Category Archives: Staples HS

Meghan Ward Charts A New Path

At most schools, the assistant principal handles discipline. He — and it’s often a male — breaks up fights, hands out suspensions and tracks down truants.

Staples is not most schools.

There, assistant principals have a wide range of tasks. They handle every aspect of student life, from curriculum and the daily calendar to clubs and activities. They’re involved in attendance, academic integrity, even proms.

That’s just part of the job description. Meghan Ward, for example, oversees online courses, the independent learning experience and Pathways, Staples’ alternative school program. She works with academic support classes, and — particularly this year, with COVID complications — collaborates closely with guidance counselors, pupil personnel services, social workers and psychol0gists to keep students on track.

All of those skills and experiences will help Ward when she leaves Staples this summer. The assistant principal has been named principal of John Read Middle School in Redding.

Meghan Ward (Photo/Dan Woog)

It’s a homecoming of sorts. Ward attended Joel Barlow High School — which her new school feeds into — and loved it. Among other activities, she was Student Council president.

She enjoyed an introductory education class at Providence College, but graduated from Southern Connecticut State University as a political science major.

Her first job was with US Tobacco in Greenwich. Working in governmental affairs, she met an intern who headed back to school for a master’s in education.

That piqued her interest. Ward shifted gears, got her own master’s at Sacred Heart University, and student taught in social studies at Trumbull High, under Jon Shepro.

In 2004, 2 positions opened up a Staples. Shepro and Ward filled them both.

Ward spent 9 years in the classroom. She credits “awesome administrators” with allowing her to “take risks and try new things.” Student-centered classrooms encouraged students to think for themselves.

“I was given a gift to be creative and independent,” she says. “We teach to common standards, but the way we deliver education is our own. The 25 kids in my classroom may be very different from the ones next door.”

Along the way, Ward became certified as an administrator. When she and her husband moved to Maine, she was hired as dean of students for a regional high school.

She loved the opportunity to get to know both “the whole student” — not just the one in a Global Themes or US history class — and the entire sophomore class. The challenges — academic, social, interpersonal, family dynamics — were fascinating. Her principal and administrative team were “totally student-centered.”

The school included an alternative program. It was Ward’s first experience with teenagers who — though school was “not their thing” — followed a positive path.

“Every kid had a passion for something,” Ward says. “One of them loved welding. We figured out how he could get credit for it. Creativity can change the course of someone’s life. If you listen and believe in them when they’re at their lowest point, they’ll respond.”

Ward’s next position was assistant position at Old Orchard Beach High School. She was involved in the alternative education program there too.

She moved on to the principalship of York High School. “An amazing experience!” she says. “The staff and Board of Education were very supportive. The amount of time they committed to kids was incredible.”

She left with regrets, when her family returned to Connecticut. Fortuitously, an assistant principal’s position opened up at Staples, in the fall of 2016.

Ward worked with then-principal James D’Amico to develop the Pathways program. Among her dozens of responsibilities, it’s been among the most rewarding.

The main classroom at Pathways. Other rooms — and the lounge — branch off from here.

She takes the “path” idea literally. “We can actually help create a way for each kid to get what they need to succeed,” she says.

Returning as an administrator to the high school where she once taught was eye-opening. She gained a deeper understanding of the interrelationships between all staff members, and the importance of listening closely to others in order to make the best decisions for “the student, the building and the town.”

Staples is the only Connecticut school building Ward ever worked in. She is grateful for the support and opportunities she’s received, from “special, incredible” colleagues.

Now she heads to a different one — and with a different age group.

“After embracing 9th graders coming to Staples, I’m excited to work with middle schoolers,” Ward says. “Fifth through 8th graders: What do those pathways look like?”

As usual, she’ll listen — to students, their families, the community.

Then Ward — the mother of a 5th and 7th grader herself — will take the lessons she’s learned in Westport and Maine, and apply them to John Read Middle School.

A new path awaits.

Roundup: Operation Varsity Blues, Christopher Lloyd, Women’s Voices …

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Operation Varsity Blues” — the Netflix movie about the rich-and-famous college admissions scandal — has taken America by storm.

There’s a Westport angle. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with a parent pretending his or her child was a star water polo player, even if he or she cannot swim.

“Operation Varsity Blues” was written and edited by Jon Karmen. He’s the 2008 Staples High School graduate who made a huge name for himself there as half of “Rubydog” — a moviemaking duo who, working with media instructor Jim Honeycutt, made a number of way-beyond-high school videos back in the day. (Click here to see some of their pioneering work.)

Karmen is known too as the writer/director of “Fyre” (2019), a behind-the-scenes look at that infamous music festival.

“Varsity Blues” was #3 on Netflix’s Top 10 Most Watched Movies & TV Shows yesterday. But it wasn’t the only one with an “06880” connection. Jamie Mann’s “Country Comfort” checked in at #7. (Hat tip: Kerry Long)

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Speaking of Staples: More than 60 years after helping found Staples Players, Christopher Lloyd is still acting.

In 1958 he was a Staples High School student who wanted to do more than just act in a class play. He found a mentor in English teacher Craig Matheson. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lloyd went on to a career that includes “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the “Back to the Future” trilogy, “Star Trek III,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and 2 “Addams Family” films.

