Category Archives: People

Scott Pecoriello: You Do Need This Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows

In kindergarten, Scott Pecoriello was curious about rain. His parents showed him a radar map. Hooked, he checked it every day.

The next year he drew a map of the Northeast, and colored in storms. Soon, he was trying to figure out how tornadoes form. (He was completely wrong.)

Scott Pecioriello drew this map -- freehand -- when he was 10 years old.

Scott Pecioriello drew this weather map when he was 10 years old.

From there Scott advanced to the Weather Channel. Then came online forums like AWE (the Association of Weather Enthusiasts), filled with people who share his passion. He taught himself all about meteorology.

Three years ago — as a Staples High School freshman — Scott got tired of sharing his maps and forecasts with a few family members. He started a blog called Wild About Weather. It drew about 12 followers (mostly family members).

When he started a Facebook page, his audience exploded. With each storm he forecasted correctly, his followers grew. With Hurricane Irene, the numbers snowballed (so to speak). During one blizzard last winter, he had a web reach of 2.3 million people.

Sure, you can get your weather forecast anywhere. Folks flock to Scott because he makes it interesting. He breaks down every element, so people can learn. He’s enthusiastic, and his blog and Facebook page are personal.

Scott proves himself during big weather events. You or I might fear a hurricane or snowstorm. Scott revels in them. He’s gone 2 days without sleep. He studies every element, explains each one, then forecasts what’s next.

Scott Pecioriello in his element: measuring snow last year.

Scott Pecioriello in his element: measuring snow last year.

Scott’s biggest success was Hurricane Sandy. But, he notes, “everyone got that right.” He’s prouder of a storm last winter, when he predicted conditions in every Northeastern city with 94% accuracy.

His biggest failure? Also last winter: a dud snowstorm. On his “Know Snow” app, he apologized. And — as he does whenever he gets something wrong — he explained why.

On the app, Scott predicts school closings for each area town. Last year, he was 91% accurate. It would have been higher, he says, but Westport and Fairfield closings are extraordinarily difficult to figure.

Far more often than not though, Scott gets the closings — and his entire forecast — right. That’s why professional meteorologists follow him on Twitter. They respect him, and he in turn learns from them.

Media star Scott Pecoriello, being interviewed on CNBC.

Media star Scott Pecoriello, being interviewed on CNBC.

Another fan is Staples principal John Dodig. Teachers follow him too. But Scott — who in his spare time mentors an autistic boy through the Circle of Friends, and counsels elementary school students about food allergies through a group he helped start — downplays his passion with his friends. “I don’t want to be known as the ‘school weatherman,’” he says.

Okay. But how about a sneak preview of winter for “06880″?

“It will be similar to last year,” Scott says. “A lot of snow in Siberia early correlates to the polar vortex we saw before. If the southern jet stream is active, we could get some big snowstorms.”

Speaking of active, Scott is very. He’s just hired a few assistants, to help launch his new premium service on Wild About Weather.

Here’s my forecast: Scott Pecoriello’s future is very hot.

(Scott is not the only young Westport weather whiz. Jacob Meisel — a 2012 Staples graduate, now at Harvard — has just expanded his own website. He’s branched out to New York and other places from southwestern Connecticut, and is offering subscription services. Click SWCT/NY Weather to learn more.)

 

Bring Back Needle Park!

After the recent removal of cherry trees and ivy, Westport’s attention has been focused on the former YMCA’s former Bedford building.

Across the street, meanwhile, a sterile little plaza just sits there.

It was not always thus. Back in the day — when the Library occupied the space now filled with Freshii and Starbucks — the corner of the Post Road and Main Street was an actual park. Westporters enjoyed benches, flowers, and a fountain donated by the Sheffer family.

In the 1960s it became known as Needle Park. That’s where Westport’s alleged heroin users — both of them — allegedly shot up. In reality, it was just a great hangout for high school kids smoking a little weed.

I defy you to find anyone shooting up in this photo.

I defy you to find anyone shooting up in this photo.

Now — after several renovations (not “improvements”) — the place is a monument to concrete. It’s even less inviting than the “plazas” New York developers built in exchange for adding 30 more stories to their glass monuments.

