The Reminder's top 10 stories of 2009
|EAST LONGMEADOW, LONGMEADOW, HAMPDEN, WILBRAHAM|
It has been a whirlwind of a year, one that has seen a shakeup at the top of three school systems, long-awaited projects come to fruition, the death of a local hero, a hometown boy realize a baseball dream, the end of two institutions for one local town and much more.
1. COSTA RESIGNS - It was a tumultuous year for Dr. Edward Costa, former superintendent of the East Longmeadow Public Schools.
The Reminder reported on Aug. 10 that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) began an investigation looking into whether or not $1,001.67 in grant funds from a 2003-04 Administrator Retreat week were misused. There was also a discrepancy over the signatures used to approve the reimbursement of grant funds spent.
Ultimately, the DESE found that only $41.16 of the grant monies were misused.
On Nov. 2, The Reminder noted that Costa officially resigned from his position, handing his statement to the School Committee at its Oct. 27 meeting. He thanked the community "for 11 wonderful, academic and productive years in education." Costa was to vacate his seat on Dec. 2.
Later in November, separate charges of reckless endangerment against the superintendent were dropped, but Costa was still affected. He left his position on Nov. 12.
District Business Manager Terry Olejarz and Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Elaine Santaniello are now serving as co-interim superintendents. The search is currently underway to find a permanent replacement.
2. NEW SUPERINTENDENTS - East Longmeadow wasn't the only local school district to lose its top administrator this year.
Dr. Paul Gagliarducci, who served as the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District's superintendent since August 2001 announced he would retire at the end of the 2008-09 school year in January.
"I've been thinking about it [retirement] for over a year," Gagliarducci told The Reminder. "This has been my personal and professional life for 29 years, and I've been a superintendent for 21 ... It's time for me to explore other opportunities. I wanted to see what else was out there."
The top two candidates to fill the position were Dr. Steven Schafheimer, Assistant to the Superintendent for Strategic Initiatives for the Brighton Central School District near Rochester, N.Y., and M. Martin O'Shea, the principal at Minnechaug Regional High School. On June 23, the School Committee voted 6 - 1 for O'Shea. He began his tenure at the start of the current school year.
In Longmeadow, Superintendent E. Jahn Hart announced her desire to retire by the end of the current school year. She joined the district as Interim Superintendent in June 2006 and was then appointed superintendent in September 2006.
"I came to Longmeadow because of the quality of both the school system and the staff," Hart told The Reminder. "I am fortunate to work in a community that values education, to work for a highly professional and dedicated School Committee and to work with administrators and staff who daily make a difference in the lives of children."
Focus groups were recently hosted to gather input on what residents want in a new superintendent, and the search committee will begin interviewing candidates in January.
3. NEW SCHOOLS - The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has been working closely with both Longmeadow and Hampden-Wilbraham in their quests to build new high school facilities.
Both districts have been working toward their goals for several years. Hampden-Wilbraham has a leg up on Longmeadow, however, as that district is already at the stage of getting ready to seek out bidders on their project.
The new Minnechaug project was approved 1,093 for, 205 against in Wilbraham and 380 for, 36 against in Hampden at a Special Town Meeting Oct. 5.
On Nov. 18, Longmeadow moved forward with the MSBA approving their preferred option - some renovation, some new build. "It is a huge, huge milestone," Christine Swanson, co-chair of the School Building Committee, said.
Longmeadow is still in the schematic design phase of the project. The town is still debating whether or not to host a separate Special Town Meeting to gain voters' approval of the project, or to combine that vote with the Annual Town Meeting scheduled for the spring.
4. MARK ECKER - After some good news early in 2009, devastating news about the young war hero was dealt to his family and his hometown.
Sgt. Mark Ecker II, who was critically injured while serving in Iraq in February 2007, was selected by the non-profit Homes For Our Troops (HFOT), based in Taunton, Mass., as the recipient of a brand new, specially adapted home in March. The home was to be built in his hometown of East Longmeadow.
On May 18, voters at the Annual Town Meeting approved a motion to donate land to Ecker on which his new home was to be built.
Fundraising efforts were underway when Ecker was killed in a car accident on July 10. "I was totally lost after I heard what happened," Selectman Jim Driscoll, a close friend of Ecker's, told The Reminder. "The only resolution I came to was that God really wanted Mark with him. He was a really remarkable young man, absolutely and truly a hero."
After his death, a committee was formed to look into the creation of a memorial park in Ecker's honor. Driscoll said the committee is still looking for a suitable location for the park.
5. THE PEACH FESTIVAL - On Oct. 26, the Wilbraham Community Association (WCA) announced that it was not going forward with a Peach Festival in 2010.
This August, the Peach Festival celebrated 25 years of successful fundraising events at Fountain Park. Monies raised though the festivals served to fund the non-profit organization's scholarship and grant programs.
In announcing the decision to disband the festival, WCA secretary and spokesperson Cate Duquette cited a dwindling number of volunteers to shoulder the workload of producing the multi-day event as the impetus to change the focus of the WCA's fundraising.
"We went in saying 'What can we do [to keep it going]'," Duquette told The Reminder at the time of the announcement. "But we need to take a break. We've been too thin on the staffing and we are wearing out the people we have."