At 82 years old, he’s got a new movie: “Senior Moment.” He stars with Jean Smart and William Shatner, who play a pair of older star-crossed lovers in an old-school romcom.

Lloyd talks about that project; his 5 wives — and growing up in Westport — in a wide-ranging Guardian interview. He was the youngest of 8 children, though the closest in age was 7 years older. Click here for the full interview. (Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)’

Christopher Lloyd in “Senior Moment.”

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Speaking again of Staples: Staples history classes absolutely crushed the National History Day regional competition.

Their papers, documentaries and exhibits examined everything from the Daughters of the Confederacy and Queer Communications in the Age of Oppression to Crypto-Analysis in World War I, Cigarette Advertising and the Freedom Riders.

How dominant was Staples? 32 students placed. There were only 5 other winners in the entire region, from just 2 other schools.

Placing first were Ishan Prasad, Sabrina Paris, Maya Hruskar, Lilly Weisz, Srushti Karve, William Jin, Michael Nealon, Zachary Brody, Jeffrey Pogue, Jack Ginsburg, Preston Norris, Tyler Clark and Matthew Gatto.

Finishing second were Nikos Ninios, Franca Strandell, Camille Vynerib, Julet Tracey, Lily Klau, Olivia Stubbs, Hannah Fiarman, Franky Lockenour, James Dobin-Smith, Coco Laska, Karlie Saed and Sarp Gurdogan.

Taking third were Sebastian Miller, Analise Vega, Emma Porzio, Arda Ernamli, Hannah Conn, Samantha Paris and Ethan Cukier.

Their (superb) teachers are Drew Coyne, Nell-Ann Lynch, Cathy Schager and Kelly Zrenda.

Up next: state and (hopefully) national competition.

A US championship? That would be historic.

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Speaking once again of the arts: On Tuesday (March 30, 7 p.m.), the Westport Country Playhouse presents a world premiere of “New Works/New Voices.” These 4 new pieces — all written by community members — honor women who inspired them: Constance Baker Motley, Anne Bogart, Mary Freeman, Mary McLeod Bethune and Gloria Steinem.

Local storytellers and actors will bring to life these very personal, beautiful stories recorded on the WCP stage.

Viewers are invited to pay what they can. 50% of ticket sales and donations during the broadcast go to the Playhouse’s community partner, Women’s Mentoring Network, providing career, educational and personal resources for the economic empowerment of low-income women and their families.

Click here to register for “New Works/New Voices.”

The artists and storytellers who will bring 5 women’s stories to life.

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Westporter Rob Simmelkjaer was confirmed yesterday, by a bipartisan State Senate vote, as chair of the Connecticut Lottery.

It’s a volunteer — but quite active — role he’s served in since May. Area senators Will Haskell and Bob Duff spoke warmly on the media executive’s behalf.

Rob Simmelkjaer

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Update from Parks & Rec: The concession stand at Compo Beach will open in mid-April. Last year, during COVID, it opened late, and ran only from a trailer adjacent to the brick building.

The concession stand at Compo Beach will be open next month.

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MoCA Westport has added 5 members to its board of directors. Two are from Westport.

Jennifer Kanfer has served on the board of The Conservative Synagogue, including co-chair of the Social Action, Membership and Fundraising Committees. and with the Coleytown Elementary School PTA. She previously worked in healthcare communications for 14 years. She holds a BA in political science from the University of Michigan, an MPA in healthcare policy and administration from NYU, and an MBA in Finance from NYU’s Stern School.

Samantha Yanks is an award-winning editor with over 20 years experience in luxury fashion and lifestyle publishing. In 2018 she launched a social, digital and branding agency, Samantha Yanks Creative. She was most recently editor-in- chief of Gotham and Hamptons magazines. As senior accessories editor at O, she collaborated closely with Oprah Winfrey. Yanks has discussed fashion, beauty and lifestyle on “The Today Show” and “NBC Nightly News,” “New York Live,” “Good Day New York,” E!, the Martha Stewart and Howard Stern shows, and more. She graduated from Tulane University.

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‘Tis the season — for both holiday lights and daffodils.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

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And finally … the great — and greatly underrated — Billy Stewart was born today, in 1937. He died in 1970, only 32 years old.

If you only have time to listen to one song, it’s “Summertime.” But everything he touched was a classic.

 

Young Artists Create Yard Signs, Videos

On Monday, April 5, the Coleytown Elementary School lawn will be decorated with yard signs. They’re the work of students, showcasing the diverse arts and music they’ve been studying for months.

Coleytown Elementary School yard sign,

The next day — Tuesday, April 6 — different signs will appear at Greens Farms Elementary. Over the next 3 days they’ll be posted at Kings Highway, Long Lots and Saugatuck. Then, look for them around town, in more public spaces like Town Hall and the Riverwalk.

Greens Farms Elementary School yard sign.

The yard signs are just one element of the “Westport Youth Arts Collaborative: America’s Voices” project. It’s a robust successor to the beloved — but far more limited — Youth Concerts of years past.

Saugatuck Elementary School yard sign.

