Category Archives: Education

From Wall Street To Westport: Eric Chiang’s Arts Journey

When Eric Chiang moved to Westport in 1993, he lived across the street from the legendary illustrator Howard Munce.

Growing up in Taiwan, Chiang had loved art. But he didn’t know anyone who made a career of it. So he went to New York University, majored in computer science and math, earned a master’s, and got a “normal job” as a programmer and financial modeler at Goldman Sachs.

Watching Munce — then in his 80s — create sculptures outside, even in winter, intrigued Chiang. He watched with added interest as Leonard Everett Fisher — another iconic artist — came to visit Munce.

Chiang realized that Westport’s arts legacy lived on, in the spirit of real, working artists.

Around 1997, he carved out half an hour or so every night to create art. He had no formal training. He did not have an actual studio either — just a small easel in a corner of his living room.

But after nearly a decade, he’d accumulated plenty of works. He had ideas for many more.

Chiang wanted no regrets. He decided to leave Wall Street. His wife gave her blessing.

In 2007, Chiang became a full-time artist. His painted realistic objects, arranged surrealistically.

“The Year 2020, No. 2” — oil on canvas.

In the past few years he’s moved into less precise landscapes. His works are big, and tied to his love of nature.

For example, he says, he always wondered what would happen if the earth wrote a story about itself.

To keep his hands off the work — he wanted the art to be as primordial as possible — Chiang sprayed paint to represent rain, storms and the erosive process at work. To mimic gravity, he tilted the canvas.

The resulting “Land Scripts” series of more than a dozen paintings is 50 feet wide.

Eric Chiang with his “Land Scripts XIII.”

Chiang applied the same technique to “Water Scripts,” a series of 12-foot high waves and waterfalls.

“Water Scripts I” — oil on canvas.

Another work fills a large space at Coleytown Middle School. When Westport Permanent Arts Collections officials realized they had nothing suitable to hang near a staircase and skylight in the newly renovated school, they asked Chiang to help.

He presented 5 options. Students chose an intriguing work called “Are We Born Connected?,” which included guitars.

“Are We Born Connected?” (Eric Chiang, acrylic on canvas)

When that was selected for an exhibit at the Housatonic Museum of Art, the second choice — a 16-foot, 4-panel “History of Civilization” — took its place.

“A History of Civilizations,” at Coleytown Middle School.

Not all of the artist’s creations are enormous. His most recent work — “Westport: A Perspective From Early Days” — is one of 5 murals unveiled this month at the Main Street entrance to Bedford Square. His depicts the earliest days of our town.

Chiang explains:

This mural brings us into an imaginary world back in the early days of Westport, when the Paugussett Indians occupied the area with a farming and fishing culture. Then the European traders came to transact with the indigenous tribes, just to be followed by the English colonists, who built towns, church, and farms.

From there, someone in the painting invited us to peek into the future – Let’s go over the bridge and see a bigger town and a much greater nation in the making.

“Westport: A Perspective From Early Days”

Inspired by Howard Munce and Leonard Everett Fisher — and his own career change — Chiang is a firm believer in the importance of arts to Westport.

“It’s less about the exhibits and displays, than the spirit of the people,” he says. “And it’s not just visual artists. It’s musicians, dancers and writers. Their activities make the whole town artistic.”

In Taiwan, Chiang had no role models. In his first years as an artist here, he worked alone. But when the Westport Artists Collective began in 2014, he was an avid founding member.

He is eager to keep passing Westport arts’ “spirit and culture” on to future generations.

Meanwhile, visitors to Bedford Square — and hundreds of students at Coleytown — are enjoying Eric Chiang’s work.

A long way from Taiwan — and Goldman Sachs — he enjoys creating it too.

(To see more art at Eric Chiang’s website, click here. Hat tip: Kris Szabo.)

Schools’ COVID Update: Teachers’ Masks, Visitors And More

Six weeks into the school year — as the Westport schools see a continuing drop in COVID cases — superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice offers this update.

Starting tomorrow (Wednesday), the Westport Public Schools will allow teachers in grades 7 to 12 to teach unmasked, provided they are vaccinated, in the front of the room, and students are masked and seated.

The option will be considered for kindergarten through grade 5 after November 1, when there is more information on vaccines for children ages 5-11.

Lunch tents will remain in place for the rest of the month. They will be re-examined at the end of the month, pending a better understanding of K-6 vaccinations.

