Welcome to this week’s LexObserver news roundup, a quick read you can expect in your inbox every Friday.
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On that note, here are some highlights from Lexington this week:
Week of Oct. 29: Lexington News Roundup
What is LexingtonNext, and what this week’s forum was all about; Lexington School Committee votes on near-monthly half-days for middle, high school students, world languages for elementary school students in fall 2023; what to know about ADHD in Lexington; the latest town and LPS COVID numbers; two FREE COVID-19 testing opportunities next week; apply to the Affordable Housing Study Committee by next Friday
What is LexingtonNext all about, and what happened at their second forum this week?
On Tuesday, Lexington’s Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee (CPAC) held a LexingtonNext virtual public forum on “Defining an Attractive & Vibrant Lexington” focused on “Lexington’s commercial areas and corridors.” The forum was attended by 142 people, according to one of the speakers; among the attendees, roughly 30% have children in the Lexington schools, while 70% do not. (If you want to watch it yourself, you can do so on YouTube or LexMedia. The CPAC also held a forum last month focused on affordable housing in Lexington, which you can watch here if you missed that one.)
- What: LexingtonNext is the name for the town’s Comprehensive Plan update; the original Comprehensive Plan was completed in 2003. Sarah Felton, Co-Chair of the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee, characterized the Comprehensive Plan as “a way to think about: How can we make Lexington a better place?” This specific forum was focused on commercial districts, with the goals of defining what makes a commercial area attractive and vibrant, identifying positive features of Lexington’s commercial districts, and discussing ways to improve the attractiveness and vibrancy of key districts.
- Who: CPAC consists of about a dozen Lexington residents, several of whom are Town Meeting Members, appointed by the Planning Board “to engage community stakeholders, residents, and the community-at-large to develop a visionary plan for the future physical development of Lexington,” according to the LexingtonNext website. CPAC is co-chaired by Felton and Chris Herbert. Planning is also informed by the work of two consultants engaged by the town — Daphne Politis of Community Circle, who is also a Lexington resident, and Martha Lyon of Martha Lyon Landscape Architecture, LLC. Town Staff including Planning Director Amanda Loomis, Land Use Planner Molly Belanger and Assistant Town Manager Carol Kowalski also contributed to Tuesday’s forum and are involved in developing LexingtonNext. Felton also acknowledged the Lexington Center Committee, the Economic Development Advisory Committee and the Lexington Retailers’ Association for contributing to the forum.
- Why now: Felton said that CPAC was hosting this forum now primarily to collect community member input for the Comprehensive Plan Update, but acknowledged a few other motivating factors for the forum — including the current disruption in town caused by construction for the Center Streetscape Project, planning for the 250th anniversary of Lexington in April 2025, and the Select Board’s two-year goal to determine short-term and long-term actionable propositions for improving Lexington’s commercial districts.
- Forum highlights: The forum was an interactive event which solicited attendee feedback in the chat on positive aspects of Lexington’s commercial areas, as well as areas for improvement.
- The forum included several polls of attendees, as well as straw polls in the chat.
- Among the attendees, most responded to a poll saying they patronized Lexington’s commercial districts about 2-3 times per week, but some said they “hardly ever” do.
- In listing where they go out to eat in the chat, residents often mentioned Via Lago and Il Casale, and Panera, which closed last Sunday — but at least one person said, “we don’t.”
- Politis stressed the importance of “third places,” defined by social scientist Ray Oldenburg as neither workplaces nor homes, but rather places for informal public gathering, which by existing can directly strengthen community-building and democracy. These places can be private (bars, restaurants, coffee shops), public (libraries, public parks), or public-private partnerships; whatever their classification, they should be conducive to diversity. In response to a straw poll about third places that exist in Lexington, in which Cary Library and Peet’s Coffee often came up, one attendee wrote, “we’re running out of them.”
- According to best practices, town commercial districts should have their own personalities, Politis said. Good signs of a vibrant community can range from the smallest details, such as blade signs (“earrings on buildings,” in Politis’ words), welcoming gateways, plants, color in buildings, whimsical features and even attractive back doors — to shops, to larger attractions such as outdoor dining, mixed use spaces and a range of food establishments. Commercial districts should be pedestrian-oriented and humanly scaled, and everything from elements of surprise to creative lighting can enliven a commercial district, Politis said.
