Tag Archives: Nina Sankovitch

Westport Reopens: The View From Vogue

Nina Sankovitch is a talented researcher and gifted writer. Her most recent book — American Rebels: How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution — is a deep dive into our nation’s fascinating 18th-century founding.

She is also a keen observer of her longtime home town, 21st-century style.

Yesterday, Vogue Daily published her “Letter From Westport: Together Again, But Still at a Distance.”

Sankovitch headed downtown on Friday, the first day many stores were allowed to reopen.

Nina Sankovitch

The doors to Anthropologie were open; she did not venture in. She chatted with bespoke clothier Stephen Kempson — outside.

And she checked out Mitchells, where “a deluxe hand-sanitizing-and-mask-station welcomed shoppers.” A host of store personnel greeted her with what she “assumed to be smiles behind their masks.”

Three days later — Memorial Day — brought more shoppers to Main Street, Sankovitch writes.

But, she wonders, “is a new shirt worth putting on a face mask for?”

And, she concludes:

Compo Beach is usually a favorite spot for locals, but right now the beach cannot give us what we, as a community, need: a place for us to gather as a community. To watch sunsets, grill dinners, throw frisbees, play pickle ball, basketball, baseball, and softball, hold book groups and hands and beers, all together.

Westport will truly be open when the library flings its doors wide, when the Levitt Pavilion starts holding free concerts again, when restaurant and café tables are filled, when the Senior Center is hopping, when I’m dancing with my fellow aqua-fitters in the Y pool. When we can once again come together as a community—together, yes, even if it means doing so at a safe distance.

(To read Nina Sankovitch’s entire Vogue Daily story, click here.)

This is what Nina Sankovitch is waitingi for.

COVID-19 Roundup: Trout Brook, Barnes & Noble Reopen; Face Mask Messages; More

After discussions with Weston officials, Aspetuck Land Trust is reopening Trout Brook Valley’s largest parking lot — the one on Bradley Road. It will be available starting tomorrow (Monday, April 27), on weekdays only. NOTE: Dogs are not allowed!

Click here for information on all 42 ATL preserves’, and their hiking trails.

Staples High School 1988 graduate Scott Froschauer is now a Los Angeles artist. He’s gotten lots of attention for works that use street signs to convey more useful instructions (like “Breathe” and “All We Have is Now”).

Longtime Westporters Ann Sheffer and Bill Scheffler — who spent part of the year in Palm Springs — are huge fans. They bought some of his work even before they knew the local connection.

Now, Ann reports, Scott is making face masks. They’re like his street signs, with messages like “Dream,” “Smile” and “Do Your Best.”

And, of course, “Breathe.” Click here to order.

Good news: Barnes & Noble is back open. Curbside pickup is available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

That news comes from Nina Sankovitch, who has particular reason to be pleased. Her newest book — American Rebels: How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution — is well stocked there.

Anyone buying her book there will receive a nice gift: one of Nina’s American Rebels tote bags (below).

And, she promises, once the virus is gone, she’ll be happy to sign your book.

Two weeks ago, “06880” posted a video of 1970 Staples High School graduate Stephen Wall — now a tenor with the Seattle Opera — entertaining his socially distancing neighbors with a rousing rendition of “Nessun Dorma.”

This week he’s back, bolder and more rousing than ever. Here he is, with his “Friday Figaro.”

This is not stop-the-presses news: raising teenagers is hard. These days, it’s even tougher.

Tomorrow (Monday, April 27, 12 to 1 p.m.), Westport Together sponsors a webinar: “Parenting High School Juniors and Seniors During the Coronavirus Pandemic.”

The program features local mental health professionals Deb Slocum of the Staples High School Counseling Department, Karen Krupnik of Positive Directions, and director of Westport Public Schools psychological services Dr. Valerie Babich. They’ll discuss ways to develop social, academic and emotional skills needed for life after high school. To register, click here or watch on Facebook Live.

Next month, Westport Together hosts more virtual discussion groups for parents of elementary, middle and high school students. Click here for their website.