Scarice notes, “lunch coverage at the elementary levels is very challenging. We will move as quickly as we can to return to ‘normal’ lunch.”

A normal school cafeteria.

Westport schools will continue to require visitors to show proof of vaccination at least through December 31. Larger groups of visitors will be permitted to meet in person with building administration permission, provided there is an opportunity to distance (for example, larger rooms), and that visitors are masked with proof of vaccination.

Elementary parent conferences will be held in person for vaccinated parents, virtual for unvaccinated parents. Virtual accommodations for any parent can be made.

With a number of performances scheduled in the next 2 months, the district and Westport Weston Health District decided to monitor COVID transmission rates to guide mitigating measures. Measures to consider include the amount of capacity allowed, and spacing between attendees.

The district is open for building and space rental by community groups after hours. Universal masking is recommended; however, the district does not have however, the district does not have the capacity to enforce measures outside of school hours.

“06880” Podcast: Thomas Scarice On Critical Race Theory

Last April, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice was the first guest on my “06880” podcast. He spoke eloquently about his background, the Westport school system, and education in general.

This week he visited the Westport Library again. This time, we chatted about one specific topic: Critical Race Theory.

CRT has generated a lot of controversy, nationally and locally. The town’s chief education official discusses where it came from, what it is, and how it impacts the Westport schools.

Click below to watch.

Roundup: WWPT, Afghan Refugees, Dog Festival …

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They might have to rename the John Drury Awards “The WWPT Awards.”

For the squintillionth year in a row, Staples’ FM radio station cleaned up in the annual high school broadcast competition.

The station — 90.3 on your dial! — won 4 categories earlier this month:

  • Best Radio Drama — Original or Adaptation (“The Wizard of Oz,” with Staples Players)
  • Best Sportscast (Zach Brody)
  • Best Sports Talk Program (“Bold Predictions,” with Rory Tarsy, Max Udell and Caleb Tobias)
  • Best Sports Play-by-Play (FCIAC lacrosse championship, Staples vs. Darien, with Cam Manna and Max Dorsey).

Radio is alive and well. Congratulations to all, and of course to instructor Geno Heiter.

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Westporters have responded generous to a call to help Afghan refugees resettling in the area.

A final collection of needed items is set for this weekend (Saturday and Sunday, October 16 and 17, 12 to 3 p.m.).

Men’s and women’s coats; teen and children warm clothes; boots, scarves, warm hats and umbrellas; backpacks filled with school supplies, and household toiletries, towels and cleaning supplies can all be dropped off at  Greens Farms Congregational Church.

Backpacks and school supplies are among the items needed for Afghan refugees.

 

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The weather looks great for tomorrow’s oft-postponed Dog Festival.

The event is set for Sunday (October 17, Winslow Park, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

Sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and TAILS, it features demonstrations, fun competitions, police K-9 presentations, kids’ activities, vendors, food trucks, a special appearance by Piglet (the blind and deaf chihuahua) and more.

Tickets are $10 per person, $25 for a family of 4. Dogs go free. Proceeds benefit non-profit organizations.

Dog owners can register for the competitions online or at the festival.

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Interested in the kind of world today’s students will inherit? Do you have ideas how our schools can prepare them for it?

The Westport Public Schools invites all Westporters to an Education Summit next Wednesday (October 20, 6 to 8 p.m., Bedford Middle School auditorium).

Futurist Michael Weiss offers a keynote address, then lead an interactive discussion. It’s part of superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice’s Strategic Plan, aimed at taking our district into the next decade and beyond.

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Three residents of the Gillespie Center are moving on to permanent supportive housing.

Homes with Hope is proud of the success of these formerly homeless men. And they’re asking Westporters to help them succeed.

They’ve created a Signup Genius for donations of bedding, household items, furniture and gift cards. Click here to help.

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Fred Cantor is many things: an attorney, off-Broadway and documentary producer, longtime Westporter and avid “06880” reader.

he’s also the author of “Fred from Fresh Meadows,” a memoir of his many years as a New York Knicks fan.

Now the NBA team has repaid the honor.

A 15-second commercial spot featuring Fred, his brother’s older son and brother’s almost 3-year-old grandson premiered last night, during a Knicks preseason game.

It’s part of an MSG Network promotional campaign spotlighting diehard fans. Fred’s spot focuses on his book, and his 6 decades of fandom.

It was filmed earlier this month in the schoolyard behind his former elementary school in Queens.

