Category Archives: Education

Roundup: School Reopening, Seed Exchange, Leadership, More

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Westport’s elementary and middle school open for full in-person on February 1.

A new Westport Public Schools website offers information on the transition. it includes details on schedules, specials, health and safety, lunch and recess, mitigation and hygiene strategies, classroom cohorts, special education, transportation, technology and more.

Click here for the elementary school page. Click here for the middle school page.

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Talented Westport photographer Ted Horowitz posted this photo to his Instagram this morning:

He took the shot years ago at sunrise, in the Lincoln Memorial.

“In the silence of dawn, with golden light reflecting on the statue, the  the sense of gravity and majesty was overwhelming,” he says.

“It was a hopeful moment, as morning light poured in and a  day dawned once again. I felt that this image was appropriate for today, as we seeking relief from the past 4 years, and are hopeful for the new day which is about to begin.”

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Next Thursday (January 28) is National Seed Exchange Day.

Stumped for a celebration? Head to the Westport Farmers’ Market. It’s (no coincidence) their annual seed exchange.

People can bring seeds saved from their gardens — or take home a few saved by others.

WFM farmers will donate seeds from their favorite crops for the community to try at home. All seeds except invasive species are welcome, but the market urges people to bring and take home heirloom or organic varieties. (Click here for a list of invasive plants.)

Heirloom seeds are critical to reclaiming the food system. They’re open-pollinated plants passed down from generation to generation, without human intervention or manipulation. They taste better, are more nutritious, and help protect plant diversity.

“Collecting, sharing, and growing seeds saved by our very own shoppers, farmers and vendors – especially heirloom varieties – involves the community personally in the promotion of local food and flora,” says Farmers’ Market executive director Lori Cochran-Dougall.

“This year more than ever we want to seed the year with love and health.”

The seed exchange runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — or until all seeds are shared —  on January 28th at Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center, 7 Sylvan Avenue.

Experts will be on hand to informally discuss the importance of seed saving.

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Yesterday’s mention of Capuli — the new restaurant in the old Westport Pizzeria location across from Bank of America — may have left the impression that it’s a pizza place.

It’s not.

The California-Mediterranean fusion menu — filled with healthy options — includes appetizers like chimichurri shrimp skewers and grilled octopus, and entrees like eggplant polenta Napoleon, pansotti, classic New York steak and California hamburger.

Click here for the mouth-watering lunch and dinner menus.

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Mike Hayes is a 20-year veteran of the Navy SEALs, with service in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. He had defense policy and strategy roles in the Bush and Obama administrations.

He’s got a master’s in public policy from Harvard, and is the author of an inspirational book, “Never Enough.”

Hayes is also a Westporter. And on February 4 (7 p.m.), he’ll share his thoughts on leadership with former Westport Library trustee Maggie Mudd.

He’ll talk about how decisions get made, particularly under duress; crisis management, conflict resolution and more. Leadership lessons are applicable to every walk of life, Mudd notes.

Click here to register for the free virtual program.

Mike Hayes

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And finally (and I do mean “finally”) …

Marc Selverstone: Presidential Scholar Looks Back, And Ahead

Our country is deeply divided. We’ll remain so for some time.

The Biden administration will move quickly to get things done. It only has a year to do so, before the mid-term elections move into high gear.

We’ll continue to reel from assaults on both truth and an array of institutions vital to the maintenance of a healthy democracy.

Those are not novel concepts. But they — and others, much more in depth and nuanced — have particular resonance, on this inauguration day.

They come from Marc Selverstone. The 1980 Staples High School graduate is an associate professor in presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s famed Miller Center of Public Affairs.

Marc Selverstone

With a doctorate in American history, he also chairs the center’s Presidential Recordings Program; teaches courses on foreign relations, and consults with filmmakers, authors and educators.

Over the last 4 years, Selverstone says, it’s been a challenge to figure out how to avoid using the word “unprecedented.”

Beyond trying to understand policy choices, he’s tried to understand President Trump’s appeal to “a durable segment of the population, and an extraordinary percentage of the Republican Party.”

“His most dramatic departures had less to do with policy than with his approach to norms and conventions, to personnel and institutions and, most consequentially, to truth and fact-based reality,” the scholar says.

