Tag Archives: Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice

“06880” Podcast: Tom Scarice

Westport’s superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice stopped by the Westport Library the other day, for a return visit to “06880: The Podcast.”

As another school year begins, we discussed a host of issues: moving beyond COVID; students’ mental health; social and emotional learning; parents’ roles, rights and responsibilities; police and security; buses and start times, and much more.

As always, the schools’ chief administrator was direct, clear, and armed with plenty of real-life examples.

Click below, for a very educational half-hour.

Scarice Details School Security, Support Efforts After Attack On Israel

In the wake of last weekend’s attack on Israel — and several security issues that followed this week, at schools across the country — superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice offers these words to the Westport community:

Like all of you I have watched and listened in horror to the atrocities committed in Israel over the past week. Categorically together with you, the Westport Public Schools stand against, and condemn, all forms of hate and violence.

Our job as public educators is to support the growth and development of our students. That work is optimized in an environment marked by physical and emotional well-being, one in which students feel safe, and an abiding sense of belonging and affiliation. This is the foundation of all learning.

As much as we try, the chaos and evils of the outside world penetrate the walls of our schools. When this happens, we respond to the best of our abilities.

Rather than divide and scatter, as chaos and evil can do, we work to pull closer together as a wider Westport school community to serve our students. This is evident in how our teachers and support staff earnestly seek resources to support our students, in how our police and first responders organize to ensure our schools remain safe, and in how local community groups, such as our faith community and town Human Services Department mobilize in times of need.

In the Spirit of Our Shared Humanity
I came across this last night.  In the spirit of our shared humanity, in the face of inhumane acts, I find this to be someone who can sometimes say the difficult things out loud while transcending whatever boundaries exist between us.  I’m dating myself a bit here, and I’m not even a diehard U2 fan, but as I experienced a range of emotions this week, from abject sadness to outright fury, his voice and language spoke to me, and I hope it resonates with you.

School Security
Given the current and enduring climate of social media, I’d like to reiterate my security message to the school community from September. I expect a continued assault on our senses from social media in the coming weeks and months. Social media has proven to exploit some of the very worst of humanity. These messages will likely stir profound fear.

Yet I want to assure our school community that we have tremendous resources in place to ensure the safety and well-being of our students and staff.

Last month the town approved funding for additional armed police officers who are assigned exclusively to our campuses. These 4 school security officers are dedicated entirely to patrol our campuses.  They do not act as general patrol officers for our town, but as police officers for our school campuses.

One SSO is assigned to each of the following:  Coleytown Middle and Elementary; Kings Highway/Saugatuck Elementary, Staples High/Bedford Middle, and Greens Farms/Long Lots.  Their schedules align with arrival and dismissal times of the schools.

In addition to these 4 police officers assigned to our schools, the district hosts another police officer, a school resource officer at Staples High School. This officer implements the “triad model” of “school resource officer policing”: educator, informal counselor, law enforcement officer.

Ed Wooldridge is Staples’ highly regarded and very popular school resource officer.

Furthermore, each school has a full-time security guard who is assigned to the interior of our schools.  Together with the building administration, each security guard is in close contact with each campus assigned SSO.

As the building administration and security guards work to ensure safety inside our schools, the SSOs are assigned to patrol our school campuses, school grounds, and assist with traffic, pedestrians, and overall safety measures. SSOs are invited in our schools by building administrators when necessary.

Above all, these additional officers significantly increase response time in the event of an emergency, a critical strategy in school security.

We are on high alert every day. This is the reality of school security in the modern world. We are well resourced and prepared each day to provide a safe learning environment.

Other Responsive Efforts to Coordinate Support for Students
In order to coordinate our responsive efforts, I discussed our approach with the PTA presidents from all 8 schools in our monthly meeting on Wednesday. This group is instrumental in providing me feedback from the parent population.  Furthermore, this group of parent leaders/volunteers offers consequential input into the district’s decisions and has an ongoing opportunity to share insights and feedback from the parent population. I am a better educational leader as a result of their critical feedback.

In addition, I reached out to Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn, president of the Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston, to schedule a meeting next week with the local rabbis as I seek additional guidance on how to best support our Jewish students. This will be followed by a subsequent meeting with the Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston.