Those developers did everything they could to make their public spaces unusable.

The latest incarnation of the old Needle Park does the same.

Library park

As alert “06880″ reader Remy Chevalier points out, one of the benches is not level with the ground. That, he says, is “a nasty little trick developers use when they don’t actually want anybody sitting on them and loitering.”

A crooked -- and hardly welcoming -- bench. That's a level on top, showing that it's not level.

A crooked — and hardly welcoming — bench. That’s a level on top, showing that it’s not level.

Remy publishes a great blog, called Greenburbs. It shows what towns like Westport can look like if people in power really care about how human beings interact with their environment.

And make no mistake: Whoever is responsible for that grim “park” across the street from the old Y/new Bedford Square clearly abused his power.

Courtney Kemp Agboh Adds More “Power”

Last summer, “06880″ profiled Courtney Kemp Agboh. The 1994 Staples High School graduate — who went on to Brown University, and earned a master’s in English literature at Columbia — is the creator and show runner of “Power,” a Starz series that premiered a month earlier. It was the 1st series she ever pitched.

Last night, Agboh was honored at a star-studded Hollywood event. She was 1 of Ebony Magazine’s “Power 100.” She — and fellow high-achievers like Oprah Winfrey, Pharrell Williams and Jason Collins — joined Quincy Jones, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Courtney Kemp Agboh

Courtney Kemp Agboh

As last summer’s story noted, she was “called the N-word a lot” growing up in Westport. (Her father, Herb Kemp, was a noted advertising executive.) She read college textbooks at age 8, Shakespeare at 10. She made up stories about the pieces on her chess set.

It was a long way from the nearly-all-white Westport of the 1980s and ’90s to Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles, where she works today.

And where her executive producer is Curtis Jackson — better known as the rapper 50 Cent.

In Hollywood, it doesn’t get more powerful than that.

Tom Fiffer: What It Means To Be A “Good Man”

The tagline for the Good Men Project is “the conversation no one else is having.”

And driving that conversation is a Westport man.

The 5-year-old website reaches 6 million men (and women) a month. Many of them learn from — and are inspired by — Tom Fiffer. He’s an executive editor, and contributes regularly on subjects like his passion: emotional domestic abuse.

It’s not easy to write about. But — like the entire site — Tom sheds light on what masculinity means in the 21st century.

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, he had what he calls a “normal” childhood. But when Tom was 9, his father dropped dead of a heart attack. “That changed things emotionally,” Tom says. “Including my sense of fatherhood.”

He graduated from Yale, earned a master’s in creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago, then worked for Random House for 5 years and a data-based information company for 20.

Tom Fiffer

Tom Fiffer

Last January, he was downsized. He’d written for the Good Men Project since 2012 — he heard about it from fellow Westport Ina Chadwick — at the same time he was blogging on his own creation, Tom Aplomb.

Meanwhile, he was working through a divorce, after 15 years of marriage.

Shortly after being laid off, Tom was hired as GMP’s ethics editor. He wrote several articles a week, and worked with some of the site’s 900 writers.

In June he was named executive editor. He still writes, but is also responsible for filling daily content, and strategy.

The Good Men Project’s goal is to provide positive masculine role models. As a divorced father raising and nurturing 2 boys, Tom makes sure his voice is heard.

“A lot of men are involved in unhealthy relationships,” he says. “But they don’t recognize it. It’s important to get the message to men — and women — that a lot of destructive behavior doesn’t have to happen.”

Good Men ProjectHis stories resonate with hundreds of thousands of readers. When someone tells Tom “That was my life!” or “We were just talking about that last night!” he realizes the power of his words.

While he does not bring Westport specifically into his writing, he knows that domestic violence — particularly the emotional component — happens everywhere. “I’m well aware that not everyone here lives fully happy lives,” he says.

A local organization that he plans to reference soon is Culture of Respect. The Westport-based group focuses on sexual assault prevention efforts at colleges — and aims much of its efforts on men.

That’s important to the Good Men Project. These days, Tom says, men are thinking more about “what it means to be a great husband, partner or father” than money or sports.

