Published in the March 30, 2017 edition
By Bill Laforme
NORTH READING – Students from North Reading High School have been playing a leading role in a statewide organization of student councils. Earlier this month, the North Reading delegation traveled to Hyannis earlier this month to participate in the 40th annual Mass. Association of Student Councils state conference. The three-day annual event provides high school students with a way to build their leadership skills. They attend various workshops and elect executive boards, including a president, and participants receive various awards and get to enjoy a dance and a banquet. “It’s a lot of positivity when you go there, and you want to bring it back to school,” freshman Elizabeth Barrett told the Transcript in a recent conversation with the students who attended the event. Sophomore Chris McCann had a similar opinion, saying it was “just the vibe” of the event that the students end up wanting to take back to their schools. Junior Noel Riley called the event “unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before,” adding that it builds “skills for your everyday life.” Sophomore Justin Heintz said he enjoyed the various communication workshops and speakers at the event. Gabby Lanzaro, a senior, visited the event four times while attending NRHS and said “each time I go I learn something new about myself.” Jerilyn Kaithamattam noted that the students met many new people, but also got to become closer with each other as a student council. NRHS senior Dan Madden, president of the student council, was also the statewide president last year, having bested a field of six competitors with a majority vote during last year’s campaign – a campaign he started developing back when he was a freshman. Madden told the Transcript that his campaign strategies had been inspired in good part by the Madden NFL video games, with an emphasis on team work, and even handing out footballs. After being elected, he traveled to various parts of the state to meet with other student council members After graduation, Madden plans to study political science and economics and join the ROTC, possibly at the University of Alabama. Three of the North Reading students ran a workshop that focused on bringing people of different views and opinions together. MASC Delegations also submit a “book of excellence” with a focus on details such as community service and meeting minutes. Last year’s effort earned them a gold award at the national level, and the group was still waiting as of last week to hear whether it had won another this year. Looking ahead, the school hopes to see one or two other regional officers elected before long. Student Duncan MacNeil is reportedly running for a regional vice president role that was once held by Madden. MacNeil citing his Dunkin Donuts-inspired “StuCo runs on Duncan” campaign theme. NRHS Spanish Teacher Amy St. Arnaud, who also serves as advisor to the student council, said that 1,300 students from 80 schools all over the state were in attendance this year. Junior Abby D’Orlando noted that the MASC has been doing a Polar Plunge to raise money for the Special Olympics, and also a mini bocce tournament in the past. NORTH READING – Selectman Jeffrey Yull says he plans to run a positive re-election campaign that focuses on fiscally conservative approach to town government while also watching out for the town’s seniors and others. “I believe this is other people’s money and we need to handle it responsibly,” said Yull in a recent conversation with the Transcript. “It’s not ours to just spend – I’m always very conscious about that.” Yull is running for what would be his third term as a selectman, having taken a couple of years off in between his first and second term. Yull moved to North Reading in 1995 and he and his wife Irene raised their children, Janelle and Joseph in town and saw them graduate from North Reading High School. Growing up in New York City, Yull was the youngest of six children in a working-class family. His father drove a cab and his mother was a teacher. He spent a number of years in the transportation brokerage business, arranging freight shipments around the country. In his business career, Yull said that he developed a philosophy of turning weaknesses into strengths. He noted that before making his first run for selectman – his first bid for political office at all – he spent a year attending board meetings to be as familiar as possible with the tasks at hand. He later said that he never envisioned becoming a selectmen when he first moved to North Reading, “but you’re in a town like this that gives you so much,” he added, citing things like the town youth programs and education system, as well as good management in general. At the special town meeting held earlier this month, Yull made a motion that would have basically had a proposed new restroom facility at the school athletic field replaced with what he believes is a far more cost-effective idea to expand the existing building at the field and equip that with restrooms. Specifically, town officials requested $50,000 to finish plans that could be sent out to bid by the June town meeting, resulting in a more accurate (and likely lower) cost estimate. That proposal has drawn the opposition of the school committee and the athletic facilities committee, which has been working on a solution for complying with the state’s mandate for restrooms at the field. Yull has also objected to the possibility of eventually using town funds to rebuild a snack shack at the athletic field. “The project itself is not the issue,” said Yull. “It’s whether we need a Mercedes or an everyday car.” Yull maintains that the town could end up spending as much as $828,000 on the combined cost of a new restroom facility and snack shack, although it remains to be seen if and when a private fundraising effort would cover the snack shack. The cost of expanding the existing building was estimated at $435,000, but like the other estimates since then, would have likely increased somewhat. “If that’s our spending habit going forward, it’s going to destroy the senior population in this community,” said Yull, adding that he tries to stand up for seniors “because they don’t seem to have a spokesman.” As a selectman, Yull has cited his concern during meetings about the tax burden on North Reading’s seniors. He noted that as a member of the town’s capital improvement committee, he had supported spending the money to upgrade wifi in the schools. He added that many seniors have been parents and understand the need to maintain the schools, but the problem is over-spending. “We’re not talking about $50,000 here,” said Yull. “Whatever decision I make is going to have an impact on someone, so I take that very seriously.” Along with his time as a North Reading selectman, Yull was also a co-founder of the former North Reading United for Education, which was particularly active during the construction effort for the new schools. During his time as a selectman, Yull has also proposed changing town meeting to Saturday during the day to allow seniors who may be unable to drive at night a better opportunity to participate in town government. “I care that they have the option,” said Yull. “No one could say ‘I couldn’t go because it was dark out.’” Another long-term idea Yull supports is a rail trail in North Reading. He said that he requested its inclusion in the town’s strategic plan. “I don’t think it should be a forgotten item. It adds to the community,” said Yull. An older plan apparently envisioned a town rail trail that could run toward the general direction of the Bostik Plant in Middleton and toward the trails in other nearby towns, such as Peabody. As a longtime running/walking enthusiast, Yull also said he’s concerned about keeping the sidewalks on Route 28 safe and clear – particularly after one particularly dangerous five-mile walk navigating that area’s snow banks. He noted that a warrant article at the June town meeting could potentially make it easier for the town to enforce its sidewalk clearing bylaw. “North Reading is going to grow no matter what we do… And we need to position ourselves for that growth,” said Yull, who noted that the board of selectmen had worked closely in the past with the community planning commission to create the town’s economic development committee with an eye on finally selling the Berry Property. During his previous term, Yull served as North Reading’s liaison to the New England Municipal Gas Pipeline Coalition, and he said he was proud to have played a role in stopping Kinder Morgan’s pipeline project through the region – largely because of the eminent domain takings the project would have likely involved. Yull said that he wishes his election opponent, attorney Andrew Scultz, well, and emphasiezed that he plans a positive campaign “based on facts and reality and dealing with the issues at hand.” Yull added that along with seniors, he works to advocate for all who might need a voice in town government – homeowners, parents of school children, the disabled, veterans, minorities, and others. He added that his own concern for seniors stems in good part from caring for his mother as the end of her life approached. Yull said that he serves on 13 different committees in town, including the capital improvement planning committee and the economic development committee, and he is also active on the town Republican committee, having started a $750 scholarship for an American flag essay contest winner who reads their work during a Flag Day ceremony on the town common. “I feel good being able to give back to the community, and I do it with heartfelt, conscientious thoughts. I expect nothing back from anybody.” said Yull.