Our team has been in contact with Jewish Family Services in order to coordinate and provide support to Jewish families or staff in need. Jewish Family Services provides open office hours with trained social workers who offer clinical support in the following areas for those in need:

  • coping with emotional responses to trauma
  • expressing grief and fear
  • finding comfort in community

Finally, I held the monthly meeting of our district Leadership Team, composed of all 45 district administrators. We reviewed our security protocols, discussed how to best support students and staff, and coordinated resources within, and outside, the school buildings.

Support for Families In Talking with Your Children
One of our roles as educators is to provide parents with resources to support the development of your children. Although this is a very challenging topic, the following resources should prove helpful if you are struggling with a discussion with your child:

Please do not hesitate to contact one of our counselors, school psychologists, or building administrators if you need additional support and guidance with your child.

School Bus Fleet Solution: Greens Farms Station

The school buses parked at Staples High School that have annoyed neighbors with early morning noise and idling — and impacted parking in front of the building — may soon move.

Other buses may join them.

Their destination: the Greens Farms train station.

Superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice says, “We have worked collaboratively with the town. We expect by the beginning of next week to have most of the fleet stationed at Staples to be relocated to the Greens Farms train station. We are doing our best to get the entire fleet there. Concurrently, we continue to pursue permanent options.

Buses parked during the day at Staples High School. (Photo/Stefanie Lemcke)

“On a separate note, the last couple of weeks have shown demonstrably better arrival and departure times to and from school. The service continues to improve, and we are getting significantly more positive feedback from our school and our families.

“It is remarkable to continue to improve the level of performance in the face of some significant headwinds, such as pervasive traffic volume in town that is likely the new norm, a decentralized bus parking model at the schools at the current moment, and be continued struggle to fully staff our bus drivers.

“That said, given these challenges, we will never be perfect, and delays will occur from time to time. However, our focus is on the pattern of performance and ensuring we can deliver a consistent pattern over time high performance.

Several years ago, utility crews used the Greens Farms railroad station as a staging area. (Photo/Robert Cornfield)

“We have now had 2 separate bus companies recommend 45 minutes between our tiers. We have operated with 30 minutes between tiers for years.  Given what we see as a new normal for volume and traffic in town, this may need to be revisited again at some point. I shared this observation with the Board of Education recently.

“Since the contract was approved, and we had approval to park at our schools, we have continued from that moment on to pursue a range of long-term options.

“We knew that changing transportation providers, which had been a community priority for many years, even with special committees at the town and Board of Finance level, we would have to persist in resolving the parking challenge.

“We currently operate in an interim plan with a long-term plan being pursued. We will go back to Planning & Zoning on an ‘as needed’ basis to bridge the time between now and establishing a permanent parking solution.

“I am most optimistic. We will do this, and we will continue to provide markedly better service to our schools and families, as evidenced by the performance over the last couple of weeks.

“I could not be more appreciative of the patience of our families and schools in the interim.”

[OPINION] First Student Is New Nightmare

Dr. Stefanie Lemcke lives on North Avenue. She is the founder and CEO of Gokid, a carpooling technology for schools. Stefanie writes:

When my husband and I learned (after the fact) that Mary Young, director of Westport’s Planning & Zoning Department, had issued a permit allowing the new school bus company First Student to park at Staples and other Westport schools, we were concerned.

First, there had been no notice or public hearing on the matter. In fact, we only learned of the permit when P&Z issued a press release.

Second, we believed any such decision properly lay with the Planning & Zoning Commission, and not with Ms. Young.

And third, we were concerned that this was a backhanded way to save money by permanently moving the parking to school property. (The previous company provided  a parking lot on the Post Road).

We were assured, however, that this was only an interim measure, and that the conditions attached to the permit would protect neighbors and adequately address our concerns. 

It turns out that we were right to be worried. Not only are these buses creating additional traffic around schools, but every weekday since school started, our entire North Avenue neighborhood has been awakened at 5:45 a.m. by the sound of buses firing up, then beeping and backing up, as well as the sound of motors idling.

Every morning, way before school starts, we have also been treated to the toxic pollution produced by those engines. Here’s a video:

Ali Stanley of Willow Walk says: “Since the first day of school I have been awakened by the beeping and honking of the buses parked at Staples. I look forward to October 31 when they can find an alternate home. The noise pollution is unsustainable.”

We raised the problem with the schools, the town and the Board of Education over the past week. We believed that we were on firm ground in doing so. After all, the permit expressly prohibits any activity that “adversely impact[s] the students, neighbors, and the community at large.”

