Tag Archives: Coleytown Middle School

Taking Pride In Westport Schools

When Kayla Iannetta was in high school, questioning her sexuality, she had no resources. Lacking clubs or helpful adults, she was on her own.

Now a Staples High science teacher, she quickly signed on as an advisor for the school’s LGBTQ and allies group. (It began in 1993, as the Gay Straight Alliance — the first such organization at any Connecticut public high school. I was a proud co-founder. The name was then changed to the Gender Sexuality Alliance. It’s now called the Staples Pride Coalition.)

Iannetta loved Staples’ “welcoming and open community.” But the small group of Pride Coalition students felt they were not taken seriously by everyone.

She vowed to help. With her co-advisor, math teacher Nicole Giuliani, they’ve expanded the group’s reach. Members have given presentations to health classes, created a newsletter, helped plan Westport Pride’s townwide celebration in June, and served on a panel for the Unitarian Church’s 8th grade Our Whole Lives program.

Staples Pride Coalition members and supporters, at last June’s high school Pride celebration.

All were enthusiastically received. And all have convinced the members that what they’re doing fills an enormous need.

They’re forging ahead with a Gender Identity 101 presentation for Westport Toether, programming at Toquet Hall (movies, a scavenger hunt, a drag show), and a Google Form for students, staff or parents to ask questions.

As the Pride Coalition members talked, Iannetta realized that LGBTQ issues are not limited to high school. Middle school is where they first had questions, they said. Students needed resources there too.

Why not have a District Pride group? she wondered.

Westport Public Schools’ Pride Coalition logo.

Bedford Middle School principal Adam Rosen and Coleytown counterpart Kris Szabo were eager to help. Iannetta found staff members to help: Cassie Carroll and Christie Cardinale at BMS, Jennifer Peppe at CMS. Both groups are now thriving.

The middle school groups — called Bedford Pride Coalition and Coleytown Pride Coalition — are thriving too.

“The most important thing is education,” Iannetta says. “These kids are excited to be part of a change. They want to make Staples a better place, and middle schools better places for LGBTQ+ students coming up in the district.”

Iannetta is energized by support from administrators — everyone from superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice, Staples principal Stafford Thomas and vice principal Chase Dunlap, on down — and from teachers who ask questions about pronouns and seek inclusive curriculum ideas.

She and Sarah Magilnick — another Staples staff member on the school’s team of 4 working on LGBTQ+ school resources — are creating resource pamphlets, for questioning students and allies.

Yet as excited as she is about the new direction of Staples Pride Coalition, and the creation of the 2 middle school groups — all 3 are known collectively as Westport Public Schools Pride Coalition — she knows there is plenty of work to be done.

Even at the high school, some members feel the need to be anonymous. They’ve been rejected at home, or fear they will be.

But — like their advisors — they’re undaunted. “That just makes them want to do this work more,” Iannetta says with pride. “They want to reach younger students. And, maybe, their own parents too.”

CMS Giving Assembly: Important Tradition Continues

If it’s November, it must be time for the Giving Assembly.

For several decades, Coleytown Middle School celebrated Thanksgiving with a month-long, school-wide project. Each grade selected one or two organizations or non-profits. Students and parents collected goods or raise money.

Then — on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving — the school gathered together for a Giving Assembly. Recipients described how they’ll use the donations. There was music too, and plenty of good vibes.

The closure of CMS for renovation, and then the pandemic’s prohibition of visitors, put the great tradition on hold.

Thankfully, it’s back.

Newly renovated, Coleytown Middle School returns to an old tradition.

As the school rebuilds a sense of community after a few tumultuous years, enthusiasm for the program is high.

Eighth graders overwhelmingly chose Al’s Angels — the Westport-based charity helping children with serious illnesses — as this year’s recipients. The 2 pods have a “coin war,” to see which collects the most.

Patty Haberstroh

Seventh and 6th graders are raising funds for Westport’s Department of Human Services, and the ALS Therapy Development Institute. They selected both groups to honor Patty Haberstroh, Westport Human Services’ longtime youth director who is battling ALS. For 20 years, she was an instrumental part of Coleytown’s Giving Assembly.

Sixth graders are also collecting donations for Homes with Hope. Executive director Helen McAlinden kicked off the campaign by visiting all 8 classrooms. She described her organization’s efforts to combat homelessness and food insecurity, and inspired the young fundraisers.

PTA volunteers have already delivered some items to the Gillespie Center.

“All year long, we talk about the importance of giving back,” says 6th grade language arts teacher Emily Diggs. “We do a lot of lessons about ‘being your best self.’ This is one more way to do that.”

A large “thermometer” in the hall between the 2 6th grade pods — the Orcas and the Dolphins — is updated every day. Students watch the two groups fight for the top spot.

Last week, the Dolphins held a slim lead.

But, as several wise children told Diggs, “It doesn’t matter who wins. It’s all about giving back.”

Students love to hear stories about their impact at the annual Giving Assembly. COVID means that this year’s version will be virtual — streamed live on Coleytown TV.

That’s a small price to pay, for the return of an important tradition.

CMS — and the Giving Assembly — are both back!

Message To District 3 & 8 Voters: Your Polling Place Is CMS!

Lisa Newman is a very alert “06880” reader. When she clicked on the link shared earlier from the Secretary of the State — the one where you can look up your polling location — she realized it was wrong.

Districts 3 and 8 do not vote at Coleytown Elementary School, which is what the state website says. They’re at Coleytown Middle School — via the bus loop entrance. That’s the first one on the left on North Avenue, heading toward the school — not the main entrance, near the CMS sign.