- Six percent of Lexington’s land is zoned for commercial use, as LexObserver previously reported. Lexington currently has 31 life science properties, with one more on the way. Starbucks and Panera recently closed, as we reported last week, but Maxima Book Center and La Dolda are new in town, while Omar’s is expanding, Politis noted. CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice and Stretch Med are coming soon, she added. Most commercial offerings in town are not open after 6:30 p.m., according to a 2019 FinePoint Associates survey.
- Since the last comprehensive plan almost two decades ago, a lot has changed. Since 2007, town businesses establishments have increased by 20%; there’s been a significant increase in life sciences and biotech/pharmaceutical companies; and there have been demographic changes including increases in the town’s Asian population, young children, older population and median income, Politis summarized.
- COVID-19, naturally, decreased foot traffic and sales in town — but the town’s vacancy rate decreased. Many people’s dining habits have been completely changed, shifting largely or entirely online — it will take effort, Politis said, for people to venture out, and for the town to attract people to come and linger.
- Split tax rates can impact the cost of occupancy for businesses, and was cited as one limitation for smaller local businesses. Split tax rates can benefit residents by lowering their tax rates, but can conversely hurt small businesses; according to the presentation and town website, for Fiscal Year 2021, Lexington had a commercial, industrial and personal property tax rate of $27.97 per $1,000, compared to a residential rate of $14.39 per $1,000 of assessed value. The presentation noted that Concord, by contrast, has a uniform tax rate (which was $14.72 for FY2021), as does Belmont ($11.54 for FY2021) — on the other hand, Needham is more similar to Lexington, with a split tax rate amounting to a residential rate of $13.03 and a commercial rate of $25.74 for FY2021.
- Residents contributed feedback on several of Lexington’s commercial districts during the forum, including the Town Center, East Lexington and Marrett Square (or Four Corners).
- The Town Center has about 165 commercial units — more than half (59%) are service-oriented, and over 60% are independent and single-location, while over 20% are multi-location chains/franchises, according to a 2019 study by FinePoint Associates. Forum attendees expressed appreciation for e.g. benches, trees, lights, historic architecture and public art, but cited a need for a cafe for kids to hang out, fewer banks, more clubs and music venues, and more eateries.
- In East Lexington, which includes about 38 commercial units with a first floor presence, residents appreciated many of the individual business owners and businesses, but found the area to be visually unappealing and said it could use more greenery, color and a pleasant gathering place, such as a public beer garden.
- Forum attendees also offered feedback on Countryside, Marrett Square/Four Corners and other districts with contested or unclear names (e.g. “Stop & Shop Node”/Bedford St.).
- Overall, forum attendees expressed a desire for more focus on the Town Center, more restaurants and nightlife, and better traffic options.
- The forum included several polls of attendees, as well as straw polls in the chat.
- What’s next for LexingtonNext:
- CPAC will compile input from this forum with other input; they will likely recommend measures including on-site walking tours of each commercial district to further refine and develop suggestions for overall and district-specific improvements.
- Residents can contribute feedback on the LexingtonNext website’s “social pinpoint.” CPAC plans to present key recommendations and an implementation plan for the updated comprehensive plan for Lexington in a public forum Dec. 7, and intends to complete the plan some time in January 2022.
This week’s School Committee meeting: Near-monthly half-days unanimously approved for middle and high schoolers, and the return of world languages for elementary schoolers is slated for fall 2023
Note: we always post summaries of School Committee meetings on Twitter the night of the meeting — follow us to get those.
- In an unusual move, the School Committee unanimously voted to amend the current school calendar, for the 2021-22 school year, by adding one monthly half-day per month starting next month, minus June, for all middle and high school students. They’ll take place mostly on Fridays.
- Why the abrupt change? Educators and students are overwhelmed with the demands this school year has placed on them, according to Superintendent Julie Hackett’s proposal submitted Tuesday.
- The half-days, she said, will give educators the additional planning time they need to best support students. In our newsletter Oct. 15, we reported that LHS educators had filed a class-action grievance about being overworked to the point of contract violation.