Those events introduced elementary schoolers to the high school music program. There were themes — Disney movies, for example — and more recently, tie-ins with countries like India and China, as part of the district’s Global Initiatives plan.

This year’s Youth Arts Collaborative focuses on American musicians — and artists. The goal is to celebrate not only our artistic diversity, but also that of Westport’s elementary school youngsters. Students created the signs, using their own words and images to highlight their own special backgrounds.

Long Lots Elementary School yard sign.

Along with the artwork, each school will air a special video, produced by Ryan Smith (the mastermind behind Staples High School’s virtual Candlelight Concert last December).

A variety of Staples groups — the Amati and Stradivarius chamber orchestras, chamber winds, jazz ensemble and Orphenians — recorded performances earlier this month.

Recording the Stradivarius Chamber Orchestra at Staples. (Photo/Brandon Malin)

The videos will include one of the high school ensembles; artwork from children at that elementary school, and “family folk songs.” They come from around the globe. All were coordinated by Candi Innaco.

“There’s an amazing diversity of backgrounds in Westport,” says townwide arts coordinator Steve Zimmerman. “The kids were really excited to show off their families.”

The Youth Arts Collaborative is a huge undertaking. It’s taken months of preparation. When it’s over, students who created their yard signs will keep them (and hopefully repost them in their own yards). Videos and art projects will be available through their school’s websites.

Kings Highway Elementary School yard sign.

For years, the Youth Concert inspired elementary schoolers to play music — and keep playing as they moved through middle school and Staples.

This new project will do even more for young musicians and artists. “America’s Voices” will soon be Westport’s own.

Staples High School has a yard sign too.

Players’ Next Radio Show Will Be “Marvelous”

For over 60 years, directors and upperclassmen have passed Staples Players’ traditions and lore on to underclassmen.

After all, they — including directors David Roth and Kerry Long — were once freshmen and sophomores too.

This year, COVID did more than cancel mainstage, Black Box studio and One-Act  performances. The pandemic also jeopardized those cultural connections.

The nationally renowned troupe adapted to the loss of live theater, with a series of radio shows. They’ve produced 7 — musicals, comedies, thrillers — to great acclaim.

Most of the roles went, naturally, to juniors and seniors. Because the casts were smaller than major shows, underclassmen missed the chance to get a foot on Players’ impressive ladder to the stars.

Roth and Long also missed something: the chance to get to know a new generation of students. For the past year, Roth — who teaches theater at the high school — says that all he sees in class are “kids with masks, or in little boxes on my laptop.”

Providentially, as the directors discussed doing a radio show for 9th and 10th graders only, they found the perfect vehicle.

Roth and Long run a 6,000-member Facebook group for theater educator worldwide. A woman from Australia posted a play she’d written: “The Marvelous Mellow Melodrama of the Marriage of the Mislaid Minor.”

“It’s one of the funniest scripts I’ve ever read,” Roth says. “No one’s ever heard of it. But it’s a fantastic send-up of over-the-top dramas.”

It airs this Friday (March 26, 7 p.m.). Audiences worldwide — including the playwright in Australia — can hear it on wwptfm.org.

The “Marvelous” cast of freshmen and sophomores. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Students sent audition tapes. The cast of 24 — the largest by far for a Staples radio show — jumped quickly into the project. They’ve been aided by Jasper Burke, a senior who is a superb dialect coach, teaching every accent from upper-class British to Irish to Cockney.

The directors added 10 more actors. They’ll produce classic radio commercials.

Roth and Long have gotten to know the underclassmen well. Five assistant directors — all seniors — pass along Players’ traditions and rituals, just as they would during a mainstage.

As with other Players radio shows, all actors will be fully costumed.

You won’t see those costumes, when you click on wwptfm.org this Friday. But for the next 3 years, you’ll see those freshman and sophomore actors grow on the Staples stage.

And then they’ll pass all they’ve learned as Players on to the generation that follows.


Ben Herrera and James Dobin- Smith fight for the heart of Quinn Mulvey (in red), as father, Henry Carson, tries to save the day. (Photo/Kerry Long)

 

 

Roundup: Oystercatchers, Drive-In Concerts, Clear Cutting …

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Tina Green reports that the American oystercatcher pair has returned to Compo Beach for the season.

“Their loud. distinctive calls announced their early morning arrival for all to hear yesterday,” she says.

“No doubt they will try to nest again in the same area of the beach just north of the cannons. The pair successfully raised and fledged 3 juvenile birds last year, due in part to the beach being closed because of COVID. They had the beach to themselves until May, along with the piping plovers.

“Compo visitors — especially those with dogs — should keep away from the oystercatchers and give them some space. Westporters are very fortunate to have a front row seat to watch nature up close and personal in our hometown.

American oystercatchers at Compo Beach yesterday. (Photo/Tina Green)

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Besides the oystercatchers, there’s another returnee to Westport: drive-in concerts.

The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Library sponsor 2 next month. The site is the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

Sophie B Hawkins — a great talent, and Westport resident —  opens the season on Friday April 23rd. The show — featuring her 5-piece band is a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Deep Banana Blackout follows on Saturday, April 24. The 8-piece band is an area favorite, with a high-energy mix of jam, funk and blues.

