Unless you have business with one of the tenants at Colonial Green — an eclectic mix including attorneys, CPAs, and the offices of CLASP and Newman’s Own — there’s no reason most Westporters would ever see the lobby at 246 Post Road East.
What a shame. Its walls are lined with local history. There’s a great collection of large photos and old postcards, with intriguing text. They tell wonderful stories of Westport’s first library, National Hall, a spectacular hotel on Beachside Avenue, and more.
And who knew the Cribari Bridge was once painted red?
Thanks to Eve Potts, for this fascinating find!
Home Movie is a dark comedy about a wounded family’s struggles with death, deception and general mania.
Jarret Liotta — a longtime Westporter, and Staples High School graduate — filmed it entirely in Westport.
The title also refers to the help he got from many local people and groups, like the Westport Woman’s Club, Senior Center, Police Department, Kaia Yoga, Gold’s Deli, even Harding Funeral Home.
On January 7 (7 p.m.), Miggs Burroughs will host a live (virtual) Q-and-A with Liotta. Everyone registering for the event through the Westport Library (click here) will receive a link to view the film any time the week before the event.
Liotta — a noted writer, photographer and video producer — is also a filmmaker. He says his first film, How Clean is My Laundry, “received moderate acclaim but wasn’t very good.” His second, The Acting Bug, “was much better, but no one saw it.”
His current project is a comedy exploring racism and gun violence (!). It will filmed entirely in Westport.
Top Hat Tutors — the Staples High School juniors and seniors who charge less than adult competitors, but deliver quality with a teenage vibe — is starting the new year right.
Now through March, they’re offering their services free, to low income families and students on tight budgets. The offer is available every other Friday and Saturday, between 2 nd 5 p.m. There is a limit of 5 students per time slot.
Top Hat tutors cover math, science, language arts, social studies and standardized testing prep, for all age students.
Don O’Day chairs the Coleytown Middle School Building Committee. For the past 2 years, he has overseen the school’s renovation, after closure due to mold.
Sloan O’Connell-Jamali — parent of 3 boys — writes:
I don’t know Don O’Day personally. But I would like to nominate him for Unsung Hero recognition, as we close out 2020.
Earlier this month he handed off the Coleytown Middle School building to the Board of Education. As my 6th grader excitedly waits to walk through the doors of CMS for the first time on Jan 4, there is no doubt in my mind that we have Don O’Day (and his amazing team) to thank.
He has been the ultimate public servant, volunteering his leadership, time and abilities over the past 2 years to help bring our CMS building back to life.
I can only imagine the countless hours of work, meetings, Zoom calls and spreadsheets he has had to devote to getting this job done — during a pandemic nonetheless.
I am personally grateful to have had his constant Facebook updates, which kept us all in the loop and were totally transparent.
We are so lucky to have someone like Don in our community. His volunteerism is inspiring and he has changed our Westport community for the better.
What an inspired nomination, Sloan — and so true. Don O’Day has truly modeled what it means to juggle the often-competing demands of town officials, school administrators, parents, students and other residents — all while keeping the needs of children front and center.
Thank you, Don. We all look forward to the reopening of Coleytown Middle School early next month. For that, you are absolutely this week’s Unsung Hero!
(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Since September, the Westport Public Schools have operated on a hybrid model since September. Some students learn in school each day; some learn at home.
This morning, in an email to parents, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice gave an update. Schools have not proven to be the vectors of COVID transmission many expected, he notes. In fact, they are some of the safest places during the pandemic.
Next month, administrators will begin exploring options for returning more students to school, more of the time. Scarice says:
I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone the very best during the holidays, and a very happy new year. This has clearly been a year like no other.
Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)
I shared with the faculty and support staff during my opening address in September that in my research, I’ve found that the very best organizations are marked by a culture where each individual can count on each other. This year I’ve found that to be the case right here. Look to your right, look to your left and you’ll find someone on the team that you can count on. If this is the culture during a pandemic, I can assure you that there will be no limit to what we can accomplish as a school system. We can, and should, have a bold vision for our schools in the post-COVID world. This energizes me a great deal.
