Category Archives: Education

Roundup: Board Of Ed; Longshore Sailing School, More


The Board of Education takes another step toward deciding reopening plans at tomorrow’s meeting (Monday, August, 3, 7 p.m.).

The virtual session will be livestreamed on westportps.org, and shown on Optimum channel 78 and Frontier channel 6021. Emails to board members can be sent to BOE@westportps.org.


The “Wall of Fame” at Longshore Sailing School displays staff photos going back several decades. Most of them look quite similar. This year’s does not.

(Photo courtesy of John Kantor)


And finally … the legacy of John Lewis, the protests after the death of George Floyd, the linked arms of the Wall of Moms in Portland, the passion of young people after Parkland, the knee-taking by Major League Baseball players — those and so many other acts of standing up for one’s beliefs reinforce the inspiring message of the great Phil Ochs:

Roundup: Old Mill Parking; GFA; Senior Center; More


Starting today, the Old Mill Beach parking lot is fully re-opened.

That means a reversion to previous rules: Parking is available for vehicles with beach emblems or hang tags, on a space available basis.

As in the past, Parks and Recreation Department staff will strictly enforce all parking regulations.


Greens Farms Academy has announced plans for in-person, on-campus instruction, 5 days a week, beginning September 1.

The private school on Beachside Avenue has spent the summer making numerous preparations — everything from changing physical spaces and furniture, to mandating one-way building pathways, to delivering lunch to assigned spaces.

One more change; There will be no formal uniform at GFA this year.

Meanwhile,  the fall sports season will look different this year. The Fairchester Athletic Association has canceled all regular season games and tournaments. The league cited “differing return-to- school plans and academic models” for its member schools, in light of COVID-19, as the reason.

However, GFA says, the league’s announcement does not preclude the school from scheduling interscholastic opportunities between and among like schools, if able.


The Senior Center is sponsoring 3 interesting events this month.

Next Thursday, August 6 (10 a.m., Zoom meeting), a Westport Weston Health District panel will discuss COVID-19 in Connecticut. Viewers can ask questions too. Click here for the link.

A Caregiver Support Group meets on Wednesdays (August 5 and 19, September 2 and 16, 10 a.m.). Positive Directons’ Terry Giegengack will facilitate the sessions. For more information, call Holly Betts (203-341-5096) or email hbetts@westportct.gov.

Friends of the Westport Center for Senior Activities hosts a free summer concert series in August and September. The stars are local musicians. First up (August 14, 1:30 p.m.): pianist Mathew Graybil, who has played around the world. He’ll feature works by Chopin, Schubert and Brahms. Click here for the Zoom link.

The Senior Center is closed. But programs continue.


At Staples High School, 2004 alum Charlie Stoebe was a soccer and track star (and captain). He graduated from Dartmouth College, and is now working with NBC Sports.

Charlie is multi-talented. In his spare COVID-related time, he created a new party game.

“What Was the Question?” tests how well you know your friends and family. But unlike most getting-to-know-you games, it starts not with a question, but an answer. Players must figure out the question. After each reveal there are fun discussions on the answer the player gave, and the predictions everyone else made.

“What Was the Question?” is now in Kickstarter mode. To help get it to market — and help out a really great Staples grad — click here.


And finally … Danish pianist Bent Fabricius-Bjerre died yesterday at 95. You may know him as Bent Fabric. Or maybe you just know his most famous song:

Khalif Rivers: The ABCs Of Photography

School came easy to Khalif Rivers. It was not especially challenging.

In 8th grade, a teacher recommended the A Better Chance program. Like many youngsters, Khalif had not thought much about his future. But he trusted her, and the opportunity to be one of the people of color chosen to attend a top school sounded alluring.

He did not want to leave his native Philadelphia. But when he visited the Westport affiliate he liked the scholars at Glendarcy House, and the local program.

He was accepted by A Better Chance of Westport. Arriving here in 2004 was scary, and a culture shock.

Khalif Rivers

“I was a young Black kid trying to figure out where I fit in,” Khalif recalls. “I was homesick. I had to learn how to really study. I felt like I was under a microscope. I struggled.”

Over the course of 4 years, he succeeded. With the help of his “brothers” in the house — and many others in the community — Khalif had an “overall great” experience.

