Category Archives: Education

Remembering Lou Barrett

Lucille “Lou” Barrett — a member of that great generation of post-war Westporters who helped define this town for half a century — died early today. She was 92 years old.

Lou was a lifelong educator. She began in Greenwich Village in the 1940s, and spent many years in the Westport school system. After she retired, she became a sought-after writing coach. Perhaps best known as a Staples High School English teacher, she was beloved by colleagues and students for her deep wisdom, gentle nature, and genuine concern for everyone she met.

Lucille "Lou" Barrett

Lucille “Lou” Barrett

As a founding member of Temple Israel, she helped create one of the town’s most active social justice institutions. As first principal of its religious school, she made sure that there was as strong an emphasis on current affairs as on Jewish education.

Lou was also a gifted poet. She was published frequently — including 5 collections that explore fearlessly and with intensity her Jewish heritage, her childhood in Brookly, and her maturing to adulthood and old age — and never missed a chance to pass on her love for the craft.

Her son George says:

Mom was humble, fierce in her convictions, devoted, and always focused on the needs of others. I have heard over the years many stories from people I don’t even know about how my mother transformed their lives, or started their careers, or pushed them to take a chance on something in which they believed.

She believed in her students, her children and her friends, and strove to help them see in themselves the strength and beauty she saw in them. She treated every one with honesty and respect.

She was also the connecting tissue for an enormous family ecosystem that now spans 4 generations, and multiple continents.

Lou’s husband, Herb, died this past May, at 93. The Barretts were married for 73 years. Lou is survived by 5 children, 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is set for Tuesday (October 6, 12:30 p.m.), at Temple Israel, with private burial service to follow. The family will sit shiva after hte burial at the home of Marvin and Joan Frimmer in Westport. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Congregation Kol Ami, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, or Temple Israel, Westport.

Former Staples Teachers Are Definitely Not The Retiring Types

Over 200 years of teaching experience was on display the other day, at the Newtown Country Club.

A group of educators gathered for the 1st annual Staples Retired Teachers Golf Classic — and what a classic it was.

Retired Staples teachers

In the photo above are, from left: Bruce McFadden (science), Ed Bludnicki (science, administration, adult education), Pete Van Hagen (science), Tommy Owen (special education), Jim Wheeler (art), Jeff Lea (world language), Bill Walsh (math — and not retired), Bill Brookes (science).

No word on who won. But Wheeler proudly displays his award, for “most uncooperative balls.”

See what happens when these guys leave the classroom?

Just When You Think You’ve Heard Every Parking Story Imaginable…

Alert “06880” reader Cindy Mindell-Wong writes:

Last week, I went back to my car in the notorious Compo Shopping Center parking lot. I found a note on my windshield:

I backed up leaving Little Kitchen, and may have grazed your car’s rear fender. I took a picture of your rear fender for my records. If you would like to discuss, please call me at [number]. Thank you.

This is the 1st new car I’ve owned since I started driving 36 years ago. My previous car, an old beater, was a magnet for parking lot hit-and-runs, not one of them accompanied by a note on the windshield. So I didn’t hold out much hope that I was dealing with an honest broker.

But boy, was I ever! This afternoon, I learned from the note-writer’s insurance company that a check for repairs was on its way.

The week-long process has been a welcome lesson in gratitude, trust, and the magic one person creates in the world with a simple act of integrity and honesty.

Ashley Gayanilo (Photo/Inklings)

Ashley Gayanilo (Photo/Inklings)

There’s a sweet footnote to the story: The woman who grazed Cindy’s car is Ashley Gayanilo, a social studies teacher at Staples High School — and she had Cindy’s daughter  in class last year. When Cindy sent a small gift of thanks — and asked if she could share this great story publicly on “06880” — Ashley replied:

I am humbled that you thought to acknowledge me. Character building is something we emphasize here at school, with Westport 2025. I’m happy to share this as an example. I’ve never been in print before!

MakerSpace: 3 Years Old (And 3.0)

It’s a toss-up who’s more passionated about the MakerSpace: Bill Derry, or the thousands of people of all ages who have embraced it as their own.

Derry is the Westport Library’s director of innovation. The MakerSpace is the large area in its Great Hall where an eclectic, ever-changing group gathers for creation, collaboration and entrepreneurship.

The Westport Library's Makerspace has a prominent position in the midst of the Great Hall.

The Library’s MakerSpace has a prominent position in the midst of the Great Hall.

Many folks — devoted users and head-scratching passersby alike — see technology and construction in the MakerSpace, and think of it as a place for “things.” But it’s also a tight-knit community — and a place where lives are changed.

Age does not matter there. Youngsters teach adults — including some old enough to be their great-grandparents — how to use 3-D printers and gaming consoles. Doing so, they gain important skills like public speaking. By thinking about how to teach, they crystallize their own ideas.

They also gain plenty of confidence.

A middle school MakerSpace aficionado spent 2 days teaching librarians how to create and print 3D models.

