Category Archives: Categories

Hey, At Least It’s Not a Bank, Nail Salon Or Marijuana Dispensary!

Let’s welcome this new business to Westport.

It just opened across from New Country Toyota on the Post Road — between Calise’s Market and Torno Lumber.

The Lice Treatment Institute shares space with a “Psychic Reader and Advisor.” Perhaps she could tell her clients to maybe avoid sending their kids to that upcoming sleepover…

[BREAKING NEWS] Stop & Shop Employees Strike

Westport’s Super Stop & Shop employees have walked off the job.

Their strike is part of a region-wide protest over wages and benefits. More than 31,000 workers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island — represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 371 — have been without a contract since late February.

Stop & Shop counters that its employees are among the highest paid in the area. They say the contract changes they propose are needed to compete with non-union competitors.

“06880” reader Robin Singer — who was in the supermarket when the walkout took place a few minutes ago — said she was told that managers would lock the doors as soon as the final checkouts took place.

Westport Super Stop & Shop workers on strike today. (Photo/Robin Singer)

Marpe’s Marriage

First Selectman Jim Marpe was not in the office — or on call — Saturday.

He had a good excuse. He and his wife Mary Ellen were giving away their daughter Samantha in marriage. The ceremony was held at the US Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland — the groom’s alma mater.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his daughter Samantha.

The 2002 Staples High School and 2006 Penn State graduate — now a recruiter with Henkel Search Partners, a New York firm specializing in private equity firm recruitment — married Kristofer Andy Sandor.

A lieutenant nuclear submarine officer who worked in the office of the Secretary of Defense, he also served as a White House social aide in the Bush and Obama administrations. An MBA graduate of Stanford with a master’s from Georgetown, he’s now in the private sector, most recently as general manager of Citi Bike.

Samantha Marpe and Kristofer Sandor.

According to the New York Times they met in 2016 through a dating app, the League.

(Hat tip: Avi Kaner)

Pic Of The Day #712

Art and architecture on Post Road West (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Pic Of The Day #708

Welcome to the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum (Photo/Dick Fincher)

How Westport Community Gardens Grow

Louis Weinberg has no idea how he became chair of the Westport Community Gardens.

It may have been in 2004. He lived near the new site — Long Lots School — and wanted a plot to grow vegetables and wildflowers.

He attended a meeting. He got the plot. And walked away as chair.

Transforming the rough land into a viable community garden was, he jokes, “a hard row to hoe.” And he does mean “hard”: The ground was as forgiving as concrete.

But for the 30 or so pioneer gardeners, it truly was a labor of love.

Taking a quick break at the Westport Community Gardens.

The old adage “first year it sleeps, second year it creeps, third year it leaps” held true.

The third year brought improved soil, earthworms, successful plantings and smiling faces.

It also brought additional interest. Membership tripled, to 90. Garden plots were halved to accommodate the newcomers.

WCG petitioned the town to expand. In 2010 they doubled their physical space, constructed a new fence, and welcomed nearly 100 community members to the gardens.

The Community Gardens did not just appear one day, Weinberg emphasizes. It grew out of the dedication and hard work of its members and supporters.

Those members range from families with little children to folks in their 80s. They grow fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs and grasses, in all kinds of designs and configurations.

Westport Community Gardens is a true community.

“WCG is a beautiful place. It’s magical at times, and challenging as well,” Weinberg says.

“Perhaps the dichotomy of the Gardens is what we find so appealing. It is so much work, and brings us so much pleasure. Every year, intertwined so closely, are our many successes and failures. Nothing comes easy.”

Including its early growth. But former selectmen Gordon Joseloff and Shelly Kassen supported the initial effort. Parks & Rec, Public Works and the public schools have all contributed to the growth.

Kowalsky Brothers offered machinery, labor and expertise. Belta’s Farm donated compost. Gault contributed sand; Daybreak Nurseries supplied soil; A&J’s Market gave a picnic table, and Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens provided plants.

A “small fortune” was donated by Green Village Initiative. Chef Michel Nischan and his Wholesome Wave Foundation wrote a substantial check. The New England Grassroots Environmental Fund came through with a generous grant. Anthropologie held a fundraiser.