Selverstone calls the Biden transition “one of the most professional in memory. That augurs well for a country reeling from intersecting health and economic crises, and against the backdrop of really seismic and fundamental challenges in our politics, in social and race relations, and with respect to the environment.

“Whether or not the Capitol insurrection functions as a modern-day Beer Hall Putsch remains to be seen,” he adds. “1923 is a far cry from 1933, let alone what came after. But reporting seems to indicate that the assault has galvanized groups of well-armed violent extremists who are fanatically loyal to the outgoing president and all he represents.”

Until January 6, the Confederate flag had never been paraded through the US Capitol.

Selverstone’s looks ahead are informed by his study of the past. The Recordings Program transcribes and analyzes White House tapes that 6 consecutive presidents of both parties — from Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 to Richard Nixon in 1973 — made in secret.

Most of the work focuses on the period between 1962 and ’73. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were the most active in taping aides, journalists, cabinet officials, legislators, family members and private individuals.

In 2005, Selverstone was part of a Brown University-led oral history research project, exploring the Kennedy/Johnson transition and its impact on Vietnam policy.

Intrigued, Selverstone began exploring Kennedy’s thoughts on withdrawal planning (“real and extensive”), and his Vietnam policy overall — cut short, of course, by his assassination.

President John F. Kennedy and the primary architect of his Vietnam policy, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.

That led to a book, due to his publisher March 1: “The Kennedy Withdrawal: Camelot and the American Commitment to Vietnam.”

Selverstone has become impressed with how much the president was souring on the war. He had always been wary of deep involvement, the professor says, though he went to Dallas still committed to fighting it.

The question of withdrawal deadlines — at least, their public announcements – is relevant today. “Calendars factored into the Bush , Obama and Trump policies toward Iraq and Afghanistan,” Selverstone says.

Such deadlines “don’t have a very good track record,” he notes. “They rarely served the political or military objectives they were designed to achieve.”

Meanwhile, Selverstone, the Miller Center and the US prepare for a new administration.

He’ll continue to work on the presidential tapes, then undertake new projects beyond the election of 1964 and Vietnam.

“With the Kennedy book in the rear view mirror,” he says, “I’ll join my colleagues in thinking about what this turbulent era of American public life means for us, as well as what it means in the stream of time.”

Westport Schools’ Full-Time Reopening Set

Elementary and middle school students will return full-time to their buildings on February 1. Staples High School will follow soon after.

That’s the word from Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice. He says:

This school year has been a physical, emotional and psychological test of our collective endurance. We close out the first half of the school year at the end of this month. In the midst of the uncertainty and episodic chaos, I hold a very optimistic perspective for the second half of the school year.

What’s Next
As I shared with the parent community on December 22, I recommended a cautious approach to our school reopening this year.

However, based on 4 months of experience in preventing virus transmission in our buildings, and the similar success of peer districts in our region who have fully reopened, along with the reopening of Coleytown Middle School, I began conversations intended to increase access to on-site schooling for the second half of the school year. These discussions included a full reopening of on-site schooling for all K-8 students, and increased access for on-site schooling at Staples….

We have remained on the course I illustrated for the school community on December 22. There is a great deal of work that has been done, and continues to be done, to safely welcome our students back for additional on-site schooling.  However, we remain on the timeline shared on December 22.

The “Why?”
Those who serve our students, namely our faculty and support staff, are the reason for our success. Our collective support of these professionals is critical to the success we have enjoyed for decades. Yet as a system, our primary mission is to serve and develop our students. In the course of this work, challenges emerge in an ordinary year.  In a pandemic the challenges grow exponentially.

As a community, we are faced with obvious public health obligations to ensure that we are responsibly doing our part as a school system to minimize virus transmission. However, we are also obligated to balance our public health responsibilities with the perhaps less obvious risks that have impacted our children as a result of the reduction of on-site schooling.

The academic, social/emotional, and psychological impact on our students is not captured each evening on the news in cases per 100,000, or in positive test rates.  Yet the impact is real, consequential, and warrants mitigation.

It is time to move to bring these two obligations a bit more into balance.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

In October, the district partnered with the Tri State Consortium and conducted focus groups with almost 250 teachers, students and parents to identify critical problems for us to solve this year as a result of delivering a pandemic education.

Many of the problems that were identified can be addressed, in part, through greater access to additional on-site schooling.