Beechwood Arts’ “Coming Out Of COVID” event planned for this Wednesday (April 29) is postponed. The reason: a death in the organizers’ family. from complications of the coronavirus.

It will be rescheduled. For more information, click here.

And finally … Dionne Warwick reminds us of a simple, yet very important, truth:

Book Chat: Old Club Invigorates New Library

Longtime Westporter Nina Sankovitch is an environmental lawyer. She is also an author (her new book, “American Rebels: How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution” comes out in March).

For the last 5 years too, Nina has moderated Westport Library Book Chat discussions. She loves her volunteer job — and wants “06880” readers to know all about it. Nina writes:

There is so much in the new Westport Library. Author talks and musical productions; the gift shop with its array of eclectic book-inspired offerings; the new café, a great place to grab a coffee and meet a friend.

Budding fashionistas are welcome to use the sewing room; would-be podcasters can hone their skills in the audio production studio; inventors create in the Makers Space, and the huge screen in the Great Hall means that events like the impeachment hearings and election night can be shared experiences, not suffered through alone at home.

But what brings me to the library on the first Tuesday of every month, at 10 a.m. sharp, is the Book Chat.

Book Chatters chat about books.

It’s not new. We have been meeting for 10 years now, 12 times a year, and our purpose has not changed. We talk about the very best the Westport Library has to offer: books.

Books of all kinds, every genre, published in every era, written by writers from around the world. We don’t meet to talk about a specific book; we to talk about any books we’ve read lately. We talk about books we’ve loved,  books we hated, books we want others to read and know about.

I’ve been attending Book Chat since its inception in the summer of 2009 (when it was known as “Stop and Swap”). Some of us original book chatters are still around, and we welcome all newcomers.

There is no assigned reading for Book Chat, no requirement to participate – but although people show up claiming they just want to listen, after 15 minutes the newcomer’s hand comes up and an opinion is offered.

Nina Sankovitch, in a favorite pose. (Photo by Douglas Healey/New York Times)

People who read books tend to want to talk about them. We share our thoughts on the quality of the writing, or how satisfying (or not) the ending was. We also talk about what the book meant to us, and why we think someone else might love (or hate) it as much as we did.

Book Chat is a drop-in group. Some members attend every single month; others come when they can.

The range of reading interests represented is vast. We have people who love memoirs, and others who favor history but will read poetry. We have mystery and romance lovers, and those who read only literary fiction. We have those who read religious tomes and others who read religious theory (there is a difference).

We have those who prefer classics and those who want to read anything new. What is great about the variety of tastes is that I hear about books I might never have even considered reading.

Thirty to 40 books are discussed at each meeting/ I always come away with new titles to add to my list. This month they include Noon Wine, Ordinary Grace. Outline and Cautionary Tales for Children.

In my 10 years of Book Chat participation, I have seen that our group mirrors the community at large. We may not always agree on books – or politics, social issues, or even the best room in which to meet. But we are always respectful of each other, always kind and generous. We let everyone talk, and we listen. Our shared love of books not only brings us together, but is celebrated. Our common humanity is recognized.

I will always remember the story told by one of our cherished members, of how he wooed his girlfriend in college by reading aloud to her the stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Of course she married this treasure of a man – and they went on to share years of reading aloud to each other.

But only he attended our Book Chat meetings. He was the half of the couple who wished to talk about books. So he came, we talked, and we all swooned when he told the story of his college romance.

When we left at the end of the hour we felt connected, invigorated and more positive about the world – for having shared with each other the books we love.

Every time I attend Book Chat I come away with that great feeling of both belonging and participating.Book Chat is a vestige of the old library taking root in the new. I am grateful for being part of it all.

Testing, Testing

Across Connecticut this month, tens of thousands of 8th and 10th graders took standardized tests. Classroom instruction halted; bubbles were filled in; formulaic essays were churned out.

In Westport, most students sailed through. They finished early, and twiddled their thumbs. The vast majority of kids in our town pass the tests — easily.