He graduated in 2008. He had been looking for a larger college, not too far away, but somewhere he would have “autonomy.” When ABC’s Harold Kamins drove him to West Virginia University, he knew he’d found his next home.

Khalif majored in sports psychology. He planned on earning a master’s in counseling. But despite scholarships, he’d had to borrow a lot of money. Not wanting to go further in debt, he returned to Philadelphia.

He got a great job as a field service engineer, installing tempered glass. It was physically demanding work, in all kinds of weather. It paid well, and Khalif traveled far.

But he hated it. He had no time for friends, relationships — or photography.

That was a passion he’d discovered at Staples. Khalif had taken Digital Darkroom to fill an elective. But he loved it, and moved on to Photography with Janet Garstka, then Digital Photography.

He was an excellent photographer. Whenever he had free time — anywhere in Westport, at athletic events, wherever — he brought his camera.

Now, back home — and older — Khalif looked around. “Philadelphia is beautiful,” he says.”But so many buildings wee being torn down. I realized I had to photograph them.”

At first he used his cell phone. He would hop on a bus, get off somewhere, and start taking pictures. “I was doing it for myself,” he recalls. “I just wanted to capture the city in all its glory.”

“Ben Franklin” (Photo/Khalif Rivers)

He saved up for a good Nikon. He taught himself to use it through YouTube videos. As he posted those photos — many of them sharp, strong, black and white — to his Instagram account, followers encouraged him to do more.

In the spring of 2017 Khalif started a side business, selling his images.

It was successful. Khalif began thinking of doing photography full time. But he was making good money at his day job. “It was a big unknown, to walk away,” he says.

“Respite” (Photo/Khalif Rivers)

When COVID-19 struck, Khalif was laid off. He spent a month reflecting. He’d put so much time and energy into his service engineering work. He’d never get that back.

He could get a similar job. But, he says, the industry is filled with divorced, unhappy people.

“I realized I couldn’t do it. It’s over,” he says.

Khalif wondered: “What if I put the same effort into my photography? I could be more than a weekend warrior. I could take it so much further.”

“Shooting Star” (Photo/Khalif Rivers)

He’s not sure if he would have quit his full time job. But he’s glad things worked out as they have. Since April, he has committed himself fully to his photography.

Right now he’s looking through the 15,000 images he shot during his travels. He’s moving into portrait photography too. He’s learning how to market himself — “just another challenge,” he calls it.

“This is still a work in progress,” Khalif says. “Every day I learn another aspect of running a business.

“But there’s no going back. I’m going to make this happen.”

(Click here for Khalif Rivers’ website. Hat tip: Katie Augustyn.)

Untitled (Photo/Khalif Rivers)

Roundup: BMS Masks; Heather Grahame Podcast; More


Everyone needs a mask — a good one. But just a few miles from here, plenty of kids can’t afford one.

In one of the most brilliant partnerships since the pandemic struck, the Bedford Middle School PTA and Westport Masks has teamed up to help the Read School in Bridgeport, which serves 800 youngsters in pre-K through 8.

The PTA is selling masks (and gaiters). For every one sold, two will be donated to Read. The program launched less than a week ago, yet enough orders have already been received to supply 250 masks to Read.

Westport Masks’ team volunteers hand-create each donation mask. The PTA sourced a 2-ply, 100% cotton style mask with a filter pocket. The design is a royal blue and white bandanna print, with 2 layers of 100% cotton and reinforced stitched nose for a comfortable fit. There are adjustable ear straps; another strap allows the mask to hang from the neck. There is no logo. Sizes are teen and adult.

As for gaiters: They are less likely than masks to be lost, can be easily pulled up and down as needed (for drinking water, eating lunch and outside during PE), and are comfortable. Designs include blue camo, blue and white shibori tie-dye, and micro-stripe/blue fade (the only one with the BMS bear logo). One size fits all.

Both styles are washable.

The cost is $20 for the gaiters (1 for your child or yourself, 2 others donated), $14 for the masks. The PTA notes that sales are not restricted to Bedford; everyone can (and should!) buy the face coverings.

To order, click here. To arrange pickup (a week before school begins) or for questions, email bms_pta@westportps.org. To help WestportMasks with sewing or fabric cutting, email westportmasks@yahoo.com.

