Westport is full of interesting people. Every day since 2009, I’ve told their stories in “06880.”
But hey, this is 2021. It’s time to spread my wings. Let’s add some audio and video to those stories!
Thanks to a partnership with the Westport Library — and their state-of-the-art Verso Studios — today we launch “06880: The Podcast.”
Every other Monday, we’ll release a new casual conversation with one of the many people who make this such an intriguing town. We’ll talk about what got (and kept) them here; what they love (and don’t like) about this place; what they do, how they do it, and what it all means here and in the world.
My first guest is Tom Scarice. Nine months into his gig as superintendent of schools, he chats candidly, passionately (and with humor) about his decision to sign on in the middle of a pandemic; his goals for the district; students and staff today, and how education will change in the future.
I’ll post a new podcast every other Monday, at noon. It will be available simultaneously on the Westport Library website.
Watch or listen at your leisure. Enjoy “06880: The Podcast” — the newest way in which “Westport meets the world.”
In one more sign of approaching normalcy, the town is moving forward with plans for an actual Memorial Day parade.
This year’s theme for the float contest is “Honoring Women Veterans.” Certificates will be awarded for Best Development of Theme, Best Youth Organization Float, Most Creative, Best Community Organization, Most Colorful, and the Best Overall Float.
If past form holds true, the Y’s Men will win the Overall award. They’ve won it nearly every year for the past 20 or so.
And the only reason the Y’s Men did not win in 2020, 2017 or 2016 was because there were no parades. (COVID last year; rain those other 2.)
Weather and COVID permitting, this year’s event begins at 9 a.m. on May 31, at Saugatuck Elementary School. Veterans — and thousands of others — will march north on Riverside Avenue, trn right on Post Road East, then continue to Myrtle Avenue.
The Y’s Men’s float won, as usual, in 2012. This one honored Korean War veterans — complete with freezing mist.
Longtime Westport resident Judith Portner Sappern died peacefully on Saturday. She was 88 years old.
The Rumson, New Jersey native was an adventurer who, after serving as managing editor of her high school newspaper, took the unusual step at the time to go out of state for college. A
t the University of Connecticut she served as president of Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority, made lifelong friends and fell in love with Donald Sappern. Married shortly after graduation, they started a telephone answering service in Norwalk. As Don’s career progressed and he became a successful insurance executive, Judy managed office operations and bookkeeping.
As the couple’s children grew, Judy helped with their studies and supported every interest, from the choir room and pool to the baseball diamond and the rock band that practiced in the basement. She fed generations of Staples High School students who used their nearby house on Wedgewood Lane as a home base throughout the day.
Judy pursued a master’s degree in social work, and volunteered at Norwalk Hospital. She loved helping others work through tough times, and passed that empathy on to her children. When not at the hospital or office, Judy worked on needlepoint, and played golf or bridge with friends. She also became a personal computer enthusiast and fanatical supporter of UConn basketball.
She was preceded in death by her husband of 63 years, Donald, and her older sister Joyce Cooper. Judy is survived by her children, Laurie Sappern Gaugler (Dean), and Matthew (Rianne), both of Fairfield, and Adam (Margot)of Bethel, Vermont. Judy enjoyed frequent visits and calls with her 7 grandchildren: Billy, Chloe, Brian, Geoffrey, Rachel, Carly and Tobey. She is also survived by her beloved sister-in-law, Pietrina Sappern of Milford.
A memorial service will be held when travel and gathering is less limited. Memorial contributions in Judy’s memory can be made to the IGA Nephropathy Foundation, PO Box 1322, Wall, New Jersey 07727.
This morning, the 2nd selectwoman announced she’s running for the town’s top spot. First Selectman Jim Marpe said yesterday that he will not run for a 3rd term.
Tooker was elected with Marpe in 2017. Her running mate this time is Andrea Moore, vice chair of the Board of Finance. Like Marpe, both are Republicans.
As 2nd selectwoman Tooker launched Westport Together, an alliance between the town and Westport Public Schools.
She also created and hosts Westport Means Business, a series of events through which business owners and entrepreneurs make connections, exchange ideas and promote Westport.
Last May, in the early months of the pandemic, Marpe appointed Tooker as chair of the ReOpen Westport advisory team.
