Tag Archives: Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice

Scarice Explains Schools’ Full Reopening Pause

On Tuesday night, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice told the Board of Education that the current hybrid model — 2 days in person, 3 out for middle and high schoolers; morning and afternoon sessions for elementary-age youngsters — will continue at least through December.

In an email yesterday to Westport families, he described that decision. He wrote:

Last night I was asked by the Board of Education to share my decision regarding the next phase in our school reopening plan. I am most grateful for the opportunity to work through this process in collaboration with a team of committed Board of Education members, as well as all members of our school community.

In short, following a public examination of the advantages and disadvantages of a full reopening, last night I recommended that the prudent course of action at this particular point in time is to remain in our current model for at least the next four to six weeks while monitoring the trajectory of infection rates.

This will be a year of responsiveness, i.e. responding to trends in changing data, responding to feedback from parents, students and educators regarding our performance, and responding to any possible breakthroughs that might alter the direction of our way of life during the pandemic (i.e. treatments, testing, vaccines, changes in the efficacy of specific mitigating measures).

I fully understand the entrusted responsibility of decisions such as these and I feel the weight of that responsibility. That said, beyond delivering the best educational experience possible for our students, I also feel responsible for any efforts to pull the community together during polarizing decisions and possible divisiveness.

I intended to make a decision based solely on transmission rates and our ability to maintain our mitigating measures in a full return. In full candor, what I did not anticipate was the impact that the current elementary instructional model would have on my thinking in the next phase of reopening.

It is true that a number of school districts across the region that originally began in a hybrid model are now fully opened for on-site schooling, particularly at the elementary level, and these districts have experienced very low rates of COVID incidences at the elementary level.

Furthermore, as promised, we administered an internal assessment of our mitigating measures. The results are very promising in assuring that not only are the current measures effective, but with some modifications, they show promise to be maintained in a full return, with some exceptions.

That said, I’d like to reiterate a comment from my last parent letter where I indicated that it is critical that any changes in our schooling models are responsive to trends in virus transmission rates. Absolute rates remain in the low risk category, yet weekly data has demonstrated a consistent increase in virus transmission. Yesterday our state experienced the highest positivity rate since June, and just over the border, Westchester County saw the largest jump in positive cases since May while hospitalization rates recently doubled.

Westport students will continue to learn in school — and at home.

Our local Westport/Weston Health District (WWHD) has advised that we take a cautious approach in any reopening moves as they expect an increase in infection rates. There is evidence of an increase in rates of infection at the present moment.

Although there appears to be a window for a full return before the rates advance to a level that warrants additional restrictions, based on current trends in virus transmission, I do not see the value of what would likely be a temporary return. The trade off is not our current elementary model for a “normal” classroom and schooling experience. The trade off is the value of our current elementary model for a “pandemic classroom”.

As I articulated last night, with substantive support from the elementary principals and our Elementary Curriculum Coordinator, Ali Moran, our current model enables our faculty to deliver an instructional program during this time that would be restricted in the “pandemic classroom.” Our current model empowers our teachers to work closely with individual students and small groups, actively moving within the confines of our mitigating measures to ensure that academic progress is not lost, but actually advanced. It also supports social/emotional development in ways that would be compromised in a fully reopened “pandemic classroom.”

This week we have engaged in an analysis of our entire K-12 reopening instructional model with focus groups at each level for teachers, parents, and students. This information will be instrumental in our efforts to improve our programs for students. There are clearly areas for improvement. Although we will stay the course, this feedback could alter our practices across all levels, elementary, middle and high.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

If we are to be assured of anything it is that the landscape will continue to change. We’ve seen this since the onset of the pandemic in March. Guidance on masks, virus transmission on surfaces, and most recently on the effectiveness of neck gaiters, has evolved and changed regularly. In fact, my own thinking has changed as I received input from the school community and was able to conduct classroom observations in each elementary school. I anticipate that changes will continue and our responsiveness will mark our success.