- That wasn’t the only big vote tonight: The SC also voted unanimously to add a K-5 World Language curriculum back to Lexington elementary schools, to be implemented in the fall of 2023. Lexington hasn’t had this kind of program since 2006, when it was removed simply due to a failed override.
- Dr. Hackett plans to start the program using roughly $1.2 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III money as seed funding, as has been discussed in multiple School Committee meetings this school year, since at least Aug. 31.
- Multiple parents and educators, including a few parents of dyslexic students, expressed their disagreement with the proposed use of federal ESSER funding, 20% of which should be used to address students’ learning loss and students’ social-emotional learning needs.
- Some noted the disconnect between the extreme measure of removing instruction time by adding middle and high school half-days mid-year as evidence that this funding could have other pressing uses. On the other hand, adding world languages may remove some half-days for elementary school students.
- Dr. Hackett maintains that the Elementary World Language Program is a legitimate use of these funds, and also the best use. She says it will support students’ academic +social-emotional learning by e.g. strengthening cognitive abilities, and will teach students about other cultures as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative.
- Lexington’s basic needs are met, she said, and those that aren’t are long term challenges that cannot be solved by hiring additional tutors, substitute teachers or counselors, she added.
- Other community members expressed concerns about the financial sustainability of implementing such a program with one-time funding, especially with the need for an expensive new high school looming in the next few years.
- But multiple School Committee members were strongly in favor of the re-implementation of this program, whose return has been discussed by various committees in town for years, and see this as a unique opportunity to finally get it done.
- Many more conversations will be had as the program’s planning is fine-tuned and modified, and the SC’s vote tonight did NOT approve funding for this program, which will be voted on along with other budget items later. Here’s the rough proposal the SC voted on Tuesday.
- In COVID news, as of Monday, 89.1% of eligible LPS students are vaccinated, including 90.9% of LHS students. Hackett also said that 98.7% of LPS staff are vaccinated.
- The School Committee will discuss Youth Risk Behavior Survey results, including about impacts of COVID-19 on students and disproportionate overall impacts on LGBTQ+ students, in further detail in a meeting on Monday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m., with the Student Health Advisory Council (SHAC). (We reported on some of these results earlier this month.)
- Finally, three Lexington High School students received the prestigious Massachusetts Association of School Superintendent Awards for academic excellence: The awards went to Anthony The, Powell Zhang, and Sudi Zhao. More on their impressive achievements here.
October is ADHD Awareness Month. What should we all know about ADHD in Lexington?
Note: October is also Dyslexia Awareness Month; we spotlighted dyslexia in last week’s newsletter.
ADHD is an acronym for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; it is one of the most common neurobehavioral conditions of childhood, affecting about 9% of children. The disorder “impacts focus, self-control and other skills important in daily life,” according to the ADHD Parents Group of Lexington. Though ADHD symptoms and severity are variable, this condition can cause challenges with e.g.: memory, flexible thinking, managing emotions, self-regulation and organization and planning.
- The ADHD Parents Group of Lexington was created in 2016, according to Group Coordinator Jennifer Yaar; it is a sub-group of Lexington SEPAC/SEPTA (the Special Education Parent Advisory Council/Special Education PTA), like the Dyslexia Parents Group of Lexington. While SEPAC/SEPTA meetings are public, this sub-group was formed primarily to meet the local need for “a group where people could be a little less formal, share, get information that they needed,” whether they were parents of children undergoing the diagnostic process for ADHD, or of students who already had been diagnosed, Yaar said. The group currently has 61 members, she added.
- Yaar, as the parent of a child with ADHD herself, wants parents, teachers, staff and administrators to know what the signs and symptoms of ADHD are, so that consistent support can be provided for all students who need it. “It’s one of those things where people think they know what it is and how it presents, but the common perception of what it is and [the reality of] how it might present in children and students can be very different,” Yaar said.
- Yaar also wants parents to have a good understanding of how to navigate the diagnostic process for ADHD; “I find parents struggle with [the diagnostic process] quite a bit in Lexington,” she said. If parents wish to go down the route of prescribing medication, which can be part of treatments for ADHD, they need to receive a diagnosis from a licensed professional outside of the school system — “but having something done by Lexington Public Schools is not sufficient for someone to prescribe medication,” Yaar explained. Nonetheless, for a child to receive special education learning services and/or accommodations such as a 504 plan or an individualized education plan, the parent must have an evaluation done by the school system, Yaar added. So, parents typically need to complete both of these two processes to fully meet their child’s needs.
