Connecticut has taken a national lead in empowering youth voices.
Now Staples has taken a lead in making it happen.
This morning, the high school welcomed Governor Ned Lamont, Congressman Jim Himes and State Senator Will Haskell. They, and 2 members of the state Department of Education, outlined a new $1.5 million program — part of the national American Rescue Plan — that allocates $20,000 to 85 schools. Current students propose ideas for their building, then vote on which one to implement.
Then the adults sat back and listened, to a dozen student ideas.
Westport Schools Superintendent Thomas Scarice (far right) greets Governor Ned Lamont. Also at the event (from left): Congressman Jim Himes, State Senator Will Haskell and Staples High School principal Stafford Thomas.
Himes noted that while the federal government works “at scale” — allocating $6 trillion in COVID relief — it can’t understand the needs of individual communities. That’s where the “Voice4Change” program comes in.
It was an intriguing morning. Lamont, Himes and Haskell addressed the Staples students as intelligent, involved people. They did not talk down or pander; they did not try to score political points, often pointing out the bipartisan nature of COVID relief funds. They listened and took notes.
Lamont did give props to Connecticut as “an entrepreneur factory.” Why, he wondered, can’t some entrepreneurial ideas come from students?
“I’m all ears,” he said.
Governor Lamont at the podium.
Among the ideas: strengthened school security, including ID cards for student access to the building, and metal detectors; installing solar panels in the parking lot, as at Fairfield Warde High; and enhanced ties between Staples and neighboring, less affluent school districts.
Proposals are due to the state Department of Education by January 9. Each school will have its own ballot, for voting on March 11.
First Selectwoman Jen Tooker offered to mentor students who have ideas. Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice challenged them to find sources to match the $20,000.
Staples High School students listen to ideas for Voice4Change.
Lamont had to leave for another engagement. But Himes, Haskell, the state Education reps, and town officials stuck around to chat.
It was a tossup who was more inspired: the students, or them.
Staples High School senior Natalie Bandura is the high school representative on the state Board of Education. She spoke to fellow students about the Voice4Change initiative. (Photos/Dan Woog)
The borders of State Representative Jonathan Steinberg’s 136th District have shifted slightly, though it still includes only Westport. He’s lost some area in the western part of town, and gained some voters in the east — all the way to the Fairfield town line.
State Representative Stephanie Thomas’ Norwalk-based 143rd District has changed significantly. She gained some additional voters in Westport and a large number of new voters in Norwalk. They replace Wilton, which has become an entirely new district.
(For more in-depth information on redistricting, click here, here, here and here. Hat tip: Peter Gold
US Squash has honored 13 Staples High School squash team members as Scholar-Athletes. They earned a GPA of 3.5 or higher last year, while competing for the Wreckers.
Congratulations to Zachary Allen, Anna Diorio, Nicky Fabian, Sophie Fridland, Brian Fullenbaum, Joshua Jordan, Tucker Peters, Lorenzo Rinaldi, Ryan Salik, Ben Saxon, Rebecca Schussheim, Eli Shorrock and Lilly Weisz,
Avery Place and Myrtle Avenue are shut. Downed wires and trees litter both important roads. Town Hall itself is closed.
But Governor Ned Lamont, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and Senator Richard Blumenthal got there an hour ago. (“I had a police escort,” the governor joked.)
Joined by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and 3 state legislators, the bipartisan group met first with Fire Chief Robert Yost, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and other officials behind Town Hall, then faced the press and a few Westport residents by the front steps.
In both places, they slammed Eversource’s actions before, during and after the storm.
Or, as more than one said, Eversource’s “lack of action.”
Clockwise from left: Senator Richard Blumenthal, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, Fire Chief Robert Yost, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, Governor Ned Lamont and State Representative Gail Lavielle. (Photo/ Brendan Byrne)
Standing next to the absentee ballot box in the back parking lot, Marpe told the governor and senator that he had taken Congressman Jim Himes on a tour of Westport this morning.