The lack of connections with peers and adults, the academic struggles, and the ongoing challenge of engaging students can all be tempered with additional on-site schooling. This move will not eliminate these problems, nor will it eliminate the profound social/emotional and psychological issues that have emerged for some children, but it will ease the effects on the children we serve.

The benefits full on-site schooling are so important, particularly after long periods of remote and hybrid instruction this year and last year, that bringing our responsibilities to public health and our students into balance is warranted.

With less pandemic experience in the fall, I was less inclined to increase the levels of on-site schooling, particularly at the elementary level which provided an “everyday” model. A move to a “pandemic classroom” was not warranted given the uncertainty of the coming months in the fall.

That said, given our experience since then, and the experience of our peers in the region, along with the significant benefits of full on-site schooling, in my judgement it is time to begin this transition.

The Transition Process
Elementary Schools
The transition to full time on-site schooling will begin with a full asynchronous remote day for all elementary students on Wednesday January 27 in order to provide teachers the time needed to accommodate their classrooms for full enrollment.

A special 2-day transition schedule (January 28 and 29) will be shared next week by the elementary principals to their school communities which will illustrate how they will gradually welcome back their entire student body, with the first full K-5 day of on-site schooling scheduled for the first day of the second half of the school year, Monday February 1.

From that point forward, elementary students will engage in full school days, with changes made to arrival/dismissal, bus seating assignments, lunch, and recess.  The principals will communicate this information, and more, to their families in the coming days.

Given the need for our elementary faculty to deliver their instruction in a pandemic setting, and all of the professional challenges associated with this, like most districts in our region, Wednesdays will remain an on-site half day for students. Afternoons will be reserved for teachers to work with colleagues as they continue to solve instructional problems unlike any they have experienced in their careers as a result of COVID-19.

Greens Farms and 4 other elementary schools will reopen full-time on February 1.

Lunch will be served in homerooms and efforts will be made to “de-densify” the classrooms where appropriate when serving lunch by accessing other areas of the school building.

A parent survey is forthcoming which will gather information on any changes in distance learning requests from parents and transportation intentions (i.e bus or bring your child to school).

The distance learning option will remain for students and this program will be largely unchanged, providing consistency for this population of students.  More information about the distance learning option will be provided by the elementary principals in communication to their families.

Middle School
The middle schools will also transition to full time on-site schooling on the first day of the third quarter, February 1. The middle schools will transition the first phase during the month of February and the second phase on March 1.  Phase 1 will have all students return in person for full day instruction on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, while maintaining the existing Distance Learning half-day schedule on Wednesdays (February 3, 10 and 24 only).  Phase 2 will commence on March 1 with students attending school in person all 5 days, eliminating the Distance Learning Wednesday….

A parent survey is forthcoming which will gather information on any changes in distance learning requests from parents and transportation intentions (i.e bus or bring your child to school).  Distance learners at the middle school level will continue to have access to live streaming.

Coleytown (above) and Bedford Middle Schools will also reopen full-time on February 1.

High School
Like the elementary and middle school levels, the Staples team has also developed plans for an increase in on-site schooling for students. However, given our tragic loss last week of a senior and the impact on the school of working with students to process the events at the nation’s capital, for good reasons, the Staples plans are a week or so behind schedule.

In full candor, my expectation last week was that the Staples team would fasten their attention to the work of supporting students and staff as a result of a heartbreaking loss to the school community.

That said, it is expected that these plans will be reviewed and considered for implementation in the coming weeks. The perhaps less obvious effects of the pandemic (social/emotional, psychological) have hit our high school population particularly hard and we have an obligation to respond. I am confident that we will.

Staples High School will reopen full-time shortly after the other schools. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

The Unintended Consequences
Along with perhaps lessening the negative academic, social/emotional and psychological effects of the pandemic on our students, there will be some unintended consequences.  With more students on site it is very likely that we will see increased numbers of students and staff recommended to quarantine in light of being considered a close contact to a positive case.

Additionally, it is also likely that in some instances, a full, temporary school closure might be warranted in response to a positive case that includes many close contacts. Staffing our schools has been a challenge, and that challenge has the potential to grow during full on-site schooling.

We expect an increase in the number of distance learners, as this has been the case with our regional peers. Districts in the region that have successfully transitioned to full on-site schooling have reported a 5%-10% increase in distance learners at the outset of implementing full on-site schooling.