Our next step is to receive the feedback from our focus groups and take action. It is likely that this will begin with reconvening the district wide School Reopening Committee. Updates will be forthcoming as we continue to move forward.

Given the advantages and disadvantages of a full reopening, I am confident that we can balance safety with desirable instructional experiences for our students by taking the prudent course of action at this particular point in time. We will continue to monitor the changing environment and look to fully return when infection rates stabilize and trend downward so that we are able to loosen the restrictions in the educational setting.

 

Roundup: Hybrid Schools, Hugh Jackman, Irrigation Ban, More


The current hybrid model — 2 days in person, 3 out for middle and high schoolers; morning and afternoon sessions for elementary-age youngsters — will continue at least through December.

Superintendent of schools Tom Scarice announced that decision last night, at a Board of Education meeting. It was driven by an uptick in coronavirus cases — a trend expected to rise this fall.

Public sentiment is divided. But Scarice called this “the prudent” and “correct” approach, based on current infection numbers, future models, the ability of educators to adapt to both in-person and distance learning, and input on how the hybrid model has worked so far.


Sure, it rained earlier this week. But Aquarion has announced a mandatory irrigation ban in southwest Fairfield County. The area — including Westport — has hit its 3rd “drought trigger” this fall.

Effective immediately, the ban includes automatic irrigation systems and hose end sprinklers. (Hand-held watering, soaker hose and drip irrigation continue to be permitted for new plantings.)

The ban will help ensure “an adequate water supply for everyday needs, and give reservoirs time to recover for the spring,” the water company says.

Click here for water conservation tips.

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 Last Friday, Hugh Jackman stopped by the Remarkable Theater.

Okay, the Australian actor was not actually at the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

But he did send a special message, introducing a screening of “The Greatest Showman” (and it had nothing to do with the music, by Staples High School graduate Justin Paul).

A video message from the movie’s creator and screenwriter Jenny Bicks also greeted the audience. The screening was in support of Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities.

Next up: “Playhouse at the Drive-in,” this Saturday night.


The Milken Institute Global Conference is in the midst of 8 days of inspiring talks and panels. This year’s topics are (of course) the global pandemic, and social injustice.

And (of course) it’s virtual. Over 4,000 of the world’s leading thinkers have tuned in.

There’s a solid Westport presence at the prestigious, 22nd annual event.

RTM member Kristin Schneeman is a director at FasterCures, part of the Milken Institute. Théo Feldman is an associate director, innovative finance there.

Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio was featured in a conversation, while the hedge fund’s CEO David McCormick spoke on a panel called “Leadership: Moving Beyond Conventional Thinking.

Feldman adds: “During last year’s Global Conference in Beverly Hills, I met a fellow Westporter: Russell Sherman. We realized his sister — Suzanne Sherman Propp — taught my daughter at Greens Farms Elementary School. And his niece did a play with my other daughter.”


As the weather turns cool, a pair of local religious institutions are sponsoring a coat drive for Person to Person.

Clothing should be bagged, and sorted by gender and age (adult or youth). Donations can be dropped off in a blue bin labeled “Coat Donations” on the side elevator entrance at Saugatuck Church, or The Conservative Synagogue.

Donation pick-ups are available too. Email alexandrawalsh9@gmail.com for arrangements.


Speaking of help: last week’s Longshore Ladies 9 Hole Golf Association annual fundraiser brought in plenty of groceries for the Westport Woman’s Club food closet. The event also raised over $1,170, which will go to gift cards for food insecure Westporters.

Donations for the Longshore golf food drive.


And finally … in honor of Hugh Jackman’s Westport “appearance” (and Justin Paul’s music):

 

Scarice Adds Info Re Coleytown El Closure

Yesterday afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice updated Westport families on the COVID-related closure of Coleytown Elementary School. He wrote:

Early this morning, the administration was informed by a staff member who self-reported that they had received notification overnight of a positive test. Given the tight timeline and that students and staff were to arrive within hours, I made the decision to close CES and Stepping Stones Preschool in order to implement our tracing protocols in conjunction with the Westport Weston Health District and our medical advisor. This is a 1-day closure, and both schools will reopen Monday.