At the same time, an “education reform” bill is headed to the state legislature’s Education Committee. It would substantially change the way teachers teach.

Nina Sankovitch — a Westporter for over 10 years, and the mother of 4 boys — is not a fan. Below, she explains why:

Did your kids enjoy preparing for and taking the CMT and CAPT tests during March? Tell them to get used to it. If Governor Malloy gets his way, our kids will be subjected to more statewide standardized testing. A lot more.

And student test scores on these standardized tests will be used to determine teacher compensation and advancement. The curriculum and teaching will be geared toward test taking.

Westport’s  school system is a good one.  By so-called “objective measures,” we are one of highest performing systems in the state, with kids doing well across the board on CMTs and CAPTs, as well as on SATs and ACTs. Our teachers are committed, smart and motivated, and our administrators are dedicated. The standing-room only “Back to School” nights attest to the commitment Westport parents have to their children’s education. It takes a village, and our village is doing its job.

Standardized tests often test how to take a standardized test.

So why are State Senator Toni Boucher and Governor Dan Malloy pushing an Education Reform Bill that will change the way Westport school administrators and teachers do their jobs?  The cited reason is the achievement gap between lowest and highest performing schools in Connecticut. Numerous years of data are pulled out to show how poor-performing schools are failing.

The same data show that in many school districts, students are succeeding.  For example, virtually all Westport 8th graders are proficient in reading, writing, math and science. Approximately 95% of Westport 8th graders meet or exceed the Connecticut goal scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test (2011). Statewide, about 2/3 of 8th grade students attain that level of competence.

Many other school districts achieve far better results than the state average, and several others have results close to Westport’s.  In other words, many school districts in the state do not need to “reform” their education systems.

Last Saturday, 10 teams of 5 Staples students each voluntarily spent from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the high school. They participated in the Spectacular Student Challenge -- a collaborative attempt to solve a real-world problem. They used 21st-century skills -- and they loved it. Here's one of those teams.

Students in some Connecticut school systems, however, are not meeting state mandated goals. In Bridgeport and Hartford, 2 of the worst performing districts, only 1 in 3 students meet the goal level.

What should Connecticut do to help struggling students? Governor Malloy and Toni Boucher apparently believe that imposing more testing and a wide array of associated requirements on all Connecticut students is the solution. But the needs of Bridgeport and Hartford students are far different from the needs of Westport students.

If you had a group of 50 people and 10 were overweight, would you put all 50 on a diet? Of course not. Fix what is broken, and let the rest of the schools in the state do the great job they are doing.

A numbing photo of a numbing way of learning.

We don’t know if testing students in troubled schools more than they are tested now will help one bit. But we do know that more state standardized testing of students in Westport and in other achieving schools in the state will do nothing to enhance the quality of learning for students in the non-achieving school districts. Malloy’s proposed policy is simply wrong for Westport students and teachers, and for similarly situated well-performing school districts.

For Westport students, expanding statewide testing beyond the CMTs and CAPT testing is a waste of time and resources. The costs of administering the tests are substantial. When we allocate a portion of the school budget to the days spent testing and preparing for such tests, the burden of such unnecessary testing on Westport taxpayers could be in the millions of dollars.

Governor Malloy believes that teacher compensation should be linked to student test scores. Malloy thinks this will “weed out” bad teachers.  Based on our experience of a cumulative total of over 30 years of Westport education of our 4 children, our local schools do not suffer from bad teachers.

Standardized tests are not what a Westport education is about.

But forcing our teachers to spend more time teaching to the test will sap their energy and diminish their morale while doing nothing to reward their enthusiasm for genuine teaching. Teachers come to Westport because they seek to engage students in a profound way – they do not wish to adhere to a narrow and shallow curriculum geared toward test taking, the results of which are aimed at enhancing the resume of politicians rather than improving the learning of students.