Finally, our buses will likely see more students on board. Vigilance in mask wearing on our buses, and in all settings will be critical to our continued success.

Final Note
As I shared on December 22, given the performance of public schools across the state, and here in Westport, I am confident that our resilience will continue to maintain high levels of safety for staff and students. It is clear that with continued vigilance in mask wearing, schools can remain resilient while serving more on-site learners safely. Of course, for this school year all parents will be afforded the right to distance learning for their child.

Communication throughout the system will be essential to making appropriate changes as necessary. We will continue to monitor our performance and the effectiveness of our safety measures. In response, we reserve the right to make programmatic adjustments along the way.

You can expect building principals to follow up with families in the coming days as we prepare for this change in learning models.

Staples Students Pack Trunks. You’ll Be Amazed What’s In Them.

As last year staggered to an end, Staples High School English teacher Ann Neary had an idea.

She asked students in her AP Literature and AP World Literature classes to reflect on what they’d seen, felt and observed since the pandemic struck. The assignment: “Pack a trunk with the positive things you learned and/or came to appreciate in 2020, and want to travel with in 2021.” 

The answers were perceptive, poignant, and beautifully expressed. I asked Ann if it was okay to share them with “06880”; the students agreed.

Here are a few. As you read them, you’ll be inspired. You’ll tear up.

And you’ll know that the future is in great hands.

I started learning things I enjoy on my own time.

The importance of patience.

Lots of introspection.

Crocheting so many shirts.

Learning to live with and find joy in being by myself.

Seeing the beauty and value in the small things around me.

One Staples High School student’s trunk.

In high school we all go with the flow and let life carry us in the direction it does. But without sports and less social activities, quarantine forced me to control what I did on a daily basis, and be more proactive in living the life I want to live.

I grew to love rock climbing even more.

Really having to focus on self-discipline.

I learned to appreciate simplicity in life.

Once I came to terms that there are things out of your control that will affect you, and that all you can do is improve yourself through things you can control, life is a lot happier.

I became a better reader.

I took more opportunities to help my community.

The Staples lacrosse team was one of many student groups that embraced community service.

I became more confident, outgoing and assertive.

Dinners and 1,000 piece puzzle moments with my family that I really valued, and hope to see more of.

How much I value normal school, going daily, packed cafeterias, etc.

I developed deeper and more meaningful relationships with people.

I became more self-sufficient.

Noticing how everyone is working together, and trying their best to make things work.

I understood that my happiness isn’t dependent on other people, and life is what I make of it.

I started meditating.

Strengthened current friendships, and made new ones.

Hanging out with friends — as in this 2017 photo — became more precious and meaningful.

I developed a better and more diverse appreciation for music.

I realized how much I genuinely like being home. I also realized how much goes into keeping our house going, like doing laundry, cooking, grocery shopping and taking care of our dog.

Bought my truck, and furthered my interest in automotive work.

I realized how much fun and work can be had at any time. There’s always so much to do.

Writing poetry is therapeutic.

We can’t just take family for granted, at least for us who are lucky enough to have loving and kind parents and siblings.

How to handle disappointment, and deal with things that are less than ideal.

How to be a productive member of society, and advocate for change that doesn’t affect me personally.

Many Staples students were galvanized by summer protests about systemic racism.

To prioritize my mental health.

I realized how much I took for granted.

Patience, flexibility, motivation, gratitude, time management, getting out of my comfort zone.

How to be content with only my own company in quarantine. How to entertain myself without copious stimuli.

It’s okay to spend time learning about what you love and what you want to do, instead of always being around people and trying to please others.

Nothing went the way we planned this year, but for the most part things worked themselves out. They usually will.

Taking time to appreciate the outdoors and our yard, and little things like feeding the birds.

(Photo/Lexi Gay)

Mental health is a lot more important than always trying to prove myself to be perfect.

I’ve picked up new hobbies like aquarium keeping.

Be kind not only to people around you, but especially the people less fortunate than you.

Reading and watching the news; becoming more aware.

Hikes and walks at the beach.

Seeing what other families have gone through with COVID or other issues makes me feel so grateful that my family is healthy and safe.

Whenever I was stressed I would drive around Fairfield County and listen to music.

Learning to appreciate nature when I walk my dog.

In-person school becoming something I look forward to.