The need to determine risk prior to receiving students was the primary reason for this decision. Additionally, the closure has enabled our facilities staff to perform a thorough cleaning of the school. The health and safety of our students and staff will continue to be our highest priority.

In working closely with the Westport Weston Health District and our medical advisor, it has been confirmed that the staff and students have implemented our mitigating measures by maintaining distance to the maximum extent possible, and by wearing masks. However, the Connecticut State Department of Education /Department of Public Health guidance indicates that decisions for exclusion from school and quarantine will be based on the individual circumstances of each case, including those who have spent a significant amount of time (i.e. more than 15 minutes) in the presence of a positive case, regardless of mask wearing.

Coleytown Elementary School. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

In this case it was determined that the students and staff in two CES classrooms spent a significant amount of time in the presence of a positive case. As a result, these individuals will be excluded from school community and have been recommended to quarantine for 14 days from the date of contact, September 10. To be clear, siblings and other family members of these children and staff do not need to quarantine.

I am quite certain that, for very good reasons, many in the school community prefer specific information about the individuals involved in this matter.  However, the school district administration is required to comply with all applicable laws and regulations regarding student and employee confidentiality and privacy.

The Americans with Disabilities Act precludes sharing the identity of an individual, with the exception of sharing the individual’s identity with a public health agency (e.g., Westport Weston Health District). In addition, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevents the school district from publicly sharing personally identifiable information derived from student education records.

In light of these confidentiality and privacy protections and our related legal obligations, as well as the need to protect the health and safety of the school community, we will continue to adhere to the appropriate means of notifying the school community of possible exposure to COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis.  Judgement will be used and each case might look a little different from another.

Some unintended consequences resulted in this matter as well. For example, the distance-learning teachers located at CES were not able to access their materials this morning, and as a result, those classes needed to be cancelled. The distance-learning specials were impacted similarly, yet this was not communicated to parents and I apologize for any inconvenience. We have reviewed this process so that we can maintain continuity to the maximum extent possible the next time we experience a closure or interruption of education.

I intentionally state, “the next time” since I want to reiterate that we are educating our students in the midst of a global pandemic. I expect that we will continue to confront circumstances like this throughout the duration of the pandemic. We will get better in our response each time. We will learn lessons from each event and we will continue to educate and develop our children to the very best of our ability.

Finally, we will continue to count on each other as we continue to rise up and endure this challenge.

COVID Caution Closes Coleytown El, Stepping Stones

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice sent this notice today to all Coleytown Elementary School families and staff:

The administration learned early this morning that a staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. Given the timing of the notice and our need to follow district protocols with contact tracing, as a precautionary measure, Coleytown Elementary School will be closed today, Friday, September 11, 2020, to students and staff. This closure includes the staff and students of Stepping Stones preschool.

[Principal Jenna] Sirowich and the administrative team will be working closely with the central office administrators, the Westport Weston Health District and our medical advisor to assess the impact of this positive COVID-19 test and begin contact tracing.  We will provide an update to the CES and preschool community later today.

In the interim, our custodial staff will be conducting a thorough cleaning of the building to ensure it is ready for reopening.

We regret needing to take this action and for the late notice but feel it is the most prudent decision so that we can implement the necessary tracing measures.  The health and safety of students and staff are our primary concern.

This was the scene Tuesday morning, at Coleytown Elementary School.(Photo/Stephanie Mastocciolo)

Schools Superintendent: Let’s Join Together For All Our Kids

On the day before the start of a new school year — one unlike any other — superintendent of schools Tom Scarice sent a message to Westport families. It too is unlike any back-to-school note sent before. He wrote:

I am certain that you have received countless messages from teachers, principals and others in the school system as we approach the first day of school tomorrow. I will do my best to keep this brief so that you could enjoy the last day of summer vacation, along with this gorgeous weather.

Enclosed in this message are necessary notifications for parents and guardians in order to start the school year. Please review at your earliest convenience.