Gaiters and masks


Heather Grahame has been an athlete all her life. In 1972 she captained Staples High School’s field hockey team. She played 2 more years at Mount Holyoke College, then transferred to Stanford University.

During college summers she leveraged her experience as a Compo Beach lifeguard to teach swimming, water safety and first aid in rural Aleut villages. The state of Alaska funded the program, to combat a high drowning rate.

After graduating from the University of Oregon law school, Grahame headed to Anchorage to practice public utility law. In 2010 she moved to Montana.

She’s on the road a lot. But she finds time to train for triathlons. Though she began when she was 56, it’s a natural for her.

In the 1980s Grahame competed in bicycle racing on the US Women’s Circuit. She placed 6th at the 1988 Olympic team time trials.

She and her family then became competitive sled dog racers. Her top international finish — 6th — came at the 2000 Women’s World Championships.

As for triathlons — well, okay. Grahame actually did a full Ironman. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.

The other day, she was a guest on the Purple Patch Fitness podcast. Host Matt Dixon is a top fitness and triathlon coach. She’s lived most of her life out west, but Grahame talked quite a bit about Westport and Staples sports. Click here for a very entertaining hour.

Heather Grahame (Photo courtesy of Helena Independent Record)


And finally … tonight the Remarkable Theater screens “Elf.” It’s “Christmas in July” — and drive-in moviegoers are encouraged to dress (and decorate their cars) appropriately.

And because we need a little Christmas (right this very minute), here’s “06880”s contribution. Starring, of course, our talented and beloved former neighbor, Eartha Kitt.

 

Roundup: WTF; Reopening; Historic Homes; More


How you gonna keep ’em away from the farm?

Wakeman Farm Town announces a slew of interesting events.

A “Rockin’ Lawn Party” (Wednesday, August 5, 6 p.m.) includes live music and a customized picnic box by Terrain Cafe. Tickets ($80 for 2; ages 21+ only) include a donation to WTF. BYOB (blankets — or chairs — and beverages). Click here to order.

An outdoor movie — “The Pollinators” — is set for Friday, August 7 (gates open at 7:30 p.m., film at 8:30). The filmmakers will be on hand, and WTF hopes to sell honey from their hives. The ticket price of $15 includes fresh popcorn from Sport Hill Farm; wood-fired pizza is available to order. Click here to order.

Noted chef and caterer Alison Milwe Grace celebrates summer’s bounty with a 4-course farm feast on Tuesday, August 25. The $90 ticket includes a WTF donation. Click here to order.

To learn more about WTF — including an online workshop on CBD (Monday, August 3), click here.


Tomorrow’s ReOpen Westport Advisory Team meeting welcomes a special guest.

David Lehman — commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development — joins the discussion, and answers questions from the community.

The Thursday, July 30 virtual event begins at 11 a.m. The meeting will be live streamed on www.westportct.gov, and broadcast on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. Residents may email questions prior to the meeting  (reopenteam@westportct.gov).

Lehman will provide an update on modified rules for business sectors, and the decision to delay Phase 3 of reopening.


Your house may be old. It can also be famous.

The Westport Historic District Commission  is seeking nominations for its annual Westport Preservation Awards. Properties should show:

  • Rehabilitation and Adaptive Re-use: making a property compatible for new use by preserving features that convey historic, cultural, or architectural values.
  • Restoration: returning a property to its form at a particular period of time.
  • Reconstruction: new construction depicting the original form, features and details of the non-surviving historic structure.
  • Special recognition of individuals or organizations that advance the cause of historic preservation.

A structure must be at least 50 years old, and fit at least one of these criteria:

  • designed by a significant architect
  • the property is associated with a significant event or person;
  • the structure is indicative of a significant architectural style or period.

Nominations can be made by private residents, not-for-profits, commercial firms, and government institutions and officials. Please include photos and a brief narrative describing why the property or person deserves an award. Nominations should be emailed to rwmailbox@aol.com, by August 14.

A 2018 Preservation Award winner, at 75 Kings Highway North.


Next up in the Westport Library’s Camp Explore program: science TV host Emily Calandrelli.