Fred Cantor (right), being filmed with his nephew Sam and great-nephew Brody.

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It’s been a while since we ran an osprey update. The other day, Franco Fellah spotted this young bird in the trees over the Saugatuck River, opposite his office on Riverside Avenue. Ospreys epitomize “Westport … Naturally.”

(Photo/Franco Fellah)

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And finally … on this date in 1875, Brigham Young University was founded in Provo, Utah.

Roundup: Selectmen, Mark Twain, Winslow Park …

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Missed yesterday’s debate between the candidates for first and second selectmen?

No problem!

The event — sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Library — is now online. Click below to view.

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Domestic violence is real, and part of Westport life.

Next Monday (October 18, 7 p.m.), the Westport Domestic Violence Task Force, Westport Human Services Department and Westport Library will present an important webinar.

“When Stop Doesn’t Work: What is the Impact on our Children?” features Ann Rodwell-Lawton, associate director of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center. She and Liz Modugno — an alcohol and addiction counselor at Westport’s Aspire Counseling — will discuss the generational impact of trauma and family violence on children. Click here to register.

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Westport native Bruce Michelson is now an English professor — and noted Mark Twain scholar — at the University of Illinois. He credits Burr Farms Elementary School 6th grade teacher June Jack with getting him interested in the famed author.

John Kelley — who sent along this interview with Michelson from the Mark Twain Circle of America newsletter — recalls a field trip to Twain’s Hartford home with that class. Michelson mentions the visit in the piece.

It took place more than 60 years ago. Who knows what youngster today will follow a career in the 2080s that started — perhaps today — in one of our elementary schools?

Bruce Michelson

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Frank Sisson writes:

At Winslow Park. another dog owner told me he had seen a dead dog on the road just outside a North Compo entrance — one of several openings in the stone wall along the road. Why are those openings not gated to prevent such a tragedy? Dogs will be dogs, and one unauthorized squirrel chase in the wrong direction could spell disaster.

If the town can’t swing it, maybe a group of regular Winslow Park dog owners could get together with a plan to chip in and make this happen.

There are gates — though open on this part of the Winslow Park stone wall. (Nell Waters Bernegger)

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Longtime Westporter June Fernie died recently. She was 94 years old.

A child of the Depression and World War II, she was the eldest daughter in a family of 7 children. She left her home in Guelph, Ontario, Canada at 17 for Toronto, where she worked as secretary at an advertising agency. Her life changed when John Fernie, a recently discharged RAF pilot and artist from Scotland, walked through the door looking for a job.

After a quick courtship they married and emigrated to the US in 1947, making their first home in a cold-water flat in Brooklyn.

A talented illustrator, John found work quickly at a prestigious Madison Avenue ad agency. Working together, the newlyweds earned success.

In 1950 they moved into their first real home in Westport. Their children Bruce, heather and Mitchell were born and raised there.

June and John enjoyed all that New York, Westport and London had to offer in the swinging ‘60s, socializing with creatives from the art and literary worlds as well as entertainers from movies and music.

June organized family skiing in Vermont every winter, and annual summer holidays in England and Europe. Supportive of John’s love of fast automobiles, she was an enthusiastic pit crew during frequent weekends at the racetrack.

In 1970 June and John moved their family to Vermont, before finally settling
in Kennebunkport, Maine in 1980.

June was a talented administrator who, in addition to managing her husband’s art business, worked for many years as an administrative assistant in Maine. Her years as a volunteer at the Kennebunkport Historical Society brought her a great deal of pleasure.

June is survived by her children Bruce (Katherine Walsh) of West Tisbury, Massachusetts and Heather Fernie McInnis (Craig) McInnis of Kennebunkport; daughter-in-law Barbara Borchardt of Cumberland, Maine; foster daughter Jill Deveraux of Oro Valley, Arizona; grandchildren
Alexander, Dana, Bowen, Avery, Mitchell and Trevor, and great-grandchildren Mae Fernie, Helena and Ollie.

June Fernie

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The Westport Library Book Sale earlier this month exceeded already high expectations. That’s due in part to over 200 volunteer who assisted with setup, the event itself and cleanup. Other volunteers work year long processing books, and helping at the Westport Book Shop.

Organizes give a special shoutout to organizations that supported the effort, including the Westport Young Woman’s League, Neighbors and Newcomers of Westport, Abilis, Westport Public Library staff, Staples Service League of Boys, Westport National Charity League, Builders Beyond Borders, and Staples High School National Honor Society.

