Westport Mom: We Need Armed Guards At Schools

A Westport mother of middle school students writes:

As I watch the news in tears this morning, I see kids running out of a high school in Florida away from an active shooter. I think about the parents and friends who lost loved ones. So I wonder: Are we doing enough?

As a mom, my main job is to keep my children safe. When I put them on the bus in the morning I’m worried, afraid, just not sure if they are going to a safe place. I know some of these events are not preventable but still I ask the question: Are we doing enough?

I have often thought it’s time we place an armed guard at the entrance to our schools. I’ve wanted to ask this question for years but been afraid to, because I know it sounds drastic. But when is the right time?

(Bramhall/NY Daily News)

These events are tragic, and happening more frequently. So I’m not afraid to ask this question anymore. It’s time to start the discussion. There have been 18 school shootings this year, and we are not even 2 months in. I think drastic response and change is absolutely necessary.

The guard at our middle school is the nicest, sweetest person but he is in no way prepared to protect our kids against a shooter. Nor are the locked doors if it’s a person someone knows. An armed guard gives our children a fighting chance. Aren’t they worth it? We place armed guards at banks, national monuments, train stations. Why not our schools?

Also, what is the protocol if someone is concerned that a student is going to act out? We often hear that the perpetrator was a troublemaker, bullied or depressed. We need a way for kids to express their concern if they fear someone is on the brink of doing something destructive. It needs to be anonymous and easy; otherwise kids won’t do it.

I think the process should start at middle school. Then there should be a plan to address the concern with the parents — mental health counseling, understanding if they have access to weapons, social media observance, etc.

Is there something like this in place, and I don’t know about it? Perhaps at the high school?

I’m tired of watching news stories like this. I’m sure our government will not act to solve this issue, which makes it more important that as a town we take it upon ourselves to do something more — to be a model for others. I don’t know what the answers are, but I can’t just sit back and wait. I’m angry, worried and tired!

Are we doing enough?

Superintendent, 1st Selectman React To Florida Shooting

This morning, Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer sent this message to families of all Westport students:

Yesterday, waves of shock and profound sadness permeated all schools in our country as again we heard about another school shooting. One official reported in the press that this was the 18th school shooting in 2018, and it was one of the most deadliest in terms of loss of life.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the community of Parkland, Florida as it grieves the loss of its loved ones and struggles to come to terms with this horrific event.

Schools are the heart of any community, housing its most vulnerable citizens when in operation. On any given school day, we have 21% of our Westport residents sitting in our classrooms. Ensuring that our schools are safe and secure for our students and staff remains our preeminent goal.  Nothing supersedes keeping your children safe – nothing.

With the level of emotional upset felt in our community by the recent news in Florida, there have been some parent inquiries about our school security. While it would not be appropriate to share details of our overall plans in this communication, it is important to know that our District has comprehensive safety and security plans in place at each of our schools that have been reviewed by our first responders. We work in a strong partnership with all of our first responders, and Chief Koskinas and I regularly communicate, as we did last evening, whenever there are events that can have a ripple impact in our community.

Our District trains staff how to be prepared and to keep our students safe in any event that we may encounter, from a high-impact weather event to an active shooter situation. Every school routinely conducts lock down drills and other emergency drills. Ironically, Staples High school had informed its students earlier this week that in homeroom today the school would be reviewing its lock down procedures for a scheduled drill after the break. The school will continue with its preparation for this drill, but has modified the presentation to be sensitive to recent events.

We will continue to review and reflect upon all of our security measures to remain prepared and to enhance any deterrents to school violence. This past Monday, a team of administrators, District security staff, both our Police Chief and Deputy Chief, and a representative of our Board of Education conducted a site visit to a neighboring school district that employs School Resource Officers. SROs are specially trained police officers assigned to work directly in schools to support school safety. Having a School Resource Officer in our District for 2018-19 has been under review for the past few months, as well as other ongoing initiatives. We are constantly seeking to assess every aspect of our security program. Our safety plans don’t just sit on a shelf, but are discussed, reviewed, and improved on an ongoing basis as we gain new information.

While much of our work on school safety and security is behind the scenes, we never stop seeking to improve our approaches, protocols, and training to support the well-being of our students and staff. In response to parent requests for more information, we will provide a presentation on school security in the upcoming weeks.

Please do not hesitate to contact your student’s school administrator if you have specific questions or concerns related to the safety of our schools.

In addition, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe released this statement:

On behalf of all Westport residents, I would like to offer my heartfelt prayers and condolences to the residents of Parkland, FL. The senseless mass shooting at the Stoneman Douglas High School has devastated dozens of families. It has also vaporized the dreams, hopes, and futures of so many promising teenagers who were lost. All Westporters are terribly saddened and heartbroken over the tragic events.