There were plenty of places they could not reach, Marpe said. “Lives are at risk. And Eversource should be in touch with local leaders, so we know what’s going on.”
Blumenthal noted, “Eversource bet the storm would pass us by. They lost the bet. And we’re paying for it.”
Press and Westport citizens surround the governor, senator and other officials. (Photo/Kyle Ehrlich)
A few minutes later, facing a battery of microphones from news outlets around Connecticut, Marpe called the fact that 85% of Westporters still lack power “unacceptable.”
He added, “We need help right away. Our Public Works, first responders and Town Hall staff are working full time to get the town back in shape. AT&T and Verizon are here.
“But hundreds of roads are inaccessible. Lives are at risk. Eversource’s response is totally inadequate. I can’t tell you if 10 trucks are here, or 2, or 200. I have no idea of any time estimates.”
Lamont, speaking next, cited the COVID pandemic. “We hope for the best but plan for the worst. That’s not what the utilities have done.
“Eversource should have been pre-positioned. We’ll hold their feet to the fire later. We will have a tough post-mortem. But right now the house is on fire, and we need (the equivalent of) the fire department. That’s our first priority.”
Governor Lamont speaks at Town Hall. (Photo/January Stewart)
Lamont was “surprised” to get a call from the White House last night. “FEMA will reimburse us 100%,” he said. “But that’s small potatoes compared to the action that’s needed right now.”
Blumenthal noted, “I’ve never seen Connecticut more angry, and rightfully so. No electricity and no internet are matters of life and death.
“There can be no more teasing, no more delays, no more rate increases. Eversource’s CEO is well compensated.” (Bysiewicz said he earns $19.8 million a year.) “But he won’t even come out and meet the press.”
State Senator Tony Hwang and State Representative Gail Lavielle echoed the criticism of the utility.
State Representative Jonathan Steinberg added, “This storm hit Westport like a freight train — and it sounded like one. People say that Eversource’s response is unacceptable. Well, the word ‘unacceptable’ is unacceptable.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe at Town Hall. (Photo/Calvin Carson)
On Wednesday, Governor Ned Lamont spoke to the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, by Zoom. He discussed a variety of topics, including (of course) business concerns, and took questions from listeneres. Click below to see his talk.
Parks and Recreation director Jen Fava says: “Based upon changes in the governor’s restrictions on gathering size and the Phase 2 reopening guidelines, athletic fields are now open to the general public unless a permit has been issued by the Parks and Recreation department.
“The department is working closely with local organizations like Westport Little League, Staples High School athletics, Continuing Education and others to ensure they have the proper protocols and self-certification in place to meet state requirements before permits are issued. This process is taking place for leagues as well as for other groups that utilize our facilities to run various clinics and summer programs.”
All valid permits supersede general public use. Gathering size is limited to 100. PJ Romano (Saugatuck Elementary School) and Jinny Parker (Staples field hockey) fields remain closed for the summer due to construction.
Starting yesterday, the Longshore golf ldriving range and practice putting area are open as well. Driving range balls will be available at the ball machine only ($6 per basket). The machine accepts only $1 and $5 bills; exact change is required.
Starting Tuesday (June 23), an additional half hour of tee times will be available Mondays through Thursdays, starting at 7:30 a.m.
NOTE: Social distancing and face covering rules must be followed at all Westport Parks and Recreation facilities.
The Wakeman athletic fields are among those that have reopened.
Dr. Tiffany Renee Jackson has an amazing story. She grew up in a tough New Haven neighborhood, developed her singing gift in church, walked to lessons at Yale, and is now an international opera star.
She has many ties to Westport. She has sung at the Unitarian Church, taught at Greens Farms Academy, spoken at the Arts Advisory Council’s “Tea Talk,” and been part of Beechwood’s Immersive Arts Salon.
Dr. Jackson has developed an inspiring one-woman show: “From The Hood To The Ivy League (and Back).” Tonight (Friday, June 19, 7 to 9 p.m.) — in honor of Juneteenth — she sings and performs that show, as part of Beechwood’s Amplify Festival. Click here for tonight’s Facebook Live stream.
