Welcome to this week’s LexObserver news roundup, a quick read you can expect in your inbox every Friday. We’ve gotten some requests to expand our reporting beyond Lexington Public Schools, something we’ve been eager to do for a while, and today, we’re excited to get that expansion further underway, while still including some key school-focused news. Remember to just hit reply to this email if you have something you want us to cover in future weeks. On that note, here are some highlights from Lexington this week:
Week of Oct. 22: Lexington News Roundup
Real Estate and Development: Panera Bread in Lexington closing this Sunday, Anisoptera Mercantile opening tomorrow, some local businesses, parts of LPS feel consequences of understaffing; why Dyslexia Awareness Month matters in Lexington; this week’s town and LPS COVID-19 case numbers; submit your qs for Lexington’s police chief candidates by Sunday
Local Real Estate Updates: Panera Bread to close Sunday
- The Panera Bread located at 1684 Massachusetts Avenue, a popular gathering spot for many Lexington Public Schools students and an easy place for residents and visitors in the Town Center to grab a bite, is closing its doors on Sunday, Oct. 24, according to Assistant Manager Rodrigo, who declined to share his last name with LexObserver. The building housing Panera is owned by Salter & Kahn Inc., the Boston-based real estate firm.
- The reason for the closure? Michael Schreiber, Vice President for Salter & Kahn, told LexObserver that Panera did not “exercise their option” in time. He specified that the lease will be taken over by Virginia-based Conte’s Bike Shop, “hopefully in the spring.”
- Panera has maintained their Mass Ave Lexington location since 2011, according to Wicked Local. Rodrigo said Panera wants to remain in Lexington. “We were not looking to get out of here; as a matter of fact, we’re looking to come back to Lexington,” he said, but they have not yet found a new viable location, to his knowledge.
- Panera employs about 20 people, Rodrigo estimated, all of whom will be relocated to other nearby stores — so the closure shouldn’t result in any job losses, he said.
- You may also have noticed that the Starbucks formerly at 1729 Mass Ave is no more: The store has a sign in the window saying they closed Oct. 10, and “thank you Lexington for years of memories. We loved being your Starbucks.” LexObserver reached out by phone and email to Starbucks about why they closed this location, and unfortunately did not receive a very illuminating response. “As part of Starbucks standard course of business, we continually evaluate our business to ensure a healthy store portfolio. After careful consideration, we’ve determined it is best to close the store at 1729 Massachusetts Ave in Lexington, MA,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to LexObserver. All workers at this Starbucks had the chance to transfer to another nearby location, the spokesperson added.
- The recent closures have rekindled spirited discourse on multiple online forums among residents and community members about longstanding rapid turnover of businesses in Lexington’s town center. Lexington’s Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee will hold a LexingtonNext virtual public forum on “Defining an Attractive & Vibrant Lexington” next Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 7pm focused on “Lexington’s commercial areas and corridors.” They also held a forum last month focused on affordable housing in Lexington, which you can watch here if you missed it.
Lexington’s Economic Development Office distributed their 2021 Economic Development Summary Report in their newsletter yesterday. You can read more in the report, but here are three highlights:
- According to this report, 6% of Lexington’s land is zoned for commercial use. In comparison, Burlington has 44% of its town land zoned for commercial use, while Concord has 2.4%.
- The pandemic caused hotel/motel tax and meals tax revenues to fall slightly in FY2020, and drastically in FY2021. While in FY2020, the hotel/motel tax yielded $802,003 (already lower than FY2019’s $957,681), FY2021 yielded $242,500. For the meals tax, the FY2020 total was $438,224 (a drop from FY2019’s $471,907), while FY2021 resulted in just $119,500.
- The report also included results from a survey examining consumer behavior and preferences related to the pandemic. Out of 934 survey respondents including residents and a few visitors and employees, 76% said they would be more willing to pay for goods and services in businesses that implement increased safety precautions. In response to whether they would like to see expanded curbside dining options continue in the long term, 56% said they would like to see this practice continue permanently.
Elsewhere on Mass Ave, a CBD and wellness shop is opening tomorrow
- Just down the street from Panera, at 1720 Mass Ave, a new wellness and CBD (cannabidiol) shop called Anisoptera Mercantile is slated to open its doors tomorrow at 10 a.m. They advertise “premium CBD products, hand-blended organic tea and B Corp sustainably produced coffees” including some CBD pet products such as dog chews and pet oil tinctures. Products will also be sold online, according to their Instagram page.
- Rosemary Austin, the founder of Anisoptera Mercantile, wrote in a message to LexObserver that she “spent 6 months exploring different locations and found Lexington which is centrally located in the area north of Boston, has a fantastic Main Street retail environment, incredibly welcoming and helpful group of people as well as diverse population.” Austin, who previously worked in “luxury residential development and management,” conceptualized the business after suffering a serious car accident in 2017 resulting in spinal surgery. During her recovery, she “developed [her] own formula for well-being” which inspired the business, according to a job description for a position at the new shop posted online.