As of October, the WCA was formulating plans to host smaller, single day fundraising events, and solicited input from residents on what they would like to see.
6. PETER FATSE - He was about to start a second season with the New England Collegiate Baseball League's Holyoke Blue Sox when Hampden's Peter Fatse got the call.
On June 10, the 21-year old UConn infielder/outfielder was tapped by the Milwaukee Brewers to join their organization in the 24th round of their amateur draft.
A standout during his junior year at UConn, Fatse had achieved a top-10 ranking, scoring 23 home runs, 131 RBIs and 132 runs scored during the 2009 season.
At the time he was drafted, Fatse told The Reminder "I was really excited when they told me I'd been selected . I've been dreaming about this since I was very young."
Fatse started his minor league career this summer playing second base with the Helena Brewers, but quickly moved up to the A-level Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, where he was slotted to play left field.
He ended a 59-game season scoring 50 hits, 14 runs batted in, five stolen bases and a batting average of .236.
7. 24-HOUR SHIFTS - In October, Longmeadow hosted a public forum to gather input on an article that would be on the warrant for the Special Town Meeting that asked voters "to see if the Town will vote to insert the following new provision in the Town Charter: Section 7-10: Limitation of Hours of Work - No employee of the Town shall be regularly scheduled to work for the Town more than 14 continuous hours in any midnight to midnight 24 hour period."
Although this would apply to all town employees, the firefighters and the police were the most vocal groups opposing the proposed change.
Their argument was that hours worked should be determined in collective bargaining and not by the town's charter. Select Board member Mark Gold said his board was concerned that 24-hour shifts might be unsafe for residents and employees.
Firefighters from several nearby towns that are currently on 24-hour shift schedules came to the forum to share their opinions on the topic as well.
Ultimately, the warrant article was moved to have no action taken at the autumn Special Town Meeting.
8. HEALTH OR MUSIC - In February, the Longmeadow School Committee had a proposed school budget for fiscal year 2010 (FY10) that listed the elimination of the instrumental music program at Blueberry Hill, Center and Wolf Swamp schools at a savings of $48,000 and the addition of a health teacher at the high school at a cost of $50,000. Concerned parents and teachers are voicing their opinions on which program may be more needed.
"There are a number of reasons for addressing health now," then-School Committee chair Christine Swanson said at a budget hearing on Feb. 4. "We're seeing an increase of incidents at the high school level that could be minimized with prevention, if we give them [the students] tools."
Michael Mucci, chair of the Music Department at Longmeadow High School, asked the School Committee at their Feb. 9 meeting that the fourth grade instrumental music program not be cut.
"It's a mistake educationally and financially," Mucci said. "The school has tackled tough economic times before, yet through all the previous crises, the music program remained intact." He noted that Longmeadow's music program is nationally recognized, with several groups performing at Carnegie Hall last year.
The programs now co-exist. Instrumental music is still available for elementary school students, in a lesser capacity, and a health class has been added for freshmen at the high school.
Cuts may need to be made next year, however, as the schools are facing another fiscal shortfall.
9. SOUTHERN COMMAND - Most Americans know what the purpose of our military is; the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC) is a program that allows regular American citizens to actually see some of the duties our Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines perform.
East Longmeadow businessman John Maybury, president of Maybury Associates Inc., was one of the civilians to participate in this unique experience.
Maybury took part in JCOC 78, which took place from Sept. 11 through 17 and was sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command. He kept a blog of his experience, starting with his flight from Bradley International Airport to Washington, D.C. He told The Reminder about his experiences, which included traveling from Miami to Cuba to Colombia to Panama before heading back home.
"Up until the day before I left, I did not quite understand how powerful our military is," Maybury said. "I was worried that if two or three superpowers got together, they could wipe us out. Now I know that's not possible."
A principal goal of the JCOC is to increase understanding of the mission of the Department of Defense and the U.S. defense posture and capabilities by increasing public exposure to, and understanding of, military personnel, facilities, equipment and programs. Maybury said that anyone interested in learning more about the program should send him an e-mail at email@example.com.
He has already spoken to several groups, including Rotary Clubs and schools.
10. RICE'S FRUIT FARM - On March 30, The Reminder reported that Rice's Fruit Farm, an institution on Wilbraham's Main Street since 1894, had closed its doors on March 22.
Ninety-year-old family patriarch Jesse Rice was quoted at the time as saying "I've had a number of people speak to me about it and they are as disappointed about it as I am."
Rice's granddaughter, Amy and son, Wayne, who passed away in 2007, had been running the farm and fruit stand for several years prior to the closure. Amy told The Reminder that managing the farm alone after her father's death had become increasingly difficult.
In 2005, the town of Wilbraham purchased a 150-acre parcel of the farm as conservation land.
In October 2009, it was reported that the remaining 90-acre apple and peach farm, including the farm stand building, was up for sale.
Donna Taylor, a realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Longmeadow, confirmed that the asking price for the property is $1.85 million. In late December she told The Reminder that there have been some interested parties.
"The dream is for it to be like an Atkins or a Randall's," Taylor added.
Compiled by Assistant Editor Courtney Llewellyn and Assistant Managing Editor Debbie Gardner
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