“The rewards we receive from working the land are many,” Weinberg notes. They include “time with family and friends. Time alone. Fresh food. Beautiful flowers. And the opportunity to slow down, create, experiment, sense, share and commune.”

A bit of bounty.

The site also offers quiet, calm space before and after gardening. The common space features a pergola, picnic table, shade from grape vines, a bocce court and Adirondack chairs.

There’s also a milkweed garden, wildflower garden — and Westport Community Gardens is a designated monarch butterfly way station.

Most members never leave. But moves, medical issues and other factors cause a small turnover in membership every year.

So — if you’re interested in a plot — this is your chance. Click here, then click on the “Sign Up” tab.

Work hard. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Who knows? One day you too may become chair of the Westport Community Gardens.

Staples AP Economics: Full Of Beans

Advanced Placement Economics is an intense, hands-on course.

In the hands of a gifted teacher like Staples High School’s Drew Coyne, it can also be a handy one.

Students examine small and large companies, to understand both micro and macroeconomics. Last fall, for example, the COO of Bow Tie Cinemas spoke with them about the evolution, competition and business models of movie chains.

L.L. Bean is far bigger than Bow Tie. Coyne’s class studied supply and demand of boots around the holiday season, then evaluated the cost structure and used marginal thinking to look at feasible options the company could consider.

In most schools, the lesson would end there. But this is Westport — where 1) Bean boots are incredibly popular, and 2) it’s not unusual to have a connection to someone who runs a huge business.

Thanks to a student whose father went to college with L.L. Bean CEO Steve Smith, Coyne arranged a Zoom conference call for his class.

AP Economics students pay rapt attention to L.L. Bean CEO Steve Smith.

Smith began the recent intimate, wide-ranging discussion with background on his route to the top (including AT&T, Hannaford and Walmart International). Then he asked for questions.

Michael Loucas wanted to know “what drives success, particularly for students who are looking at a business path in college and beyond?”

Smith said the #1 key is “intellectual curiosity.” He encouraged the teenagers to explore as many topics as possible, and expand their knowledge of a variety of subjects. He used a “backpack” analogy: bring one through life, to stow away experiences, lessons and skills.

George Englehart asked Smith, “what resource is most important in making a decision?”

The CEO described the need to look at data and current research when facing challenges. He advised against making solo decisions; instead, assemble diverse teams to support open, constructive debate.

“I want a contrarian at my side, a financial-oriented person in another corner, pessimists and optimists all lending their voices” to a conversation, he said.

Yet, he added, once a meeting is over, everyone must have “clarity in the direction of the team.”

Popular footwear at Staples

Ethan Fass — wearing holiday-gift Bean boots — asked about changes in the company’s return policy.

Smith noted its history, including how some customers took advantage of it. Returns without proof of purchase cost Bean nearly $65 million a year.

The conversation even had an international — yet typically Westport — connection.

A couple of weeks ago, Coyne saw former student Kenji Goto at Barnes & Noble. Just before heading to a semester abroad in Switzerland, Kenji — a junior at Emory University — was filling out an internship application for L.L. Bean.

Coyne told him about the upcoming conference call. Kenji joined in from Europe.

And casually mentioned to Smith that he hoped to work for the company this summer.

FUN FACT: This is hardly the first time Staples students have had a chance to talk with an important figure. When physics teacher Nick Georgis ran the Ham Radio Club (the call letters were K1UAT), he arranged sessions with King Hussein of Jordan, and US Senator Barry Goldwater.

Greens Farms El Takes The Composting Lead

No one knows what kind of world today’s children will inherit. Climate change is real — despite our president’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement — and it will have real, frightening impacts on our planet.

Elementary school students may not have heard of the old Earth Day saying: “Think globally, act locally.”

But they’re sure doing it.

Last August, members of Westport’s Green Task Force asked superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer if they could explore a food composting program. She loved the idea, and asked district K-5 science coordinator/Greens Farms Elementary School assistant principal Chris Breyan to serve as liaison.

Soon, GFS formed a Zero Waste Committee. Members included Breyan, several teachers (including one from Saugatuck Elementary), parents, and 3 Green Task Force representatives.