More men too “see feminism not as a threat, but as something that’s good for everyone.”

Thanks — in part — to Tom Fiffer, one of the real Good Men.

 

It Took Only 2 Minutes And 31 Seconds To Move The Kemper-Gunn House Today

At least, according to this video shot by Matthew Mandell:

Paul, Pasek — And Jackman

Staples graduate Justin Paul ’03 and songwriting partner Benj Pasek are well known on Broadway (“A Christmas Story” was nominated for a Tony Award).

They’re known off-Broadway, and overseas (“Dogfight” was just nominated for an Evening Standard Award for Best Musical in London).

They’re known on TV (NBC’s “Smash”).

Now the talented duo heads to the big screen.

They’ll contribute most of the songs to the new Hugh Jackman film musical, “The Greatest Showman on Earth.” Filming begins this summer in New York.

The movie showcases P.T. Barnum’s life. He was a circus creator and the promoter of Tom Thumb, of course. But Barnum was also the mayor of Bridgeport.

So as far from Westport as Justin Paul’s career has taken him, he hasn’t really left at all.

Justin Paul

Justin Paul

 

Hey, Guest Bartender!

If restaurants can have a guest chef, I guess bars can have a guest bartender.

Today (Thursday, November 13, 8 p.m.) Steve Schneider slips into that role at Dunville’s.

It’s a way of celebrating the renovations the popular Saugatuck spot has made. Co-owner Stephen Carpentieri calls it “Dunville’s 2.o.”

“Carpi” and Schneider are no strangers to each other. They co-starred in “Hey Bartender,” the award-winning documentary directed by Doug Tirola and produced by Susan Bedusa. Both are longtime Westporters.

Steve Schneider

Steve Schneider

The film examines the 2 Steves — Schneider and Carpentieri — as they try to achieve their dreams through bartending. It’s available on Showtime, Netflix and iTunes.

Since the theatrical release, Schneider has flown to London, Berlin, Russia, Asia and Australia. He’s guest-bartended at the top spots in the world.

Tonight he adds Dunville’s to the list.

 

Lynsey Addario: Working Mom

Today’s New York Times Lens” section examines the difficulty of being (female, of course) overseas photographers who are also raising young children.

The story focuses in part on Lynsey Addario. The MacArthur “Genius Grant”-winning/Times staffer/Staples graduate has a 2-year-old son, Lukas.

Lynsey Addario

Lynsey Addario

She describes her husband Paul de Bendern, a former Reuters correspondent, as “Unbelievable. Spectacular. Hands on. Good father. Understanding. Patient.”

But, “Lens” says, before they met she “had difficulty sustaining a long-term relationship and her career.”

Lynsey says:

Before I got married it was almost impossible to be in a successful relationship because no man wants to hear, ‘Hey, I’m going away for a month, I’ll see you when I get back. I was fully committed to my work. You can’t ask someone to be fully committed to you when you’re not fully committed to them.

Lukas has already traveled with her to Mississippi, and Lynsey takes him to speaking engagements. But, “Lens” says, he usually remains in London with her husband and nanny.

Lynsey has been captured by forces loyal to Qaddafi in Libya. Since becoming a mother, “Lens” says, she takes fewer risks — “not only because she is a parent, but also because she has lost friends and colleagues.”

“Before I had Lukas I thought, ‘Well, it is very possible that I might get injured or killed in the line of work,’ and I just accepted that as part of what I do,” she notes. “Now that I have a child I’m much more conscious of my mortality. I have to stay alive because I’m responsible for someone else.”

Lynsey Addario photographed this young girl, who died delivering twins. The Sierra Leonean wanted to earn a degree, but at 14 was forced into marriage. (Photo/Lynsey Addario for NPR)

Lynsey Addario photographed this young Sierra Leone girl, who died delivering twins. She was forced to marry at 14. (Photo/Lynsey Addario for NPR)

Remembering Vivien Testa

Vivien Testa died 2 months ago. Until today, there has been no public notice of her death.

That’s astonishing. Vivien Testa was 102 years old. For decades, she was a legend in Westport. She was a superb art teacher, townwide director of art, and a mentor to countless students and teachers.