Dr. Tiffany Renee Jackson
With the Westport Library and Levitt Pavilion closed, it may be a while since you’ve been to the Riverwalk.
But the next time you’re at that beautiful, calm-in-the-midst-of-downtown spot, check out the Storybook Project.
Created by Anne Ferguson, with thanks to the library and Westport Parks & Recreation, it’s a series of 30 or so charmingly illustrated pages from Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving.”
Spaced appropriately more than 6 feet apart, the installation runs the length of the Riverwalk and garden. The pages recount the friendship and conversation between a small boy and a tree. Both lonely, they share their innermost thoughts.
The pages are attached to sticks in the ground, and the intervals encourage visitors onward to read each page as they walk. The black and white sketches are beautiful, and begin below the steps at the back of the library. (Hat tip: Jill Amadio)
This week’s #FridayFlowers can be found on the steps of Christ & Holy Trinity Church.
The beautiful arrangement was created by Dottie Fincher and Janet Wolgast, longtime Westport Garden Club members.
For months, the few people parking at or passing through the railroad station eastbound parking lot have seen a red Ford Escort, plunked in the middle of the lot. It never moved.
Folks were worried. What happened to the owner? Was he okay? A month ago, “06880” ran a photo.
Now, Wendy Cusick reports, the car is gone. Which brings up more questions: Did the owner finally return? Was it towed? Again: What about the driver?
If anyone knows, click “Comments” below.
(Photo/Caroly Van Duyn)
Just published: About that Wine I Gave You: Dreams of Love, Life and Death in the Vineyard. The novel — about winemaking in San Diego, with themes of friendship, survival, love, aging, immigration, theology and racism — is the debut work of Craig Justice.
A 1977 graduate of Staples High School, he’s had a varied career. After Duke he interned with NATO; learned to speak French, German, Russian and Japanese; wrote for the International Herald Tribune; earned an MBA, and embarked on a career in the projector industry.
He and his wife began making wine in their California garage in 2004. They now have 1,000 vines.
Growing up here, Justice worked at Chez Pierre restaurant. The staff came from around the world, giving him an open-minded world view that he retains today.
Whenever he’s back east he heads to Westport. He walks on the beach, then heads to a coffee shop or library to write (when that’s allowed).
For more information — including how to order Justice’s book — click here.
And finally … as Westport opens up, this seems like the perfect up-tempo tune. The next time you go inside for some java, think of Al Hirt.
Phase 2 of Connecticut’s reopening begins next Wednesday (June 17). It’s a big day for Governor Ned Lamont. And at 9 a.m., he shares it with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.
He’s the special guest and speaker for their virtual “Morning Network” meeting. The event is free — and open to all.
Lamont will give an update on the pandemic, discuss the next phase in reopening, offer his views on the future, and answer questions. They may be submitted ahead of time by email, or through the chat function during the event.
Also virtual — and also featuring big names — is the Westport Library’s next Trefz Newsmakers series.
CBS News justice and homeland security correspondent (and 1988 Staples High School graduate) Jeff Pegues interviews billionaire businessman, hedge fund manager, major Democratic Party donor, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner (and Westport resident) Marc Lasry.
They’ll talk about Lasry’s career, how he gives back, his advice for entrepreneurs, and COVID-19’s effect on business and the sports world.
Driving around Westport and Weston, Aarti Khosla has been touched by the many yard signs and balloons congratulating high school and middle school graduates. She’s been impressed by the banners on Main Street, not far from Le Rouge — her “aartisan” chocolate shop.
But as she thought about all that’s going on America today, she was inspired to act on the words that she fervently believes in: “Spread love.” And what better place to spread love than nearby Bridgeport?
She called the superintendent of schools, and offered to celebrate their graduates with “Give a Little Love” hearts. Here’s her message to “06880” readers:
“Next week, 1115 Bridgeport students will graduate from high school. This is an enormous accomplishment. We recognize the obstacles they overcame to achieve success.