Tickets for each show are $150 per car (5 person max). Tickets for Sophie B Hawkins go on sale on this Monday (March 29, 10 .am). Deep Banana Blackout will go on sale Tuesday, March 30, also at 10. Click here to order.

Sophie B Hawkins

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Speaking of entertainment: Jamie Mann — the Staples High School senior who stars in Netflix’s new hit, “Country Comfort,” which premiered Friday — has written a great piece for Backstage on the highs and lows of being a young actor.

He writes honestly about his love for dance, the “dead zone” when child actors grow too tall and add braces, the mentors he found in Westport like Cynthia Gibb and Jill Jaysen, being just another cast member with Staples Players, and more. Click here to read.

Jamie Mann (Photo/Curtis & Cort)

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John Noble writes: “I live near Earthplace, and walk by this house on Woodside Avenue almost every day.

It’s a teardown. I totally get it — but why did the developer take down over 17 large mature trees to create this eyesore of a lot now? There’s always 2 sides to a story, but as a neighbor this tree obliteration really bugs me.”

(Photo/John Noble)

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The Westport Library is seeking candidates for its Board of Trustees. Of particular interest: people with expertise in finance, fundraising and development for non-profits; knowledge and understanding of current trends in digital media and information technology, or a background in municipal government and/or not-for-profit law.

Trustees serve 4-yeare terms. Click here for more information.Interested candidates should email a resume and letter of interest to rpowell@westportlibrary.org. The deadline is April 19.

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Westporter Ana Cristina Purcell died on March 16. She was 68.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she immigrated with her parents to the US in the 1950s.

Ana was a graduate of Staples High School. She served as the office administrator for Purcell Moving Corporation, a family-owned business, for over 20 years. She enjoyed traveling, the beach, and spending time with family and friends.

She is survived by her husband Lawrence; daughter Cristina; son Shane (Jennifer Soyeck); sister Julia Huber; niece Rachel Greene; nephew Philip Huber, and grandchildren TJ Altman, Kroy Purcell and Camilla Purcell.

Harding Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. Services will be held at Assumption Church this Saturday (March 27, 11 a.m.). After, close friends and family are welcome to their home to share memories of her life.

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And finally … happy 67th birthday to legendary University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.

They beat High Point by a whopping 102-59 on Sunday. Tonight (9 p.m.) they face Syracuse. Go Huskies!

Photo Challenge #325

Many “06880” readers know what a disc golf course looks like

Many others have seen one at Sherwood Island — even if they had no idea what it was.

Plenty of readers know both: that last week’s Photo Challenge offered an overhead view of one of the disc golf “holes,” at Connecticut’s first state park.

Janine Scotti’s image showed a basket with chains above it. When a “disc” (Frisbee is the trademarked name) hits the chains, it drops below. There are now over 8,000 courses, in 54 countries. (Click here for the photo.)

These readers knew one — or both — elements of last week’s Challenge: Rindy Higgins, Ellen Greenberg, Rich Stein, Chip Stephens, Clark Thiemann, Janet Amodio, Luke Garvey, Molly Alger, Wendy Crowther, Ralph Balducci, Brad French, Howard Potter, Laure Goldberg, Jalna Jaeger, Amy Schneider, Seth Braunstein, Janet Avon, Diane McCoy and Bruce Salvo.

Okay, sports fans: Here’s this week’s Challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments.” below.

(Photo/John Videler Photography)

FUN FACT 1: The name “Frisbie” comes from the Bridgeport-based Frisbie Pie Company. In the 1950s they supplied pies to Yale University, where students  started the fad of tossing empty pie tins stamped with the company’s logo.

FUN FACT 2: Staples High School had one of the first “Ultimate Frisbee” teams in the nation. Click here for details.

Remembering Karl Decker

Karl Decker — a legendarily tough but superb and much-loved Staples High School English teacher, who had equally rich careers as a writer and photographer — died on Thursday at his Monroe home He was 88 years old.

When Mr. Decker retired in 1999, he was the longest-serving faculty member at Staples High School — and as much an institution as the building itself.

Karl Decker

The Boston native grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts and the extended family farm in Townshend, Vermont. Two great-great-great-aunts were Brigham Young’s wives, and the only ones to accompany him in 1847 on the Mormon immigration to what is now Salt Lake City.

Karl graduated from Milton Academy in 1950 (the same class as Ted Kennedy), Colby College  and Columbia University. During military service he married Merrillyn Anne Healey.

In the 1960s the couple founded and edited the Monroe Courier. He was also a supervisor in the Fairfield County Soil and Water Conservation District.

An avid photographer, in 1987 he studied the craft as a fine art with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He began a documentary project, photographing and writing stories about the people of Townshend. His book — “The People of Townshend, Vermont” — was published in 2012.

Roger Griswold (in suspenders), and his friend Steve Utley — one of the photos in Karl Decker’s book about Townshend, Vermont. (Photo/Karl Decker)

Karl taught at Staples High School from 1960 to 1999. After retiring from education, he spent 6 years with Vermont Magazine. He traveled the state, writing and photographing stories of life in small towns.

His observations on the critical social and declining economic conditions there culminated in a lecture presentation — “The Tour Buses Don’t Stop Here Anymore” — at New England colleges.