- Students can be diagnosed with ADHD as early as preschool — but the condition sometimes isn’t diagnosed until early or mid-adulthood, if at all, and diagnoses can also change as students get older and more tests can be done. These realities can make it complicated to consistently give students the support they need, but “that’s why it’s important to have those evaluations done — because it can kind of shift and change. And every kid is different in terms of their development,” Yaar said.
- While special education staff in Lexington are “generally supportive of the awareness efforts,” the challenge of giving educators sufficient time and resources to adequately support students with ADHD (and all special education students) “is always the hard nut to crack” for Lexington and all school districts, Yaar said. Staff might be doing their best, but IEPs and 504 plans are complex and lengthy documents, which can make absorption and implementation a tall order — “these are 30-page documents, there’s a lot of legal language in them, [and] there’s training involved in how to read them.”
- The Lexington School Committee unanimously adopted a proclamation at their Oct. 12 meeting recognizing October as ADHD Awareness Month in Lexington; the month is also nationally and internationally celebrated.
- For more information and resources about ADHD and to contact the ADHD Parents Group of Lexington, you can visit their website.
COVID-19 cases in town and at LPS
- As of today, there were 24 new cases of COVID-19 recorded in Lexington, only up by one from last week, according to the town dashboard. The town continues to have relatively low case numbers, but Lexington’s indoor mask mandate remains in place.
- At Lexington Public Schools, both the number of staff or students who were absent for testing positive this week and the number of students/staff quarantining declined this week. As of yesterday, 10 staff or students were absent who had tested positive, compared to double that number last week, while 9 students (and no staff) were on quarantine, compared to 24 staff/students 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 still at Bowman Elementary School, where 5 staff or students were quarantining while 4 staff or students were absent who had tested positive. Last week, 11 staff/students were quarantining and 7 staff/students were absent from Bowman, so things are trending in the right direction. Other LPS cases and quarantines this week were scattered in very low numbers throughout pre-K, elementary, middle and high school buildings — but in more good news, Bridge, Fiske, Hastings (elementary schools) and Diamond (middle school) all showed 0 students/staff quarantining and 0 students/staff absent for testing positive.
2 Final PSAs: Two FREE COVID testing opportunities next week; apply to the Affordable Housing Study Committee by next Friday
- Lexington is partnering with Belmont to offer two dates for FREE COVID-19 PCR testing provided by PhysicianOne Urgent Care following Halloween weekend:
- Thursday, Nov. 4 (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.): drive-through testing at 173 Bedford St., Lexington
- Saturday, Nov. 6 (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.): indoor testing at Chenery Middle School, 95 Washington St., Belmont
- BOTH events are open to residents of Lexington and Belmont alike (so yes, if you’d rather go on a Saturday in Belmont than a Thursday in Lexington, you certainly can). You must do two things to take advantage of the free testing: Make an appointment, and provide proof of residency. You can set up an account and make an appointment here, and learn more here.
- Lexington’s Select Board is looking for seven community members to serve on an Affordable Housing Study Committee. This committee has two goals:
- bring a proposal to the Select Board and Town Meeting to adopt a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust;
- Develop a proposal for a non-profit Housing Development Corporation or non-profit Community Development Corporation or other entity to participate in the Massachusetts community investment tax credit programs.
- This commitment entails a three-year term, or until completion and filing of the report with the Select Board.
- What skills or experience are they looking for in candidates? “Members may include those with experience in real estate lending or finance, land use or real estate law, real estate development, affordable housing development, housing advocacy, planning, racial equity, accessibility, sustainability/resiliency, or architecture,” per the town website.
- The application form is due, along with a resume, by mail or email by a week from today — Friday, Nov. 5.
- Email: SelectBoard@LexingtonMA.gov
- Mail: Lexington Town Office Building
c/o Select Board Office
1625 Massachusetts Avenue
Lexington, MA 02420
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