In 1936 she began teaching art at Bedford Junior High School (now King’s Highway Elementary).

She moved to Staples (now Saugatuck Elementary) in 1948.

Vivien Testa

Ten years after that, she was part of the new high school campus on North Avenue.  (In fact — having minored in architecture — she helped design the place. She has an enormous slide collection from that time, which she donated to the Westport Library.)

Vivien Testa chaired the art department through the 1970s.

Several years ago, while writing my book Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education, I found an interview she recorded for the Westport Historical Society oral history project. Here is an excerpt:

—————————————————–

My family spent summers in Westport, so I knew the town in 1936 when I came to teach art at Bedford Junior High School. It was the Depression, and my father said I was taking a job away from a man who needed one.

In 1936 the school had a place in the life of the community. Teachers knew what they were expected to do and not do. For example, teachers were not supposed to smoke. But the faculty played basketball against the youngsters, and put on plays for them. There was a feeling we were all growing and learning together.

When Mrs. Holden, the arts supervisor, left in 1948, I took over. We had a lovely art room in the building on Riverside Avenue. It was good size, and well lit.  There were 15 to 20 students in a class, and I taught 4 or 5 classes a day. Westport was growing as an arts colony.

The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue.

The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue.

I still carried nearly a full teaching load, but I was given one or two afternoons a week to supervise. There were three townwide directors in art, music and physical education. Those were considered special subjects, and the principals were not trained in them. But the Board of Education members and superintendent really knew teachers. They came into the classroom all the time.

Pop Amundsen was the custodian, and his wife ran the cafeteria. They set the tone for Staples. If they saw youngsters doing anything out of line, they let them know. Students respected them just as much as the principal.

Everything was in apple pie order. No one dared mark a desk. We were a small family. Education at that time was a family business. Teachers and students and parents all felt responsible for what was happening. There was no closing eyes to what was going on. Everyone respected what was happening.

We got help from a lot of places. The Westport Women’s Club had a $350 art competition, and when Famous Artists School came in they gave scholarships. Al Dorne [a founder of Famous Schools] always helped. He’d produce booklets for new teachers or students.He underwrote hundreds of dollars.

I was involved in the plans for the North Avenue building. I worked with the architects, Sherwood, Mills and Smith. I minored in architecture, so I was able to lay out my ideas about what I wanted to have. It worked nicely for me, except when they cut this, that and the other thing, and we ended up with just a mishmash. That was kind of too bad. But it was still better than you would find in many places.

The 1st version of the North Avenue campus: 6 separate buildings.

The 1st version of the North Avenue campus: 6 separate buildings.

There were many bugs in the building that had to be taken care of. A 3rd art room was cut out of the original plan, and a wing in the auditorium was cut. We had to put all the crafts stuff – kilns, etc. – in 2 rooms designed for 2-D stuff. Then when they added Building 9 a few years later, they added a 3-D room, and extended the stage.

Before they did that, a ballet company came to use the stage. The stage had only been planned for lectures and assemblies, not theater – there was no room for stage sets. As you face the stage, there was a brick wall on the right, and a passageway and electric panel on the left. A handsome male dancer ran right into the brick wall. Performers had to dress in the art rooms, too. It was quite a mess.

There was one boys’ and one girls’ bathroom – none for the faculty. I learned a great deal about youth by using that bathroom. But we always took an interest in keeping our building beautiful, because art is beauty.

Veterans Day: The Sequel

Veterans never tire of serving their country — or their community.

Each year, Bedford Middle School marks today by hosting veterans from the Y’s Men. They talk about what they did, why and how they did it, and provide an important link to yesterday for tomorrow’s leaders.

This morning’s event was lively. A number of veterans brought mementos of their service. Their stories were insightful, poignant — and often laced with a bit of humor.

Among the attendees were the 2 most recent grand marshals of Westport’s Memorial Day parade: Leonard Everett Fisher (left, below), and Bob Satter.

Leonard Everett Fisher and Bob Satter

(Photo/January Stewart)

Both are World War II veterans. Though — except for their uniforms — you wouldn’t know it by looking at them.