After writing a dozen short stories, and 2 residencies at the Vermont College of Fine Art, Karl began work on a novel. “Seeing Emily Home” was set in the Depression years in a small Vermont town.

Karl is survived by his wife of 65 years, Merrillyn; daughter Christine Lowry and her children Brian Jeffries and Danielle Marenholz, with their spouses; son Lawrence Decker and his wife Holly, and their children Bryce, Silas and Carly; daughter Karen Decker and her sons Matthew and Jonathan.

A celebration of Karl’s life will be held at a later date. Messages may be sent to merrdeck@aol.com. Contributions in Karl’s memory may be made to the American Civil Liberties Union, Doctors Without Borders, and the Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend.

Karl’s last words were, reportedly, “Don’t mourn for me. I’ll be close by whenever I hear your laughter.”

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In 2004, I interviewed Karl Decker at his Monroe home. Here is that chapter from my book “Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ History.”

I went to college on the GI Bill. My first teaching job was sixth grade, in Scarsdale, New York. It was temporary, and lasted a couple of years. I interviewed all over Westchester County, and almost took a job in Dobbs Ferry. But I got a call from [Staples principal] Stan Lorenzen. I knew nothing about Westport. I went to the AAA Guide, which called it “a quaint fishing village and artists’ colony on Long Island Sound.” I was not interested, but I went to see it.

The old Staples High School on Riverside Avenue was abandoned and shuttered. I called [assistant superintendent of schools] Frank Graff, who urged me to come to his office. I had that day one of the most fascinating interviews of my life. Frank and Stan took me to lunch at the Clam Box, then back to their office. It was a lengthy conversation. I was 28 years old, and they got to know me as well as anyone had at that time. We talked about me, my life, what I read and thought, my sixth grade classes, and my military experience. I kept waiting for a question about my [college] grades, but they never asked. I had not seen the likes of Stan Lorenzen in any of my best professors. He was a gentleman – old school – preppy perhaps, yet a man who commanded your attention and respect.

At the end, Frank and Stan looked at each other and said, “Should we tell him the bad news?” They were going to hire me without telling the department chairman. Frank asked, “Do you have any objections to working for a woman?” I said no. He called V. Louise Higgins. She sounded like Auntie Mame: “Dear boy, I understand you’ve been hired over my dead body.” “Yes ma’am…certainly ma’am…” et cetera, et cetera. I had no idea what I was getting into.

Staples was moving into its liberal era. Parents were very involved in the schools, and they were liberal people. Staples embraced the Kennedy years.

Karl Decker in 1970. Many of those veteran teachers he learned from were still teaching then.

But there was also an overlap with some grand old people: Albie Loeffler, Edna Kearns, Jeannette Atkins, Charlotte MacLear, Dorothy Keith, Bea Wolynec, Hans Johnson, Harold Allen. Either I gravitated toward them or they embraced me, but I was looked after by them. That old gang had been at the old school with its creaky floors in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. Now they’d come up to North Avenue, and suddenly were surrounded by lots of young teachers. It was probably hard on them, but they made a point to speak to the young teachers. They were in touch with us, and took us seriously. I sensed a very caring relationship.

Louise was busily nurturing her new department. She visited my class, and with a fascinating look asked me where I got my information. “My old college notes!” I said with enthusiasm. “Interesting. Have you considered burning them?” And she walked out. But at the same time, she encouraged me to learn to teach all the sophomore classes. People ask why I stayed at Staples so long. Even in the early days, people wondered. I think it was because I was left alone. I was trusted.

I was given an office with Tony Arciola. I thought it was remarkable he’d been teaching for seven years! One of the first things he told me was: “Find out where the kids are; find out what they need – then take them there.” That stuck in my mind all the years I was there.

When I came in 1960 there was a massive book called “Scope and Sequence,” written by V. Louise and Gladys Mansir. That was the curriculum, and you followed it. It provided new teachers with the books, writing and grammar lessons they needed. That was okay for the ’50s, but it disappeared when electives came in.

I taught 2D with Garry Meyers. Stan Lorenzen’s instructions were: “Keep the kids in the room for the length of the period.” They were a great bunch of kids. We took them to New York on field trips, and they carried my own young kids around on their shoulders. We wrote, read and had homework every day. That’s when I started journal writing and the daybook concept, which I later used in other classes.

The mid-‘60s brought changes so big and swift that V. Louise quit as chairman. Tony Arciola took over. Rhoda Harvey was the voice in the middle: “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” She and V. Louise both saw that the traditional core of instruction – literature, vocabulary structure, formal writing – was being threatened by electives that were being pushed by new teachers like Joe Duggan, Frank Weiner, Jay Heitin, Rich Bradley and Garry Meyers.

Karl Decker, 1978.

In English 4E – Experimental English – the kids built the curriculum. There was modern dance, theater, photography, lots of journal writing, field trips – we all tried to make it look viably English. That was the beginning of the electives program. We responded to what the kids wanted and what the parents were saying, about the need for women’s studies and black literature. All kinds of things became semester courses.