Tooker — a longtime member of the Board of Finance, Board of Education and Conservation Commission — left her 22-year career with Gen RE’s US and European reinsurance markets in 2013.
Since then — and continuing as 2nd selectwoman — Tooker has created ties with the Westport and Fairfield County business communities. She served on the board of directors for the Women’s Business Development Council, which provides training and financial education to female small business owners around the state.
Tooker is also involved in education, with a focus on closing the achievement gap in Connecticut. She was a board member of the State Education Resource Center, the Education Commission for the Diocese of Bridgeport, and the Adam J. Lewis Academy.
Tooker’s other volunteer efforts include the Westport Weston Family YMCA board of trustees and Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund committee; Westport Sunrise Rotary Club and its 21st Century Foundation board, and coaching with the Westport Soccer Association.
Second selectman Jennifer Tooker’s shirt sent a message at a meeting to promote local women-owned businesses.
Tooker earned a bachelor of arts degree in economics and international relations from the University of Notre Dame. She and her husband Mo have 3 children: Jack, Riley and Nicole. Her parents recently moved to Westport.
“It has been a privilege to serve Westport as second selectwoman,” Tooker says. “This is an amazing town where we enjoy an excellent quality of life. I’ve been part of the team that has worked diligently to ensure Westport is a great place to live and work.
“This community deserves a local government that is accessible and accountable with leadership skills, management expertise and a strategic perspective. As first selectman I will continue to bring these skills to Town Hall every day. It would be an honor to lead Westport, the community we all call home, and foster an even greater sense of community and belonging for all our residents and business owners.”
Tooker’s running mate was elected to the Board of Finance in 2017, and selected as vice chair 2 years later. Moore also serves on the board’s audit subcommittee.
Previously she represented District 9 on the RTM. Her committee work included Education, Public Protection, and Library and Museums.
Moore has worked for over 20 years in financial services, with positions in institutional equity sales, equity research and investment banking at firms including UBS, BT Deutsche Bank and Salomon Brothers.
A native Westporter and Staples High School graduate, Moore is member of the YMCA board of trustees. She has served on the National Charity League’s Westport board, and is a former president of Staples Tuition Grants, Saugatuck Elementary School PTA, and A Child’s Place preschool board. She also co-chaired the Westport Public Schools’ Workshopo Committee.
Moore received a bachelor of science degree in finance from the University of Massachusetts School of Management. She and her husband Dave have 3 daughters: Tessa, Janna and Ella.
Moore says, “It is an honor to run alongside Jen Tooker, a truly accomplished leader for Westport. I am continually impressed with the effective, bipartisan way Jen solves problems and drives positive change. Westport is a truly special place to call home, and I know Jen will work every day to bring people together, represent our community with the utmost integrity, and employ a fresh perspective to meet challenges and new opportunities in the days ahead.”
Yesterday’s 4th Westport Public Schools’ vaccine clinic was another success.
Hundreds of educators — along with their colleagues in Weston and Easton — have now received their 2nd COVID dose.
Yesterday’s event in the Staples High School fieldhouse was an “all in the family” affair. In the photo below, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice receives his injection from Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Technician Ben Frimmer.
Frimmer’s name may sound familiar. That’s because his day job is theater teacher and drama director at Coleytown Middle School.
Speaking of education: Eric Lawrence is the Connecticut PTA Outstanding Elementary School Teacher of the Year. The 18-year veteran is a technology instructor. Right now he also teaches 4th grade distance learning.
Yesterday, his Saugatuck Elementary School community came together to celebrate.
A parent said: “Mr. Lawrence, you have always been a truly outstanding teacher here at Saugatuck. But as we all know when we face really difficult times, the absolute best can come out in people.
“Many of us thought we could never express how much SSN (Saugatuck Seal News) meant to us from the early days of the shutdown through this year, but we hope we can express it now. The response to your nomination for this honor was overwhelming.”
She then presented him with a binder filled with letters from colleagues, parents, and leaders in the Cub Scout community, where his leadership also made a great impact.
Mr. Lawrence will be honored at a virtual celebration May 5.
You know that old mattress or box spring you’ve always meant to get rid of?
Now — well, on Saturday, May 8 (8:30 to 11 a.m.) — you can.
