives Matter movement, police forces in Massachusetts have begun to use these dangerous weapons to try to stop citizens from voicing their concerns in our streets and sometimes in retaliation for criticism of discriminatory policing practices. The National Lawyers Guild has collected eyewitness reports from people and from our own trained legal observers of the indiscriminate and unnecessary use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and other such weaponry to try and disperse non-violent groups of demonstrators.”
The ordinance bans the use of tear gas and names chemical crowd control agents and kinetic impact projectiles as “weapons of last resort” to be used if other methods of de-escalation have been unsuccessful. It also states the conditions when it would be all right to use these weapons, including when an on-scene supervisor of the rank of captain or higher, or shift commander, determines that acts of violence or destruction of property cannot be quelled. An on scene supervisor witness or an officer of equal or higher rank must give at least two separate warnings over a loudspeaker system before usage. Finally, the ordinance says that pepper spray can only be used unless the following conditions are met:
“(i) an emergency exists that requires the immediate use of Pepper Spray to prevent serious bodily injury or death; or (ii) an Officer (a) personally witnesses on-going and illegal acts of violence, property destruction, imminent threats of violence, or imminent threats of property destruction involving a weapon, (b) is unable to arrest or detain an individual using a lower level of force, and (c) provides a clear verbal warning of the imminent deployment of Pepper Spray prior to its use and affords a reasonable opportunity for the individual(s) to cease and/or comply.”
City Councilor Lance Davis said that the language of the ordinance has been sufficiently reworked. In particular, it does not mention qualified immunity, nor does it state any intent to overrule this legal principle. The use of pepper spray has been pulled out and addressed separately from other weapons.
“We take a much softer approach on pepper spray, specifically,” said Davis. He added, “It’s far more permissive than our neighbors are looking at it.”
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.