Concord voters meet Joe Zellner of Bedford, a former Concord-Carlisle social studies teacher who portrayed John Garrison, Ellen Garrison’s brother, before Town Meeting. Photo by Ken McGagh for The Concord Bridge

Town Meeting supports Ellen Garrison school, $50M for water treatment

By Christine M. Quirk and Celeste Katz Marston

After almost two hours of debate and a defeated amendment, Town Meeting voted Tuesday to urge the naming of the new middle school for Ellen Garrison. 

Garrison was born and educated in Concord, the daughter and granddaughter of enslaved men, said Joe Palumbo, co-chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission, in presenting Article 22.  

She was a teacher who devoted her life to helping formerly enslaved people thrive and “her grandfather, Cesar Robbins, stood on the Old North Bridge on April 19, 1775,” he said. “This is a Concord family, like the Alcotts, the Emersons, and the Thoreaus.”

Margaret Schumacher holds a sign in support of naming the new school for Ellen Garrison as voters file into Concord-Carlisle High School for Town Meeting. Photo by Ken McGagh for The Concord Bridge

The School Committee, after seeking public input, voted in February to go with “Concord Middle School,” disappointing Garrison supporters.

School Committee Chair Alexa Anderson said of 22 suggested names, a majority preferred CMS. “There was not a consensus, but that’s okay,” she said. “That’s normal. That’s democracy.” 

Article 22’s passage means the town “will urge” naming the school for Garrison, but it’s not yet clear what will happen. 

Speaking for himself, Finance Committee Chair Parashar Patel asked if the committee would not just reconsider but change the name if the article passed. Anderson said she was bound by open meeting laws and couldn’t speak on behalf of the committee. 

Pros and Cons

Voter Michael Williams speaks on behalf of Article 22. Image via Minuteman Media Network.

Among those who rose in support of the article, Michael Williams said Garrison “exemplifies the characteristics we aspire toward as Concordians… I, and those who stand with me, advocate for just one name on a building that recognizes the contributions of people of color.”

But Debra Kavaler Wysopal argued voters should uphold the School Committee’s decision.

“I’m an advocate of democratic values, and Ellen Garrison,” she said, “but we must champion fairness and adherence to the rule of law.” 

Fourth-grader Grace Drazen received special permission to speak.

“All our schools are named after men. Girls need to feel loved,” she said. “Little things like this, bit by bit, will change the world.” 


That’s not all

While the school naming generated buzz ahead of Town Meeting, it was hardly the only major item before voters. 

Aside from major decisions on multi-family housing development and a thwarted attempt by the FinCom to amend the Regional School District’s Fiscal 2025 budget, Town Meeting also: 

  • Approved the Fiscal 2025 budget of $59.7 million for the operation of town departments and joint accounts.
  • Voted in favor of borrowing $50 million for improvements to the Nagog Pond water treatment plant and remediation of PFAS, also known as forever chemicals. “Yes, it’s costly to treat PFAS and to bring Nagog Pond online,” said the Select Board’s Terri Ackerman. “The borrowing request is for $50 million, but we’ll only borrow and spend what we actually need.”
  • Supported creation of a stormwater enterprise fund to help deal with flood mitigation and “extreme storm events which are occurring with greater frequency.”
  • Approved, late Tuesday, the creation of a Town Meeting study committee to formally examine, for the first time since the mid 1990s, how Concord’s form of self-governance works — or doesn’t.