Poorly performing schools certainly need help, and a bill should be crafted that helps them. But don’t come up with a bill that has my kids and other Westport kids taking more standardized tests, that forces teachers to teach more and more to the test  (if your salary could go down if your students’ test scores go down, what would you do?), and that will inevitably lead to a more narrow and shallow curriculum.

Malloy’s one-size-fits-all approach is wrong for Westport and wrong for Connecticut. For Westport and other excellent school systems, it will lead to greater boredom in the classroom for students and teachers alike.

That is a burden we would bear if it meant greater opportunities for all the children of the state, but no such benefit is promised. Burdening our school system with more statewide standardized testing does not help students in failing school districts, and will only hurt our students.

(To find out more about the Education Reform Bill, SB 24, visit “Connecticut Parents Need to Know More About SB 24” on Facebook.

Our representatives are Toni Boucher (http://ctsenaterepublicans.com/contact-boucher/) and Jonathan Steinberg (Jonathan.Steinberg@cga.ct.gov).

Governor Malloy can be contacted at http://www.governor.ct.gov/malloy/cwp/view.asp?a=3998&q=479082.)

Another team in the Staples Spectacular Student Challenge.

Nina Sankovitch On WNYC

Nearly 2 years ago, “06880” profiled Nina Sankovitch — the Westporter who responded to the death of her sister by reading a book a day for 365 days.

Nina Sankovitch in her purple chair. (Photo by Douglas Healey/New York Times)

Her next project was writing a book about it.  Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is a moving account of that year.  It’s a memoir about death and grieving — but also about living, and the kind of robust life books can provide.

This morning, Nina was interviewed on WNYC-FM’s Leonard Lopate Show.  She talked about her family’s support (she has 4 boys), and gave a shout-out to the Westport Public Library.

Referring to the memoirs, biographies, translations and independent press books she read — in addition to the novels and mysteries she’d always loved — Nina said:  “I visited stacks I didn’t even know were there.”

(To hear the complete interview, click here.)

Read All Day

Last year, Nina Sankovitch read a book a day.  For a full year.

You would think that after such a project she would take a much-earned rest, curling up with, say, a few good episodes of “Jersey Shore.”

You would think wrong.

The environmental lawyer spends her time maintaining Read All Day, the website that began with her reviews of those 365 books she read.

Nina Sankovitch will read anywhere.

The site now contains over 400 reviews in a wide range of categories:  novels, memoirs, mysteries, short stories, teens, tennis (!), love and sex, and sorrow (interesting that those 2 categories are listed next to each other).

You can browse by authors or book title, and sign up for email alerts.

Nina has cut back from 1 review a day, to only 2-3 a week.  She also links to articles on books that she puts on Huffington Post.

She is amazed that readers around the world have found her site — and contacted her with comments and book recommendations.  She is having “global conversations about books” — and loving it.

In all her spare time, Nina is writing a book about her book-a-day year — why she did it, and how she leads a life of reading for comfort, pleasure, knowledge and thrills.

On Feb. 12, Nina is the star attraction at the Westport Library’s “Booklover’s Bash.”  She’ll drink wine, eat cheese and talk about books with other bibliophiles.

“Read All Day”‘s tagline is:  “Great Good Comes From Reading Great Books.”

Great good comes from Nina Sankovitch, too.

365 Books

Today’s New York Times “Our Towns” column is interesting reading for Westporters. 

And, interestingly, it’s all about interesting reading.

Nina Sankovitch (Photo by Douglas Healey for the New York Times)

Nina Sankovitch (Photo by Douglas Healey for the New York Times)

Our own Nina Sankovitch is nearing the end of a year-long odyssey:  reading a book a day.

She reads non-fiction, fiction, mysteries and graphic novels.  She reads late at night, waiting to pick up her 4 kids, at the US Open.  She reads, reads and reads.

And then, the next day, she reviews the previous book on her blog:  www.readallday.org.

Nina — an environmental lawyer with a degree from Harvard — is nearing the end of her year-long reading marathon.  I have no idea what she’ll do next, but I’m guessing it won’t be “curling up with a good book.”