WESTFORD — Welcome to the Oct. 15 edition of Weekend Wrap-Up. Here, we highlight the most important news you may have missed this week in Westford.
An annual trip to Washington D.C. for Westford’s 8th grade students has been canceled.
The overnight trip, usually planned for May, was canceled in recent years due to the pandemic. The trip had returned for Stony Brook Middle School and Blanchard Middle School 8th graders last May.
Context around the cancellation
Administration outlined their decision to cancel the trip at an Oct. 10 School Committee meeting.
“This decision was made very recently in collaboration among administrators and staff, between both schools and of course in the best interest of our students,” Blanchard Middle School Principal Timothy Hislop told the committee.
He added, “what we faced was not fully a funding issue. Rather, it was an accumulation of issues that came to light over the very recent weeks.”
Stony Brook Middle School Principal Allison Hammer said the decision was also made based on “one of Westford Public Schools core values of inclusion.”
“We care very much about the social-emotional well-being of all of our students and have kept that in mind as we made the difficult decision, we kept coming back to it over and over again,” she said.
She added, “our goal is to include every 8th grader in our class trip and it has been harder and harder to do that over the past several years.”
According to Hammer, 68 students did not participate in the trip last spring, accounting for approximately 16% of 423 8th grade students enrolled in Westford Public Schools.
Additionally, administration cited a number of logistical issues for the cancellation, such as having some Stony Brook students fly out of Manchester, N.H. and some students fly out of Providence, R.I., splitting the student body during travel.
Among students at Blanchard Middle School, some flight times were staggered by several hours.
“That would mean that students would have different experiences than their classmates once they were in D.C.,” Hammer said. “That was unavoidable based on the flight information we were given.”
Hammer says administration was “not able to get acceptable alternative travel plans for either school that would ensure we could safely transport our students without similar problems.”
Administration says bus transportation pricing was “very very similar” to airfare, costing each student approximately $1,100.
“Increased costs would present a significant financial burden to many families,” said Hammer. “That number has been increasing over the past years pre and post COVID.”
Parents, students share frustrations
A petition protesting the cancellation has begun to circulate that has garnered over 1,400 signatures at the time of reporting.
Students exiting the Oct. 10 meeting, chanting “we want D.C.,” shared their frustrations with WestfordCAT.
“I’m pretty annoyed,” Oriana Khusid, an 8th grade student at Blanchard Middle School told WestfordCAT.
Lila Ash, an 8th grade student at Stony Brook Middle School added, “I don’t think the alternative field trip is educational at all. The biggest issue is transportation but we’re more than willing to take a bus and host fundraisers. I don’t think they’re handling the situation well at all.”
Parents, such as Mike Khusid, believe the decision was made “without engaging with the community.”
“That’s what makes me more upset than anything else. After they heard it, they ignored it. They told us what they were thinking without taking our input, that’s what’s most disappointing to me,” he said.
Babita Piplani, another parent, said the “optics look very bad.”
Other parents, like John Ash, encouraged students to “fight for what the believe in.”
“I was very impressed by the showing of support for the D.C. trip, even on the short notice we were given,” he said.
Administrators say plans with Capital Tours have been officially been canceled, and the company “may have given away the hotel reservations.”
“They probably have, that’s my guess,” Hammer said.
Whether or not an alternative trip will give students an overnight experience remains up in the air.
“I don’t know the answer but I don’t believe it’s our responsibility to guarantee an overnight trip,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christopher Chew told the committee. “I believe that is one of the biggest barriers we’re facing here.”
The discussion on the cancellation and an alternative class trip will return for discussion at the Oct. 24 School Committee meeting.
The Select Board recently received an update on an additional solid waste proposal during an Oct. 10 meeting.
What’s in the new proposal
Amid budgetary concerns, officials returned to the drawing board and solicited a bid from E.L. Harvey for solid waste collection. This bid, between FY25 and FY29, would be approximately $841,623 cheaper than a previous bid from Waste Management.
This proposal would continue manual collection of solid waste and recycling, which would allow residents to continue to use their preexisting carts.
The proposal assumes the town would remain contracted with Covanta for solid waste disposal. Under Waste Management’s bid, the company would handle both solid waste collection and disposal.
Additionally, the proposal from E.L. Harvey would continue unlimited recycling and would allow the town to continue to manage bulk item processing. Currently, the town charges just $5 per bulk item.