- In addition to selling products, this new endeavor aims to support artists by featuring 1-2 “creatives” per month on the website and in the store, who will also have the chance to give talks and participate in an NFT (non-fungible token) program. They also intend to support unspecified “social and environmental causes…both in-person and financially.”
From businesses to parts of LPS, understaffing is taking a toll on Lexington
- You’ve probably seen the “Help Wanted” signs at several stores around town by now reflecting the nationwide labor crisis. Understaffing is touching many parts of the Lexington system right now — not just local retailers. At Lexington Public Schools, for instance, Superintendent Julie Hackett noted in the first FY2023 budget summit last week that LABBB, a collaborative between Lexington, Arlington, Burlington, Bedford and Belmont which supports special needs students from over 60 districts statewide, not only had fewer vans being driven when the school year started, but even some vans provided lacked the contract-mandated van monitor to support students with disabilities. As a result, “we had to continue to use our staff for a purpose other than what they were originally hired to do,” Hackett said — for instance, some instructional assistants have had to ride vans with students, she specified.
- An email to students, families and community members this week from Food Service Director Kevin Silvia and Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations David Coelho also warned “we may need to make quick substitutions to our menu based upon what we are able to acquire” as a consequence of “unprecedented shortages of food and packaging materials, massive delays or cancellations of deliveries, and department labor shortages.”
- At Bertucci’s in Lexington, located at 1777 Mass Ave, a worker spoke to LexObserver about an extremely challenging work environment. They will remain anonymous because Bertucci’s policy prohibits them from speaking to the media. The restaurant has been direly understaffed since college students returned to school this fall, they told LexObserver — the restaurant currently makes do with two servers: One who is in high school and can work twice a week, and another who can work only once a week. Whenever the servers aren’t available, all of the work essentially falls to the manager, the worker explained. “Monday through Friday, during the lunch period, the manager is doing everything,” they said, except for when the establishment borrows a server from another location once a week, they added.
- Bertucci’s has tried everything to recruit workers — advertising at the local high school (for seniors only, since servers must be 18), etc. “My opinion is just because it is such a wealthy town here, when parents want their kids to get a job, and work, and learn that whole aspect — more so if you have money now, because of COVID, they’re having their kids stay home more, is what I’m hearing from everyone,” the employee said.
- Bertucci’s has closed for takeout-only intermittently due to understaffing, but intends to remain open despite the staffing challenges.
October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. What should we all know about dyslexia in Lexington?
Note: October is also ADHD Awareness Month; we plan to spotlight ADHD in next week’s newsletter.
- Dyslexia is a neurobiological learning disability characterized by difficulties including reading, spelling, decoding and recognizing words despite normal to above average intelligence. This condition affects one in five people in the United States, can range from mild to severe, and is genetic.
- “Kids with dyslexia are very bright and capable, but don’t learn to read in the way typical readers learn how to read. They require a different modality of explicit and systematic phonics and phonemic awareness, to break that code and understand how to connect the words on the page to sounds,” wrote Nicole Locher, Chair and Co-Founder of the Dyslexia Parents Group of Lexington, in a follow-up email to LexObserver.
- About six years ago, when she co-founded her group with another parent, Bettina McGimsey, Locher was “literally running into people every day around Lexington who were having the same challenges I was having with getting our kids identified as dyslexic and eligible to receive the specialized, evidence-based literacy instruction they require through a Special Education Individual Education Plan (IEP),” she wrote. The group is “a support and advocacy group for parents and caregivers in Lexington who have a child with dyslexia, and is a subgroup of Lexington SEPAC/SEPTA, the Special Education Parent Advisory Council/Special Education PTA.”
- According to the MA Dyslexia Guidelines recently released by the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, explicit and systematic phonics and phonemic awareness instruction is required not only for dyslexic students to develop into proficient readers, but for all students. The Mass Literacy Guide Guide “emphasizes the need to foster accurate and fluent word reading skills through phonological awareness, advanced phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding, advanced phonics, and automatic word recognition, in addition to language comprehension.”
- “The research and classroom practice has clearly shown that a structured phonics curriculum taught explicitly and systematically is more equitable because it levels the playing field for all children, but especially kids with language based learning deficits,” Locher wrote. A solid literary foundation is especially crucial for kindergarten through second grade, she added.
- Students with dyslexia who aren’t reading at grade level by the third grade will likely struggle to catch up throughout their education career, as curricula for older grades become more language heavy. Such academic struggles, especially for students of average to above-average intelligence, can severely affect self-esteem and mental health, and even lead to frustrated behavior that results in school discipline. For all of these reasons, “getting them identified in Kindergarten or by 1st grade and followed by evidenced based instruction is crucial,” Locher wrote.