The “Bill Nye Saves the World” and “Xploration Outer Space” star will be online this Monday (August 3, 4 p.m.).

Calandrelli makes science-related topics easily understandable, for audiences ranging from from Google, Pixar, MIT and CERN to colleges and schools around the country. Her topics include science communication, space exploration and women in STEM.

Click here to register for the Camp Explore event.


And finally … one of the best in our parade of classic summer songs.

For Staples Grads, Choosing A College Was Easy. Now The Tough Choices Begin.

When first-year students head to Dartmouth College in September, they’ll make history.

Everyone will have their own room, or live in a 2-bedroom double. After being tested for COVID-19, those who are negative will quarantine in their rooms for 14 days. All meals will be delivered.

Anyone violating the strict coronavirus protocols — including being in another student’s room — must leave campus within 24 hours. That won’t be difficult: Students have been told to bring “only those items they can take with them if required to leave on short notice.”

None of that bothers Sam Laskin. The recent Staples High School graduate is excited to attend the school that accepted him early decision last December.

Sam Laskin

Sam — who served as Staples Players president — was attracted to Dartmouth by its focus on undergraduate education, strong government program and great extracurriculars.

Classes — most of them conducted remotely — will be far different this fall. Many clubs will not meet in person. Even Dartmouth’s vaunted first-year orientation program — featuring camping and hiking trips — has been canceled.

After the pandemic slammed into Staples — knocking out, along with everything else, Players’ spring production of “Seussical” just hours before opening night — Sam kept busy.

He worked with Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long on a virtual show. He MC-ed the Class of 2020’s graduation video.

And he waited to hear Dartmouth’s plan. When it was announced that his class (and juniors) had “priority” for this fall — though members of those classes could opt to study entirely remotely, or take a gap year — he decided to head to Hanover.

“I had a great 4 years at Staples. But I’m ready to move on,” Sam explains. “I want to be in an environment where everyone is learning.

“I want to meet people in real life, not on social media. A huge reason I chose Dartmouth is the community. Some traditions will be gone this year, but the school is committed to bringing us into the Dartmouth community. I want to be there for it.”

Most of Sam’s friends will attend their schools this fall. He cannot think of any who will take a gap year because of the virus.

This is a “harrowing time,” Sam admits. Yet he has faith that his classmates — those from Staples, and soon at Dartmouth — will emerge from it with strength of character, and a desire to do good things in the world.

“Life goes on,” he says. “We adapt and adjust.”

Like Sam, recent Staples graduate Patricio Perez Elorza has been accepted by an Ivy League school.

But he will not be there this fall.

Patricio Perez Elorza

COVID struck while Patricio was still weighing his school choices. He chose Yale University because of its excellent academic reputation, including pre-law program; its proximity to New York City, where he hopes to work; the “vibrant” city of New Haven, and the school spirit.

He was also impressed by “Bulldog Days”: a series of Zoom videos and conferences throughout April.

But when he was given the option of enrolling for the fall semester or deferring admission, Patricio chose the latter.

“A lot of the college experience is meeting new people, going to class and interacting with professors,” he says.

“With almost every class online, you miss all that. I like learning in person.”

He also would miss participating in a business club and club soccer, neither of which would occur this fall.

And — because only sophomores, juniors and seniors will be on campus next spring — he decided to wait until next fall.

He’s already got a gap year job: launching and managing an app to help the O Living construction firm with its projects. He’ll take a course to learn Excel, and stay involved with both the Staples soccer program and his St. Luke Church youth group.

In the spring, when restrictions may ease, he hopes to travel.

Of Patricio’s friends, one will attend Yale this fall. Some are going to college; others will stay home, studying online. A few are taking gap years.

Their moods vary, he says. “The ones who are going to school are optimistic. They hope for the best. The others are doing gap years because they think college won’t be what they expected.”

The high school Class of 2020 has been through a lot. As they begin their next journey, the college Class of 2024 faces much more uncharted territory.

Roundup: Comet: Mystic Bowie; Tree Of Life; PBA $; More


Mark Yurkiw reports:

You’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view a bright comet with tail at a reasonable hour: 80 minutes after sunset, until July 19. (If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, that is.)

Comet Neowise is trucking through the solar system. It will come within 60 million miles of Earth in a week. These next few days are the best chance to spot her.

