Tag Archives: Superintendent of School Thomas Scarice

Scarice Offers Update On Adaptations, Modifications And Test Kits

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice says:

It appears that we will have enough staffing to welcome students back [today].  There is a significant shortage of substitute teachers so covering classes of absent teachers will be a challenge. Principals will work collaboratively to ensure sufficient coverage of classrooms.

The bus driver roster is thin. At the present moment there are enough drivers to transport students. However, there is the possibility of combining more routes to cover all student pickups and drop offs.

As we did at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, we ask parents to transport their child when possible. This will thin out the number of riders and make runs more efficient. However, rest assured that we will continue to run our routes. Students will only be permitted to ride on their own buses. The opportunity to ride on another bus has been suspended for the time being.  We ask for your patience

State Provided Testing Kits

5,040 iHealth COVID tests (reserved for students) and 864 Flow Flex COVID tests (reserved for staff) will be ready for pickup [today] in Phase I of the shipment of test kits. The purpose of these tests is to identify positive cases in advance so that we can keep as many positive cases out of our schools as possible.

The tests will be prioritized, and used to screen students and staff in the following cases:

  1. Symptomatic students and staff

  2. Students and staff who experienced a direct exposure

  3. Students and staff in a setting with multiple positive cases (i.e. one classroom with multiple cases)

The district will have a truck ready for pickup at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning. Town leaders have been instrumental in supporting our efforts, and we are most appreciative of this partnership. Details on distribution of test kits will be forthcoming.

Lunch 

In an effort to maximize spacing during lunch, each school will do their best, within their footprint and the spaces available, to further spread students out during lunch. Although the plexiglass shields have shown little in prevention of virus spread, feedback from the schools indicates that students are more likely to stay in their space during lunch when the shields are on the tables. This is more of behavioral intervention, but one that should be most helpful in establishing and maintaining spacing during lunch. As a result, the plexiglass shields will be returning to lunch settings for all schools.

Student Performances and Concerts

Student performances and concerts that were scheduled over the next couple of weeks will be postponed yet again.  Look for more information from your building principal on the scheduling of performances and concerts.

K-8 Recess

In an effort to to maximize the use of masking, all students will continue the wearing of masks outside for recess at the K-8 level until further notice. Once rates decline, this provision will be removed. Mask breaks will be handled at the school level, but the continued use of masks will be expected, including during recess, until further notice.

After School Programs

Secondary level ( CMS, BMS, SHS) afterschool programs (clubs, sports, etc,) will continue at the present moment. Each club, activity, or sport will be treated individually and meetings/games/practices will be suspended on a case by case basis after consultation with our Supervisor of Health Services.

All elementary after- or before-school programming will be suspended for the current week. A reassessment will be done at the end of this week and further information will be provided to parents at that point in time. This includes Continuing Education programs for elementary students.

Visitors

Just before the break I notified the community that visitors will not be allowed in our schools through January 7. A reassessment of this provision has been done and visitors will continue to be prohibited from our school buildings through the end of this month. Parent meetings with faculty and administrators will be done virtually for the month of January.

Staples High School Mid-Term Exams

Modifications are being made to the mid term exams at Staples. These modifications include significantly reducing the weighting of the exam on a student’s grade, and expanding the time for making up an exam for a student in isolation, quarantine or symptomatic. The Staples administration will provide further details to students and families regarding the changes to the mid term exams.,

Supports for Students In Isolation, Quarantine, or Symptomatic

Students who have tested positive or who are in quarantine will not be able to access in-person learning for approximately five days given the new guidelines.  Additionally, any students exhibiting COVID symptoms will be advised to stay home from school. For this reason, we are in the process of revisiting the supports we provide to students who cannot access in-person learning. There are currently practices in place, including a tutoring model for our elementary students, and extra help sessions for middle and high school students, who cannot access in-person learning for the reasons above.

We will monitor our numbers over the next few days and determine if there is a need to increase the range of supports for students who cannot access in-person instruction. The one benefit with the new guidelines is that the shortened isolation and quarantine periods allow asymptomatic students to return after five days. If this period includes a weekend, it is possible that a student will only miss three days, compared to ten or more based on last year’s guidelines.

Again, we will monitor the number of absences and, as we have done throughout the pandemic, modify our approach to meet the needs of our students.

Scarice: School District COVID Update

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent this message today to Westport families:

As an interim follow-up to the message yesterday, I would like to share some additional updates regarding recent changes in isolation, quarantine and contact tracing guidelines, as well as an opportunity for COVID-19 testing for students and families this Monday.