Many Staples students realized how much they missed their high school. (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

Time to pause and make sure I’m doing okay and improve myself, instead of just worrying about improving my grades.

There is such great value in complimenting others — especially in the few moments we get to see people in person.

I seriously read epic poetry of my own volition. It’s a unique way to tell stories.

It’s much more challenging to spend time with friends, so I try to live in the moment and enjoy it when I am able to do that.

Cook new foods.

Lack of school-related stress.

I have a new understanding of and respect for my family.

Never expect what is expected. Situations arise instantly. We are always responsible to face them.

I got perspective on the small but important things we may not think about when we have them freely, and in abundance.

My sister is usually at boarding school. I’m grateful she was in quarantine with me, because she makes everything more fun.

I’m proud of learning to value my feelings more. In the past I have been a bit of a people pleaser. This year I finally allowed myself more joy in doing what I wanted, while obviously making sure others were okay.

I love going on 6-mile walks with my friend at 6 in the morning.

Spending every single moment with my family for 4 months allowed me to create amazing memories.

The bond I created with my football team. Despite playing only a few games, we always stayed hungry and excited to play whenever we could.

2020 allowed me to surround myself with the people I love.

Evan Stein’s Radiologists Rise To The COVID Occasion

In the early days of the pandemic, New York hospitals were scrambling.

Unsure how to fight COVID-19, they were overwhelmed by patients. Some were being treated in temporary tents. Doctors had to get out of their comfort zones, and help.

At Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, administrators asked department chairs to free as many residents and attendings as possible to serve on coronavirus floors.

Director of neuroradiology Dr. Evan Stein jumped in to help. Radiologists are not experts on an infectious, airborne disease. Yet the situation was dire.

Dr. Evan Stein

Stein reworked his schedule, operating his department with as few doctors as he could. He partnered across disciplines to do things they’d been asked before.

His message to his staff was simple: The hospital and community need our help. We must do whatever we can.

And not just residents. “I made it clear that I would ask our attendings and technologists to step up in ways we’d never asked them to before,” he says.

Stein knows how to solve problems. At Staples High School, the 1992 graduate captained both the math and wrestling teams, and was very involved in WWPT-FM.

He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University — in just 3 years — as a bio-chem major. He now lives across the street from NYU Medical School, where he earned his MD/Ph.D degree.

A  story on the American College of Radiology website — titled “The Meaning of Grit” — describes his work.

At Stein’s suggestion, Maimonides created a team of residents and physicians to place central lines and bring simple procedures directly to patients, at bedside.

That would eliminate the need to transport them “through areas of unknown levels of infection … and keep IR suites available for more urgent procedures.”

Stein oversaw the residents still in his department, and also those on the line team. Meanwhile, he ensured that the radiology residents’ education continued.

Two weeks later, Stein was asked if radiology residents could act as medicine interns on CVOID floors and in the new surge ICUs. That was a vast increase in responsibility.

Stein’s residents rose to the occasion. He worried about their time away from their radiology duties. But, he realized, many were “exercising skills in competencies — communication, systems-based practice, and patient care to name three — that they don’t always get to practice.”

Despite feeling added stress, the radiologists handled it well. They — and Stein — learned plenty.

One of the first lessons was among the most important: “Our residents had the intangible characteristics of grit and determination.

“This virus creates a lot of fear in people. At first I didn’t appreciate how big of an impact that would have on me and the residents. But they all rose to the occasion and contributed a tremendous amount to patient care.”

(To read the entire American College of Radiology story, click here.) 

Remembering Jerry Brooker

Gerard “Jerry” Brooker — longtime chair of the Staples High School English Department, and an avid social justice advocate — died peacefully on New Year’s Day, surrounded by family. He was 84 years old, and lived in Bethel.

The Queens native earned a doctorate in education. He spent over 4 decades as an educator, the last 25 as chair at Staples.

Dr. Jerry Brooker

His passions were children in need, and the promotion of peace. While at Staples, he was involved in hunger issues. In 1988 he led a student trip to Russia, which included meetings with counterparts there.

After retiring, Dr. Brooker continued his passion for education, traveling, and writing. He set foot on all 7 continents.

He also enjoyed watching nature, entertaining, being with family and friends, reading, and sharing his joy of life.