As I shared Monday at the Board of Education meeting, I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit math classrooms at Staples a couple of weeks ago. I was humbled by the work of our faculty in leading classroom instruction this year. This morning I got a tiny window into the burdens of “Zoom instruction” as I struggled to engage a class of kindergarteners in my read-aloud of “The Gruffalo.” Not my finest moment, but being in the presence of our students is where I find such purpose and fulfillment. I hope Mrs. Sweeney was able to clean up my “digital mess” afterwards!!
At the expense of sounding gratuitous, I see the work of our faculty and support staff this year as nothing short of remarkable. Yet, just over the horizon I can begin to see us starting to turn the corner. With our team and the support of our parents and community I am beyond enthused about the second half of our school year!!
Take a look towards the horizon and the immediate future and you will see that vaccines are on the way, new testing technologies are arriving regularly to communities, and treatments for the virus have advanced well beyond the approaches of last spring.
Locally, like countless other school districts, we have demonstrated incredible resilience in preventing virus transmission in our schools. I was told earlier in the fall that the safest place in our communities outside of our homes is in a public school. I found this unbelievable at the time. But now, based on almost 4 months of experience and the vigilance of everyone in our schools, I believe this to be true.
I have recommended a cautious approach to the reopening of our schools this year. However, a great deal has changed over the past 9 months. Perhaps most profound for schools is that high community transmission rates have had little impact on school-based virus transmission.
What’s confounding is that community transmission rates were initially identified as the primary driver affecting the reopening of schools among public health experts, including the Harvard Global Health Institute which guided Connecticut’s efforts. In fact, just last week, Tom St. Louis, occupational health program director for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, concluded in a statement to superintendents that the high rates of spread in communities are not translating to similarly high rates of transmission in schools. He acknowledged that most experts did not know this would be the case when guidance was provided over the summer.
Population density is a factor in mitigating spread, thus the reason for hybrid models this year. Yet, there is ample evidence across the state of minimal to no virus spread in schools with greater population density than the current levels in our schools.
This track record of remarkable resilience, along with the timing of the reopening of Coleytown Middle School, and with the critical need to balance our responsibility to public health with the social/emotional/academic wellness of our students, has led me to begin conversations about engaging in additional reopening efforts for the second half of January, including a full reopening of on-site schooling for all K-8 students.
Coleytown Middle School’s renovation is nearly complete. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)
When We Return January 4, 2021
We will begin the New Year in the current hybrid model beginning on January 4. However, we will monitor the conditions around us, and within our schools, in an effort to begin to possibly open our schools for full on-site instruction at the K-8 level later in the month. Additionally, we will look to broaden access to Staples for more on-site instruction for all learners, beyond those identified as “at-risk.”
I have asked the administration from each of the three levels to have plans ready for my review by the end of the first week of January in anticipation of implementation for the second half of the month. Specific plans and dates have yet to be identified. This information will be forthcoming shortly thereafter.
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 true that it will not look like our classrooms prior to the pandemic and that a return to a “pandemic classroom,” particularly at the elementary level, was not optimal as rates sharply trended in the wrong direction in October and November. I stand by the prudent approach I recommended in the fall. Yet since then, we have learned more and more about schooling during the pandemic.
It is clear that with strong mitigating measures, particularly fidelity to mask wearing, schools can remain resilient while serving more on-site learners safely. When we return, we will begin the process of planning for more on-site learners in earnest for the second half of the school year which begins later in January.
Of course, for this school year all parents will be afforded the right to distance learning for their child. We will continue to serve our students in this arena and seek to continually improve our practices in remote instruction.
As I shared with the faculty earlier, we have an opportunity to take a break from perhaps the greatest professional challenge we will face in our careers, an eleven day respite. For all of us, this should be time to reconnect with our families and friends in safe ways. Perhaps some Netflix viewing (if so, you must watch “The Social Dilemma” with your teens), some unwinding, and some time to unplug. Whatever may come over the break, I have complete confidence that we will turn a corner to a positive horizon in due time.
Transitions to new schools can be tough. For teenagers, the move from middle to high school can seem particularly daunting.
Since 1983 — the year 9th graders first moved to Staples — Westport educators have helped make freshmen comfortable in their new building. Meetings, tours, club fairs and more have all been part of the process.
But when the high school’s School Climate Committee recommended a more sustained, ongoing orientation approach, administrators and teachers went to work.
A national program called Link Crew seemed ideal. Lasting a full year, using upperclassmen as mentors, it promised the support and personal connections with school-age peers that 9th graders need.