“Le Rouge asks for your support in celebrating these graduates. We will make chocolate hearts to celebrate every Bridgeport high school senior. If each Westport graduating senior — or a relative or friend, or perfect stranger — agrees to celebrate 3 Bridgeport students with a $25 sponsorship, we can give our love to the entire community via chocolate hearts.
“We have until next Monday to make this a reality. Click here to help.”
Aarti Khosla’s wonderful chocolates
Some youngsters returned to their elementary schools for the first time since March today. It was also their last time at “their” school.
“Moving up” car parades were held for 5th graders around town. This was the scene captured by Kings Highway Elementary School parent Tricia Lau-Lewis.
All 5 kids went to KHS. The youngest will be in 5th grade there next year.
Meanwhile, after the Saugatuck El parade, Carolyn Doan’s family headed to Sunny Daes. They met some Greens Farms Elementary folks there (below).
MoCA Westport shut down in mid-March. But their beautiful Steinway grand piano did not sit idle.
As part of their pandemic programming, they invited accomplished local pianists to perform. They filmed them, and shared the virtual concerts free on their YouTube page.
Pianists are invited to play music of their choice. Some — like Chris Coogan — are inspired by MoCA’s current Helmut Lang exhibition. He wrote and performed an original piece.
This week’s performance features two Staples students. Patrick Looby and Lucas Lieberman are rising seniors. They played together in November, at Carnegie Hall.
For MoCA they play Aram Khachaturian’s lively waltz “Masquerade.” Enjoy!
More music news! Drew Angus — the 2007 Staples High School grad profiled recently on “06880” as an example of a gig worker navigating his way through the coronavirus crisis — performs via Zoom this Friday (June 12, 12 noon).
It’s a Westport Senior Center production — but it’s open to everyone who wants to hear the work of this talented young singer/songwriter.
Click here for the Zoom link (meeting ID: 883 1489 6846; password: 2DHJSV). It’s also available on Facebook (click here, or search for Toquet Hall).
Here’s a sight you don’t see every day: Yesterday, a helicopter apparently headed for a landing at Old Mill Beach or Sherwood Island State Park.
If you know the back story, click “Comment” below.
And finally … this is a poignant song at any time. Particularly at graduation. And really particularly this year.
Here’s to the Class of 2020. You haven’t seen each other for a while. But you’ve come a long way from where you began. I hope you see each other for a long time, soon.
It’s a good bet that Westporters know the new chair of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation’s board of directors.
The other day, Governor Ned Lamont named Rob Simmelkjaer to fill the vacant position.
A former member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Democratic Town Committee, he was 1st selectman candidate Melissa Kane’s running mate 3 years ago.
He’s now founder and CEO of Persona Media, the interview and conversation-focused social media startup.
His face is also familiar to many beyond Westport. Simmelkjaer was an on-air contributor for NBC Sports, where he also served as vice president of NBC Sports Ventures. He previously worked at ESPN and ABC News.
So how does that prepare the Dartmouth College and Harvard University Law School graduate to head up the Connecticut Lottery, which since it began in 1972 has contributed more than $10 billion to the state’s general fund?
Simmelkjaer says that at NBC, he learned about the impact of sports betting — and the effect of all legal gaming on state economies. He spent time with CT Lottery CEO Greg Smith, and learned about its opportunities and challenges.
Lotteries are well established in every segment of American society, the new chair says.
Many Westporters buy tickets, especially when the jackpot is high. Simmelkjaer did too. (Iin his new position, he’s prohibited from winning.)
“I’ve always seen it as a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment,” he says. In the 1960s and ’70s his grandmother played the underground numbers in Harlem for $5 a week. When lotteries became legal, his father played the big jackpots.
Of course, Simmelkjaer says, with any form of gaming there is a potential for a small percentage of people to become addicted. Any expansion — such as online lottery sales, online casino games or sports betting — must provide help for anyone in trouble.
Lamont said his appointee’s “sharp eye and keen management style will provide the agency with a greatly-needed refresh.”
