Excellent staff is not enough: Vote yes for Franklin and Countryside

By Mike Halle and Melissa Monokroussos

I will never forget my first visit to Franklin Elementary School. On a cold day in early spring 2015, just after school, my kindergarten-aged daughter and I went to visit Franklin, a few blocks away from our new home. Having heard so much about Newton’s excellent school system, we wanted her to see what her new school would be like.

We were shocked when we stepped into the worn, dark, and tired building. We walked down to the kindergarten wing, happy we were wearing our jackets because of the cold. At that moment I could only think, “What have we done?”

What happened next defines the difference between a school building and a school. The kindergarten teachers at Franklin stopped their work and engaged my daughter. They made her feel welcome, secure, and important. This was Newton. This could work. This is what matters. 

In the years since then, the Franklin community has given our daughter, our son, and hundreds of their classmates an educational home filled with love and learning. We can’t thank them enough.

But it has not been easy. Every minute has been a fight against the building. 

Not knowing until the week before school started whether the after-school program, squeezed into the basement, has enough physical space for your kids. The day school closed because its lone boiler failed. Introducing recently-elected Mayor Fuller to our custodian Dave, who had to sandbag the kindergarten wing every rainy night to keep it from flooding (thanks for the emergency repairs Mayor Fuller!). Pleading with the Superintendent and the School Committee to give us some relief for the building’s overcrowding, only to be told our basement music room needed to become a classroom for two years. The time our library was closed for months to remediate dankness and mold. Sending our kids with fans for their classrooms in June, and coats for their classrooms in winter. Teachers meeting one-on-one with students in corner hallways because there’s no other space. The staff carrying a kindergartener to the restroom because the building isn’t wheelchair accessible.

Together, the Franklin Community has waited patiently while other neighborhoods got beautiful new elementary schools, schools that bring together the awesomeness of Newton’s teachers and staff with modern buildings that are healthy and accessible to all. That’s what Franklin families, Countryside and Horace Mann families, and every child and family in Newton deserve. A yes vote brings that reality closer for everyone.

Please support us, and school modernization in Newton, with your yes vote on March 14.

– Mike Halle

‘Countryside is the fabric of our neighborhood’

Our family, like most, moved to Newton for the schools. Countryside Elementary School is a special place, with a strong sense of community. Principal Herlihey and the staff go above and beyond every day to create a sense of belonging, safety, and inclusivity, despite deplorable conditions. Our school is wonderful, our building is terrible. 

My son will be in fifth grade by the time a new building is complete; he won’t have the advantage of a new building. Countryside is the fabric of our neighborhood. The current students and alumni love gathering on the field or playground after school hours, despite the broken zipline and rotting wood structures. I’m sure Mrs. Murphy, our school nurse, has lost count of the amount of splinters she’s removed from students’ hands after recess. Our teachers are tasked with educating kids in spaces that are too small, with a heating system that doesn’t function properly. It can be freezing in one classroom, while a sauna in another. On winter mornings, I have to make sure my son is dressed for both the arctic and the tropics. A new building would ensure our kids are comfortable in their learning environments. 

As a PTO member, we have to budget hard-raised funds to replace materials inevitably destroyed by the frequent flooding of the basement. During our first year at Countryside, I volunteered to help with decorations for the Halloween party. When I showed up, the veterans asked if I brought waterproof shoes because we had to get the decorations from the basement which had flooded with sewage a few weeks before. We wore gloves to gather the decorations because of the risk of rat droppings. Our gymnasium is too small, making it difficult and expensive to host events, as we need to find a third party venue. A new building, with adequate spaces for gathering, will promote more family involvement, and the ability for children and families to come together. 

I believe that students do better when learning and growing together. Our families come from many cultures, and speak various languages. Our wonderful SEL and special education programs, including the Spark program, aim to meet the educational needs of every student while also prioritizing inclusivity. However, our teachers struggle to find the space and accessibility necessary to meet students’ needs. A new building would facilitate our childrens’ education, both academically and socially/emotionally, instead of acting as a roadblock against it. 

– Melissa Monokroussos

Mike Halle is a parent of students at Franklin Elementary and Day Middle School. Melissa Monokroussos is a co-president of the Countryside PTO.