Earthplace hosts a free mattress recycling drop-off event. It’s sponsored by the Mattress Recycling Council, and they know what they’re doing. Each year they recycle more than 190,000 mattresses — and that’s in Connecticut.
They’re not only diverted from the waste stream. They’re used to make other products, from carpet padding and insulation to filters and mulch.
Can’t transport your mattress to Earthplace on May 8? Boy Scout Troop 36 offers free same-day pickup. Spots are limited; click here to sign up.
If you miss this event, you can bring your mattress or box spring to Park City Green in Bridgeport, a non-profit that recycles mattresses. Call for hours of operation and drop-off instructions: 203-212-3860 or 203-209-6915.
GE’s former CEO talks virtually on Thursday, April 22 (7 p.m.) about his 16 years at the helm. The Westport Library program is hosted by Westporter Steve Parrish.
Immelt’s first day on the job was September 10, 2001 — 24 hours before 9/11. His new book Hot Seat: What I Learned Leading a Great American Company details his proudest moments — and missteps — at the helm of the global giant.
The Westport Country Playhouse internship program began in 1946. Four years later, 19-year-old Stephen Sondheim spent the summer at the already-famous stage.
The program — now named for longtime Playhouse benefactor Joanne Woodward — continues this summer.
Interns will join the development, education and marketing teams, from June 7 to August 13. They’ll work directly with Playhouse staff, gain practical skills, and hear guest speakers including visiting designers and artists, commercial producers and more.
With a virtual season, the internships are also virtual this year. There are limited in-person requirements, based on department needs.
Application deadline is April 21. Click here for more information.
Stephen Sondheim (crouching, top of photo), during his 1950 apprenticeship. Also in the photo: future film director Frank Perry (front row, left) and Richard Rodgers’ daughter Mary (2nd row, 4th from left).
The Westport Weston Family YMCA has added over 150 live classes a week, and hundreds more on demand. They include cardio, endurance, strength, bodywork, dance, mind/body, seniors, adaptive, kids and family.
They’re all virtual of course — but available through a collaboration with 29 Y’s across Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts.
You must be a YMCA member, of course. For details on the “Y Wellness 24/7” program, click here.
Congratulations to Staples High School basketball co-captain Nicole Holmes. The senior was one of only 4 FCIAC players — and 10 overall — named to the Connecticut High School Coaches Association All-State team, in the “LL” (extra large schools division).
Holmes helped lead the Wreckers to a sparkling 13-3 record this winter.
Nicole Holmes (Photo courtesy of The Ruden Report)
And finally … on this day in 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. That was the effective end of the Civil War, though skirmishes continued for several weeks.
In normal times, it takes a lot to make a school run smoothly.
These are not normal times.
Administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, nurses, custodians, cafeteria workers, coaches — they’ve gotten well-deserved shout-outs for helping Staples High School make it through COVID.
No one ever says anything about substitutes.
Well, social studies instructor Drew Coyne does. He calls Staples’ 7-person team — John Ogletree, Robert Baskin, Paula Marturano, Edward Groth, Matthew Jacowleff, Lisa Pulic and Claudia Lonkin — “the unsung heroes of this academic year.”
Maryann Garcia, the secretary who oversees the subs, agrees. “I always say, I have the best group of substitutes. They may have to cover 4 or 5 different teachers and class in one day. It is such a fluid situation — especially this year — and they always respond to last-minute directions.”
Staples High School substitute teachers (from left): Edward Groth, Matthew Jacowleff, Paula Marturano, Lisa Pulie, Robert Baskin, John Ogletree. Missing: Claudia Lonkin. (Photo/Maryann Garcia)
The subs go far beyond covering a class. Coyne was quarantined at home in January, the day after insurrectionists took over the Capitol. Baskin brought his experience in Washington — he’d served as chief of staff to former Connecticut Representative Sam Gejdenson — to the conversation. He helped students process the event, and answered their questions.
“Bob wasn’t my substitute. He was my co-teacher,” Coyne says. “He brought insight and perspective to those days for me.”
English teacher Barb Robbins agrees. She cites Baskins 1-on-1 work since last March to provide support for a student. “It’s incredible,” she says. “He spends countless hours keeping the student focused.”