As previously announced, Monday (January 3) will be a “staff only” day, as the winter break will be extended 1 day. Students are expected to return Tuesday.

Maintaining the health and safety of our students and staff, while keeping our students in school and engaged in all of their programs, remains our priority.

Possible COVID-19 Testing Clinic for Students Monday, January 3

In an effort to keep positive student cases out of our schools we are in the planning stages with Progressive Diagnostics, our partner with our in-school weekly testing program. Initial plans are being made to host a testing clinic for Westport Public School students and families this Monday. All family members will have the opportunity to be tested, and insurance will be billed.

The initial plan is to provide space in our Staples High School fieldhouse.  Appointments will be scheduled by Progressive through an on-line scheduler.  The link to schedule an appointment will be provided through a follow-up communication once the details have been finalized.

This is in the planning stages, but we wanted to make our students and families aware of this possibility given the lack of testing options in the region.

The Westport Public Schools have already offered several vaccination clinics for staff and students, in the Staples High School fieldhouse.

Changes in Isolation Guidelines

Last night,  the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) notified all superintendents that the state has adopted changes to the isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing guidelines.

Students and staff who test positive for COVID-19:

  • should isolate at home for at least 5 days, or longer if symptoms develop and persist,

  • wear a mask for the subsequent 5 days at all times when around others,

  • return to school on or after day 6 if symptoms have resolved, and they have been fever free for at least 24 hours without fever reducing medication.

This is a change from the previous isolation period of 10 days.

If your child has tested positive for COVID-19 on or before December 29, they can return to school on January 4 if they are symptom-free. Students who have tested positive after December 29 should remain home and isolate for 5 days and return to school on Day 6 if symptom free.

Contact Tracing and Quarantine Practices

Individual contact tracing is less effective when community transmission is high. This process further taxes our nurse and health staff, and our building administrators, to a point that it becomes more challenging to attend to the needs of the students currently in school.

Connecticut DPH has determined that routine contact tracing within the school buildings and during supervised activities can be discontinued. Our priority will be early identification of positive cases and assuring appropriate isolation.

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students and staff (defined has having only 1 dose of a 2-dose vaccine, or being within 2 weeks of the final dose) experiencing a high risk exposure incident outside of school (athletic event, sleepover, other similar activities) will:

  • quarantine for 5 days

  • obtain a test on day 5 with either with an at home or lab test and

  • return to school wearing a mask at all times when with others for up to 10 days.

Vaccinated school staff and students with an exposure outside of school may:

  • continue with in-person learning,

  • test with either an at home or lab test on day 5, and

  • wear a mask at all times.

Support for Students in Isolation or Quarantine

Part of the work over the vacation period and on Monday will be to provide as many supports for students in isolation or quarantine as possible. More information will be forthcoming at the end of the day on Monday on this effort.

Notifications of Positive Cases

When a positive case is identified, elementary classroom notifications will be made as well as grade level and school notifications. As the numbers of cases remains high, we will continue to report district numbers daily and maintain the district dashboard. This work is very demanding, and might not be entirely accurate at a given moment. We ask for your patience, and reiterate that the district will continue full transparency as we have done this entire pandemic.  Any delay is a matter of the human resources necessary to maintain our data.

Masks

Not only is universal masking still part of the governor’s Executive Order, but an increased emphasis on mask wearing will be implemented on our return on January 4. Staff and students will be required to wear face masks at all times when in the presence of staff and students.

  • The provision for teachers to remove masks when teaching from the front of the classroom will be suspended until further notice from the Superintendent’s office.

  • Reminders will be provided for all students to reinforce proper mask wearing.

  • There is significant “mask fatigue” in our community and our schools. Faculty, staff, and administrators are doing, and will continue to do their best to ensure proper mask wearing among our student population.

  • DPH has reinstated the use of masks for all athletes to continuously wear masks during athletic competitions.

  • In addition to our supply of KN95 masks for staff, the district anticipates a shipment of N95 masks from the state for staff use.

De-densification in the lunchroom

  • All efforts will be made to provide additional spacing between students while at lunch at all levels.

  • This task is very challenging, yet our school-based teams will continue to put thought into how to further “de-densify” our lunch settings.

Vaccination Efforts

We encourage all families that have not already done so, to get vaccinations and boosters 6 months after the last vaccinations of Pfizer and Moderna and 2 months after J & J vaccine  It is anticipated that the FDA will authorize boosters for 12-15 year-olds this week.

During this time of high transmission it is more important than ever, whether vaccinated, partially vaccinated or unvaccinated, to stay home when ill. Even mild symptoms such as headache, fatigue and nasal congestion can be signs of COVID-19. Stay home, test for COVID-19 with either an at-home or lab test, and remain home until you are symptom free for at least 24 hours.