Unfortunately, gun violence such as this can happen anywhere, as the 2012 Sandy Hook school tragedy constantly reminds us. Parkland, FL has a population size similar to Westport, and was recently named one of Florida’s safest cities.

In Westport, our police department continues to take proactive measures, in coordination with the Westport Public Schools, to protect the safety and security of our students and staff.  Our police officers and school staff regularly receive training to prepare for, and respond to, similar crises.

But that is not enough. Congress must pass legislation that protects our youth and all citizens with reasonable and common sense gun regulations consistent with Second Amendment rights. There is absolutely no excuse for our national leaders to ignore this problem again.

 

100 Years After The “Great War,” Remembering Great Artists Who Served

The page has turned on this year’s WestportREADS.  

This year’s program — in which the entire town is encouraged to read the same book, then participate in discussions, lectures, videos and more — focused on “Regeneration.” Pat Barker’s historical fiction features a British officer who refuses to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.

The novel inspired Kathie Motes Bennewitz to do some digging.

The town arts curator knew that when “The Great War” began, Westport was already a thriving arts colony. 

What, she wondered, was the connection between local artists and World War I? Kathie writes:

Over 220 Westport men fought in the US armed forces. Many were “doughboys,” a nickname given to soldiers in the American Expeditionary Forces.

We know from wartime draft records the names of many artists who lived here in 1917, as every man ages 18-45 was required to register. Among the residents were Karl Anderson, Edmund M. Ashe, E. F. Boyd, Robert Leftwitch Dogde, Arthur Dove, Ernest Fuhr, Ossip Linde, Lawrence Mazzanovich, Henry Raleigh, Clive Weed and George Hand Wright.

While Ashe, Mazzanovich and Dodge registered as national guardsmen with the Connecticut Militia, many others were too old to do so. So they used their talents to serve the home front in other ways.

Editorial cartoonist Clive Weed, a summer resident since 1910, made spirited illustrations on wartime events, like this one: “He Might Be YOUR Boy,” for the Philadelphia Public Ledger.

George Hand Wright drew similar illustrations.

Other Westporters — including Ashe, Boyd, Fuhr, Raleigh and Wright — created graphic posters to recruit servicemen and nurses, or urge citizens to purchase Liberty Bonds to finance the war. One example is Ashe’s “Lend the Way They Fight” (below), which shows an American infantryman hurling a hand grenade at German soldiers in a trench on the western front of France.

Hundreds of posters like this were made, raising $21.5 billion for the war effort. Here’s one from Raleigh:

In August 1918 — only months before the war ended — Anderson joined creative and patriotic forces with his Westport neighbors Mazzanovich and Linde to paint a billboard advertising war stamps, in downtown Bridgeport. The trio were filmed in action by the government for a newsreel, which was shown in movie houses nationwide.

When the war ended, younger artists flocked to Westport.

Kerr Eby, James Daugherty, and Ralph Boyer and his future wife Rebecca A. Hunt had each served as camoufleurs. They painted camouflage — a novel and demanding job.

Eby — assigned to the Camouflage Division of the US. Army 40th Engineers, Artillery Brigade in France — had it the hardest. Working on the front, he produced camouflage for artillery and troops. He also made drawings of the horrific images he witnessed on the battlefield.

Boyer and his art school friend Daugherty were both assigned to Baltimore for another important job: to execute “dazzle” painting designed to protect Navy vessels from enemy site and fire.

This new art involved painting abstract murals on ships that would soon be loaded with troops and ammunition. Swinging from a bosun’s seat, the artist la­id the design on the side. A gang of painters followed rapidly behind, cutting in the geometric pattern with precision.

USS Leviathan in “dazzle” camouflage, 1918.

“The result was supposed to confuse and befuddle the German submarine gunner,” Daughtery said. “It could hardly do less.”

Of course, Westport’s most enduring legacy of World War I is the Doughboy statue at Veterans Green, across from Town Hall. Bennewitz explains:

Sculptor J. Clinton Shepherd was another wartime camoufleur. He served in the Illinois National Reserve and Air Corps. When he moved to Westport in 1925, the town had voted to erect a monument to honor its soldiers and nurses, who had returned from the front, and memorialize the 7 who had died.

In 1928 Shepherd received the commission. He sensitively rendered a life-sized soldier “with a pensive expression to memorialize the personal side of that ‘war to end all wars.'”

Dedication of the Doughboy statue in 1930. It was located on the grass median dividing the Post Road, between what is now Torno Lumber and the former Bertucci’s restaurant. This view looks east. The statue was moved in the 1980s to its current location opposite Town Hall (below).

