Public libraries are back, Gloucester schools are looking up and Gloucester and Cape Ann continue to develop as centers for biotech and life sciences. As the city prepares for next year’s 400th anniversary celebration, recent news accounts and events point to a bright future leveraging the region’s creativity, perseverance and knowledge.

Gloucester schools

A story last May in the Gloucester Daily Times reported on Mila Barry, a Gloucester High School student headed for Harvard. Mila was one among many accepted to top colleges and universities, such as Cornell, Bates, Middlebury, Vassar, Fordham, Wesleyan, Trinity and Baird. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Gloucester has been home to many who took their Gloucester education and achieved success.

But there are challenges, including how best to achieve continuous improvements in academic performance while addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on the school population.

In June 2020, when news was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ben Lummis was named superintendent of schools. His early moves are showing results. The schools have been kept open and test scores are improving in many areas. He’s been briefing the School Committee regularly and getting input on his draft plan for ongoing improvements titled “Every Day Matters.” Lummis’ final plan is due this summer after further engagement with teachers, staff, students and the School Committee.

Engagement and collaboration are key words for Lummis. He spent months meeting with students, teachers, parents and community leaders. “Every Day Matters” is built around individualized student assessments and responses, building trust among all stakeholders and balancing a strong curriculum with support to those who are feeling the effects of two-years of COVID-19.

Lummis said he found “a culture of caring, collaboration and collegiality.” Working with teachers and staff, the district is in the early stages of applying best practices and programs, including those from the elementary schools and the high school, to improve overall performance at O’Maley Middle School. “There’s a strong foundation in the elementary schools and rich programming in the high school that are being leveraged to build a better future for all Gloucester students,” said Lummis.

Libraries

Libraries play an underappreciated role in communities. “Libraries making a comeback” was a headline in a recent Gloucester Daily Times editorial. It cited stories in area newspapers reporting on “programs and events bringing people back together” in libraries in Andover and Newburyport. Similar experiences are found in Gloucester.

In September of 2020, The New York Times reported that libraries were a “surprising exception” to institutions that were ill-prepared for the pandemic. Many libraries extended their services as both destinations and sources of virtual information and programs.

Gloucester’s Sawyer Free Library offered curbside pickup of books throughout the shutdown that finally came to an end last October. The GDT reported last Oct. that it was expanding its services to include loans of digital devices such as tablets and E-readers for books, newspapers, magazines, video streaming services and audiobooks. Check the Library’s website and you’ll find an extensive list of programs for people of all ages and interests.

Neighborhood libraries, such as in Annisquam and Magnolia, like larger public libraries, have dedicated and creative volunteers working to make the library experience meaningful and rewarding, often in new ways that recognize the impacts of COVID-19 on the future.

Biotech and life sciences

Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute, New England Biolabs and Cell Signaling Technologies. are part of what might be emerging as a Greater Cape Ann technology triangle. It stretches from Ipswich, home of New England Biolabs, to Gloucester and GMGI to Danvers, and now possibly Manchester-by-the Sea with the growth and major expansion being considered by Cell Signaling Technology on a 40-acre site near Route 128 and School Street.

Life sciences company New England Biolabs Inc. was launched in 1974 by scientists committed to developing innovative products associated with DNA research. It moved its headquarters to Ipswich in 2005. More recently it has added 100,000 square feet to its Ipswich headquarters and announced additional research space in Beverly. Today, it’s a world-wide supplier of biochemistry products. Since 2020, demand for its products has increased to support development of COVID-19 vaccines and tests.

GMGI started in 2013 as a scientific research and education center “to address critical challenges facing “oceans, human health and the environment.…” It’s already a major player in the marine biotech and life sciences community looking to develop medical applications, address environmental threats, and diagnose diseases in aquatic animals. The GMGI Academy is an important education center training students for well-paying careers in biotechnology and biomanufacturing. Its biomanufacturing program is attracting national interest as a workforce development model.

Cell Signaling Technology is the newest. The privately held company develops and manufactures products used in research and manufacturing associated with the investigation and treatment of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Today, it is headquartered in Danvers. However, it is assessing property in Manchester-by-the-Sea for possible construction of a campus to include a new headquarters, laboratories and manufacturing. If the project goes forward it would be another example of how greater Cape Ann is a growing destination for those who work in life sciences and biotechnology.

Carl Gustin is a North Shore resident and columnist.

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