You can anticipate an additional update by the end of the weekend. In the interim, please stay healthy and rest assured that the district is working continuously on maintaining the health and safety of our students and staff, while keeping our students in school and engaged in all of their programs.

Scarice: Increased Mitigation; No Remote Learning

This afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent this message to all Westport Public Schools families:

Throughout the pandemic, our community and our schools have been able to flexibly adapt our mitigating measures in order to respond to the changing conditions. Our benchmark has been to continually review our strategies and consider changes every 4-6 weeks, sometimes sooner. However, the recent sharp increase in cases over the past 4 or 5 days warrants action.

The district has increased the frequency of reporting cases in direct proportion to the increase in the volume of positive tests. Our weekly screening program, administered yesterday, identified 12 asymptomatic cases. In addition, since this morning, another 18 cases have been reported. The town of Westport has reported 113 cases this week, up from a total of 41 last week.

Nearly all who have tested positive report mild to moderate symptoms. Based on minimal transmission in the school setting compared to the community, we continue to believe that our schools may be one of the safest places for our students to be.

With strong mitigation, schools are safe during COVID. (Photo Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Increase in Mitigating Measures
However, in order to strengthen our measures and keep our students and staff safe, we will take actions to limit activities we believe may contribute to the potential of spread within our schools at this point in time. These measures include:

  • The grade 8 trip to Staples High School for the Candlelight performance will be canceled. Other opportunities will be explored
  • Holiday parties in the classroom will continue, with an emphasis on social distancing
  • Effective immediately, parent and school visitors will be restricted from accessing our school buildings through January 7.
  • Concerts/performances will not be held through January 7.

While we regret having to take these measures just prior to the holiday, it is our hope that this present wave of COVID-19 will subside and our cases will decrease which will allow mitigating measures to be relaxed.

Remote Learning
I have received a couple of inquiries regarding a preemptive move to remote learning. Remote learning is not an option for districts this year.

Districts are not permitted to implement remote instruction as a school, or as a district, preemptively like last year. School districts are able to implement continued educational opportunities (tutoring, remote contact with teachers outside of the classroom, before and after school programs, etc.) for students who must be in COVID-19 isolation or quarantine. This year, school districts are not permitted to implement remote learning. That provision was removed prior to the start of the school year.

Learning remotely — as shown with teacher Peter von Euler last year — is no longer a school-wide option.

Again, based on our data and experience over the past 2 school years, we continue to maintain a safe environment for our students and staff, with minimal transmission of the virus in our settings, particularly when compared to community transmission rates. Maintaining continued contact with peers and faculty, while attending to the social/emotional needs of our students is critical to their long term mental health and overall wellness.

We will continue to monitor cases throughout our break and provide case updates through our emails. Families are asked to continue to report positive cases through our hotline. Please note that contact tracing will be limited throughout the break.

Scarice Addresses School Safety Concerns

Yesterday, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent this message to all Westport Public Schools parents:

Late yesterday [Wednesday] afternoon, the district was informed of a disturbing trend of school violence threats on social media. Social media posts have mentioned acts of school violence on December 17.

The state Department of Education shared information this morning [Thursday] that state law enforcement officials have determined that these threats are not credible. The posts have not originated in our town, and there have been no specific threats to our schools. However, some of our students have mentioned this trend to faculty and administrators today.

We are fortunate to have a very effective partnership with our local law enforcement experts, the Westport Police Department. In addition, a security guard is assigned to each school, there is a School Resource Officer at our high school, and the WPD has assigned an additional police officer dedicated exclusively to our school campuses.

As a precaution, the Westport Police Department has offered to station an officer outside each of our schools tomorrow [Friday] for the school day. Again, although these threats are not deemed credible or specific to Westport, at a minimum this presence will serve to reassure any members of our school community who might have concerns about this social media trend, particularly for tomorrow.

If you or your child receive any information related to specific threats to our school community, it is critically important that you make a report to the WPD and school immediately.

“06880” Podcast: Thomas Scarice On Critical Race Theory

Last April, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice was the first guest on my “06880” podcast. He spoke eloquently about his background, the Westport school system, and education in general.

This week he visited the Westport Library again. This time, we chatted about one specific topic: Critical Race Theory.

CRT has generated a lot of controversy, nationally and locally. The town’s chief education official discusses where it came from, what it is, and how it impacts the Westport schools.

Click below to watch.

Scarice Offers Update, Preview On New School Year

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice says:

The entire Westport Public Schools team has been gearing up for an incredible start to our school year. In a matter of days the 2021-2022 school year will be underway.