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

Pic Of The Day #303

It doesn’t get more classic than this (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Rare Tesla 3 Purrs Into Town

Word on the street is that Westport has more Teslas than any other town in the state.

But only one is a Tesla 3.

That’s the new affordable electric sports sedan. After state and federal incentives, the Model 3 starts at $25,000, according to a press release from the Westport Green Task Force. (A Westporter who works for Tesla says the cost is actually $35,000 to $40,000.)

Over 180,000 people pre-ordered the car within 24 hours of its announcement last July.

Production is sluggish though. So far, only 2,500 have come off the line.

But Westporter Bruce Becker — an architect and member of the Westport Electric Car Club — took delivery of his on Monday. He says it’s one of only 3 Tesla 3s in Connecticut.

Becker brought his vehicle to Staples High School this afternoon. It was part of a “high tech show-and-tell” for interested students.

First Selectman Jim Marpe checks out Bruce Becker’s Tesla 3.

The event took place at Staples’ charging stations, outside the fieldhouse.

Becker calls Westport “a leader in the transition to electric vehicles — an important driver for environmental, public health and economic reasons.” He says that besides the highest per capita number of Teslas, our town also leads in per capita registration of all kinds of electric vehicles.

First Selectman Jim Marpe lent his support. Noting Westporters’ long support of sustainable solutions, he said, “The town is proud to support EV ownership through its network of public EV charging stations.”

Besides Staples, there are chargers at the library, Town Hall, train stations, and in a few commercial and private residential areas.

Electric vehicles lined up near Staples’ charging stations today (from left): Chevy Bolt, Tesla S, Volkswagen, Tesla X, Nissan Leaf,

Unsung Hero #35

Happy Valentine’s Day!

There’s a lot to love in Westport. At the top of anyone’s list should be Le Rouge by Aarti.

Aarti Khosla — owner of the luscious handmade chocolate shop on Main Street — is always looking for ways to give back to the community. Last year she raised nearly $10,000 for hurricane relief, children’s cancer research and various charities.

This year, she’s reprising her “Give a Little Love” chocolate heart campaign.

The idea is simple: Buy a selected item, and 10% of the proceeds go to a different charity — every month throughout the year.

“Give a Little Love” with these chocolates.

Included are one-of-a-kind hand-painted chocolate portraits, champagne truffles (for her), bourbon and ale truffles (for him), hand-painted heart puzzles, moulded chocolate purses and cars, open truffle flowers, preserved rose truffles and ganache cake — and anything for sale in Le Rouge’s red heart box.

There’s a lot to love about Aarti.

On Valentine’s Day, and every other one.

(Le Rouge by Aarti is at 190 Main Street, beneath the former Sally’s Place.)

Aarti Khosla, in her red-and-black-themed chocolate shop.

Scott Smith Discovers Westport’s Hidden Gems

Scott Smith is an alert “06880” reader, a longtime Westporter and an ardent outdoorsman. He writes:

If you ask Westporters to comment on our community’s natural charms, chances are most would cite the dazzling string of beaches and coastal places: Compo Beach, Sherwood Mill Pond, Gray’s Creek and Burying Hill. If pressed, they might claims Sherwood Island too.

Others would tout the Saugatuck River, from the fly fishing shallows along Ford Road to the impoundment of Lees Pond, and the tidal stretch through town leading to the mouth at Longshore and Cedar Point. Cockenoe Island gets a shout-out, too, especially from those with the nautical means to visit it.

Fishing off Ford Road (Photo/Richard Wiese)

But plenty of other places across Westport beguile with bucolic beauty. Many of these underappreciated open spaces are in the midst of a welcome renaissance, sparked by renovation efforts from those who love and tend them.

I’m talking about the town parks, preserves, land trusts and wildlife sanctuaries that constitute our remaining inland open spaces. Over the past year or two, I’ve visited quite a few. I always come away thinking how fortunate we are to be able to trod upon them.

“06880” has covered these developments over time, noting singular efforts and improvements. But if you step back and tally them all up, it’s quite an impressive list, covering virtually every part of town.

Over in Old Hill there’s the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum. I toured it a couple of seasons ago with its caretakers, including Lou Mall and tree warden Bruce Lindsay. They’re spearheading its transformation from an untended patch of blow-downs and invasive vines to a fetching enhancement to the adjacent Earthplace facility.

Dead creepers line a Wadswworth Arboretum trail.

Coleytown has the Newman Poses Preserve, which affords a wonderful walk through meadows along the Saugatuck stream and through upland woods. Having the memory of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and their family as you traipse along is a nice bonus. Their neighbors — and the Aspetuck Land Trust — get credit for giving us that open space.