About an hour after sunset, keep your gaze on the northeast horizon (the further away from bright lights, the better).

If you miss it, Neowise will be visible again in a mere 6,800 years. For more details, click here.


The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce/Westport Library’s wildly successful Supper & Soul drive-in tailgate concert series continues. Up next: Caribbean/reggae band Mystic Bowie – Talking Dreads.

Because the format is so popular — as is the group is — two concerts are scheduled. They’re Friday and Saturday, August 7 and 8 (7 p.m., Imperial Avenue parking lot).

As with the Tom Petty Project show earlier this month, cars are set up in every other row. Tailgating begins at 5:30 p.m., using the space in front of each car.

Attendees are encouraged to order takeout from Chamber member restaurants, and bring it to to the show. No food or drink is sold on site.

Tickets are $125 per car (maximum: 5 people per vehicle). They go on sale Monday (July 20, 10 a.m.). Just click here. But note: The Tom Petty Project show sold out in 5 minutes!

Mystic Bowie


Among his many other volunteer efforts, longtime Westporter Ken Bernhard supports the Tree of Life.

The Haiti-based non-profit feeds, clothes, schools and supports orphans; provides a free education and lunch for 200 children; offers micro-financing for single mothers, and sponsors a village soccer tournament.

Founder Roger Garrison is a former classmate of Ken’s. He has spoken several times to Westport’s 2 Rotary Clubs, which support his efforts.

As Roger prepares to retire, the Tree of Life seeks a new president. Ken is casting a wide net — including “06880” readers. If you are interested in that leadership position — or know someone who might be — email kbernhar@optonline.net.


The Westport Police Benevolent Association — with help from principal donors Dennis and Joan Poster — has awarded 13 scholarships, worth $2,500 each.

Though the pandemic knocked out the awards ceremony — and the organization’s major fundraising golf tournament — the PBA is proud to honor Staples High School’s Alyssa Chariott and Julien Zeman, along with these officers’ children: Dominic Arciola, Brandon Benson, Mathieu Colbert, Anthony Falbo Jr., Renee Kelley, Ann Restieri, Emma Simpson, Ella Simpson, Alex Smith, Nicole Thompson and Chris Wolf.


And finally … on this date in 2004 Martha Stewart was sentenced to 5 months in prison and 2 years of supervised release for conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding, and making false statements to federal investigators.

P&Z Hears Solar Energy Request Behind BMS

The Planning & Zoning Commission usually takes August off.

But before they do, a solar energy project is on the docket. Today (Thursday, July 16, 5 p.m., Zoom meeting) they’ll consider a text amendment, special permit and site plan application for “solar-based electric generating facilities” on the Bedford Middle School campus. They’ll be mounted on the ground (not canopies).

Greenskies Clean Energy has been granted a town lease to produce electricity there. The firm seeks a variance to mount 20-foot solar panels in the grassy area behind the school, and remove 10 trees.

The project includes modules in both corners behind the school.

One section of the site backs up to property on Woody Lane. The other part backs up to High Point Road.

The site plan for Bedford Middle School. The proposed solar panels are indicated by hatch marks near the center of the map. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

The meeting will be livestreamed on http://www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 68 and Frontier channel 6020.

A close-up view of the work proposed. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

Roundup: Water Conservation; Hoodies And Wristbands; Aspetuck Dogs; More


High temperatures, low rainfall and high water demands have reduced reservoir levels.

Aquarion says that Westport customers — under a mandatory, twice-weekly irrigation schedule — are asked to continue reducing water usage by 20 percent.

If the last number of your address is even, you should water only on Sundays and Wednesdays, 12:01 a.m. to 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. to midnight. If the last number is odd, watering should take place Saturdays and Tuesdays (same times as above). If you have no street number, water Sundays and Wednesdays (as above).

Based on current water demands and expected rainfall, additional mandatory restrictions may be required in the coming weeks.