Moreover, the permit states that any complaints will be resolved within 7 days.

Yet the town has done nothing to remedy the situation. In fact, when we raised the issue of idling buses, we were told that this was simply the company “doing their maintenance thing.” (Never mind that maintenance is specifically prohibited on school grounds.) 

We are particularly concerned because the permit is due to expire on October 31, and to the best of our knowledge, the town has done nothing to procure alternative sites for the buses.

Buses parked during the day at Staples High School. (Photo/Stefanie Lemcke)

We believe that it would be unconscionable (and potentially illegal) for the town to extend this permit, given the lack of public input at the time it was adopted and the environmental and health consequences for residents.

It is time for the town to become more transparent about these types of decisions, to include neighbors in the process, and to reveal what efforts have been undertaken to find a permanent location for the buses.

We are a leading school district, so let’s lead by example: We are asking to bring back dedicated, off-campus parking for buses, which will decrease traffic around school sites, improve access, air quality, and safety for students and staff, and generally improve our quality of life. 

Last week, in response to numerous concerns about school buses — including not only school parking, but routes and reliability —  superintendent of school Thomas Scarice addressed the bus question. In an email to Westport Public Schools parents, he wrote:

The district has officially transitioned transportation providers from Dattco to First Student. Our efforts certainly are not perfect, particularly at the beginning of the school year, but performance is much improved and will only continue to get better as the days and weeks ensue.

Bus Parking:  The district secured temporary authorization to park in our school lots through October 31 and we are actively pursuing options for the permanent parking of buses. An extension of authorization for school-based parking may need to be pursued in the interim.

New Buses:  A completely new fleet of buses will roll off the assembly line and into our schools in December. When that happens, the transportation app will return. The current fleet does not have the technology to support the transportation app.

First Student buses. (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Drivers:  There is a full roster of drivers this year, which significantly contributes to more reliability. Many Dattco drivers have been hired by First Student. However, there could be a time where a combined route is necessary if a significant number of drivers call out on a given day. There are a couple of routes that continue to need attention to improve performance and I can assure our families that this work is underway. Improvements will continue to be felt in the coming days and weeks.

Traffic: One pervasive challenge that has only worsened is the traffic volume around town. As we moved beyond the pandemic, traffic patterns became problematic. These problems are worse this year than any of my three previous years. We will work to reroute as needed to mitigate the effects of town traffic.

Overall, the entire transportation operation is better, but there is still plenty of room for improvement, particularly at this point in the school year. Communication will improve and parents should look for messages from building administrators when there are delays.

To support our ask to bring back a dedicated school bus parking lot, please email me: stlemcke@gmail.com.

(“06880” covers education, transportation, town politics — and all related issues — 24/7/365. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)

Scarice Challenges School Staff: Listen. Grow. Make A Difference.

The Westport Public Schools employ nearly 1,000 people.

And every one — teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, nurses, psychologists, social workers, cafeteria workers, custodians, secretaries, security guards — impacts every one of its 5,300-plus students.

Every adult impacts every other one, too.

That was superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice’s message yesterday, at the opening convocation of the 2023-24 year.

The high-energy event in the Staples High auditorium marked the only time all year the entire staff gathers together.

They heard the 4th-year superintendent speak in intensely personal terms about his family, his life, and his vision for the district.

It’s ranked 17th nationally, out of all 13,452 school districts, by Niche.

Superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice, at yesterday’s district-wide convocation.

“I dismiss the value of rankings, and their methodology,” Scarice said. “But they mean something to a community.”

More important than rankings, he noted, is that the school experience be valuable and meaningful to every single student.

For that to happen, Scarice said, every staff member, at every level and position in the district, must understand that every interaction with every student matters.

He illustrated his point by mentioning 2 recent graduates. Both had uneven paths during school; both are now successful and happy.

Scarice asked anyone in the auditorium who ever had any interaction with those students — no matter how small — to stand.

Dozens did.

Scarice expanded on that idea by describing his family’s summer trip to the Grand Canyon. As majestic as it is, it was formed very slowly — changing only the depth of a single piece of paper, a year at a time.

“Everyone should see the Grand Canyon,” superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice said, to appreciate both its grandeur and the importance of change.

“Change is inevitable,” he said. “But it’s important that as we change, we also progress.”