Greens Farms Elementary School.

A trip to Wilton — which runs a robust composting program in every school — inspired the group. They reached out to a variety of stakeholders, like politicians, town employees, waste haulers and Chartwells, the Westport school district food service contractor.

They learned about the colossal waste of food everywhere — including their own school cafeteria. There was clearly a role for composting.

A Green Leaders Club brought students on board. Forty-six 5th graders joined — and went to work.

Since early January — to help raise awareness of both the need and process of composting — they’ve created videos and slide shows; made PSAs; devised training methods like “sorting games” for younger students, and held a poster contest.

A poster contest primed the school for composting.

They’ve done it on their own time too — sometimes giving up recess to work.

Greens Farms was already an environmentally aware school. There’s a garden in back, and nearly every class visits Wakeman Town Farm.

The new initiative will take the school much further. The goal is not just to compost — but ultimately have no waste at all in trash and recycling bins after every lunch.

Another prong of the campaign involves parents. They’re trying to pack “zero waste lunches,” and use reusable bottles and boxes.

“Everyone has been great,” says 5th grade teacher Stacy Fowle. She’s a member of the GFS committee, and a longtime environmental advocate.

Greens Farms El offers 3 choices for waste.

Of course, Greens Farms is not alone. Saugatuck El teacher Ashley Moran — another committee member — already had her workshop students auditing their waste. They examined how much food was tossed out — including some that was never opened or unwrapped — and how much plastic they all used.

“There were silos of efforts around town,” Fowle says. “We want to build networks with all the schools. Things may already be happening that we don’t know about. We’re keeping meticulous notes, and taking photos and videos. We want other schools to replicate this easily.”

Long Lots has already joined the GFS effort.

The week before February break, Greens Farms launched its initiative. “Cafeteria rangers” — 3rd, 4th and 5th graders — guided classmates in sorting their waste. Parents helped younger students.

Cafeteria workers joined in. GFS is composting all waste — including food that was never even served.

Greens Farms students avidly join in the “zero waste” effort.

The project is so big, it won’t fit in the garden. A private firm — Curbside Composting — will pick up all waste once a week.

Funds come from a Westport Public Schools Innovation Fund Grant. It runs through December.

“Everyone is so passionate about this,” Fowle says. “It’s thrilling to see all the momentum from this grassroots initiative.”

“Grassroots” is a perfect word. It means something that starts on the ground.

Composting does — literally.

And — in another sense — “grassroots” implies growth from the ground up.

Today’s Greens Farms Elementary students are tomorrow’s middle schoolers — and Stapleites. They will bring their composting mindset there.

Then they’ll grow into adults.

Sounds like they’re already shaping the world they’ll inherit.

 

 

Rach’s Hope: Weathering The Storm Of Critical Illness

When friends and relatives face crisis, tragedy and heartbreak, many of us offer help.

“If you need anything, just call,” we say. “We’re here for you.”

We mean it. But it’s not enough.

Alan and Lisa Doran lived through a nightmare last summer. Their daughter Rachel — a rising senior at Cornell University, National Merit Commended Scholar at Staples High School, talented Players costume designer, and founder of her own pajama company — developed a rare reaction to common medications.

She suffered severe burns to 95% of her body. She then developed another life-threatening syndrome. On August 17 — after 35 harrowing days — Rachel died.

Rachel Doran, after her Staples High School graduation.

Her parents made it through that awful time thanks to wonderful doctors, caring hospital staffs, and many supportive friends.

And those friends helped by not simply saying, “just call.” On their own, they figured out what Alan, Lisa and their younger daughter Ellie needed. Then — without burdening the family — they acted swiftly, decisively and efficiently to make it happen.

When Rachel was in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, for example, a woman found a boutique hotel 2 blocks away.

She booked it. Lisa never wanted to leave Rachel’s bedside. But with a place to sleep — and shower — she was able to take care of herself, as well as her daughter.

Another friend showed up every morning with healthy muffins and a protein shake.

“People caring for loved ones eat junk — if they eat at all,” Lisa says. “Having that food, every day, was so important. I could never have done that on my own.”

Countless gestures like that sustained the Dorans during the most horrific time of their lives.