Most importantly, I would like to welcome each of you  to the start of the 2020-2021 school year. This will be a unique year, and one that will require the abilities to communicate effectively, to adapt regularly, and to support each other as we navigate the realities of educating our students during a global pandemic.

Tom Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

Last April, during the initial COVID worldwide spread, Dimo’s Pizza in Chicago reinvented itself. Dimo’s owner Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau felt driven to respond to the pandemic. Realizing that his restaurant regularly makes things very quickly, in large quantities, and very cleanly, Syrkin-Nikolau recast the use of his pizza ovens to heat and shape acrylic face shields. Concurrently, Dimo’s continued to make pizzas, some for takeout and others donated to local hospitals.

Success stories such as this one have been reported all over private industry and the non-profit sector. Reinventing, i.e. transforming a process or recasting for a new use, is a bit more complex when considering teaching and learning. I am a purist in a sense in that I believe in the power of the interpersonal dynamic between the teacher and the student, live and in-person. Technology has augmented facets of education, yet it still has not, and some regards, I do not believe it ever will, replace the incalculable experience of the classroom.

Yet, for this school year, hundreds of Westport teachers and support staff are faced with this challenge.

Last Thursday I had the chance to formally address each and every employee of the Westport Public Schools, albeit, remotely. I shared my thoughts on how the highest performing systems, (i.e. teams, private industry, etc.) can “count” on each other for the greater good of the mission. I made specific promises of support to the team.

In my numerous conversations with teachers and support staff over the past few weeks, it is clear to me that within the midst of uncertainty and anxiety, there is a strong desire to do this right, to meet the needs of each and every student in a way never done before.

We are not, and will not be, perfect. We are a system comprised of people with all of the strengths, potential, and shortcomings that we bring collectively to our schools, present company included. However, like Dimo’s pizza, we are poised to rise up and reinvent, if only for this time period, while we continue to confront this pandemic. Our kids are counting on us.

Although I am not well-known to the community at this point, I am confident that you will all come to see me as an educational leader who is by nature, optimistic. I do not believe that optimism is the denial of current reality, but the belief that all things continually improve, that this too will get better.

Until that time, I ask that you join me in supporting our educators as they embark down a path of reinventing, even if for only this year, in order to meet the needs of our children. I ask that you offer your patience, your generosity, and your kindness.

In turn, on behalf of the Westport Public Schools team, I offer you the promise that we will do our very best to serve your child, to benchmark our progress and seek to continually improve, and to provide your child with not only an excellent education, but a nurturing place to grow and develop during this time.

As summer closes and we approach our first school day, I ask all in the school community, to rise up and join together to deliver for our children.

Most sincerely,
Tom Scarice

School Days: Scarice Recommends Hybrid Model

With less than a month to go before the school year begins, the look of that year is becoming clear.

Last night, in a Zoom meeting with the Board of Education, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice recommended a hybrid model. It’s different at each level, but consistent in one way: All students — at least, all who do not choose full-time remote learning — would spend half their time in school, half at home.

Staples High School would have 2 cohorts, based alphabetically on last name (A-K, L-Z).

One cohort would be in school Monday and Tuesday; the other, Thursday and Friday. There would be 4 classes a day; each class is 80 minutes long. When students are not in school, they’d be online.

On Wednesday, all students would learn remotely. The highly touted Connections group meetings would be held that day too.

The final 30 minutes of each day are set aside for teachers to support and connect with remote learners.

Staples high School

The middle school model divides students into cohorts too — both alphabetical, and based on their “home school” (Bedford or Coleytown). One group would in school Monday and Thursday, online Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. The other group is in school Tuesday and Friday, online Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

All middle school students would be online Wednesday, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. On that day, teachers will have professional responsibility time from 12:30 to 3:15.

Bedford Middle School (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

The elementary school model was developed thanks to “herculean, unparalleled work” by professionals at all 5 schools, Scarice said.