All proceeds of the sale support the Westport Library, and the employment of adults with disabilities.

Staples Service League of Boys (SLOBs) at the Westport Library book sale.

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Three attorneys at Westport’s FLB Law — Stephen Fogerty, Eric Bernheim and Joshua Auxier — have been named to the 2021 Connecticut Super Lawyers list. Brian Tims has been named to the publication’s Rising Stars roster.

Super Lawyers lists are generated by peer ratings.

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo pays homage to our beloved fall ritual: Dogs are allowed back on Compo Beach.

This guy acts like he owns the place, all year long.

(Photo/Collette Winn)

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And finally … happy 63rd birthday to Marie Osmond!

 

 

Bobbi Burns Teaches — And Learns

Bobbi Burns is a teacher. But every day, she says, she learns something from her students.

That’s impressive. They’re 3 to years old, at Stepping Stones — Westport’s public pre-school.

Even more impressive: Burns has been teaching for 50 years.

She began her educational career — and started learning from children — at a New Jersey school for youngsters with significant emotional and behavioral disorders.

Special education was in its infancy. But she enjoyed the challenges of problem-solving, the chance to make a difference — and the new knowledge she gained every day.

Yet as she worked with troubled 13-year-olds, she wondered: What if we could get to them when they’re 3?

Bobbi Burns, in her classroom.

She got her master’s degree, moved to Connecticut, and pivoted to early elementary education in Newtown. Their preschool was a model for the state.

Excited by the possibilities, Burns earned certification as a reading consultant, and in administration and supervision. She added a doctorate from George Washington University, where she supervised student teachers.

As she finished her coursework, she saw a flyer for a position at Tufts University. The school was world renowned for early childhood work. The deadline was that day. Hastily, she sent in her application. She got the job.

After 3 years, she was recruited by Bright Horizons Children’s Center. She developed curriculum, trained teachers, and talked to parents all over the country. It was rewarding work.

But after 7 years, Burns missed direct contact with youngsters. In 1995, Westport was looking for experienced teachers. She’s been here — including the last 17 at Stepping Stones — ever since.

She never expected to teach this long. But she’s not ready to stop. The biggest challenge, Burns says, is her knees. It’s tough getting on and off the floor.

Teaching keeps her young. She loves finding out how to reach every child in a different way. The collaboration with colleagues like psychologists, speech and occupational and physical therapists, social workers, fellow teachers — and parents — is invigorating. “We all help each other,” she says.

Stepping Stones preschool is housed at Coleytown Elementary,

And she believes more firmly than ever in the important of preschool.

“There’s so much attention now to social and emotional learning,” she notes. “But that’s always been true of early childhood education. We teach them how to make friends, take care of themselves and others, how to learn, how to be curious, how to be part of a community.”

Westport is a high-powered place. There are high expectations, and plenty of stresses. Burns gives the district high marks for recognizing those issues, embracing ideas like mindfulness, and prioritizing social and emotional growth.

Most preschool teachers never get to see the fruits of their work. Former students seldom go back to Stepping Stones. For Burns, the rewards are intrinsic. She knows she has had an impact, at a very significant time in a youngster’s life.

Occasionally, she’ll see a parent of a former student. She still remembers one who said gratefully, “You changed the trajectory of my child’s life!”

Teaching through COVID was tough, Burns admits. But she and her Stepping Stones colleagues powered through. Their students were safe. They grew, and learned.

And of course, Bobbi Burns learned right along with them.

Roundup: COVID, Sheryl Crow, Unsung Science …

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1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

“The rise in case levels in Westport for the past 1 weeks placed the town into the ‘substantial transmission’ (‘red’) category this week. Westport Weston Health District (WWHD) Director of Health Mark Cooper stated, ‘High risk individuals should take extra precautions, particularly those who are unvaccinated, by avoiding large gatherings. Getting fully vaccinated, wearing masks and social distancing continue to be strongly recommended for all.’

“The First Selectman’s Executive Orders #9 and #10 remain in effect. They require masks in indoor public places within Westport for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status. Indoor public spaces include retail establishments, restaurants, or other businesses, as well as galleries, museums, performance spaces, places of worship and government buildings. Businesses may still require proof of vaccination to enter, but a mask will also be required. Executive Order #10, which modifies Executive Order #9, refers specifically to gyms and workout studios, and provides certain exceptions to mask-wearing in those public places only.