That’s a reference to the fact that although the lottery sold $1.3 billion worth of tickets last year, and contributed $370 million to the general fund, the agency has been rocked by a retailer fraud scandal, and a mistake-filled New Year’s Day promotion.
As chair — an unpaid position — Simmelkjaer will help set strategies and priorities. He’s a conduit between the governor and legislators.
“Responsible gaming can play an important role in the fiscal recovery of Connecticut from the current crisis,” the new chair says. “I look forward to working with the CEO and other key stakeholders to ensure that we grow the state’s gaming revenue, while ensuring the highest standards of compliance and oversight.”
When Sal and Melissa Augeri found a few boxes of school supplies in their attic, they knew just who to call: Alex Kappel.
An assistant coach for the Staples High School wrestling team on which the Augeris’ son Nick is a star sophomore, Kappel is also an elementary school teacher in Bridgeport. Many families there have limited access to food and other resources.
The Augeris called several team members. Soon they had more supplies and food for “Coach Kap.”
But the wrestlers wanted to do more. On May 23, they’ll be “Running Across Westport.” One athlete starts; he’ll run to the next wrestler’s house and “tag” him (from 6 feet away, of course). The second wrestler will continue on. The high-powered Staples team has dozens of athletes, so it should be quite a run.
In return, the team asks for cash donations. They’ll use the funds to buy even more supplies and food. Any amount is welcome; just Venmo @Staples-Matmen.
Questions? Email email@example.com.
Team spirit is a hallmark of the Staples wrestling program. They support each other very enthusiastically. (Photo/Jose Villaluz)
Ariana Napier’s food drive bears fruit. On Friday she delivered 396 pounds of items — much of it donated by Westporters to the Bridgeport Rescue Mission.
She’ll continue to collect food, and deliver it every Friday. Her address is 14 Jennings Court (off Bayberry Lane). Items most needed this week: cereal; mac and cheese (box), jelly (no glass).
Another food drive — Homes With Hope‘s — was a great success yesterday. Volunteers — including Staples students — helped out. But the need continues, and another collection is set for tomorrow (Monday, May 11, 2 to 4 p.m.). Non-perishable goods can be brought to the Gillespie Center, behind Restoration Hardware. Stay in your car; pop your trunk; someone will take your donation.
Meanwhile, Kathie Motes Bennewitz spotted these great messages on a bench at Grace Salmon Park:
And finally … many Westporters love The Sweet Remains. The longtime folk/rock band was co-founded by Greg Naughton. He grew up in Weston, and now lives here with his wife, Kelli O’Hara.
A few days ago they released this “love song in the age of ‘shelter in place.'” It truly is lovely — and sweet.
Westport municipal offices — including Town Hall, the Senior Center and the Parks & Recreation Department office — will remain closed to the public at least through March 31. Public meetings are canceled through at least that date too.
However, staff will be available by phone or email weekdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. First Selectman Jim Marpe urges residents to be patient regarding response time.
He adds, “The public is also encouraged to utilize the town’s online services, such as paying taxes electronically.” The town’s website is www.westportct.gov.
Town Hall is closed. However, employees will be available by phone and email. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)
State Representative Jonathan Steinberg reports that Governor Ned Lamont is launching a Joint Information Center to coordinate Connecticut’s response to COVID-19.
The goal is to provide residents, municipalities, school districts, hospitals, medical providers, colleges and universities, the business community, the media and others with specific information related to the state’s response to the virus outbreak..
The SBA is currently finalizing disaster declarations related to coronavirus. Once these are released, small businesses can apply. Check the website daily to see if/when Connecticut will be eligible, and/or call the CT SBA Office at 860-240-4700)
The state Insurance Department commissioner told all travel insurers that they should accommodate travel cancellation requests and take into account the circumstances of the state of emergency.
State civil statutes prohibit price gouging. The attorney general will be monitoring closely. If you suspect price gouging, file a complaint immediately with the Attorney General’s Office by calling 860-808-5318.