If you are not in RTM districts 3 and 8, use this link to find out where you vote.

In this drone shot taken during Coleytown Middle School renovations, the bus loop entrance is at the bottom of the photo. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Chiang with his “Land Scripts XIII.”

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

“Water Scripts I” — oil on canvas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chiang explains:

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

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

“Westport: A Perspective From Early Days”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CMS CO

It’s been nearly 3 months since Coleytown Middle School reopened.

The “new” school has earned rave reviews. Bright! Modern! No mold!

Of course, a few tweaks continued after students and staff returned. Don O’Day — the mastermind as chair of the project — reports that the town issued its final Certificate of Occupancy last week.

Welcome to Coleytown!

During spring break, the grounds will be thoroughly raked, top soil will be added and seeding will begin.

The missing “Coleytown Middle School” signs on the roof, in front of the building and the bus loop have been redesigned. They’ll be up hopefully by May.

The gray cement columns in the front will be painted.

And because the new HVAC is both a heating and air conditioning system, there’s no need to wait for an arbitrary date to switch over to AC (as is the case in other schools). Whenever the weather warms up, the classrooms will be cool.

Just like the entire school — finally — is.

Don O’Day in the bright new cafeteria. (Photos/Dan Woog)

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

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

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

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

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

The exterior of the “new” Coleytown Middle School.

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

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

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

A new seal graces the entryway,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The library has been modernized too.

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

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

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

A world language classroom is ready for students.

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

Of course, a few details remain.

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

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

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

It’s “cafeteria,” not “cafteria.”

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

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

Unsung Hero #171

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.

Don O’Day

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 dwoog@optonline.net)

Friday Flashback #208

The big day is Tuesday. Nearly 6 months after closing — and a week after the original date — students return to Westport schools.

Many things will be different. They’ll attend in shifts: half in classrooms, half studying remotely. Desks will be 6 feet apart. Some hallways will be one-way. And those are just a few of the changes COVID has wrought.

Some youngsters have not even driven past their schools in half a year. To remind them of what they look like, here is a special “Friday Flashback” drone gallery. All images are courtesy of multi-talented and spectacular Staples High School senior Brandon Malin. (Click on or hover over any photo to enlarge.)

To start off, here’s the school he’s headed back to:

Bedford Middle School

Coleytown Middle School (construction project)

Coleytown Elementary School 

Greens Farms Elementary School

Kings HIghway Elementary School

Long Lots Elementary School

Saugatuck Elementary School

Bonus feature: Greens Farms Academy (All drone photos/Brandon Malin)

Unsung Heroes #137

Alert “06880” reader Amy Herrera writes:

My family and I moved to the area a little over a year ago. We came to town after Coleytown had merged into Bedford.

The town was in a bit of an uproar. Some of our first interactions with neighbors were invitations to sign petitions or accompany them to meetings to speak out against the combined schools.

We respectfully declined the invitations. We were grateful the town had a facility that could absorb the Coleytown students, and honestly, our 7th grader was having an amazingly seamless transition despite the crowded hallways.

Although we were sensitive to other people’s concerns, in the grand scheme of things we really didn’t feel like we had anything to complain about.

Since then, our children’s experiences in the Westport schools have continued to be positive, but the angst swirling around education has certainly not subsided. Between redistricting/split feeder scenarios. budget cuts and the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of Coleytown, residents have not been at a loss for things to complain about.

In the midst of all of it I have witnessed something kind of remarkable.

Rehearsing for “Matilda the Musical.”

My middle son, now in 8th grade, has become very involved in the theater program at Bedford. This year, rather than keeping the 2 school populations separate, they combined all of the resources and created a single student body.

This has been a tremendous benefit to the arts, in my opinion. I think of the combined theater program at Bedford as the “something beautiful” that grew out of the chaos of the past year and a half.

The program that resulted from the collaborative efforts of the Coleytown and Bedford educators is worth talking about. Instead of being overwhelmed by the combined population, they took it as an opportunity to further develop their programs and provide an even more enriching theater arts experience.

They created a tech program that is thriving and enabling students to become skilled in all aspects of production, while supporting an ambitious year of performances across the 3 grades. They even created student directing experiences for 8th graders in support of the 6th grade spring production.

Learning the tools of the theater trade.

The Bedford Theater Company, which is co-led this year by Karen McCormick and Ben Frimmer, with help from Alicia D’Anna, is currently rehearsing for Roald Dahl’s “Matilda the Musical.” There will be 4 performances the weekend of March 27.

Mr. Frimmer assembled an all-star production team of working professionals to help him bring this quirky piece of literature to life. Matilda is the only offering this year that included all 3 grades. If Coleytown reopens on schedule it will be the only time this ever happens.

“Matilda” creates an opportunity to highlight what is possible when a community comes together and makes the most of a situation. The students. educators and professionals have taken this tumultuous moment in Westport’s time and turned it into something to celebrate.

“Matilda the Musical” will be performed at Bedford Middle School the weekend of March 27. (Photos/January Stewart)

“Matilda” is a great example of how the Coleytown crisis actually served to enrich the middle school student experience in Westport. It is fitting that one of the overarching themes of “Matilda” is the idea of standing up in the face of adversity.

Thanks, Amy. You nailed it. This week’s Unsung Heroes are everyone who makes this production of “Matilda the Musical” possible. Click here for tickets and more information. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. 

Pic Of The Day #1024

Coleytown Middle School renovation (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)