An older teenager built a gaming computer in front of an audience, then was invited to teach (for pay) at Southern Connecticut State University.

A boy who has difficulty speaking stands eagerly in front of an inter-generational audience. His speech problem vanishes at the MakerSpace.

Young people teach -- and learn from -- older ones in the MakerSpace.

Young people teach — and learn from — older ones in the MakerSpace.

That collaborative, across-age-lines sharing excites Derry. “Big companies talk about new ways of working — bringing together a musician and an engineer, for example,” the innovation guru says.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing here.”

The MakerSpace has been around long enough — 3 years — that some of its most avid users have moved on. One is studying engineering at NYU; another attends Lehigh University.

“It’s like any graduation,” Derry says. “We’re sad to see them go, and there’s a real feeling of leaving a community. But we’re happy they’re in a new and challenging place.”

MakerSpace users are not the only ones leaving the Westport Library. On October 31, Derry himself retires.

Bill Derry

Bill Derry

He’s had an “incredible” run, he says. His fulfilling career at the Library followed 3 years as information technology coordinator for the Westport school system, and 6 as library media coordinator at Greens Farms Elementary School.

Now he’s ready for the next challenge.

Before he goes though, there’s one more big event. On Thursday and Friday, September 24-25, the Westport Library sponsors “MakerSpace 3.0: Retinkering Libraries.” Panels will focus on imagination, education, economic development, and community engagement. On Saturday, September 26, there’s an optional bus trip to the New York World Maker Faire.

The public is invited to the bus trip (registration required). Including, of course, all the young people who make the MakerSpace such an exciting and innovative place.

Saugatuck School Shenanigans

An alert “06880” reader — not the same one who wrote yesterday about the towing of cars during last weekend’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival — emailed this morning:

I was at Saugatuck Elementary School around 7:30 p.m. tonight. Parking was terrible. A PAL football practice was just ending, and Back To School Night was going on. The 2 events overlapped by about 30 minutes. Clearly, Saugatuck Elementary is not intended for that quantity of vehicles.

Nonetheless, there was legal parking on the street. People had to walk a bit, though.

What surprised me was the number of cars that drove over curbs to park on lawns, regardless of sprinklers. The amount of double-parked cars, cars parked clearly where no parking existed, in fire lanes and crosswalks was astonishing.

I even saw a Range Rover blocking in a Maserati. At least the Range Rover left its flashers on.

Saugatuck parking - 1

Saugatuck parking - 4


Saugatuck parking - 2

Saugatuck parking - 3

Harvest Fest: Growing A Classroom At Wakeman Town Farm

Since its inception just a few years ago, Wakeman Town Farm has become an important, respected — even beloved — Westport institution.

Students visit for school programs, events, tours and camps. They learn first hand what it means to grow organic produce, from seed to plate. Many volunteer, discovering a passion for animals, gardening or sustainable agriculture.

Adults take classes too, and join the WTF CSA.

Running a farm takes work — everyone knows that.

It also takes money.

Despite its name, Wakeman Town Farm is not funded by the town. Westport leases the property to WTF; directors raise money to pay for all operating costs, including animal feed and care, maintenance and snow plowing.

The Wakeman Farm.

The Wakeman Farm.

Now they’re soliciting capital for a bigger project. WTF hopes to build a year-round classroom and kitchen. That’s the key to becoming a self-sustaining entity, operating 12 months a year with cooking classes, films, book signings, intimate chef’s dinners, community meetings and homesteading workshops.

The current classroom lacks insulation, severely limiting program options. For instance, this year 80 mothers flocked to the first “Mommy and Me” sessions. Despite its appeal, the program could not continue during colder months.

WTF’s annual fundraiser is Saturday, September 12 (6 p.m., at the farm). “Harvest Fest” includes live music; seasonal menus created by local chefs using artisinal cheeses, produce and meats sourced from small Connecticut farmers; signature drinks and wine pairings, and a fantastic auction offering unique experiences in dining and travel (like a 3-night Rome trip with a special Vatican visit, and a luxury suite at the Barclay’s Center with food and drinks for a party of 24).

How you gonna keep Westport’s kids (and adults) down on the farm?

You can start by heading to Saturday’s Harvest Fest.

(Click here for Harvest Fest tickets — or if you can’t attend, to donate to Wakeman Town Farm.)

Scenes from last year's Harvest Fest.

Scenes from last year’s Harvest Fest.

Super Search Goes Online

As part of the search process for a new superintendent of schools, all Westporters are invited to participate in a brief online survey. Questions include characteristics desired in the next leader. Space is provided for recommendations of individual candidates.

Click here to access the survey.

The Board of Education has also planned community forums, as part of the process to replace retiring superintendent Elliott Landon. The next is set for Thursday, September 10 (10 to 11:30 a.m., Town Hall auditorium).

Westport Public Schools

Staples High School Expansion Plans Released

The “new” Staples High School is already a decade old. Ten years after opening, the 3-story building still looks fresh.