A group visited Newtown and Hall-West Hartford Highs, where the program has thrived. They adapted it for Staples.
Three teachers — Jeff Doornweerd, Lauren Manosh and Jamie Pacuk — were identified as advisors. Guidance department head Bill Plunkett calls them “amazing, energetic, dedicated and warm. They’re exactly who you’d want as a the face of Staples for incoming students.”
Assistant principal Chase Dunlap recruited 120 rising juniors and seniors. Staples and middle school PTA grants paid for advisor training.
Link Crew was all set to debut in August, with 2 days of social interaction and hands-on activities.
COVID shut all that down.
Despite the hurdles — and with less than half the school on campus on any given day — the Link Crew crew went to work. With creativity, persistence and problem-solving, they started the program.
Orientation sessions (masked and socially distanced) were held before school began. They’d been conducted in past years too. Link Crew’s, though, are more comprehensive and structured.
Freshmen toured in small groups with the mentors who would follow them all year. They’d already met online, through Zoom sessions that included ice-breakers and fun activities.
Emily Epstein and Owen Dolan introduced Link Crew to freshmen via video.
In a non-pandemic year, there would be more in-person meetings, and team-building activities. This year they’re improvising, using the weekly Connections period to get together virtually.
Schools with ongoing Link Crew programs have social events. That’s still ahead (perhaps virtually), along with more mentor training, and guest speakers, once Staples returns to normal.
Still, in an abnormal year the first-year program has worked well. “”Mentors have done a great job checking in with their groups of 3 to 5 freshmen through email and texts,” Doornweerd notes.
“It could be just a simple thing, like asking for an emoji of how their firs day of school went. They’ve also been running small group activities.”
While Link Crew’s focus is helping freshmen feel safe, secure and informed, there’s another benefit: leadership development for mentors.
“They represent a cross-section of the student body,” Plunkett says. “We hope they all go back to their friend circles and activities, and infuse the Link Crew values there. This really can shift the culture in a meaningful way.”
“Some of the mentors have never held a leadership role, never been a club member of thought they had any leadership potential,” Manosh adds. “But they all had in common a desire to help incoming freshmen have a positive transition through their guidance.
“It has been inspiring to see the mentors step up to the task, embrace their role and lead their classmates through the year with the same enthusiasm they came to training and ran orientation with.”
Now we know that Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice does not subscribe to the let’s-wait-and-see school of snow closing thought.
He’s a realist — and he too really likes snow days. He writes:
With the strong likelihood of a major winter storm tomorrow, I would like to inform the school community that the Westport Public Schools will be closed Thursday, December 17.
This will be a traditional snow day which will be made up at the end of the school year. The schools will reopen Friday as scheduled. If the clean up efforts require a second day, Friday will be a full remote learning day.
The anticipation and excitement of a snow day is something that every child should experience. Soak it up.
As a fellow parent I feel the fleeting nature of time with my own children. The challenge of this year warrants a respite. Let this be Thursday.
The forecast calls for about a foot of fluffy snow to end by mid-morning. Bundle them up and let them all (elementary through high school) get out and enjoy one of the few days a year that we get for winter fun in southern New England.
Stay safe and warm.
Winslow Park snow day, March 4, 2019. (Photo/Molly Alger)
Today’s “06880” Roundup — posted at noon — posed this question: Couldl Wednesday’s predicted heavy snow, strong winds and coastal flooding lead to a snow day?
Or, in our new COVID world, will Westport school’s simply shift to all-distance learning?
I should have checked my email.
About 5 minutes earlier, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice anticipated — and answered — my question. He wrote:
I want to provide an update to the school community on snow days this school year. Of course, after a 60 degree day yesterday, we are looking at a significant snowstorm late Wednesday into Thursday.
On October 7, 2020, for the 2020-2021 school year only, the Connecticut State Board of Education approved the use of a remote learning day in lieu of a traditional snow day. Traditionally, snow days are required to be made up at the end of the school year. Remote learning days are not required to be made up at the end of the school year.
Westport youngsters enjoy a 2019 snow day at Winslow Park. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)
In reviewing the parameters of our current school calendar, if there are more than 4 snow days this year, the district is required to use the April vacation as makeup days beginning on Monday April 12. I would like to avoid encroaching on the April vacation, and I would like to ensure with some certainty that the school year will conclude by June 23 at the latest.