He was predeceased by his brothers Kenneth, Robert and Wallace, and sisters Joan and Gertrude, and infant Eileen. He is survived by his sister Eileen Olm (Bill); his wife Sheila; his children and their spouses Jessica (Jamie) Couture, Suzanne (David) Remington, Kevin (Jill), Jay (Jennifer) and David Brooker; 9 grandchildren, 2 great-granddaughters, and his beloved nieces and nephews.

Due to the pandemic, a celebration of life will be held at a later date.

To leave an on-line condolence, click here.

Marpe, Scarice Address Capitol Attack

In response to yesterday’s insurrection at the US Capitol, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe said:

As the chief elected officer of Westport, to watch the behavior and the blatant abrogation of responsibility by the Chief Elected Officer of the United States was discouraging and disgusting.

I am embarrassed for our country. Thankfully, as a community, our local elected officials regularly participate in a civil and respectful process that gives me hope and confidence that our democracy can and will survive.

In addition, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice wrote to parents:

I watched the events at the Capitol today with utter disbelief and abject sadness.  By now I’m sure you’ve read countless comments and reflections about the lawlessness and violent attack on our democracy incited by the reckless behaviors and comments of some of our elected officials, including our sitting President.  All I can add to this commentary is my condemnation.

My purpose for addressing the school community is to reassure parents that our team will be ready to receive our students Thursday and serve them in the most professional manner. This is our calling, among the noblest of professions.

Our team is working this evening to make certain that faculty and staff have resources assembled to support their work tomorrow and beyond. Each building principal will meet with faculty and staff to prepare them for the day. Highest among our priorities is to assure each child that they are safe in the school environment.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

Each level will work to maintain an age-appropriate approach. The elementary level will not initiate group discussions on this topic but will be responsive to individual students as the need arises. We cannot make assumptions about how parents prefer to approach such topics with our youngest learners. As a result, we will be responsive in nature. If conversations and questions persist, and an elementary teacher needs to briefly address the class, parents will be informed so that they can appropriately follow up with their child.

The middle school level will address the events of the day in their social studies classes, primarily with a civics lens. It is likely that middle school students have encountered a good deal of unfamiliar historical and political language today related to the process of certifying the election, and the manner in which the behaviors at the Capitol have been characterized by the media, and also social media.

Additionally, the natural inquisitive nature of early adolescence typically sparks dialogue about current events. Our social studies teachers are being provided with tools and resources to facilitate discussions while providing context for our students to comprehend the events of the day, and the implications as we move forward. Any student in need of additional intervention will be addressed through our support staff at the middle school level.

The high school level will also address these events in social studies classes.  Teachers will facilitate the discussion as students generate the questions. Our high school students are close to voting age. Among the relevant topics for classroom discussions are the process of elections, the constitutional role of Congress in presidential elections, and the idea that the events that transpired today are more about our democracy than politics. Alternative spaces will be provided for students during lunch waves and throughout the day to provide support when needed on an individual basis.

This is an emotional time and there will be a range of strong feelings from anger to sadness and fear. There will also be a great deal of confusion on the part of our students. Our high school community is just beginning to grieve the loss of a beloved classmate and the lingering emotional impact of the pandemic remains.  We will aim to validate our students’ feelings and questions, while doing our best to work through some very complex issues.

These strong feelings will be experienced by both students and adults. In my experience, these are the times when the humanity of our work intersects with our professional responsibilities. We are an organization composed of people and we bring all of our strengths and imperfections to our work every day. We will not be perfect, but we will answer the call and bring our professional best to serve your child tomorrow and beyond.

Bright, Airy, Fresh-Smelling, Mold-Free: “New” Coleytown Middle School Reopens Today

In September 2018, Coleytown Middle School closed due to mold.

Today, teachers return. Tomorrow they’ll be joined by students.

The $32 million remediation and renovation project was not easy. The school was in far worse condition than anyone imagined. A global pandemic disrupted both the supply chain and some of the workforce.

But the reopening comes only a couple of months late. And the final cost is right on budget.

The exterior of the “new” Coleytown Middle School.

Staff and students will enjoy an entirely new HVAC system. Every window has been replaced. The exterior cladding is new. The entire property was regraded.

The entry atrium and library are bright and fresh. Science classrooms have been modernized.

Most importantly, for the first time in decades the school will not smell. The dank, musty odors that permeated the building — remembered miserably by generations of Coleytown Colts and their parents — are gone.

