The School Committee is considering two names for the new elementary school which will replace the Hillside School and is scheduled to be built on Central Avenue.
After receiving dozens and dozens of suggestions of names from community members, the School Committee's School Naming Subcommittee has proposed that two notable Needhamites, Leslie Cutler and Sunita Williams, should be considered for this honor. The School Committee expects to discuss the two proposed names in May and then vote on the name for the new school at their first meeting in June. Following are brief biographies of both women:
Leslie Cutler (1890-1971)
Born in Boston in 1890, Leslie Bradley Cutler attended both Radcliffe College and MIT, where she studied biology and public health. She married Roger Cutler of Needham (later divorced) and was the mother of 5 children.
Cutler had an impressive career in politics and public service especially considering the historic context in which she lived. Elected Needham’s first female selectman (and only the second in the Commonwealth) in 1924, with the help of newly registered women voters who secured the right to vote in 1920, Cutler went on 2 years later to be elected to Needham’s Board of Health, a position she retained and contributed to passionately for 41 years. She ran for the MA House of Representatives in 1928, 1930 and 1932 before being elected in 1934 and became only the second woman in MA history to win election to the MA Senate in 1948, where she served for 20 years.
Some of her most notable accomplishments included: passing a bill permitting women to serve on juries; chairing a special legislative committee on mental health, fighting for a bill establishing community mental health centers and advocating strongly for the funding to transform Logan International Airport into the major airport it is today. Leslie Cutler expressed her personal sense of adventure in taking flying lessons in 1942.
As if her state and local political roles, in addition to being a mother, were not sufficient to keep her busy, Leslie Cutler was simultaneously very busy contributing to a number of service organizations within the Town of Needham. She served as President of the Needham Community Council for 28 years; director of the Needham Red Cross; founder of the local chapter of the YMCA; and she helped start the Needham Council on Aging.
In recognition of grit and extensive contributions the Needham Historical Society named Leslie Cutler “Needham’s Outstanding Person of the 20th Century” in 2000. She was a crusader for mental and public health, an activist in the woman’s suffrage movement, champion of welfare and penal reform, juvenile needs, education and aviation, a true public servant for 44 years.
Sunita “Suni” Williams (1965- )
Although Suni Williams was born in 1965 in Euclid, Ohio, she “considers Needham, MA to be her hometown.” Her background, as the daughter of an Indian American father and a Slovenian American mother, reflects racial, geographic and ethnic diversity.
Suni graduated from Needham High School in 1983 and went on to earn a BS from the US Naval Academy in 1987 and an MS in Engineering Management from Florida Institute of Technology in 1995. She has enjoyed a long career in the Navy beginning with her commission as an Ensign in the Navy in 1987. In 1989 Williams became a Naval Aviator, and was trained in and assigned to Helicopter Combat support. During her Navy career she was deployed overseas including the Persian Gulf and served as Officer-in-Charge aboard the USS Sylvania in Miami, FL to provide support for the Hurricane Andrew Relief Operations. Williams career ultimately focused on flight. She completed US Test Pilot School in 1993 and ultimately logged over 3000 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft.
In 1998, Suni was selected as an Astronaut for NASA, and, as part of her training, she worked in Moscow with the Russian Space Agency. Having served on two missions to the International Space Station (ISS), first as a flight engineer and then as commander, Suni spent a total of 322 days in space. During this time she completed 7 space walks totaling 50 hours and 40 minutes and held the record for a female astronaut walking in space until this past March 31st. And, not the least of her accomplishments, Suni ran the first marathon in space when she completed the 2007 Boston Marathon in 4 hours and 24 minutes. Additionally, Suni taught a lesson on space and physics to Newman students that was beamed from the ISS to classrooms in Needham.
In July 2015 NASA announced that Sunita would become one of the first astronauts for US Commercial Spaceflights. She is currently working with Boeing and SpaceX.
Among many honors and awards, she has won Navy Commendation and Humanitarian Service medals and medals/awards from the governments of Russia, India and Slovenia. In addition, Suni received the George Dennett Distinguished Career Award (for NHS alumni) in 2007.
Sunita Williams has been on the forefront of the space program over the last nearly 20 years. She is an incredible role model for today’s students and exemplifies the potential of a career in the military, STEM and public service.
Thanks to the following subcommittee members who have been involved in this important process: Sue Neckes (School Committee), Marianne Cooley (Selectmen), Heather Dummett (Teacher), Gloria Greis (Needham Historical Society), Joanna Herrera (Parent), Michael Kascak (Principal), Kim Marie Nicols (Community Member), Steve Theall (Community Member).