- The Lexington School Committee unanimously adopted a proclamation at their Sept. 28 meeting acknowledging October as Dyslexia Awareness Month in Lexington. Governor Charlie Baker declared October Dyslexia Awareness Month for Massachusetts in 2019.
- Locher wrote up a few things parents can do if they see signs of dyslexia:
- “Talk with your doctor who might recommend types of testing to diagnose dyslexia.”
- “Reach out to your child’s teacher and/or your school principal in a letter; state your concerns; describe what you are observing about your child and mention if reading challenges and/or dyslexia runs in the family. Request a comprehensive evaluation for language-based learning disabilities, which is much more thorough than the dyslexia screener the school is required to do for all children.”
- “After being evaluated, your child may qualify for an Individual Education Plan (IEP).”
- Locher wrote that parents want to see Lexington schools actively communicate what to do and who to reach out to if a child is struggling to learn to read. Lexington currently screens children for signs of dyslexia, including phonological processing and rapid naming automaticity; Locher says parents need to understand the screening process, as well as the district’s decision-making process for the levels of reading intervention a child needs. “It’s really important for equity across the district that there’s a standard criteria that is used that parents understand, and that all the teachers understand and follow. This will build trust with parents. It will alleviate a lot of anxiety that parents of struggling readers have,” she wrote.
- The Dyslexia Parents Group aims to de-stigmatize dyslexia and learning differences, especially in a district as high-achieving as Lexington: “Sometimes parents in Lexington are shy about approaching the school when their child is struggling, and instead they’ll take it upon themselves to hire a tutor for their child rather than getting them a comprehensive evaluation to pinpoint the reasons for the struggles, to obtain a diagnosis and then try to get the evidenced-based instruction they need in order to develop their skills and succeed in school,” Locher wrote. “These kids are very bright and capable, and dyslexia is very common in Lexington Public Schools, so parents shouldn’t feel any shame if their child learns differently and needs evidenced based instruction in order to learn,” she wrote.
- Locher commended the “fantastic” Special Education literacy teachers in Lexington, and said the district needs even more educators certified in evidence-based literacy support methods for dyslexic students. Training for gen-ed educators about “science of reading” is also key for equitable access to reading for all students, she added. (LexObserver reached out to two district administrators who focus on literacy and special education; neither responded by press time.)
- “The world needs dyslexic thinkers, because they are out-of-the box thinkers and problem solvers,” Locher wrote. “They can connect the dots and come up with solutions that nobody else is thinking of, and we need to celebrate and support this type of neurodiversity.”
- For more information and resources including on how to identify dyslexia at different ages, you can visit the Dyslexia Parents Group of Lexington website.
COVID-19 cases in town and at LPS
- As of today, there were 23 new cases of COVID-19 recorded in Lexington, up from 18 last week, according to the town dashboard. These are still relatively low case numbers, and Lexington’s indoor mask mandate remains in place.
- At Lexington Public Schools, the number of staff or students who were absent for testing positive this week also increased to the highest number of cases this school year — but the number who are quarantining declined from last week’s 2021-22 school year record. As of yesterday, 20 staff or students were absent who had tested positive, compared to 11 last week, while 24 staff or students were on quarantine, compared to 37 last week, according to the LPS dashboard. As with cases at the town level, case numbers remain relatively low overall.
- The highest concentration of cases and quarantines this week was at Bowman Elementary School, where 11 staff or students were quarantining while 7 staff or students were absent who had tested positive. Last week, the biggest cluster was at Hastings, where this week, just 4 students/staff were absent who had tested positive and the same number were quarantining. Other LPS cases and quarantines this week were scattered in very low numbers throughout pre-K, elementary, middle and high school buildings.
One Other PSA: Submit your questions for the Police Chief Interviewing Process by Sunday
- As you may know, Lexington is currently in the process of hiring a new permanent police chief, and 5 town residents of the nearly 60 who applied will serve on an interview panel. If you want to submit questions for town leaders to consider asking police chief candidates, you can do so here before this Sunday, Oct. 24.
That’s a wrap for today. Was this roundup useful to you? What do you want to see in this email next week? Let us know, and please ask your friends to sign up too. You can also check out and share our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.
Nicco Mele, Sophie Culpepper, and Sarah Liu
P.S. In case you missed any of our long-form reporting earlier this month: You can still check out our three-part series, Pandemic Learning in Lexington, about socioemotional learning impacts of COVID-19 on LPS students at our website, as well as our piece about how Black and Asian American groups in Lexington have strengthened their anti-racist alliance throughout the pandemic. Beyond this regular newsletter, we’re currently working on reporting about Lexington police and school enrollment numbers — we’ll share those stories with you once they’re ready.