Aquarion offers these tips for efficient water usage:

Outdoors

  • Adjust your lawn mower to a higher setting. A taller lawn provides shade to the roots and helps retain soil moisture.
  • Reduce your sprinkler setting to 2 days per week. The grass roots will grow deeper and make your grass more drought tolerant.
  • Adjust your sprinklers so they water your lawn and garden, not the street or sidewalk.
  • Turn off your irrigation system; use hand watering or drip irrigation for shrubs and flowers.
  • Inspect your irrigation system for leaks, broken lines or blockage in the lines. A well-maintained system saves you money, water and time.

Indoors

  • Turn off water while lathering, shaving, or brushing your teeth.
  • Minimize the amount of water you use for baths. Trim 1 minute off the length of your showers.
  • Wash only full loads in your dishwasher and washing machine.
  • Hand wash dishes in a pan or the sink, not under continuous running water.
  • Reuse dehumidifier water. or use a bucket to capture shower and bath water while you wait for it to warm up; use the water to water your plants.

Click here for more tips.


Amy Smith knows education. A 2011 Staples High School graduate who taught 1st and 4th grades at Long Lots Elementary School — and the daughter of Bedford Middle School 6th grade science teacher Liz Smith — she and her mom created a company with a very modern mission.

Called My Covid Color, the aim is to keep students, families and educators safe during the return-to-school process.

Their My Covid Color wristbands come in red, yellow and green. The colors indicate the wearer’s comfort level for social distancing in public.

Red means you need others more than 6 feet away. Yellow means you need others 6 feet away, while green indicates you are comfortable with people being closer than 6 feet.

Of course, they’re not just for school. Anyone of any age can wear a wristband, anywhere in public. Click here for details, and purchase information.

“06880” gives My Covid Color an A+. And a gold star too.

 


Dog lovers, wag your tails: Leashed dogs are now allowed back at all Aspetuck Land Trust nature preserves (except those specifically reserved as wildlife refuges — click here for more information). NOTE:

  • Dogs must be leashed (except for certain off-leash areas).
  • Leashes must be 6 feet or less
  • Dogs must be reined in when approaching other people (and dogs), to prevent contact
  • Owners must remove their pet’s waste.

For more Aspetuck Land Trust info, click here.


Rio Bravo restaurant on Post Road East — known for its good food, large portions and reasonable prices — is closed. The interior has already been cleaned out.

The Fairfield location remains open, however. (Hat tip: Dick Lowenstein)


Staples High School graduate Jonathan Kaner is now an economics major at the University of Michigan. He’s part of TAMID Group, which consults with Israeli startups. He was ready for an internship in Israel this summer. Then COVID struck.

In true entrepreneurial spirit, Jonathan and 2 friends — including Westporter Alex Reiner — started a clothing brand.

They’re already making high-quality hoodies, with unique features like holographic foil printing. In the works: t-shirts, sweatpants and shorts.

Jonathan’s company is Low Maintenance — that’s the name, and also the “loungewear meets streetwear” concept. Click here for products and more.

Low Maintenance: lookin’ good!


And finally … 51 years after its release, “Bad Moon Rising” sounds as apocalyptically apt as ever.

Yet despite its “voice of rage and ruin,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic also contains a classic misheard lyric: “There’s a bathroom on the right.”

That’s what John Fogerty sang — with a knowing wink — at the Levitt Pavilion a couple of years ago. He’s 75 now, and despite all those earthquakes and lightning, he’s made it to 2020 looking and sounding great.

School Superintendent Reports On Fall Planning

New superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice sent this email to all Westport families last night:

Last night [Monday] I had the fortune of participating in my first business meeting of the Westport Board of Education as the superintendent of schools. I am honored to serve in this role and it is indeed humbling to lead this esteemed school community.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

However, like most things in our lives right now, my transition into this role is unusual. Similar to the patterns of our personal and professional lives that have undergone profound changes over the past four months or so, I have foregone the typical incremental induction period for full immersion into the work before us.

Although I am disappointed to abandon the opportunities to meet and develop rapport with individuals across the system, I am fully aware of the community’s urgency to not only develop, but to communicate the reopening plans for the 2020-2021 school year.

With that, I will dive into an update on our work in preparing our schools for the upcoming school year and reserve a more traditional written statement to the community for a future date.

