Stony Brook proposed to be renamed in honor of Superintendent

Town of Westford

Kavya Desikan, Editor

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On Monday, September 24th, Westford Academy Principal James Antonelli made a surprise proposal at the Westford School Committee meeting to rename Stony Brook Middle School the ‘Everett V. Olsen Middle School’ after Westford Public School’s Superintendent Everett “Bill” V. Olsen.

Antonelli, aside from being the principal at WA, is also Chair of the Naming Committee in Westford, which  solicits proposals to name or rename facilities or floors at any of the schools in Westford after someone.

“I was thinking over the summer to myself that Superintendent Olsen has almost 50 years in education under his belt. […] I thought, ‘what better person to have a school named after him’,” said Antonelli.

Olsen was instrumental in the creation of Stony Brook Middle School, which is one of his crowning achievements. It was because of how crucial Olsen was in the development of the middle school that Antonelli decided that he would propose Stony Brook as the school to be renamed after Olsen.

Antonelli reconvened the committee early on, where he was able to bring the recommendation forward.

“We talked it through and I [spoke about] the body of work that he has done for the Westford Public Schools, he’s been here as a business manager, an assistant superintendent, and now a superintendent since 1986. I’m gonna find it hard for somebody else to match that amount of time, dedication, and commitment to any school system across the commonwealth,” said Antonelli on what was discussed during the Naming Committee’s session.

After the Naming Committee approved the proposal, Antonelli surprised Olsen at the September 24th meeting of the Westford School Board with the proposal, which passed through the school board and is now on the docket for the Spring Town Meeting.

“I was very excited when he mentioned it. I was very honored […] It’s not often that you have a school building named after you. It’s just an incredible honor, one that I never expected, one that I never asked for at all. My happiness someday when I retire will just be leaving the job knowing that I tried to do the right thing and make the right decisions every day for children. That’s all that consoles me on this job is just trying to do the right thing.” said Olsen, talking about his reaction to Antonelli’s proposal.

Olsen never expected or aimed for a proposal like this to happen, but the proposal itself has special significance to him, far beyond just the honor of having a school named after him in Westford.

“What’s very meaningful about this is also that my father, who has the same name as I do, had a building that was named in his honor while he was still working at [what is now] UMass Lowell […] he has the math and science building over on the North Campus of UMass Lowell that was named in his honor. He was a very highly respected Executive Vice President and eventually college President,” said Olsen.

While Olsen’s father, who passed in 2004, was not with him when the proposal was made, his family is more than elated at the proposal.

“My 97-year-old mother has always said ‘oh well I am very proud of you’ and she’s always said “well your father is very proud of you also’. That means more than anything in the world to me,” he said.

If this proposal is passed at the school board, Olsen’s two grandchildren will also attend the renamed school. Both of them expressed great pride in their grandfather and appeared very elated when they found out the news, according to Olsen.

Olsen is well-liked within Westford, and the news came with many congratulations from town residents. Beyond just the residents of Westford, many of those who work in Westford schools view Olsen as a superintendent that trusts and supports all those who work in the district.

Stony Brook Middle School Principal, Dr. Christopher Chew, expressed great appreciation for the superintendent. While he cannot express whether or not he supports the proposal due to campaigning rules in Westford, he still spoke highly of Olsen’s capability and character as superintendent.

“My interactions with Superintendent Olsen have always been positive and supportive. The great work that is being done at Stony Brook by our students and staff could only be possible with his trust and support.  I have the utmost respect for him as an individual and as a district leader. He models wonderful leadership skills for the rest of us consistently and I am honored to be able to work with him. During my tenure here in Westford, I have learned the tremendous value and importance of being able to listen first and seek to understand the individual or group with whom I am communicating as he regularly demonstrates that for us through his humble, quiet demeanor,” said Chew.

Antonelli, of course, had sparkling things to say about Olsen as well.

“There’s never been once, in these 12 years since he hired me, that he has ever raised his voice at me. It’s always ‘we can solve this problem together’, ‘we can fix this problem together’, ‘I know that you always have good intentions, some things don’t always work out but we are going to fix it together’. He’s been a mentor, he’s been a colleague, he’s been a friend, and he’s been a father-like figure for me,” said Antonelli.

While this proposal still awaits its day in Town Hall, there is much to be debated about it. While it is undoubted that Olsen’s reputation is impressive, many are apprehensive as to whether or not the name Stony Brook should disappear. One of these people is Audrey Sequeira, a current junior at Westford Academy and former student at Stony Brook.

“I think that the new proposed name isn’t a good representation of what the school is – the school is named Stony Brook as an homage to the natural landmark around it, something that the people of Westford know well […] The name Stony Brook allows the school to stand out from the other schools in our district that are named after the people from town, and it would be a shame if Stony Brook were to fall into that,” Sequeria said.

Like Sequeria says, the Stony Brook is an iconic feature of Westford, and many in town fear that by renaming it, we lose that part of Westford. However, Antonelli believes that while iconic, the name is not necessarily so special in Westford. While Westford was once characterized by villages such as Graniteville and Nabnasset, Stony Brook was never one of them and thus is not as large a part of the town’s history.

Antonelli believes that Olsen has truly earned this honor of having a school named after him, just as superintendent before him, John A. Crisafulli.

“There’s a difference between earning something and deserving something. In my opinion, I don’t think people deserve things, that’s a dangerous word […] Mr. Olsen always says one thing when he hires people, and I do too, and that’s ‘Check your ego at the door. We are humbled, and we are a humbled people, we need to work together.’ To me, I believe that he has earned this name and opportunity named after him based on the body of work that he has done in Westford, and the commitment he has made to education for 48 years,” Antonelli said.