Rachel Doran (right) and her sister Ellie.

But how many people have friends with the resources to book a hotel room, or bring fresh food to the hospital every day?

Alan says his family’s experience at Bridgeport Hospital and Columbia Presbyterian opened their eyes to the reality that during a critical illness, most people are on their own.

The New York facility, for example, draws patients from all over the world. Families — if they can get there — have no support network nearby. Countless other obstacles — finances, language, you name it — conspire to make a medical emergency even more daunting than it already is.

Alan and Lisa know how fortunate they are. They could take time off work to devote all their time and energy to Rachel. They had “incredible care” at 2 hospitals. And they had the communication skills to talk clearly and often with those superb doctors and nurses.

They realize — despite the tragic ending — how lucky they were, in those respects.

Rachel and her boyfriend Rob traveled to Cuba during spring break. This is his favorite photo of her.

After Rachel died, the Dorans were devastated. But they wanted to find some sense in a senseless situation.

So — keeping their daughter’s spirit, beauty, kindness, style and wit alive — they’ve created Rach’s Hope.

The mission is to help others weather the storm of critical illness. “We want people to have a team like we and Rachel had,” Lisa says.

The foundation’s name has special meaning. “Hope” was Rachel’s middle name. The Dorans always had hope that she would recover. Her boyfriend said hope got him through every day. Today, the word “Hope” is tattooed — in her handwriting — across his chest.

And, Alan says, “we know Rachel would hope that no family goes through what we did. But if they do, she’d hope they’d have the resources that we did.”

Rachel’s Hope will make a concrete difference. For example, it will partner with hotels, and negotiate VRBO home rental rates.

It will also provide for items like housing, transportation to and from the hospital and outpatient appointments, access to mental health professionals, therapies not covered by insurance, meals (including gift cards to Uber Eats and Seamless), childcare and respite care during and after ICU stays, advocates to assist with hospital bills and health insurance communication, therapy dog visits, and funding for wellness expenses.

The Dorans are taking all that they’ve learned, and paying it forward — figuratively and literally — to other families.

A kickoff fundraiser is set for Saturday, March 2 (7:30 p.m., Penfield Pavilion, Fairfield). The date has special meaning: It’s the day after what would have been Rachel’s 22nd birthday.

“Rachel always told me that instead of a wedding, she’d have a big party at the beach,” Lisa says. “She wanted Bodega Bites catering, and Tito’s vodka bar. They’ll be there, and it’s on the water. We’re having the wedding she hoped to have.”

Her family and friends will share stories. But you don’t have to know and love Rachel to attend. Everyone is welcome. There’s live music, and huge live and silent auctions.

As for the dress code: When Rachel was 11, she started Rachel’s Rags. The company made intricate cotton and fleece pajamas. She sold them at stores and craft fairs, and on Etsy.

Rachel loved “pajama chic.” So attendees should wear pajama bottoms, and a chic top.

There’s one more thing: The day before the fundraiser — on March 1, Rachel’s birthday — Rach’s Hope is starting a “Cozy Across Campus” social media campaign. The idea is for students everywhere to go to class in pajama bottoms.

The attire will draw attention to the importance of comforting people in need — and offering hope.

Rach’s hope.

(Click here for more information and tickets to Rach’s Hope March 2 fundraiser. Can’t go? No problem — click here to sign in or register to bid online for the silent auction. And click here to donate any amount.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[OPINION]: Middle School Waves Must Become Gentle Swells

Last fall, Coleytown Middle School was closed due to mold. Those 6th and 7th graders were moved to Bedford Middle School, and 8th graders to Staples High, for the remainder of the school year.

In December the Board of Education endorsed a plan for all 6th grade students to be educated in Westport’s elementary schools, starting with the 2019-20 academic year. The plan included placing 14 modular classrooms at those 5 elementary schools. To implement this “K-6 plan,” the BOE requested $4 million from the town.

On February 7 the Board of Finance voted 7-0 to authorize $1 million, to place 6 temporary modular classrooms at Bedford Middle School. All Westport 6th to 8th grade students would be educated there, on an interim basis  (the “6-8 plan”).  The following night, the Representative Town Meeting voted 28-3 to confirm the Board of Finance’s $1 million appropriation recommendation.