The elementary model — which emphasizes literacy and math for live instruction — splits youngsters into morning and afternoon groups. There would be live “online specials” when students are home; phys. ed., art, music and Spanish are taught once a week. Small group instrumental lessons and ensembles would be taught virtually. Students would eat at home.

Stepping Stones Preschool would be “business as close to usual” as possible. The class size is 9 to less than 14, meeting state guidelines.

Long Lots Elementary School

Scarice pulled no punches in his introductory remarks. “This is not a 100% data-driven decision. Nor should it be,” he said.

Noting “we are a community and nation enveloped in fear and uncertainty,” he acknowledged that any decision would impact “students, families, teachers, staff members and the entire community. We will not be able to answer every question. This is something we’ve never done before.

“There will be a perception of winners and losers,” he acknowledged. “We must remember: Our purpose is to serve students.”

Although there is a national debate over the role and conduct of education and educators, the superintendent said, “This is a moment for our profession to shine. I am fully confident we will do this very, very well.”

The Board also heard a proposal to move the first day for students back a week, from September 1 to September 8. Those extra days are needed for staff training.

The Board of Education will vote on the hybrid models, and the calendar change, at their next meeting, on Monday.

Superintendent of schools Tom Scarice, during last night’s Zoom meeting.

Board Of Ed Nears School Reopening Decision

Everyone wonders: What will the new school year look like?

Westport’s Board of Education continued discussion last night on what chair Candice Savin calls “the challenge of a lifetime for every educator.”

Educators are “reinventing every minute of the school day, and how everything gets done,” she adds.

Meeting via Zoom last night, the board examined  the 3 plans required by the state of Connecticut: full time, hybrid and distance learning. Each plan has 3 components: high school, middle school and elementary school.

Administrators at all levels have worked with district office personnel to devise new schedules for in-school and remote learning, along with protocols for testing, safety, lunch, transportation, visitors — and everything else that goes into a school day these days.

The path is still unclear to Staples — and Westport’s 7 other schools. (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

Superintendent of schools Tom Scarise expects to have final plans by August 15. That’s around the time parents will be asked if they intend to keep their children home no matter which plan is in place. Parents will also be asked if their school-bound youngsters will take a bus, or be driven.

The Board of Ed meets again next Monday. In the meantime they’ll refine each plan, with an eye toward district-wide continuity.

The board is also working with the Westport Weston Health District on measurement metrics — and figuring out what to do if students or staff test positive.

They’re also examining ventilation in all schools.

Reopening schools in a pandemic is a herculean task. It’s also one whose parameters change almost daily. Of course, any plan that’s selected may be refined, altered or scrapped completely once school actually begins.

Or Governor Lamont could intervene and make a decision for all schools.

Or the number of COVID cases could suddenly go south, forcing a complete re-evaluation of everything.

All of which makes last year’s big debate — remember school start time? — look like small potatoes.

School Superintendent Reports On Fall Planning

New superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice sent this email to all Westport families last night:

Last night [Monday] I had the fortune of participating in my first business meeting of the Westport Board of Education as the superintendent of schools. I am honored to serve in this role and it is indeed humbling to lead this esteemed school community.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

However, like most things in our lives right now, my transition into this role is unusual. Similar to the patterns of our personal and professional lives that have undergone profound changes over the past four months or so, I have foregone the typical incremental induction period for full immersion into the work before us.

Although I am disappointed to abandon the opportunities to meet and develop rapport with individuals across the system, I am fully aware of the community’s urgency to not only develop, but to communicate the reopening plans for the 2020-2021 school year.

With that, I will dive into an update on our work in preparing our schools for the upcoming school year and reserve a more traditional written statement to the community for a future date.

The Context

As I shared at the Board of Education meeting last night, I have found that there is a great deal of fear and uncertainty in communities across the country and it is a fragile time. To complicate matters, there are some contradictions in professional recommendations and guidelines in how to effectively respond to the pandemic. Additionally, there are demands from our state leaders and questions from our parents, our faculty and staff, and our larger community,

Yet, as the public health community confronts this novel virus and learns more by the day, and after considering the fundamental role schools play in child and adolescent development, confidence has grown among many in the medical field that reopening our schools for all students for on-site full day schooling is the appropriate, and necessary, course of action.