Ogletree also meets with a student on remote days, checking in as an important connection.
It’s easy to think of substitute teachers as stereotypes from movies, or wannabe teachers trying to prevent classroom mayhem.
Staples’ subs — and those in the 7 other district schools — are professionals. They’re well-educated, passionate and very talented men and women.
And they are — deservedly — this week’s “06880” Unsung Heroes.
It’s been talked about for a long time. Now it’s official.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe will coordinate on upcoming capital projects, it was announced at last night’s Board of Education meeting.
The form of that collaboration is still to be determined. But it’s a step toward bringing the school and town planning processes together.
Also last night, Brian Fullenbaum reports, the board accepted Scarice’s recommendation to ask the Board of Finance to restore $235,363 to its budget. Some members had pushed for a $500,000 restoration.
The board also voted unanimously to retain the law firm of Shipman & Goodwin. Questions had been raised earlier about a potential conflict of interest. In a previous case, attorney Timothy Hollister represented a plaintiff in a zoning case against the town of Westport.
In addition, it was announced that a $700,000 ESSER II grant will be used for both technology and summer tutoring programs.
Supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur reported 18 COVID cases in the district last week. Students who test positive from get-togethers are still quarantining. The district will revisit restrictions after the April break.
A week before spring vacation — with COVID still a strong concern — Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice issued travel guidelines.
He also reminded families of quarantine mandates for athletes staying overnight at out of state events, . Scarice wrote:
Although Governor Lamont’s Executive Order regarding travel is no longer in effect, the Department of Public Health recommends that all Connecticut residents follow CDC Guidelines for Travelers.
Students and staff traveling over the April vacation are asked to follow the guidelines below, which are consistent with the expectations that have been previously communicated.
While traveling, please continue to utilize all appropriate mitigation strategies (including mask wearing, distancing, symptom recognition, hand washing, etc.) regardless of whether they are mandated at your destination.
Before travel, review current DPH and CDC recommendations for travel during COVID-19, and plan sufficient time for any necessary actions.
Before returning to school after travel, we ask everyone to:
Get a viral test after returning to Connecticut, and stay out of school until you receive a negative test from the laboratory.
Be aware of and closely self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms during and after your trip, especially for the 14 days after returning.
Immediately quarantine if anyone with you on your trip tests positive after returning to Connecticut.
Be prepared to immediately quarantine if/when symptoms appear.
International travelers should be aware of the additional COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination prior to departure: click here. You may also find these Frequently Asked Questions helpful.
Connecticut mandates quarantines for any athletes participating in out-of-state events, if they include overnight stays.
As we conclude our second, and final, round of vaccinations for faculty and staff this week, we turn our efforts to supporting parents in vaccinating our 16+ student population.
At this point in the year, nearly 2/3 of our high school population is 16+. Currently, only the Pfizer vaccine has received emergency approval for administration to children ages 16+. This is not the vaccine that has been distributed to our local health district. However, there are options in our region to advance this effort.
There might be clinics in the region that will be dedicated to local students. We may have more specificity just prior to the April break. Stay tuned!
School districts across the state are awaiting guidance from the DPH regarding end-of-year activities, including graduation, proms, etc. It is likely that we will continue to be encouraged to favor outdoor activities, with universal mask wearing and social distancing.
Once the DPH document is released, the district will move from “save the date” to planning specifics of our end-of-year activities, knowing that any event can change at a moment’s notice until the pandemic is behind us.
Please continue to report any cases over the break to our hotline. We intend to stay on top of our reporting procedures and data, as we have with prior vacation periods.
Thank you for all of the support and patience this year.
Money was on the minds of Board of Education members last night.
At their virtual meeting they addressed the gap between their submitted budget, and the $125,594,582 approved last month by the Board of Finance. The difference is $975,284.
Brian Fullenbaum reports that federal grants from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund’s (ESSER) 3rd round will total $1.6 million. The board will reserve 20% of that amount, to address learning loss.
Other grants approved for Westport include a maximum of $947,633 from the COVID relief fund, and $832,917 from the first 2 rounds of ESSER.
Two proposals were made. One would use $607,000 from ESSER II to meet the $975,000 reduction. Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice would then request restoration of the rest of the $367,000 gap.