The Context

As I shared at the Board of Education meeting last night, I have found that there is a great deal of fear and uncertainty in communities across the country and it is a fragile time. To complicate matters, there are some contradictions in professional recommendations and guidelines in how to effectively respond to the pandemic. Additionally, there are demands from our state leaders and questions from our parents, our faculty and staff, and our larger community,

Yet, as the public health community confronts this novel virus and learns more by the day, and after considering the fundamental role schools play in child and adolescent development, confidence has grown among many in the medical field that reopening our schools for all students for on-site full day schooling is the appropriate, and necessary, course of action.

Such professional organizations as the American Academy of Pediatrics have weighed the benefits of mitigating measures such as school closures and concluded that the goal of the coming school year should start with all students physically present in school. In addition, Governor Lamont has also called on Connecticut towns and cities to welcome all students for on-site full day schooling for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

Governor Lamont encourages all schools — like Staples High School, shown here — to open this fall.

In response to this call, we will work as a system to institute the necessary safety measures to ensure a high quality learning environment, including social and emotional learning, for all students.

However, these calls come with caveats. First, endorsements of a full reopening of schools for all students are predicated on low transmission rates of the virus in communities. Currently, the transmission rates are such that a full return to school in the fall is justified.

Secondly, any return to school must include mitigating measures such as physically distancing to the extent possible, limiting transitions, cohorting groups of students where possible, regular facility disinfecting, compulsory hygiene practices, effective screening measures, and face coverings.

With low transmission rates and rigorous mitigating measures, I encourage the community to welcome a full return to school this fall. Although this approach will not eliminate risk as there are no ”zero risk” approaches, evidence has emerged that schools appear to be low risk settings for virus transmission if the community transmission rates remain low and the mitigating measures are followed with fidelity.

The district will respond with a hybrid, or full distance learning model, if transmission rates surge. The metrics for this decision will be provided by the Connecticut State Department of Public Health and the local Westport/Weston Health District.

Next Steps

As we move forward into the summer months we are obligated to submit a plan to the Connecticut State Department of Educations for the reopening of our schools. This plan is due July 24. However, there will be a full preview and deliberation on the components of the plan at the July 20 public meeting of the Board of Education. This plan will be posted for review prior to the meeting.

The final product will be a comprehensive document crafted by the education and health professionals serving on our “Westport Reopening School Committee.” This plan will contain the volumes of work conducted over the past month related to:

  • Health and Safety – the specific mitigating measures that will be employed to minimize the transmission of the virus while supporting the social and emotional wellness of our children and adolescents
  • Facilities and Operations – the cleaning, disinfecting and infection control measures that will be in place to limit the transmission of the virus, as well as the transportation and food services practices that will be instituted
  • Teaching and Learning – the pedagogy, scheduling and overall learning experiences that will provide purposeful and regular live interactions between teachers in students, whether engaged in on-site schooling, or a blended/distance model
  • Co-Curricular Programming – the extra-curricular experiences that provide programming to meet the physical, artistic, and enrichment needs of our children and adolescents.

Critical partnerships with local medical professionals and public health experts have provided a framework for the development and implementation of the plan. In addition, these professionals will provide ongoing consultation in advancing mitigating measures, identifying and treating cases of transmission, and effectively tracing contacts after transmission.

Lessons learned from the spring distance learning have provided our professional educators with valuable experience in the pursuit to continually improve our teaching and learning. Live instruction, naturally when students are engaged in on-site schooling, has emerged as a necessity for any blended or distance learning model. These approaches will augment the current pedagogy employed by our teaching staff.

As confidence grows in an environment with low transmission rates and strong mitigating measures, it is important for parents to understand that the Governor’s call for a full return to school comes with an important option for parents. You, as a parent, have the option to choose a distance learning model for your child in lieu of on-site schooling.

The primary features of this model will be included in the Westport reopening plan. In the near future, the school district will follow up on the initial parent survey recently administered to accurately project the number of parents that will invoke this option in order to appropriately plan for upcoming school year.  You will have the option to subsequently modify your choice. Further information will be provided related to these procedures.

As superintendent, I am committed to increasing the frequency and substance of communication to the school community. In the future, I intend to provide brief insights to our work on a regular basis. This initial communication is critical in setting the stage for the next steps in our plan to return to reopening our schools. Thank you for your attention and support as we work to serve the children and adolescents of the Westport community.

Sincerely,
Thomas Scarice