Such professional organizations as the American Academy of Pediatrics have weighed the benefits of mitigating measures such as school closures and concluded that the goal of the coming school year should start with all students physically present in school. In addition, Governor Lamont has also called on Connecticut towns and cities to welcome all students for on-site full day schooling for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

Governor Lamont encourages all schools — like Staples High School, shown here — to open this fall.

In response to this call, we will work as a system to institute the necessary safety measures to ensure a high quality learning environment, including social and emotional learning, for all students.

However, these calls come with caveats. First, endorsements of a full reopening of schools for all students are predicated on low transmission rates of the virus in communities. Currently, the transmission rates are such that a full return to school in the fall is justified.

Secondly, any return to school must include mitigating measures such as physically distancing to the extent possible, limiting transitions, cohorting groups of students where possible, regular facility disinfecting, compulsory hygiene practices, effective screening measures, and face coverings.

With low transmission rates and rigorous mitigating measures, I encourage the community to welcome a full return to school this fall. Although this approach will not eliminate risk as there are no ”zero risk” approaches, evidence has emerged that schools appear to be low risk settings for virus transmission if the community transmission rates remain low and the mitigating measures are followed with fidelity.

The district will respond with a hybrid, or full distance learning model, if transmission rates surge. The metrics for this decision will be provided by the Connecticut State Department of Public Health and the local Westport/Weston Health District.

Next Steps

As we move forward into the summer months we are obligated to submit a plan to the Connecticut State Department of Educations for the reopening of our schools. This plan is due July 24. However, there will be a full preview and deliberation on the components of the plan at the July 20 public meeting of the Board of Education. This plan will be posted for review prior to the meeting.

The final product will be a comprehensive document crafted by the education and health professionals serving on our “Westport Reopening School Committee.” This plan will contain the volumes of work conducted over the past month related to:

  • Health and Safety – the specific mitigating measures that will be employed to minimize the transmission of the virus while supporting the social and emotional wellness of our children and adolescents
  • Facilities and Operations – the cleaning, disinfecting and infection control measures that will be in place to limit the transmission of the virus, as well as the transportation and food services practices that will be instituted
  • Teaching and Learning – the pedagogy, scheduling and overall learning experiences that will provide purposeful and regular live interactions between teachers in students, whether engaged in on-site schooling, or a blended/distance model
  • Co-Curricular Programming – the extra-curricular experiences that provide programming to meet the physical, artistic, and enrichment needs of our children and adolescents.

Critical partnerships with local medical professionals and public health experts have provided a framework for the development and implementation of the plan. In addition, these professionals will provide ongoing consultation in advancing mitigating measures, identifying and treating cases of transmission, and effectively tracing contacts after transmission.

Lessons learned from the spring distance learning have provided our professional educators with valuable experience in the pursuit to continually improve our teaching and learning. Live instruction, naturally when students are engaged in on-site schooling, has emerged as a necessity for any blended or distance learning model. These approaches will augment the current pedagogy employed by our teaching staff.

As confidence grows in an environment with low transmission rates and strong mitigating measures, it is important for parents to understand that the Governor’s call for a full return to school comes with an important option for parents. You, as a parent, have the option to choose a distance learning model for your child in lieu of on-site schooling.

The primary features of this model will be included in the Westport reopening plan. In the near future, the school district will follow up on the initial parent survey recently administered to accurately project the number of parents that will invoke this option in order to appropriately plan for upcoming school year.  You will have the option to subsequently modify your choice. Further information will be provided related to these procedures.

As superintendent, I am committed to increasing the frequency and substance of communication to the school community. In the future, I intend to provide brief insights to our work on a regular basis. This initial communication is critical in setting the stage for the next steps in our plan to return to reopening our schools. Thank you for your attention and support as we work to serve the children and adolescents of the Westport community.

Sincerely,
Thomas Scarice