A new seal graces the entryway,

The school’s closure — after students reported dizziness and nausea — was first projected to last a month. Sixth and 7th graders were sent to Bedford Middle School; 8th graders headed to Staples High.

But the months stretched on. After educators and other officials considered everything from an entirely new $75 million building to permanent abandonment of the site, a middle ground — renovation — was the solution.

On March 4, 2018 a building committee was formed. The next day, they held their first meeting.

Chair Don O’Day — a former Board of Education head — and members John Broadbin, Jay Keenan, Karen Kleine, Srikanth Puttagunta, Joe Renzulli and Vanessa Valadares went right to work.

They had 3 charges: repair or replace the climate control system; repair or replace the exterior, to prevent water incursion, and regrade the exterior grounds to move water away from the building.

That meant replacing the entire roof, and every window; changing the exterior walls, adding new insulation and metal cladding; installing an all-new heating, cooling and dehumidifying system (and adding air conditioning to the gym), while regrading and installing a French drain outside.

Every window is new — including these large ones in the cafeteria.

The committee hired building engineers Wiss, Janey, Elstner Associates; mechanical engineers Kohler Rohan; civil engineers Langan Connecticut; general contractor Newfield Construction, and interior designers CPG Architects.

Susan Chipouras — who earned kudos overseeing previous renovations of Staples and Saugatuck Elementary School — served as project manager.

Another key hire was EnviroMed. The Meriden-based firm industrial hygienist firm identified contaminants, and oversaw a rigorous removal protocol.

All furniture was taken out, cleaned and tested. Items that did not pass were thrown out.

“The school was a lot sicker than we thought,” O’Day says. “There were a number of structural challenges to address.

“We couldn’t just put in a new roof, windows and HVAC. We had to shore up the structure in a far more significant way than we expected. The town finally realized we needed more than just a Band-Aid.”

The renovated school is bright and airy. This is the atrium at the entrance.

O’Day lauds former CMS PTA co-presidents Sue Herrmann and Lee Goldstein for “relentlessly telling anyone who needed to hear that this building was sick, and not an appropriate place for kids or staff.”

Principal Kris Szabo and the custodial staff also worked hard to address all issues.

“The town has sent a clear message: Our children are valued,” O’Day says. “It’s our priority that they attend a school they’re proud of, and that will help them learn in the 21st century.”

The library has been modernized too.

He cited the Boards of Finance and Education, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, principal Szabo and Westport Public Schools director of technology Natalie Carrignan for “making our committee’s job a lot easier. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Now, at last, the new Coleytown Middle School is ready for prime time.

Some teachers have gone in on their own time, to set up their classrooms. They’ll all be on hand today, making sure everything is ready when students return tomorrow.

A world language classroom is ready for students.

It will be like the first day of school for everyone. Current 8th graders spent only 3 weeks in the building before it closed. Seventh and 6th graders have never been inside.

Of course, a few details remain.

Exterior work will continue through February — but only on Wednesdays and weekends, when students are not inside.

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice’s office is working with the state to obtain reimbursement of up to 20% of eligible spending.

Then there’s one more item to address. The company that created all the handsome new signage spelled one word wrong — every time.

It’s “cafeteria,” not “cafteria.”

Whatever it’s called though, it too looks — and smells — great.

Don O’Day in the cafteria — er, cafeteria. (Photos/Dan Woog)

WestportREADS About Racism

Community reading programs have been around for a couple of decades.

A local organization — usually the library — picks a book. The entire town is encouraged to read it. Book clubs and other groups discuss it. The result is dialogue, awareness around a particular idea, community spirit.

We do things differently here.

For years, WestportREADS has centered not around one book, but a theme. Last year it was the 19th Amendment, and the centennial of women gaining the vote. Before that, it was immigration.

In 2019 folks of all ages read, discussed, thought about and grew through “Exit West,” Moshin Hamid’s novel about two refugees who find life and love on the run. 

Unlike other places, our event does not last a week, or even a month. This year — well, 2021 — WestportREADS runs from January through May. There are speakers, films, art exhibits, music performances, educational opportunities — you get the idea.

Not even COVID can slow it down.

The Westport Library — longtime driving force behind WestportREADS — has announced the topic, and the books.

This year’s theme is “Towards a More Perfect Union: Confronting Racism.”