Scarice quoted Jacob Riis: “Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps 100 times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the 101st blow it will split in 2, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

He related that quote to his own family — particularly the experiences of his father, who grew up in a New Haven divided strictly by race and ethnicity.

It was big news when Scarice was 9, and a Black family moved next door in their suburban neighborhood.

His father’s relationship with Calvin — the man next door — grew slowly over the years. When Calvin died of cancer in 2003, Tom’s family attended the evangelical church service.

Scarice will never forget his father’s words about Calvin: “He was a good man. He was one of the best friends I ever had.”

That was only the third time in his life that Scarice saw his father cry.

“That is how we change over time,” he said, tying the story back to his earlier comments.

Scarice challenged every district employee to change and grow. The way to do that, he added, is to listen to every student and colleague’s stories.

Every day, he said, “is an opportunity to strike at that stonecutter’s stone.” Every interaction — no matter how seemingly small or unseen — matters.

Soon, the convocation was over. The nearly 1,000 attendees headed back to meetings, planning and preparation.

A new school year — filled, as always, with excitement, anticipation, and countless chances for growth — begins Tuesday.

(The opening convocation also included the announcement of Westport’s Teacher of the Year: Bedford Middle School social studies instructor and team leader Lou DeFichy. A full story will appear later on “06880.”)

(Education is important to “06880” — this blog, and this community. Please click here to help us continue covering all our schools. Thank you!)

Resident: Student Reps On Board of Ed “Illegal”

The Board of Education will add 2 high school representatives soon: one senior and one junior, both from Staples.

There are caveats. They cannot vote or read board correspondence. They will not attend executive sessions (which may deal with personnel, security and other sensitive matters). They must be in good academic standing.

It’s not a novel concept. At least a dozen other districts in the state — including Madison, where superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice previously served — have student representatives on their Boards of Education.

All 4 Democrats voted in favor of the proposal. All 3 Republicans opposed it.

Most public comment was positive. One resident, Camilo Riano, wondered why students should have more rights than he does in addressing the board.

Staples PTA co-president Michele Carey-Moody noted that any adult who wants a voice on the Board of Ed could run for a seat on it.

Now Riano has taken his concerns a step further.

He retained attorney Vincent Marino, who emailed 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker.

Marino says, “the Board will grant these new appointees the privilege to participate during each meeting ‘seated at the Board table’ with the right and expectation ‘to contribute to the Board’s decision-making process.’…

“The student representatives are expected to recommend suggestions and topics. for discussion and consideration by the Board.’ The student representatives are further expected to ‘speak on any issue on the Board meeting agenda or motion before the Board.'”

Riano charges the Board with illegally creating 2 ex-officio membership positions, not authorized by the town charter or Representative Town Meeting.

Riano says that the charter does not establish or authorize ex-officio positions, or give the board the authority to increase its membership, and that all members shall be elected.

Marino emailed Tooker because, he says, “if such authority exists, it rests with the RTM or with you as First Selectwoman, not with the Board itself. The Board’s action is, at a minimum, an illegal usurpation of legislative authority.”

On behalf of Riano, he requests that Tooker rule the board’s action out of order, “and void ab initio.”

He adds, “If permitted to stand, the Board’s illegal action creates a precedent that boards and commissions can circumvent the RTM and unilaterally disrupt the composition of their membership, including the partisan balance.”

Scarice and Board of Ed chair Lee Goldstein said they had been advised by the board’s attorney that the board could add student representatives.

Late yesterday, 1st Selectwoman Tooker could not be reached for comment.

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Staples Book Challenge Withdrawn

The battle over 3 books in the Staples High School library is over.

After Westport resident Tara McLaughlin complained about the LGBTQ-themed works — “Flamer,” “Gender Queer” and “This Book is Gay” — a special committee held public hearings.

The committee voted on each book separately. Each vote was 10-0 in favor of retention.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice upheld the committee’s recommendations.

His decision was appealed.

This afternoon, Scarice told “06880” that the appeal has been withdrawn.

Each committee member read the 3 books challenged by Tara McLaughlin.

Intimidation Tactic Appalls Residents

Monday’s Board of Education meeting was heated. The Staples High School library’s banned books display was one reason. Another was the board’s vote against adding that issue to their already long agenda.

But residents were allowed to speak during the public session, before the first agenda item. Nine did.