Before our year starts I’d like to share some more updates:

New District Website
We have launched a new district website. As you scroll the site you will find a much more modern appearance with easy-to-use buttons. This effort is just Step 1 in the process of improving our overall online presence.  The updating and overhaul of current content on our site is underway, and a plan to add weekly content and “news” about our schools will begin when the school year starts.

We will engage our district Facebook page next week as we share district “news” through this social media outlet. Finally, we are aiming for an October launch of a new district app that parents can customize and add to their smartphone.

Communication is a high priority for our district, and these tools will further advance our communication improvement efforts.

Outdoor Lunch for Students
The district recently secured formidable tents to provide students an opportunity to eat lunch outside for the first few months of the school year, in an effort to thin out the number of students in the cafeteria. These structures provide an opportunity for fresh air and appropriate cover in the event of rain and wind. I suspect the outdoor lunch will be a big hit with our kids,

Vaccines for All WPS Employees
As you are aware, the Governor issued an executive order requiring all pre-K-12 employees to have the Covid-19 vaccine. Routine testing will be enforced for any employees exempt from this provision due to religious or medical reasons.

Vaccines for All WPS Visitors
During the 2020-21 school year, school visitors were prohibited. In keeping with our approach of reevaluating our strategies every 4-6 weeks while we confront the pandemic, we will add and remove layers of mitigation as the conditions permit.  At this point, we will incrementally welcome back visitors to our schools this year with certain restrictions.

Given that we are requiring all WPS employees to show proof of vaccination, we are also requiring all visitors to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to be permitted to visit school buildings. Visitors in the buildings will be limited to educational or school business needs and will need to be approved by the building administration. Access for contractors and vendors will be limited to essential building operations. For parents attending Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meetings, Section 504 meetings, and other required meetings, we will offer virtual meetings, but also host in-person opportunities with proof of vaccination.

Superintendent of School Thomas Scarice was vaccinated last spring. (Photo/John Bayers)

Back to School Night
As with last year, we will host our Back to School Night virtually. We are in the process of determining the most secure and reliable manner for our network to accommodate a live session for parents on Back to School Night. Additional information will be provided in the next week or so with finalized plans; however, I can assure you that the night will be virtual.

Provisions for Unmasked Teachers During Instruction  
Last week I informed the school community that the state Department of Public Health has released the latest guidance that permits teachers to remove their masks during instruction, provided they are vaccinated, all students are wearing masks, and the teacher is at the front of the classroom at least six feet from any student. Although I welcome this change as we start the year, after some feedback, I am recommending that we wait a few weeks into the school year before implementing this provision.

We will add and remove mitigating measures as the conditions warrant. This provision will be revisited later in September and will either be implemented or delayed, depending on the virus conditions.

Thank you for your support of our efforts. I can assure you that the team is energized and ready to kick off the school year, and to provide your child with an outstanding experience. Again, as we continue to confront the pandemic, we will do our best to reassess our approach every 4-6 weeks with an eye to peeling back layers of mitigation when possible so that our children can fully return to normalcy in our schools.

Board Of Ed: Planning Ahead For Fall

The Board of Education is moving forward with plans for a more normal school year this fall.

Vaccinations would not be required. But masks may still be mandatory.

That was part of the draft report presented by assistant superintendent Dr. Anthony Buono, at last night’s meeting. The board is required to submit a draft plan to the state next week. It may be revised, as conditions change closer to the opening of school in September.

Brian Fullenbaum reports that — according to the current draft plan — students would not have to wear masks at recess.

Students: Don’t toss those masks just yet!

Social distancing will be encouraged, the draft report says. The district will continue to perform contact tracing, and recommend quarantine when necessary. Daily concentrated cleaning will also continue.

In other fall reopening news, the middle schools will implement a math tutoring program, with sessions before and after school.

Staples High School will return to its pre-pandemic schedule of 40- to 60-minute periods, rather than this year’s 80-minute blocks. A writing lab will be added, and there will be more opportunities for students to use the fitness center and fieldhouse.

In other matters, the board:

  • Honored retiring staff members
  • Discussed the timing of the Saugatuck Elementary School roof replacement project
  • Heard comments about the NYU equity study
  • Talked about the success of the middle school 3-year engineering and design class.

A report on the Search Institute survey results — a self-assessment administered to 800 students in grades 7 through 12 — showed that they reported strong social and emotional competence, and strong skills in self-management and social awareness.

A majority reported that the pandemic was stressful. A major of students also strongly agreed on the need to work with the community to eliminate racism and discrimination.

