Published March 21, 2019


NORTH READING — There was a standing ovation in the Distance Learning Lab Monday evening as the community paid homage to Mel Webster and 15 years of School Committee service at his final meeting.

Administrators, parents, students, as well as current and former town committee members attended the School Committee meeting to share fond memories and good wishes.

“I had the pleasure and privilege of serving 14 years with Mel on the school committee. I’m not sure how I did that, but we became good friends as well as colleagues,” former Committee member Jerry Venezia said.

“I think the difference between Mel and all the people that I’ve served with is that Mel brought his ‘A game’ to every single meeting. Every single School Committee meeting, every single Athletic Subcommittee meeting, Financial Planning Team meeting, School Building Committee meeting, Athletic Facilities Committee meeting, contract negotiations, Mel was always the most prepared,” Venezia added. “He was always the most well informed, and he was always the most passionate…It was never about a personal agenda with Mel. Everything he did was on behalf of the students in North Reading…Mel, thanks…I just think that the contribution you made to the School Department over the past 15 years is unparalleled.”

RECOGNITION of Mel Webster’s 15 years of dedicated service as a member of the North Reading School Committee was acknowledged at his final meeting on March 18. Among those offering him their best wishes in retirement were (from left): Director of Finance and Operations Michael Connelly, Assistant Superintendent Patrick Daly, Committee member Rich McGowan, Chairman Janene Imbriano, Webster, Committee member Dyana Boutwell, Vice Chairman Scott Buckley, and Superintendent Jon Bernard. (Jillian String Photo)

Webster’s passion for education and drive to move the district forward was echoed in the sentiments of many throughout the evening.

“You had a lot of ideas and opinions, but they were well researched and well thought out. I think you always brought that to the table, and I really appreciate that,” Assistant Superintendent Patrick Daly said.

“We are a very blessed and fortunate community for so many reasons, not the least of which is the people who step up when there is a problem and a challenge, and they refuse to have the obstacles stay in the way,” parent and former High School Council member Deanna Castro stated. “…I echo what Jerry said about the decisions you’ve made have always been in the best interest of our students, and my family and our community owe you a debt of gratitude for all that you’ve done.”

SCHOOL COMMITTEE Vice Chairman Scott Buckley (left) presents retiring member Mel Webster with an award dubbed “Webster’s Washrooms,” a reference to the NRHS athletic facilities saga. (Jillian String Photo)

“The really good news is that our schools no longer need saving because of all the good work that you’ve done, that Jerry’s done, that everyone at the table, and many more in this room, have done, and the previous generation of students, the current generation, and future generations are going to really benefit from not only the buildings that they’re in, but the passion that you gave…when the going got tough, you really got going,” former Selectman Marci Bailey commented.

North Reading Middle School Principal Cathy O’Connell thanked Webster for supporting the new the Middle/High School complex, as well as her vision for the Middle School.

“Thank you for allowing me to dream,” O’Connell said.

Superintendent Jon Bernard, Director of Finance and Operations Michael Connelly, and the current School Committee members concluded the tribute with their thoughts.

Committee Chairman Janene Imbriano thanked Webster for all he has done, and invited the other members to share their experiences.

“I’ve learned a lot in the year I’ve been here, and to see your knowledge constantly in play this year has been impressive,” Committee member Rich McGowan said.

Committee member Dyana Boutwell stated that she moved to North Reading specifically for the school system.

“I came for the schools, and I know you’ve been a big part of that, so thank you as a parent. As a School Committee member, I wish I had more time with you, because I think I could continue to learn a lot,” Boutwell said.

School Committee Vice Chairman Scott Buckley applauded Webster for his institutional knowledge.

“You were impressive. You made me feel stupid because you knew so much about things. You were so passionate about what you did,” Buckley said. “It will be very hard to replace that. Your knowledge is just superior to most people.”

Connelly agreed.

“Going into a budget meeting with you, a subcommittee meeting, athletic meeting, whatever it was, I always had to be on my ‘A game’ and have my data and my research because you certainly would always ask the tough question. I was always amazed at how quickly you understood and grasped everything. You really, to me, always understood the big picture,” Connelly said. “I knew you were always looking at what would have the greatest impact on students and their education. I definitely will miss working with you.”

Bernard shared his memories of Webster over the past 15 years, including his first tour of the high school back when Bernard was Principal.

“As public a person as you have been as a School Committee member, Mel, and what people think they know you have done for the district, there are few people who know the many private things that you’ve done. I’m one of those people, and I will be forever grateful for what you have done to support kids in this district and for the opportunity you gave to me,” Bernard said. “What a legacy you have left behind. You are going to be deeply, deeply missed.”

Webster thanked everyone with whom he has worked over the past 15 years.

“This town should be extremely proud of the school system it has, and it’s going to continue to get better, if you get the budgets approved, but it’s been a pleasure. I am going to miss it,” Webster said.