Midway through the discussion, a man in a beige coat moved quickly toward a teenage girl. Lilly Weisz was taking photos for Inklings, the school newspaper.

He stood menacingly over her. “He was really, really intimidating,” one observer said.

Two Westport Public Schools staff members — waiting for a later agenda item — got up, to stand nearby.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice saw what was happening. He left his seat, and stood next to the student for several minutes. “He wanted to make sure she was safe,” a meeting attendee said.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice stands between an Inklings reporter and a man who had moved intimidatingly toward her. (Contributed photo)

One person at the meeting was so worried, he called 911.

Eventually, the man left.

Lilly says, “As a journalist, we’re trained to expect anything from anyone. There was a lot of tension at the meeting, and there are a feelings about journalists all around the nation.”

She says the man approached her, and asked why she was taking pictures. She explained she was with the school paper. “I’m here to gather as much information as I can, and write an unbiased article.”

She felt “aggression toward me.” However, Lilly says, after other people talked to him, he apologized.

“I don’t think he represents his entire side,” she notes. “People from both sides thanked me afterward for reporting on the issue. Overall, I felt supported by the community. I think people wanted me to succeed.”

Lilly’s story will appear in the next print edition of Inklings.


The paper’s co-advisor Mary Elizabeth Fulco says, “I am extremely proud of my Inklings reporter, Lilly Weisz, for her demonstrated maturity, professionalism and courage.”

Several residents contacted “06880” yesterday, saying they had never seen behavior like that. One called it “appalling, and abhorrent.”

We all know that over the past few years, social norms, civility and public discourse have deteriorated.

Up to now, behavior like that has happened in other places.

On Monday night, it was in full display at an open town meeting.

Right here in our town.

Banned Books Controversy Reaches Board Of Ed

Last night, a controversy brewing on social media bubbled over to the Board of Education.

In the meeting’s public session, several residents spoke about a “banned books” display at the Staples High School library. The event — held for 17 years, and sponsored by the American Library Association — includes the 10 most challenged books from the previous year.

Three of the books addressed LGBTQ issues. They are “Gender Queer,” “Lawn Boy” and “This Book is Gay.” All have been in the Staples library for 3-5 years. Some or all of them are also in the school libraries of neighboring towns, and districts similar to Staples elsewhere in Connecticut and Westchester County.

Seven speakers last night spoke vehemently against the display. They called the books “pornographic” and “inappropriate for children.”

Some of the speakers said that Westport schools are “grooming” and “sexualizing” students.

One woman charged Staples with “indoctrinating” students into Marxism. “You obviously want to dismantle the nuclear family,” she said.

Two speakers voiced approval of the banned books display. “It is important for disparate views to be heard” in school, one said.

The controversy was not on the Board’s agenda. A motion to add it for discussion last night was defeated.

Last week, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent a long letter to the Board of Education. He explained relevant Westport Public Schools policies; the materials selection process; the results of his investigation into “Banned Book Week,”and the process by which residents can challenge materials.

Click here to see Scarice’s full letter.



Unsung Hero #241

Thomas Scarice has been superintendent of schools for less than 2 years. He took the job in the early days of COVID. He knew he’d deal with an unprecedented educational crisis — and would have to learn his new school district in unprecedented ways.

He’s done that, and much more. Today, grateful Westporter Rachel Markus explains why she nominated him  for this week’s Unsung Hero honors:

Thomas Scarice has been a fantastic leader for educators, students and parents since taking the helm during such challenging times.

His compassion for all parties and open, honest, informative communications have endeared him to many. His ability to help us navigate through tragedies — from one in the community at the end of the 2021 school year, to the unspeakable event in Texas — with such compassion and empathy, while marshalling resources — is a wonderful reminder that our children are in wonderful and capable hands in the Westport school system.

Superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice doing what he loves most: Sitting with students. This photo is from Long Lots Elementary School.

Tom Scarice has proven time and again his ability to listen and encourage patience and dialogue; to wait for information and truth before rushing to make decisions or hasty conclusions.

His tireless dedication to the community is evident in the little things too, such as his 4 a.m. calls with meteorologists in the unenviable task of predicting when to call a snow day.

Many other Westporters — including those without children in the school system — echo Rachel’s words. As the school year ends: Thanks, Superintendent of Schools Scarice, for guiding us so well through it.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email 06880blog@gmail.com)