English 2, 2C, 3, 4, 4A lost their definition during the experimental years. So we had to spend a lot of time in the ’70s and early ’80s writing curriculum guides. The concept of the old analytical essays was dropped, thank God – they were cumbersome, tedious, and had nothing to do with what students thought, felt or knew.

I taught grammar, composition and Myth and Bible, but eventually I went back to full-year courses because I missed the continuity with the kids. We’d just get into something, and the semester was over – or even the quarter, because we also had quarter courses. Then in the ’80s I became enamored of teaching all four years: freshman, sophomore, junior and senior.

I taught 1C and 2C. I followed Tony’s advice: “Find out what the kids need, and take them there.” Some were angry kids with problems. We did relevant reading – Jon Krakauer, the same as the Advanced Placement kids were reading — not watered-down young adult literature. We read stories out of the New Yorker, Harper’s and the New York Times Magazine. It may have taken three weeks to get through one article, but they read it, they wrote about it, and they did vocabulary based on it.

Karl Decker, 1995.

I taught A-level sophomores – scrubbed, bright kids — and senior English, which was not leveled. I called my junior and senior classes English 3AAA and 4AAA. [Principal] Marv [Jaffe] once asked, “Karl, what the f— is this AAA?” I told him and he said, “Screw you” – but he hung around to find out what it was all about, and he supported me.

But the changes we’d been through had been absolutely right for the times. [Principal] Jim Calkins came at the right time for Staples, and accommodated the changes. He didn’t wear a necktie. He wandered the campus, and talked to kids. He was so visible. Some things failed miserably, but he was willing to try everything. We had speakers – Paul Newman came – and productions. Adults were always popping in to class – you would find them in the cafeteria, all over. They had come to Westport for great schools, and they wanted to be part of it all.

The English department was probably seen as a bunch of liberal-radical oddballs. I remember older teachers in other departments like Werner Friess, Frank Gilmore and Charlie Burke vilifying us at every turn. But others, like Clarence Berger, would hang around the English department, wearing his old filthy lab coat. A bunch of us ate lunch in Room 615 every day – Clarence, Tony Arciola, Harold Allen — a great cross-section of old-timers and young bucks.

I had the nickname “D-Minus Decker.” I established very clear protocols, very early on. Everything was spelled right out. Late papers: I don’t accept them. Missing papers: I don’t accept them. The initial squirming and squealing ended after the first couple of weeks – after the first person lost out on a paper.

I had a style sheet: You prepare your paper this way. No extensions, no exceptions – and I stuck by it. I said, “If you have a problem with an assignment, have it before it’s due.” I spent very little time fighting and arguing with parents over grades, because they knew. Of course, there were exceptions. When a girl fell through the ceiling of the auditorium, I told her in the hospital, “You’ll have an extension.”

Everyone else ended up giving A’s, and I did not. I told the students: “I do not grade you fairly; I grade you accurately.” [French teacher] Jeannette Atkins clued me in on that: If you give an A early, you can’t show how they progress or don’t progress. She started everyone off with a C. No college ever sees that first grade. You have to show where kids are going, not where they were or are.

Karl Decker was an avid reader of the New Yorker. He kept many issues — including this from 1934.

By the time [department chairman] Jerry Brooker arrived, each of us knew our courses exactly. We were teaching to our strengths. But mastery tests were being whispered about – this was the early ’90s, maybe earlier – and there was more pressure to spell things out exactly.

Standardized testing never served any purpose for anyone at any time, anywhere, anyhow. It got a foothold at Staples because of state politics. There was a teacher enhancement grant back in the ’80s. The idea was to make salaries more equal across the state. Salaries up in Danielson were 30 to 40 percent less than in Westport. So the state legislature needed to make sure teachers were doing the work. That was the beginning of the state mastery test program. As far as I’m concerned, tests serve the superintendents, boards of education and real estate people. This was a matter over which [principal] Gloria Rakovic and I had words. One day 20 of my kids walked out, led by Dave Fuchs, and into the cafeteria. She asked what I had told my students. I said, “They asked my opinion of the tests, and I did what I always do: I told them.”

We ended up all teaching the same thing, at the same time, in the same way. That eliminates the idea of “Where is that kid, and what does he need?” It also eliminates the teacher’s talents, and what he can give. I prepared the kids for the tests, I gave them samples, I showed them how to do it – but it kills inquiry, it kills creativity, it kills discovery. It kills the very purpose of what a classroom should be: a place to find out new things, find out who you are, what you believe, where you want to go. You need the freedom to look around and ask questions. Before every class started, we always had those questions. And 9 times out of 10, they started the class off the way it needed to go.

Don’t get me wrong. When I came in 1960, I had absolutely no sense of how long I’d stay. But I never looked anywhere else. I retired in 1999. I always liked Monday mornings, and I always looked forward to September.

Karl Decker, at his beloved Townshend, Vermont home.

Roundup: Mississippi And Westport, Players Radio Shows, Sivan Hong …

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Westport artist Tracy Sugarman’s experiences as a 1964 Freedom Rider influenced the rest of his life. They were the catalyst too for a long connection between Westporters, and leaders of Mississippi’s civil rights movement like Fannie Lou Hamer.

