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Municipal Spotlight: Marano ‘Excited’ About Direction of Bellingham Schools


Contributing Writer

Peter Marano, who’s in his eighth year as Bellingham’s School Superintendent, is optimistic about the future.

The 49-year-old Marano would be the first to admit that the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on students, parents, teachers and administrators, but he’s upbeat after the positive strides that occurred during the 2021-22 school year.

“The return to in-person learning in all of our schools was a major step forward,’’ Marano said. “Remote and hybrid learning disappeared, masks became optional, and a sense of normalcy was prevalent. Children were back in their classrooms and teachers were able to instruct in a traditional way.’’

COVID-19, however, is still part of the public’s vocabulary, and the virus is still a threat as new variants emerge. Its adverse effects on education were vivid, and Marano hopes he never has to deal with its negative nature again.

“During the last two years, students suffered socially and emotionally,’’ he said. “They struggled to develop good peer relationships, and there was a general sense of frustration among students, staff and parents. We hope to continue with in-person learning but there still is uncertainty. We don’t want to return to remote learning, and I’m optimistic we’ll continue with the progress we made with in-person learning during the 2021-22 school year.’’

Following are areas that Marano listed that have either returned to pre-pandemic status or have experienced positive change:

• Enrollment — Marano says that about 1,900 students are enrolled in Bellingham’s five schools and that number is status quo. “Our enrollment from pre-K to Grade 12 is about the same as it’s been in the recent past,’’ he indicated. “We lose students to private schools, the charter school in Franklin and Blackstone Valley Tech, but for the most part enrollment remains on par.’’ 

• Athletics — “The pandemic regulations for sports during the last year loosened up so more fans could attend games,’’ Marano said. “For the new school year there should be no regulations, or they’ll at least be very minimal. Involvement and participation in athletics increased last year. For 2022-23, several new coaches were hired, and we look forward to our new coaches getting invested in our student-athletes.’’

• Teachers — Marano indicated that a large number of teachers retired after the 2021-22 school year. The number reached 15. “They’ve all been replaced,’’ he said. “We lost some, because they changed careers, and it’s likely the pandemic played a role in their decision.’’ 

• Nurses — There is a nurse at all five of Bellingham’s schools and an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) has been added as a “floater.’’ That new position was added last year. “It’s a valuable position and it now is built into our budget,’’ Marano said.

• Buses/drivers — Some school districts have experienced difficulty hiring drivers,but Marano noted that Bellingham is fortunate in that area. “Our company (Vendetti Bus Company) provides a capable service,’’ he said. “I’m sure they probably have experienced a bus-driver shortage, but they’ve met our needs on a daily basis.’’

• Pandemic regulations — Just about all of the regulations implemented because of the coronavirus have been removed for the 2022-23 school year, but Marano said one key mandate remains. “If a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19, the rules for isolation are still in force,’’ he emphasized.

• Administration — Rachael Lawrence’s retirement leaves the district with one assistant superintendent. “To replace her, a director of student services has been hired,’’ Marano said. “Suzanne Michel of Winchendon will deal with special education. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in special education.’’

• Grants — Three state and federal grants were awarded to the district. One for $200,000 will enable the administration to purchase a new English Language Arts curriculum for pre-K up to grade 8. Another one (Innovation Pathway Grant) will allow for specific pathways for students to learn. “The pathway grant has been approved for manufacturing and engineering and health sciences,’’ Marano said. 

A third award is an Every Student Succeeds Grant. In response to the pandemic, Bellingham received $400,000 from ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief). “This grant gives us money to address the social and emotional needs of children,’’ Marano said. “It provides support for children to offset learning loss.’’

The Superintendent said there are three areas that all five of Bellingham’s schools will be focused on for the new year — mathematics and English Language Arts; security, and emotional support. “School security is an area where we’ll make sure all teachers are trained in all the up-to-date protocols for any intrusion,’’ he emphasized. “And we’ll provide robust emotional support for all children.’’

Marano, who is in his 23rd year as an educator, previously was a guidance counsellor, assistant principal and principal. He has his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in counselling from Assumption College and he has an EDD (Doctor of Education).

Pleased about the direction of Bellingham’s public schools, Marano said: “I’m excited about growing programs and providing a well-rounded curriculum for every student. I’m also proud of the work we do as a district, and I’m honored to be Bellingham’s Superintendent of Schools.’’

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