Under the Waste Management proposal, bulk item stickers would cost $20 per item in FY25, increasing by $2 per year and topping out at $28 per item in FY29. White Goods would start at $35 per item, and increase by $5 per yet, topping out at $55 per item by FY29.
Should the town choose E.L. Harvey as its solid waste provider, the town could reduce the existing three-barrel limit on solid waste, increase the $5 bulk item disposal fee, and implement a pay-as-you-throw program. A decision on these items has not been made at the time of reporting.
Residents, like Recycling Commission member Elizabeth Sawyer, noted that composting and electronics collection to reduce waste are part of an “environmental call to action” to keep items out of the trash.
“When we talk about pay-as-you-throw it’s often a phrase that incites a lot of strong feelings in people,” she said. “In terms of the DEP the real goal of pay-as-you-throw is not to have the cost of the trash shift from tax dollars to residents. It really is to have the stuff not go in the trash.”
She added, “the call to action is to get this waste out of our air and water and divert it. Along the way, you save your town and your residents money,” she said.
The Select Board will continue discussion on both proposals during their Oct. 24 meeting.
A smoothie and energy tea bar on Littleton Road is under new management.
110 Nutrition, located at 142 Littleton Rd., held an open house and grand reopening with new management on Oct. 7.
The business was purchased by long-time Westford resident Kristin Senethavysouk and her husband, Vasna from former owner Rita Biagioni.
“We always went here or to Littleton to see Rita. She was looking to open a different location, so she offered this up to us,” she told WestfordCAT.
Senethavysouk, who previously worked at Ferriera’s Towing as a dispatcher, says she “wanted more time with her daughter.”
“I thought, let’s do something for us,” she said.
The shop is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and closed on Sunday.
A Westford Academy senior has received a perfect score on his Advanced Placement Chemistry exam.
Jack Whitman is one of 141,000 students who took the exam last spring. Whitman not only received a 5, the highest score on the exam, but is also one of only 23 students worldwide to earn every single point on the test.
Whitman attributes some of his success to his consistent studying habits.
“I certainly studied a lot. I also studied for a few hours a few days before the exam but realized I couldn’t change my fundamental understanding of it. It was just ‘execute and do the things I’ve done.’” he told WestfordCAT.
The son of a chemical engineer, Whitman says his mother always “playfully encouraged” him to study chemistry.
“We would do fun experiments when I was a kid,” he said.
He also attributes his success to his chemistry teacher, Timothy Knittel.
“A lot of it starts with the class and teacher. His style is very engaging. A lot of it is learning when it’s taught and not trying to cram it,” he said. “The labs were a lot of fun and made the class one of the most engaging that I’ve taken.”
Knittel says that Whitman is an “exceptional student.”
“Jack brings a contagious enthusiasm to all of his endeavors and does not seem to accept anything less than perfection,” Knittel told WestfordCAT in an email.
Whitman, a lifelong Westford resident, spends his summers teaching students how to code at CodeWiz and runs his own 3D printing business. He also runs varsity cross country, now serving as a captain of his team.
“I love leading the team and being with the group that’s there,” he said.
He says he stays motivated by “focusing on the positives.”
“It’s hard to put a word to it. I always feel like I need to put in work that I am proud of and that I can demonstrate my capabilities through every assignment and race,” he said.
He added, “I just think of it as another challenge and another thing to do.”
Whitman now sets his sights on college applications. He hopes to attend Princeton University, MIT, or the University of Notre Dame next fall.
A public workshop for the MBTA Communities Act will be hosted by the Town of Westford later this month.
The regulation requires MBTA communities and MBTA-adjacent communities, like Westford, to create a new zoning district to allow for multi-family housing as of right. The town is not obligated to construct new units after creating the overlay district.
“All we have to do is create the potential for the units. We don’t have to make good on the yield, all we have to do is create the potential,” Director of Land Use Management Jeffrey Morrissette said during an Aug. 3 meeting.
According to the office of Attorney General Andrea Campbell, communities that do not comply could risk civil action and liability under state and federal fair housing laws.
The regulation does not provide a mechanism for communities to opt out of the requirements.
The public workshop will include background information on the new law, share work on the project to date and explore options for multi-family zoning in Westford.
The workshop will be held on Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Stony Brook Middle School.
Want to learn more about some of the the committee’s work to date? Check out additional reporting from WestfordCAT below.