“I am grateful that Westporters recognize the importance of wearing masks and getting vaccinated. It is for our physical and mental health and safety that we remain vigilant.

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If you know Dan Aron, you know how proud he is to be an Indiana University grad.

If you don’t know Dan Aron, you know his house. It’s the one on Soundview Drive with the huge IU flag.

On October 14 — during Homecoming — he’ll be one of 3 recipients of Indiana’s Distinguished Alumni Service award. It’s the highest honor the school gives to a graduate.

Dan earned a BS from IU’s Kelley School of Business in 1983. He was an equity sales trader, partner and head trader for 30 years with Salomon Brothers, John Levin & Co. and others. Along the way he mentored Kelley students, and served on many school advisory boards.

Dan and his wife Maureen raised daughters Alexa, Ashley and Anna in Westport. The couple underwrote the Investment Center in Hodge Hall, and the Kelley Diversity Merit Bicentennial Scholarship.

“I will never forget where I came from. I will always be a Hoosier,” Dan says. (Hat tip: JD Denny)

Dan Aron

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Speaking of Dan Aron: Among his philanthropic activities, he’s a big supporter of the Levitt Pavilion.

He was there there — near the stage — at last night’s great Sheryl Crow concert. Here’s his photo:

(Photo/Dan Aron)

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David Pogue has a new project.

Well, the Westport tech guru/media personality always does. But this is especially intriguing.

“Unsung Science” (@UnsungSci) debuts Friday. Each weekly episode offers the origin story of a cool science or tech achievement. They’re told by the characters themselves, from their first inspiration to the times they almost gave up.

Episodes include the NASA engineer whose team landed a delicate, unpiloted $3 billion rover on Mars without kicking up dust; the father of the cellphone; the committee that chooses which emoji to add to your phone each year; the computer scientist who blessed/cursed the world with CAPTCHA website login obstacles; the storm chaser who discovered that Tornado Alley is shifting east into more vulnerable states; the inventor of the Impossible Burger, and more.

Click here for more information.

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Stephen Gustafson loves dahlias. Others do too. He’s formed them into a close-knit Facebook group: the Westport Dahlia Society.

Now he — and anyone else who shares the dahlia passion — will meet at Wakeman Town Farm. The event is  October 18 (7 p.m.).

Gustafson will explain the overwintering process of tubers to save for next year. There’s a door prize of dahlia seeds.

Guests can bring their favorite flower cuttings. Novices looking to learn more about dahlias are welcome too. For more information, email westportdahliasociety@gmail.com.

(Photo/Molly Alger)

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“06880” does not run wedding announcements.

But this photo — by frequent Pic of the Day contributor Lauri Weiser — was too good to pass up.

(Photo/Lauri Weiser)

Her daughter, Sabrina Weiser-Min, married Matt Crorey last weekend at the Bryant Park Grill in New York City.

She has been friends with Micha Grand since Bedford Middle School. Micha and Matt were roommates in college. Then all 3 lived together in New York. He was the perfect choice to officiate.

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Frederick Louis Hyman, former president and CEO of The Cousteau Group and co-founder and president of The Cousteau Society, died October 7. He was 89.

After graduating from Staples High School in 1949, and then the University of Connecticut, he served as first lieutenant, combat command, in the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.

Hyman’s career started with Associated Artists Productions, a distributor to television of feature films and short subjects, best known for the Popeye, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series. After acquisition by United Artists Associated, he became executive vice president. He then co-owned Scope Advertising, a New York agency.

He also founded Americom, a Westport manufacturer and marketer of unique custom phonograph records that combined print and sound for the publishing and education markets. He innovated a 4-inch flexible single record, the PocketDisc, with its own player.

His experience with educational television and publishing led Jacques-Yves Cousteau to him. Hyman joined Cousteau in 1971 as president and CEO of The Cousteau Group, the operator of all Cousteau related companies in the US and in France; television production; publications based on expeditions; the 20-volume Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau; research activities aboard Calypso, and the development of new technology.

A gift by Hyman and Cousteau was the basis for their 1973 creation of The Cousteau Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and improvement of marine life and the environment. Hyman served as president and later a board member. However, he later lost confidence in the management and no longer supported TCS.

Hyman was a founding member of the Aspetuck Valley Country Club in Weston. He played in 3 British Seniors golf championships, plus many tournaments in Bermuda.

He is survived by Janett, his wife of 67 years; children Richard (Margaret), Mark, Dean and Jane, and grandchildren Emily, Brent, Sarah, Ben and Olivia.