The Westport Public Art Collections has mounted an exhibit of Sugarman’s illustrations from that momentous time. It can be viewed by appointment (frontdesk@westportct.gov; 203-341-5072), or online.

On April 6 (7 p.m.), the Westport-Mississippi connection continues. A conversation about “Art, Civil Rights, and Social Justice” features Dr. Redell Hearn of the Mississippi Museum of Art, and town arts curator Kathie Bennewitz. Immediately after, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey will moderate a Q-and-A session with Hearn.

It’s part of the Westport Library’s WestportREADS program, in partnership wit the Westport Arts Advisory Committee.

Hearn is no stranger to Sugarman’s work. In 2019 she curated an exhibition that paired his Freedom Summer illustrations with song lyrics like “Eyes on the Prize” and “This is America.

“July and 100 Degrees in the Shade at the Sanctified Church for Freedom School Kids, Ruleville, Mississippi” (Tracy Sugarman)

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If you missed any Staples Players’ radio shows — or you loved them, and want to hear them again — you’re in luck.

All 3 will be rebroadcast this Sunday (March 31). “Little Woman” kicks off the evening at 6 p.m.; “Sorry, Wrong Number” follows at 7:10 p..m., and “Dracula” provides a horror-show finish at 7:3 p.m.

Click on www.wwptfm.org for the trifecta.

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Westport author/illustrator Sivan Hong has published 2 new children’s books: Benny J. and the Horrible Halloween and George J. and the Miserable Monday. Like her other books, Sivan’s new ones focus on young children who overcome emotional challenges, with perseverance and bravery.

She ‘ll talk about them (virtually) with young readers on Saturday, April 3 (noon). At 1:30 p.m., she’ll be at the Westport Library for a socially distanced book signing. Books will be sold there. They can also be purchased in advance (click here).

 To register for this virtual program, click here.

Sivan Hong

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And finally … on this day in 1918, Congress established 4 US time zones — and approved Daylight Saving Time.

Remembering Joan Walsh Anglund

Joan Walsh Anglund — a poet and children’s author who sold over 50 million books worldwide, and was a longtime Westport resident — died this month, surrounded by 3 generations of family. She was 95.

Three years ago, Tim Jackson — like Anglund’s daughter Joy a 1967 Staples High School graduate — made a documentary film about her.

The other day, he posted this remembrance on the Arts Fuse blog:

Joan Walsh Anglund’s words and delicate pen and ink illustrations of dot-eyed waifs were the source of poetic observations on love, nature, family, friendship, and faith for children and adults around the world for 60 years.

Joan Walsh Anglund (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Her gentle drawings were filled with small details. She often wove the names of children of friends and family into the leaves and branches of trees. Beyond children, she had legions of admirers, from Queen Elizabeth to Midwest housewives.

Beyond her artistic achievements, Joan possessed an inner light that inspired all who met her. I knew her and the family for 60 years and, in 2015, produced a documentary of her life called Joan Walsh Anglund: Life in Story and Poem.

Joan learned her craft from her artist parents, Her grandmother instilled a passion for language.

Joan’s love of drawing and poetic language, of spirituality and family remained central to her life and an inspiration for her art. Prior to the success of her own books she had been a literary illustrator, most memorably for The Golden Treasury of Poetry by Louis Untermeyer.

For more than 50 years she was married to producer and actor Bob Anglund, who passed away in 2009. They met when Joan was a student at The Art Institute of Chicago and he was a student at the Goodman Theater….

They had a radio show together in Los Angeles in 1948. In 1959, after moving to Connecticut, unbeknownst to her, Bob brought the manuscript for her first book to Harcourt, Brace, and World. She later read in the newspapers that the book, A Friend is Someone Who Likes You, had sold over one million copies. Her career was born.

When her children were young, they scrambled about under her father’s original drawing board as she worked on illustrations, just as she had done with her father. Her 120 books went on to sell 50 million copies around the world in multiple languages. With the books came an array of figurines, calendars, dolls, and Joan Walsh Anglund accessories. She and her husband had numerous friendships in the theater and literary world but she remained humbled and amazed by her success, maintaining a quiet and private life….

Joan Walsh Anglund and her husband Bob. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

In the film she confides: “I realize I can’t stay here forever but I feel that I can. I don’t have any sense of being old and sensible. Because every day the world is so new to me.” She spent 60 idyllic summers with the extended family at her small beach house on Nantucket. Days before she passed she said to her daughter Joy: “I’m going into the deep, deep waves. I’m going to a homecoming.”

She was pre-deceased by her husband Bob and son Todd. She is survived by her daughter Joy Anglund and husband Seth Harvey; grandson Thaddeus Harvey, granddaughter Emily Anglund-Nellen and her husband, Gregory Martin, and their twin daughters, Rose and Elizabeth.

The family requests any donations be made in the form of a children’s book to The Jonestown Family Center. PO Box 248, 401 Main Street, Jonestown, MS 38369.

(Click here for the full Arts Fuse link.)

Joan Walsh Anglund and Tim Jackson. 

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In 2016, I posted this tribute for her 90th birthday:

The poet/author/illustrator — who spent many years in Westport, and raised her children here — wrote over 120 children’s and inspirational books. They’ve sold more than 50 million copies, and been translated into 17 languages.