Eversource has suspended all disconnects for customers until the governor lifts the state of emergency. This applies to electric, gas and water companies that are not municipally owned.
First Selectman Jim Marpe has passed along word that Governor Ned Lamont and the state Department of Public Health are discouraging large public gatherings attracting more than 100 persons, in response to the COVID-19 virus.
The state has partially activated its Emergency Operations center in response to the accelerating impact of the COVID-19 virus into the region and the growing threat within the state. The center held a conference call today at 5 p.m. for all emergency operations managers, municipal chief elected officials and key staff to hear an update of the recommended protocol.
According to Lamont, large crowds or places where individuals are shoulder-to-shoulder are considered the most dangerous and should be avoided, particularly for individuals over the age of 60.
While the directive is neither a mandate nor a declaration of a state of
emergency, the governor’s message was clear that the state needs to implement policies that discourage the spread of the virus.
Governor Ned Lamont
For example, Lamont is also instituting a freeze on out-of-state business travel for all state employees, as well as the postponement of any state-organized conferences anticipated to have more than 100 people in attendance, and urging
private employers to consider similar precautions.
The chief elected officials and superintendents of schools are responsible for the decisions and details on how localities respond to this directive. Marpe is working closely with interim superintendent Dr. David Abbey on a plan to address this recommendation locally.
Marpe says, “Based on the directive from the governor’s office, the town of Westport strongly encourages residents to re-think attendance at gatherings of more than 100 individuals and large gatherings where individuals might be shoulder-to-shoulder. We recognize that this will impact a number of recurring or long-planned and important activities, but we ask organizers and attendees to give appropriate consideration to the governor’s request.”
Town administration and the Board of Education are following the guidelines
from the CT DPH, with support and guidance from the Westport Weston Health District
For the time being, town functions are operating as normal, but with extra attention given to cleanliness and disinfection of the facilities and equipment.
COVID-19 is an evolving situation and today’s announcement is an example of that. There has been ongoing planning and decision-making in response to the situation, and residents are encouraged to maintain connections with the town resources so that up-to-date information can be received effectively, efficiently, and as quickly as possible.
State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left), who co-chairs the Legislature’s Public Health Committee, and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe demonstrate the best way to say hello, COVAD-19-style.
To keep residents, students and businesses informed, the town will utilize press releases, its website, and its social media pages for all of its COVID-19 announcements.
The Westport emergency notification system is a text message-based alert system run by the Fire Department. Any resident not already signed up for these notifications can text 06880 to 888777 to subscribe.
The hashtag #WestportctCOVID-19info will be used for updated information on the town’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter social media accounts. This will also be utilized by the Fire, Police and Parks Departments.
To follow the Town’s press release coverage, go to WestportCT.Gov/subscribe and select “town news.”
The Department of Public Works has instituted an extra rigorous cleaning regimen in all public spaces, and released information on Friday alerting staff and elected officials of its procedures and best practices.
The Board of Education sent a coronavirus update informing parents of the importance of hand washing and the district’s use of cleaning agents, as well as
On Tuesday, March 10, the schools will have a 3-hour delay so that
professionals can prepare for the possibility of home-based learning.
The town management, public safety professionals, the WWHD leadership and all department heads are working together with the Westport Public Schools to design contingency plans if the situation evolves to a point where town and school functions may need to be altered.
For example, the Board of Education is examining home-based instructional continuity and other strategies in the event of a school or district closing.
Town Hall staff are preparing to offer some public services on a remote basis if necessary. The Senior Center Activities is also preparing to operate as a drop-in-center in case programs must be cancelled.
Conducting public meetings may become challenging, but much of this will have to be determined based on a case-by-case basis.
For the time being, Marpe urged residents to follow these best practices to
prevent the spread of COVID-19:
Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve, not your hand.
Wash your hands frequently. While hand sanitizer may be effective, vigorous hand washing using regular soap is best.
Greet others with an elbow bump instead of a handshake.
Stay home if you are feeling unwell.
If you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled from a high-risk area, contact your health professional.
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