Frederick Hyman

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June Rose Whittaker is aptly named. She sends along this “Westport … Naturally” submission from her home: “the last rose of summer.”

(Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

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And finally … if you missed Sheryl Crow last night, this will make you happy:

 

 

Scarice Update: Bus Delays, Equity Study

In his latest communication, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice address 2 major issues. The first is buses.

Transportation has been a major challenge this year. Busing delays and late arrivals have impacted the student school day and led to confusion and anxiety among parents and students.

Across the state and nation, a crippling bus driver shortage has impacted school district transportation services leading to closures and cancellations in some towns. Our transportation provider, Dattco, had been able to staff our buses by reallocating office personnel with the appropriate licensure to serve as drivers.  However, the impact of the shortage has now hit Westport. To compound the challenges, there has been a marked increase in the volume of traffic on town roads.

Due to the shortage of drivers and increased traffic, routes are being consolidated while other routing options are being explored. The primary goal is to get all students to and from school on time. While consolidating routes could lead to delays, this temporary practice is necessary at this point in time.

Pretty soon, each kid will get his or her own personal bus.

Our newest drivers are becoming more familiar with our routes, which will enable routes to be completed more quickly. Schools will continue to communicate with parents at first notification that buses will be impacted by consolidation or a driver shortage.

Efforts are being made by Dattco to secure more drivers with incentives such as signing bonuses and expedited training for licensure.

Historically, all buses were expected to clear the school yard within 30 minutes of dismissal. Some schools were much quicker than this, and others took the full 30 or so minutes to clear. That standard, applied to our current start times, would estimate that our elementary schools should clear their buses for dismissal by 4:15 p.m. (Saugatuck 3:45). The district is working to ensure that fully staffed buses depart by 4:15.

Combined runs could likely depart later than 4:15. When that is the case, principals will work with our transportation coordinator to provide as much advance notice as possible, with a specific time of departure from the school so parents can plan accordingly.  This resolution will be temporary until additional drivers can be secured.

Given this critical driver shortage, please have a morning and afternoon contingency plan, as you would with an inclement weather delayed opening/early closure, in the event of a significant delay due to the lack of a driver or the consolidation of a route. Building principals will communicate this information to you as soon as they are made aware.

This is not a permanent solution to this problem, but rather a way to provide transportation in a crisis. We will continue to work with Dattco to develop strategies to secure more drivers.

Scarice also addressed the Westport Public Schools’ equity study.

Over the past few weeks there have been questions raised about the equity study the district began last year, the timeline of how the study will unfold, whether a public report will be shared, how this works fits into the overall district strategic plan, and the selection of NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools.

In fairness, the district takes pride in high quality communication, yet the communication on this work could have been better and I am ultimately responsible for that. In addition to the comments I shared last week in the link above, I’d like to address these questions with some further context.

The district’s commitment to a culturally responsive education, with a focus on equity, inclusion and diversity, began a number of years ago and was captured in a statement in the 2017 district strategic plan.

Statewide, it’s important to note that on February 3, the state Department of Education formally adopted a position statement on culturally responsive education, followed by a joint statement this summer in collaboration with the CT Association of Boards of Education, CT Association of Public School Superintendents, CT Association of Schools, CT Educator Association and American Federation of Teachers .

Given the district and town’s commitment over the years, and the fact that this focus is currently a part of the educational landscape across the state and nation as illustrated above, the question is how to pursue this work.

In Westport, the initiation of an equity study last year began with a focus on ensuring equitable access to all programs and services for all students, establishing a strong sense of belonging in our schools for all students, and delivering a curriculum and instructional program that prepares all students for thoughtful citizenship and a very diverse global economy.

The district is still in the study phase as no new curriculum units or Board of Education (BOE) policies have been adopted as a result of the equity study.

Local district data has been reviewed as a part of the study. It is common for organizations to analyze their data for discrepancies and disproportionality. For example, local police departments analyze their traffic stop data for disproportionality. For schools, academic and behavioral data can be used for analytical purposes.

In our equity study, local academic and behavioral data has been reviewed, focus groups have been held with students and parents, and this information has been interpreted by a committee of educators and community members with an interest in the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion. The district established a tab on our website last year with information for the community and it will be updated to include access to the data reviewed. Following that data and information informed subsequent steps in the process.