Right near downtown there’s the blossoming of long-neglected Baron’s South, another town-led reclamation project with even brighter prospects in store as a nature-driven arts campus.

A path in Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

And just down Compo, off Greenacre Road, is the hidden gem of the Haskins Preserve, my longtime favorite place for a weekend stroll.

Haskins Preserve’s dogwoods and daffodils — a lovely combination.

I have “06680” to thank for cluing me in to my newest place to take a hike: the Smith Richardson Preserve in Greens Farms. I’ve long known about the 2 parcels north of I-95. The Christmas tree farm off Sasco Creek Road is where I chop down a tree every year. I consider it in part my annual donation to the Connecticut Audubon Society, which manages the farm and the open space across the road.

But I had no idea of the separate property just across 95, a 36-acre parcel stretching from Sasco Creek all the way to the playing fields behind Greens Farms Academy off Beachside Avenue.

I walked it the other day, taking advantage of frozen ground to course through fields that are in the midst of being cleared of smothering vines and other invasive species.

It’s an impressive project, even if the space is hard by the highway and Metro-North rails. Hemmed in by neighboring houses big and small, and what looks to be a refuse depot managed by the railroad or state, the area has the look of a pocket-size Central Park in the making, with Olmstedian trails that wind through woods, and alongside meadows and ponds. I can’t wait to see how the property develops, with its ambitious new plantings and clearings, and whether the caretaking crews can keep the tick-haven invasives at bay.

Smith Richardson Preserve (Photo/Scott Smith)

These public/private corners of our community are all discovered places, at least for me. When I visit them, either with my dog or solo, I’m often the only one around. I like the solitude, and question why I’d even want to spread the word about them. Parking is often a pinch, and I’m not even sure about the proper access to the new Smith Richardson preserve behind GFA’s sprawling athletic fields.

But these largely hidden local natural spaces deserve recognition, and our support for the groups that manage them — the town, Aspetuck Land Trust, and the Connecticut Audubon Society — whether by check or volunteer hand.

Separately and together, they all make Westport a wonderful place to live and to explore.

Pic Of The Day #302

The river on Lyons Plains, in Sunday’s rain. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

New Name For Westport Country Playhouse

The Westport Country Playhouse — which already includes the Lucille Lortel White Barn Center, and the Sheffer studio space — is adding another name to its property.

In fact, the entire campus will now be called The Howard J. Aibel Theater Center at Westport Country Playhouse.

The change recognizes a $3 million gift from the local resident, and current vice chair of the board of trustees.

Howard Aibel

“I have found live theater to be life transformative,” Aibel — a retired attorney, who formerly served as chief legal officer of ITT Corporation — says.

“Being a supporter of the Westport Country Playhouse has been a rich and grand experience.”

Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos says, “This is not only financial sustenance. It is spiritual sustainability. His belief now enables us to create the highest level of work.”

Of Aibel’s grant, $500,000 is designated for current operations, and $500,000 for working capital reserve. A bequest of $2 million to establish an endowment is held in an irrevocable trust.

Aibel retired as a partner of Dewey & LeBoeuf, where he focused on international dispute resolution. He served as president of the Harvard Law School Association of New York, and chair of the American Arbitration Association. He is also chair emeritus of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/NY.

I’m not sure how many people will actually refer to the Playhouse as the Howard Aibel Theatre Center.

But there will be a nice sign on the 87-year-old iconic red building to remind everyone that while the arts are important to Westport’s heritage, they need the financial support of people like Aibel, who have the means — and desire — to help keep them alive.

Artist’s rendering of the new sign above the Westport Country Playhouse entrance.

Julia Marino: She’s Always Done It Her Way

Westport is justly proud of Julia Marino. Now — thanks to NBC Sports — the rest of the country knows why.

The network has given a shout-out to the Olympic snowboarder — and her family — in a widely viewed video.

She was interviewed, along with her parents John and Elaine, and sister Cece. Though her hometown was never mentioned, NBC showed clips of her riding her bike, trampolining, and at the beach.

The theme of the video was that Julia’s parents gave her a chance to take risks, dare and dream — in a “relatively safe environment.” For example, she was allowed to ride her scooter in the house (though other parents could not believe that was okay).

“She’s always done it her way,” Elaine says.

This weekend, Julia fell on her first slopestyle run. She was not alone: 41 of 50 athletes did the same. A controversy ensued over the wisdom of allowing the event to be held in high winds.

She finished 6th overall.

Next up: the big air event, next Sunday.

(Click here to see the full NBC Sports video. Hat tip: Kathie Bennewitz)