Additionally, I may be a purist but I do believe that for most children, the experience of a snow day can be an unforgettable part of childhood and a unique opportunity for unstructured play.
For these reasons, the district will allow for only 3 traditional snow days that will be required to be made up in June. Any additional snow days beyond 3 will be remote learning days that will not be required to be made up in June.
There is 1 additional day built in that will serve as a buffer in the event power outages require a school cancellation.
Snow day! (Photo/Irene Penny)
Finally, and critically important for planning, we will not have “back to back” snow days in the event that snow clean up requires a second straight snow day.
If a second straight snow day is required, we will conduct a remote learning day on the second day. This might be the case this Friday if the forecast continues to project snowfall well into Thursday. Please plan accordingly.
It is likely that we will experience power outages. In the event of widespread power outages we will have to cancel school if the roads are not safe. However, we will conduct remote learning in the event of minimal outages.
Due to transportation issues, 2=hour delayed openings and early dismissals as a result of inclement weather will cancel either the AM or PM elementary session respectively.
For clarity, the approach to snow days can be summarized as follows:
No more than 3 snow days this year
Remote learning will be conducted beginning with the fourth snow day
An additional day has been built in beyond the 3 snow days to preserve April vacation and the end of the school year no later than June 23
There will be no back to back snow days for the purposes of snow clean-up on the streets
There will be power outages; however, if the outages are minimal, we will hold remote learning days after 3 snow days
A 2-hour delayed opening or an early dismissal will cancel the AM or PM elementary sessions
As circumstances emerge and evolve, we will make changes accordingly.
Our schools look very different this year. Thankfully — and thank you, Tom Scarice! — the sacred tradition of snow days remains.
Will Staples High School look like this on Thursday?
At first glance, environmentalism and social justice might seem to be different issues.
But they intersect powerfully. One example: petrochemical facilities — with all their toxic byproducts — are often located in predominantly minority, economically disadvantaged communities.
Wanjiku Gatheru wrote a provocative piece for Glamour: “Want to be an Environmentalist? Start With Antiracism.”
The 21-year old is the first Black person in history to receive the Rhodes, Truman and Udall scholarships. A recent graduate of the University of Connecticut, she’s now studying in Oxford, England.
That’s where she’ll join the Westport Library on Wednesday, December 16 (7 p.m.), for a virtual event. She’ll discuss the intersection of those 2 movements. The event is co-sponsored by TEAM Westport, Sustainable Westport and Earthplace. Click here to register.
Wanjiku Gatheru (Photo/Sean Glynn, UConn)
The Greens Farms Elementary School PTA has organized a fundraiser.
They not only want everyone to help — they want to help other PTAs and organizations too.
When you buy a gift card from a participating local retailer or locally owned online brand — click here! — the store donates a portion of proceeds to the GFS PTA.
But GFS wants to spread the wealth. If your PTA wants to be considered — as part of a dropdown menu at checkout — email email@example.com.
Participants include ASF Sports & Outdoors, BD Provisions, Club Pilates, Dojo Westport, Posh Nail Salon, Shelala, Skin by Kataryna, Olive & Linen, Organic Krush, Posh Nail Salon, Romanacci Pizza Bar, Splatz by OneFun, Stew Leonard’s, Westport Masks and 3Dux.
New brands are being added all the time. If your business would like to join, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Westport artist Michael Chait will sponsor another of his popular pop-up photo shows on the Saugatuck River this Sunday (December 13, 12:30 to 3 p.m., 11 Riverside Avenue).
It’s all outdoors. Smooth jazz/R&B music starts at 1:30 p.m., with the Dave Kardas Band. Pop by for the pop-up!
Michael Chait’s flag over the Saugatuck River.
Anthropologie’s Christmas decorations bring a bit of light to downtown Westport.
Now they’re joined by a menorah.
Happy holidays to all!
As of yesterday, Westport had 786 cases of COVID-19 since March (722 confirmed, 64 probable). That’s up 87 total cases since last Thursday.
There have been 25 deaths, up 1 from last week. Click here for full statistics.
And finally … happy 89th birthday to Rita Moreno. In 1961 she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as Anita, in the film version of “West Side Story.”
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Thanks!)