In the wake of the RTM vote, the Board of Ed sent a letter to all Westport families. They pledged to move forward, reiterating their commitment to  “continuing to deliver the high quality education that our students and community deserve.”

The Board of Ed thanked “the many community members who participated in this process for their engagement and insights, and to the members of the funding bodies and boards for their time and diligence. We could not have done this without our superintendent, school administrators, teachers and staff who will continue to deliver the superb academic programs that are a hallmark of Westport schools.”

Some residents favored the K-6 plan. Others supported the 6-8 plan. Some issues remain unresolved, such as whether Coleytown Middle School can be reopened, and if so when. Passions are high on all sides.

“06880” reader Gery Grove writes:

I grew up in Washington, D.C., surrounded by politics. Yet in my 6 years in Westport, which began when my oldest daughter was ready to enter kindergarten, I did not take much time to follow our local political process. As for so many, this changed drastically when our schools faced a crisis.

Accidentally and very hesitantly, I became many people’s “poster girl for K-6.” Make no mistake: I never wanted anything for my 5th grade daughter other than for her to move to Coleytown Middle School. She was excited to say goodbye to elementary school and spread her wings; to try new classes and be in the school play. Like any parent observing the changes in their oldest child, I wanted that just as much as anyone here in this town did. And then the school closed.

Coleytown Middle School is closed due to mold.

My support of the 6th grade staying in the elementary school has been in lockstep with the Board of Ed’s suggestion that it is the emotionally safest place for them to be in a crisis. I am a pediatric RN who has worked in this town, and in many schools with many children and families. If your child is 7 now, there is a chance I gave him or her their earliest vaccinations. I have been looking out for them and seeking to do no harm since I arrived here.

The ages of 10-14 are some of the most sacred and precarious ages. I believe kids need a protected experience during that time to properly learn and flourish. Yes, they need independence, but in a safe and nurturing learning space.

From my personal point of view, this gigantic school we just created for them will struggle to do that.  The mission of the parents going into that school must find ways to support those who will surely need it. “Kids are resilient” was stated over and over again by members of our town funding bodies. Indeed, some kids are resilient. And some struggle to kick to the surface.

The political process that unfurled in front of all of us, and much of the behind- the-scenes posturing and tribalism, has made us “a town divided.” In any crisis where 2 paths unfold and you don’t know which leads you to the greatest peril, there will be a difference of opinion.

But respect for each side’s point of view helps people navigate that path together. Heartbreakingly for many of us, that is not what happened here. How in the world did people allow the future of their neighbors’ and friends’ children to become an opportunity for brinksmanship? And how in the world did members of our funding bodies allow themselves to fall into the trap of choosing sides?

Modular classrooms will be placed at Bedford Middle School next school year. All Westport 6th through 8th graders will attend the school.

I received a respectful and thoughtful call from a member of the RTM in a neighboring district this weekend. She took time to explain the votes of the funding bodies to me in incredible detail, including the way precedent had been set here in town, and how the 4-3 BOE vote set the wheels of doubt in motion.

I explained to her that if the members of the BOF had taken the time to present their position differently – not about what is best for anyone else’s 6th grade child as so many did, but what is operationally most feasible for the town to execute, and the most sensible way to allocate funds – then surely the pitchforks would have been lowered.

We all liked a 6th grade academy. But when a rational argument was placed before us about why it was not feasible, we swallowed the bitter pill that our options were reduced yet again.

Now many of us have to enter this school.  We are concerned for our kids. We feel like it is an experiment with a very uncertain outcome. We are wary of the way this has come together and what culture it will create for them, on top of the stresses of middle school.

There is a rough undercurrent created when people in town, including elected officials, look at this experience as having winners and losers. In the end, the only people who stand to lose out with that idea are the children. I hope that between now and August, the administration, the BOE and the funding bodies can work together to make sure that school is emotionally and socially safe for the children inside it.

There is still work to do. Like so many, I can only hope that the waves that have been made during this school year can reduce themselves to the gentle swells of everyday life again.

Let us learn from our mistakes as a community, as we decide what to do next with Coleytown Middle School.