But the school population has risen. It’s now nearly 1,900 — 100 students over the 1,800 it was planned for. Projections — based on demographic trends, as well as housing starts and the addition of multi-family housing in Westport — show enrollments of 1,900 or so students for at least the next several years.

Staples High School now has 1900 students.

Staples High School now has 1900 students.

With those figures in mind — and current and future advances in areas like science, technology, art, engineering, math, robotics, 3D modeling, social studies and world languages, as well as increased state graduation credit requirements — superintendent of schools Elliott Landon has released a Facility Planning Study.

The 43-page document is based on work by Fuller & D’Angelo (the architects of record for the 2005 addition/renovation), ASW Engineers and CPS Cost Estimators.

The informational guide — conceptual in nature — offers 3 potential building additions. The unanimous recommendation of all parties was a single-level scheme. It provides a 2-story engineering and robotics lab on the southeast corner (near the current horticulture garden); another 2-story conference space opposite it, then more classrooms and auxiliary spaces connected to current corridors and the cafeteria area, toward the gym. This creates a new circulation loop eastward (by the back parking lot) of the current library.

Three views of the proposed expansion of Staples High School. The new construction -- shown in white -- would be on the easternmost part of the current building, from the current horticulture class garden northward toward the cafeteria.

Three views of the proposed expansion of Staples High School. The new construction — shown in white — would be on the easternmost part of the current building, from the current horticulture class garden northward toward the cafeteria and gym.

The cost estimate totals $21.2 million. State reimbursement could return $2 million to the town.

The plan is of course in the early stages. Public input — plus many rounds of commission meetings, beginning with the Board of Education on Monday night — lie ahead.

1st Day Of School!

In honor of the 1st day of the 2015-16 school year, “06880” celebrates the very 1st day of a new school.

Back in 1953, Coleytown Elementary School opened its then-modern doors. Fred Cantor — an indefatigable researcher and (more importantly) 1965 Coleytown El grad — has unearthed a fascinating scrapbook documenting that initial year.

Created by 5th graders Marcia Sorisi, Karen Olson and Jan Pontius, it offers an intriguing look into bygone days.

For example, famed Saturday Evening Post and US postage stamp illustrator Stevan Dohanos created a mural for the lobby of the new building his young children attended.

Called “American Heritage,” it showed scenes like the Liberty Bell, flag and “American Indians.” Below, he puts the finishing touches on 1 of the 3 panels.

Coleytown El - Stevan DohanosTelevision was relatively new in 1953. Here’s how the school reacted:

Coleytown El - TV

The librarian — Mrs. Stevenson — said: “Nowadays … if children don’t become readers when they are small, they probably never will.”

Interscholastic sports were big in Westport’s elementary schools (in 1953, the others were Greens Farms, Bedford and Saugatuck). Besides the Coleytown baseball team — in spiffy Major League-type uniforms below — there were reports of the 6th grade girls playing Bedford in kickball, and the boys basketball team meeting Bedford as a fundraiser.

Coleytown El - interscholastic baseball

The 5th graders wrote about everyone getting polio shots — without any kind of anti-vaccine movement — as well as a “Dental Honor Roll.”

Coleytown El - Dental honor roll

The young Coleytown El students did plenty of writing, back in the day. Patricia Ferrone analyzed why she liked the school: “It is very modern. The teachers are very nice.” Also, Mrs. James gave gum chewing days. And there were water fountains, a built-in sink, maps of the world, plate lunches and a health room.Coleytown El - Why I like by Patricia Ferrone

One more tidbit from the scrapbook: the creation of a class newspaper. The goal was to experience “the task which faces newsmen in collecting the news.”

The editor-in-chief was a boy named Gordon Joseloff. Sounds like the experience served him well. Before winning 2 terms as 1st selectman, Joseloff was a CBS  correspondent, senior producer and bureau chief in New York, Moscow and Tokyo. Today, he’s editor and publisher of

If you’ve got memories of your 1st year in a new Westport school — or elementary school memories of any kind from here — click “Comments” below. Let’s celebrate the school year ahead with a fun look back!

(Hat tips: Fred Cantor and Carol Borrman)

Westport Helps Waltersville’s Garden Grow

Westport has a long history with Waltersville School. For years, Staples High School world language students have volunteered at the K-8 facility across the street from the former Father Panik Village in Bridgeport.

Now another group has stepped up. Last spring, the school wanted to transform a barren courtyard into something more inviting. They asked the Westport Garden Club to help.

The low-key — but very committed — 90-year-old organization said “of course!” The result: 4 beautiful perennial gardens.

The Westport Garden Club was joined by Pivot Ministries, a Waltersville neighbor. Labor, design and plants were all donated.

Westporters and Bridgeporters work together at the Waltersville School.

Westporters and Bridgeporters work together at the Waltersville School.

Yesterday’s ribbon-cutting yesterday was a festive affair. School staff, Garden Club members and Pivot Ministries helpers joined together to celebrate.

The opening of Waltersville School this year will be very joyful indeed.