Nearing the end of his first year, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice is turning his attention from COVID to “emerging themes” in the district. These include sustaining professional development, child development, and the amount of testing being done.

The board also approved a motion to support naming the football field after former coach Paul Lane.

Roundup: Vaccines, Teacher Of The Year, Mattress Recycling, Jeff Immelt …

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Yesterday’s 4th Westport Public Schools’ vaccine clinic was another success.

Hundreds of educators — along with their colleagues in Weston and Easton — have now received their 2nd COVID dose.

Yesterday’s event in the Staples High School fieldhouse was an “all in the family” affair. In the photo below, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice receives his injection from Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Technician Ben Frimmer.

Frimmer’s name may sound familiar. That’s because his day job is theater teacher and drama director at Coleytown Middle School.

(Photo/John Bayers)

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Speaking of education: Eric Lawrence is the Connecticut PTA Outstanding Elementary School Teacher of the Year. The 18-year veteran is a technology instructor. Right now he also teaches 4th grade distance learning.

Yesterday, his Saugatuck Elementary School community came together to celebrate.

A parent said: “Mr. Lawrence, you have always been a truly outstanding teacher here at Saugatuck. But as we all know when we face really difficult times, the absolute best can come out in people.

“Many of us thought we could never express how much SSN (Saugatuck Seal News) meant to us from the early days of the shutdown through this year, but we hope we can express it now. The response to your nomination for this honor was overwhelming.”

She then presented him with a binder filled with letters from colleagues, parents, and leaders in the Cub Scout community, where his leadership also made a great impact.

Mr. Lawrence will be honored at a virtual celebration May 5.

Celebrating Eric Lawrence.

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You know that old mattress or box spring you’ve always meant to get rid of?

Now — well, on Saturday, May 8 (8:30 to 11 a.m.) — you can.

Earthplace hosts a free mattress recycling drop-off event. It’s sponsored by the Mattress Recycling Council, and they know what they’re doing. Each year they recycle more than 190,000 mattresses  — and that’s in Connecticut.

They’re not only diverted from the waste stream. They’re used to make other products, from carpet padding and insulation to filters and mulch.

Can’t transport your mattress to Earthplace on May 8? Boy Scout Troop 36 offers free same-day pickup. Spots are limited; click here to sign up.

If you miss this event, you can bring your mattress or box spring to Park City Green in Bridgeport, a non-profit that recycles mattresses. Call for hours of operation and drop-off instructions: 203-212-3860 or 203-209-6915.

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Want to chat with Jeff Immelt?

GE’s former CEO talks virtually on Thursday, April 22 (7 p.m.) about his 16 years at the helm. The Westport Library program is hosted by Westporter Steve Parrish.

Immelt’s first day on the job was September 10, 2001 — 24 hours before 9/11. His new book Hot Seat: What I Learned Leading a Great American Company details his proudest moments — and missteps — at the helm of the global giant.

Click here to register.

Jeff Immelt

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The Westport Country Playhouse internship program began in 1946. Four years later, 19-year-old Stephen Sondheim spent the summer at the already-famous stage.

The program — now named for longtime Playhouse benefactor Joanne Woodward — continues this summer.

Interns will join the development, education and marketing teams, from June 7 to August 13. They’ll work directly with Playhouse staff, gain practical skills, and hear guest speakers including visiting designers and artists, commercial producers and more.

With a virtual season, the internships are also virtual this year. There are limited in-person requirements, based on department needs.

Application deadline is April 21. Click here for more information.

Stephen Sondheim (crouching, top of photo), during his 1950 apprenticeship. Also in the photo: future film director Frank Perry (front row, left) and Richard Rodgers’ daughter Mary (2nd row, 4th from left).

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The Westport Weston Family YMCA has added over 150 live classes a week, and hundreds more on demand. They include cardio, endurance, strength, bodywork, dance, mind/body, seniors, adaptive, kids and family.

They’re all virtual of course — but available through a collaboration with 29 Y’s across Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts.

You must be a YMCA member, of course. For details on the “Y Wellness 24/7” program, click here.

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Congratulations to Staples High School basketball co-captain Nicole Holmes. The senior was one of only 4 FCIAC players — and 10 overall — named to the Connecticut High School Coaches Association All-State team, in the “LL” (extra large schools division).

Holmes helped lead the Wreckers to a sparkling 13-3 record this winter.

Nicole Holmes (Photo courtesy of The Ruden Report)

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Today’s gorgeous nature shot: a cardinal, courtesy of Karen Weingarten:

(Photo/Karen Weingarten)

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And finally … on this day in 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. That was the effective end of the Civil War, though skirmishes continued for several weeks.