The books are The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (fiction); Caste (Isabel Wilkerson, nonfiction); Class Act (Jerry Craft, young adult), and I Am Every Good Thing (Derrick Barnes, elementary school).

Programming kicks off on Sunday, January 17 (12 noon). Layla F. Saad — an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman and author of Me and White Supremacy — headlines the 15th annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. TEAM Westport’s Bernicestine McLeod Bailey will lead the discussion.

 

Layla F. Saad

Click here to register. More programs will be announced soon.

In past years, the Library has bought hundreds of copies of the book selections. They’ve distributed them throughout town, and made them available in their building.

The coronavirus complicated that task. So the Library has invested in digital versions and audiobooks. They are, however, providing hard copies to The Residence at Westport, the Gillespie Center, and schools.

“It’s called a ‘community read’ for a reason,” says Library executive director Bill Harmer. “All I did was pick the theme. This year it was a no-brainer. We really count on our partners to help plan what we do.”

WestportREADS is co-sponsored by the Westport Country Playhouse, TEAM Westport, the Westport Public Schools, Westport Weston Interfaith Council and Clergy, and Westport Museum for History & Culture.

Roundup: Garage Renovation, Mike Krysiuk, Larry Aasen, More


Want to celebrate New Year’s at home, but worried about asking guests inside? And no fire pit or hot tub outside to gather round?

Take a page from Claudine Rossman’s book. She and her family converted their Saugatuck Shores garage into a “lodge.” On Christmas Eve a small family group gathered — tested, masked, socially distant, and with the door opened as much as it needed to be.

It’s a great idea. But if you want to do the same for tonight, get busy. This project looks like it took a while.

Claudine Rossman’s garage before …

… and after.


In 1974, Mike Krysiuk was having a great senior year at Staples High School. He played baseball, and worked at Mario’s. But a devastating automobile accident left him with a traumatic brain injury and many broken bones.

He’s well known in his home town, for the motivational talks he gives and the 25 years he’s spent working in Town Hall.

Now Mike has written The Big One: Miracles Happen when You Shoot for the Sun, about his youth in Westport.

He shares insight about his astonishing comeback from the unimaginable, fueled by dogged determination and a dream.

His co-author — award-winning writer Julia Bobkoff — is the co-founder of Westport’s Christmas Lake Creative writing workshop.

The Fairfield University Bookstore host Mike’s virtual book launch on January 14 (7 p.m.); click here for the link. To purchase The Big One, click here.

Mike Krysiuk


Meanwhile, Larry Aasen has just compiled his 9th book — at 98 years old.

The latest effort from the indefatigable, longtime Westporter — who has also authored a possible world record 4 books about his native North Dakota — is Stolen Jokes and Swiped Cartoons.

With illustrations by the late, beloved Westport illustrator Howard Munce, the booklet has gags like this: “A 90-year-old man was complaining. He said, ‘My eyesight is not very good, and I can’t hear too much. Thank God I can still drive a car.'”

To order, email aasenm@aol.com, or call 203-227-6126.


Westporters can’t get enough of this end-of-the-year Full Cold Moon. Jeanine Esposito shares these great shots:

Over the Cribari Bridge …

… and the Saugatuck River (Photos/Jeanine Esposito)


Marcelle Smart — one of a corps of young teachers at Staples High School in the mid- and late-1960s — died recently December 21, from vascular dementia. She was 77 years old.

The French instructor then moved to New Hampshire with her husband, Staples graduate “Doc” Hagen, and raised 2 children. 

Former colleague Jeff Lea remembered her as “very bright, and student-centered.” She graduated from the University of Michigan, and earned a master’s in teaching at Johns Hopkins.

Donations in her memory may be to the Special Friends program at The Worship Place, 811 Sun City Boulevard, Georgetown, TX 78633.

Marcelle Smart, in the Staples High School 1969 yearbook.

And finally … for generations of American’s, it’s not New Year’s without “Auld Lang Syne.”

And it’s not “Auld Lang Syne” without Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.

The orchestra played almost half a century of New Year’s Eves, first on radio — from the Roosevelt Grill in New York in 1928 — and beginning in 1956 on television, first from the Waldorf Astoria and then Times Square. Lombardo died in 1977, but his band continued playing on CBS for 2 more years.

“Auld Lang Syne” is a poem written by Robert Burns in 1788, and set to the tune of a traditional Scottish folk song.