At this point in the process, the formal committee meetings have concluded and three areas of focus for action planning have been identified:  teaching/learning, professional development, and data systems. Further work in the equity study action plans will continue, but ultimately this work must fold into the overall district strategic plan, which will be available for public review and formally presented to the BOE for a vote. It is anticipated that the initial goals and objectives of the district strategic plan will be presented in December.

Prior to the BOE adoption of a strategic plan in December a final report of the equity study will be presented publicly to the BOE as an information item for public discussion.  It is expected that this will occur in November.

Last December, a formal Request for Qualifications was issued for the purposes of consultation on conducting an equity study. A number of applicants were reviewed by a committee of local educators. The deciding factors in selecting NYU Metropolitan Center by the committee were experience in consulting and research, the focus on a collaborative approach in co-creating action plans, the capacity to customize the study for our district, and the committee approach that precluded imposition by an outside group. The final action plans will be the work of WPS educators and community members, not handed to the district by an outside agency. Finally, the checks and balances of public education ensure that any formal action plans that will be folded in the district strategic plan will be voted on by the BOE in public session.

[OPINION] Stop When You See The Flashing Lights!

Alert — and concerned — “06880” reader Liz Blasko writes:

On Tuesday morning I was standing on the corner waiting for the school bus with my granddaughter, 4 other children and 3 other adults.

We watched the bus approach down the hill on the right as it does every morning, flashing its red lights before it stopped.

Suddenly a car came around the corner from the other direction. making no attempt to stop. The children moved toward the bus, but the car still kept coming.

I ran to it and screamed, ‘You have to stop!” Seeing me, the driver finally stopped. Her window was right next to the bus driver’s window.

The driver did not apologize. Instead she blamed the bus driver, saying, “She didn’t have the stop sign out!” The driver further excused herself, saying, “I was just trying to get out of the way.” She was trying to get past the stopped school bus, with its flashing red lights, before the driver put the stop sign out.

I was aghast that anyone could think that way. Was she thinking about her own children, or the toddler in her back seat when she tried to speed between the stopped school bus with flashing red lights and the group of elementary school children beginning to cross the road to their bus?

I don’t think so. She was thinking about her own agenda.

As a reminder to all drivers, Connecticut law:

Requires a driver meeting or overtaking any school bus from either direction to stop 10 feet before reaching the school bus when the flashing red lights are actuated. Drivers may proceed when the bus resumes moving or the lights are turned off. (Violators are subject to a $450 fine.)

I spoke with the bus driver this morning. She was shaken by the incident. At least 2 equally frightening incidents have occurred since the one I experienced, the driver told me. A high schooler was crossing to reach the bus and was almost hit. In another instance, the police caught a driver passing a stopped school bus and hopefully imposed the $450 fine…all 3 in one day!

My granddaughter, her friends at the bus stop, your children and the children of the driver of the car who passed the bus are too precious. STOP when you see the flashing lights!

No matter who is crossing — children or deer — STOP when you see the school bus’ flashing lights. (Photo/Paul Delano)

This Is Sid Kumar’s World

“Geography” does not have a good name.

The subject evokes dull concepts like capital cities, rivers and mountain ranges. It’s not the sexiest subject on the planet.

But that rep is wrong. Geography captivates Sid Kumar. The Greens Farms Elementary School 5th grader has used it to learn about music, religions, cuisines, currencies and much more.

And it’s earned him a trip to Quebec City next spring. Sid finished 11th nationally in the International Academic Competitions’ geography championship.

Sid Kumar, with flags of the world.

Entering both the elementary school and junior varsity divisions, he answered multiple rounds of long, detailed questions about history, statues, resources — all the things that make the world so exciting for Sid.

His journey began in preschool. His parents, Dinesh and Shilpa, got him US and world puzzles. That led to geography-related toys, then books, atlases,  and music, flag  and travel videos.

Along with the entertaining, educational Geography Now YouTube channel.

Sid quickly discovered that “geography” involves politics, culture, and so much more.

Including money. Among his many other interests — like guitar, karate, swimming and ice skating — Sid has already collected currencies from 106 countries.

Of the dozen or so countries he’s been to, Sid can’t pick a favorite. Each, he says, has something making it special.

Of the places he has not yet seen, Cuba tops the list. Among its attractions: beaches, and “the style of Havana.”

Sid will no doubt get there, some time. But first comes a trip north, to Quebec.

It’s a city with great food, plenty of history — and a challenging, exciting international geography competition.