Among her most famous quotes:

  • Do not be sad that you have suffered. Be glad that you have lived.
  • Life is in the living. Love is in the giving.
  • Where is the yesterday that worried us so

Joan Walsh Anglund, on Nantucket. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Wikipedia says that last year, a US Postal Service stamp commemorating Maya Angelou contained Anglund’s quote “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song” — seemingly tying it to Angelou.

That’s not the first time. President Obama wrongly attributed the sentence to Angelou when he presented the 2013 National Medal of Arts and Humanities to her.

“I hope it’s successful,” Anglund said of the stamp when it was issued.

In the 1960s and early ’70s, Staples High School principal James Calkins — who spoke often of the importance of love — frequently quoted Anglund to the student body.

“Do You Love Someone?” — one of Joan Walsh Anglund’s many illustrated books.

When Calkins left Staples, Anglund’s daughter — a student there — thanked him using her mother’s words: “I did not hear the words you said. Instead, I heard the love.”

website dedicated to Anglund lists a few of her famous fans: Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth, Cary Grant, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Ethel Kennedy, Carol Burnett, Helen Hayes, Phyllis Diller, Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Rosemary Clooney, Shirley Jones, the Emperor of Japan and Elizabeth Taylor.

And, it adds helpfully, “etc.”

“06880”  joins Joan Walsh Anglund’s many admirers — in Westport, and the world — in saying: “Happy 90th birthday!”

Or, to quote herself: “A (person’s) health can be judged by which he takes two at a time: pills or stairs.”

Staples: Full In-Person Learning Begins March 25

More than a year after going fully remote — and after beginning the 2020-21 school year at 50% capacity, then transitioning to 75% this winter — Staples High School returns to full in-person education on March 25.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice says:

The district maintained a very conservative approach to our schooling models for the first half of the year. Nearly 7 weeks ago, based on our local experience, input from our public health partners, and a projected drop in infection rates, we reopened our elementary and middle schools for full in-person learning.

Additionally, on March 1, Staples High School increased access for students by implementing a 3 day a week, 75% in-person model.

Since then, our faculty and staff have done a remarkable job and we have experienced great success. The work of our professional educators this year simply cannot be overstated.

We continue to maintain a responsibility to minimizing virus spread in our community. Yet we must balance that responsibility with our obligations to overall student wellness, most significantly, their mental and emotional well-being. As a result, on Thursday March 25, Staples High School will reopen for full in-person learning.

Staples High School’s parking lots will be more filled on March 25. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

Contact Tracing and Quarantines 
In reviewing local data, I found that we have contact traced and quarantined over 2,800 students and adults this year. Out of the 2,800+ quarantined, only 6 who were determined to be close contacts (.002%) have tested positive for COVID.

Additionally, to our knowledge, of the 232 students who have tested positive for COVID, there have been zero known cases of “student to adult virus transmission,” and zero known cases of students experiencing serious health complications as a result of infection.

As a result of this data, we engaged the health district to seek support for revisiting the definition of a close contact, and the duration of quarantines.  Currently, close contacts are defined as being within 6 feet of a known positive COVID case for an accumulation of 15 minutes, while quarantines for close contacts are 10 days in length.

Based on our data, we will now begin to define close contacts as those within 3 feet of a known COVID positive case, not 6 feet. Recent literature has pointed to this change in guidance. Considering that our entire population is masked at all times, our local health district and medical advisor support this change as well.  We will continue to monitor our practices and make adjustments as needed.

However, given the trends in data collected by the health district, we will continue to recommend a 10 day quarantine for those determined to be close contacts. Although the CDC allows for a 70day quarantine following a negative test on day 5, the health district shared that there are more than a few cases in the community, not in our schools, in which a close contact tested positive after day 7. A change was made to reduce the length of quarantine in December from 14 days to 10 days. This standard will remain for the foreseeable future.

“Sophie in Quarantine” (Claudia Rossman)

Early Dismissals
In an effort to provide additional time to support our distance learners, and to accommodate our teachers who have taken on additional responsibilities during arrival and dismissal, the Wednesday early dismissals will continue for the foreseeable future.

However, Staples will begin to provide in-person learning on our Wednesday early dismissals beginning on April 21 within the new full in-person model beginning March 25. Our middle schools are working to revisit their schedule following the April break. More information will be forthcoming about any potential changes to the middle school schedule in the near future.

Travel Guidance 
On March 19, 2021, Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 9S regarding travel will change from an executive order to a recommended practice. Under this order, anyone traveling outside of New York, New Jersey or Rhode Island, for a period of time longer than 24 hours, requires a negative COVID test within 72 hours of return to CT, or a 10 day quarantine.

If using the testing option, an individual should remain in self-quarantine until a negative test is obtained. In collaboration with the WWHD and our medical advisor, the district will continue to support this practice. Please contact your school nurse if you have any questions.

Ending the Year with Normalcy
We have placed a high priority on ending the year with as much “normalcy” as possible. Our thinking is that the more normalcy we end the year with, the easier it will be to start the new year with normalcy. As we plan our end-of-year events and the daily operations, we will look to continue to bring a sense of normalcy to our schools.