The other proposal would rely fully on the ESSER III grant money to fill the reduction gap.
Though the possibility of not receiving that third grant is small, the board discussed a backup plan.
The board also noted the need to adjust technology purchases, in the event that online learning continues into the next year.
In addition, education costs may rise due to increased enrollment. Over 100 extra students joined elementary schools, necessitating new hires. Enrollment numbers for next year are already looking strong.
The board deferred a decision until Monday’s meeting.
Last Thursday, Staples High School returned to full, in-person learning for the first time in over a year.
Though around 20% of the approximately 1,900 or so students have opted to remain full-time distance learners, the halls once again seem crowded. The classrooms, library and cafeteria pulse once more with energy.
Brian Fullenbaum is a Staples junior. He plays varsity squash, and is involved with both the Service League of Boys and the LINK Crew mentorship program with freshmen. He writes:
This is a landmark for the community. My friends and I didn’t see this
coming, because we just switched to 75% capacity a few weeks ago.
Although I would rather be home some of the days to grab the extra 45 minutes of sleep, quarantining has forced me to understand that it is actually easier to learn when attending school in person.
I woke up as slow as ever last Thursday, but I was excited to see people I haven’t
seen in months.
When I pulled into the Wakeman parking lot, I was stunned by the number of cars. The traffic jam was similar to the times my brother navigated us through the parking lots each morning more than a year ago.
I think all of the students were anxious to experience school at full capacity. The second I walked into Staples, it was odd to see so many masked, covered faces in one enclosed place.
But there was a sense of warmth and nostalgia. Almost every seat was filled. I thought back to my freshman days, when I was eager to be called on and itched to be a part of a class conversation.
Students could now walk both ways in the hallways, instead of having to follow one-way arrows around the school. It was lonely with the arrows, since all I could see was the backs of heads staring at me.
I wasn’t sure if I would even know how to react to my friends walking towards me on the other side of the hallway, but I was psyched to see them. I was finally giving smiles (under my mask) and head nods as they walked towards me.
Weeks ago, I had classes where I was the only kid in the classroom and everybody else was online. Now the entire setup was flipped. Sitting back down in a full classroom of juniors felt more studious. Students were working with each other on assignments, creating a more interactive learning environment.
My teacher forgot to tell the one Zoom student that the class was going for a mask break outside, which I am sure left that student in confusion as he stared into a silent camera for 10 minutes.
But for the most part, teachers are doing a great job adjusting back to full capacity.
The cafeteria felt more crowded than it did pre-COVID. Usually students eat outside, but because it rained the day before and those seats were wet, everyone huddled around each other in the cafeteria.
I felt for the teachers as I watched them constantly break up groups of students and tell them to “please socially distance.”
The parking lot at Staplels was more crowded than in this drone shot from last spring.
The packed lines reminded me of the time I raced my friends from the 3rd floor all the way over to the sandwich line. Although I didn’t race anyone this time, I finally experienced that sense of urgency, as I rushed to the lunch lines.
One might describe the total capacity lunch as a socially distanced nightmare, but as the excitement of returning to school and seeing friends diminishes, I am sure things will settle down.
Opening up to full capacity was a huge change in the way of life at school. I will need to figure out how to get more sleep.
But I think that Staples is making the best of what they have. I am happy to be back full time.
It’s been nearly 3 months since Coleytown Middle School reopened.
The “new” school has earned rave reviews. Bright! Modern! No mold!
Of course, a few tweaks continued after students and staff returned. Don O’Day — the mastermind as chair of the project — reports that the town issued its final Certificate of Occupancy last week.
Welcome to Coleytown!
During spring break, the grounds will be thoroughly raked, top soil will be added and seeding will begin.
The missing “Coleytown Middle School” signs on the roof, in front of the building and the bus loop have been redesigned. They’ll be up hopefully by May.
The gray cement columns in the front will be painted.
And because the new HVAC is both a heating and air conditioning system, there’s no need to wait for an arbitrary date to switch over to AC (as is the case in other schools). Whenever the weather warms up, the classrooms will be cool.
Just like the entire school — finally — is.
Don O’Day in the bright new cafeteria. (Photos/Dan Woog)
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