Tag Archives: Westport Board of Education

Thomas Scarice: New Schools Superintendent, In His Own Words

Last month — just days before Connecticut’s public schools were closed due to the coronavirus — Madison superintendent Thomas Scarice sent this note to all families in town. 

Last night, the Board of Education approved his appointment as Westport’s new superintendent of schools. It’s too early for “06880” to interview him. But this note — posted to Facebook’s “Westport Front Porch” page by Maria Vailakis-Wippick — offers great insight into our new education chief. 

In announcing his hiring, the Board of Ed called him “a great communicator,” “intelligent,” “driven,” “innovative,” “warm” and “engaging.” Based on the message below, they nailed it.

We are about to embark on a radical departure from the normal teaching and learning process that our professionals have been trained in, and employed in our classrooms for years. This is being done over a couple of weeks in March during a global pandemic in which we are largely forbidden to connect in person. This has never been done before, nor has any educator been prepared for this moment. The conditions are almost impossible and that is not lost on me. However, there is profound focus and energy among our teachers in launching this once, and doing it right. That said, there will be obstacles and challenges. We ask that all families patiently work with us and remain flexible.

Next week, there will be further information about the scope of our distance/online learning program, set to launch March 30, at the conclusion of this short-term closure window. Our goal is to successfully launch this program while encouraging direct contact with your child’s teacher along the way. Please continue to use our optional interim learning experiences on our website in the meantime. Stay tuned for detailed information next week.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

Some Final Thoughts
In February of 2016 something magical took place in the scorched arid region of California known as Death Valley. Following years of drought and unrelenting heat, one of the hottest and driest places on the planet experienced a breathtaking phenomenon. Millions of seeds lying dormant buried under the dusty desert soil collectively burst to life, carpeting the floor of this barren stretch with over 20 species of magnificent wildflowers for miles and miles in what is now called a “super bloom.” These flowers have laid dormant for years, silently waiting for the conditions to call them back to life.

As our connections and sense of purpose begin to escape us during this global crisis, nerves fray and a sobering reality settles in. It is becoming increasingly likely that school, the place of connections and purpose for our children, and the soul of any community, will be closed for the remainder of the year. For now, it will be replaced by a virtual facsimile that could never replicate the warmth of a teacher’s words, the sense of belonging our children crave. Sadly, it is also likely that we will all eventually know someone who contracts this virus, and perhaps, we will all know someone who we may lose to this virus. It is precisely in times like this where we can see the very worst and the very best in each other.

The generation we serve in our schools today was born under the shadow of 9/11, raised in terror of Sandy Hook, seduced by the perverted temptations of social media and dopamine hits, and now finds itself facing a generational crisis, all the while aching for the adults in their lives to show them their very best, in the most challenging of times. Their childhood innocence, a natural endowment, has been violently stripped. They are looking for the very best in us right now. They are counting on us.

We tend to find exactly what we are looking for in life. If you want to see the best in each other, now is the time to look for it. It is there. Perhaps it is dormant, like the millions of wildflowers below the surface of Death Valley. Right now, the conditions are right. The conditions all around us summon the very best in us, even if it lays dormant, back to life.

There are acts of kindness happening all around us, big and small. There are people subordinating their comforts for the welfare of others. If we fasten our attention to these people, and to their examples, perhaps our measure of humane kindness can outpace the spread of this contagion. The very best in us is there if we look for it. If you look around, you’ll see countless young eyes watching us, counting on us.

I want to assure you that those who care for your children every day in our schools accept the responsibility to help our community through this crisis. It is time to see our very best. If we can find a way to meet the needs of your child, perhaps it will then cascade some semblance of normalcy and solace to your family, and then perhaps throughout our entire community.

The very best in us may be out in the open, or, like the millions of wildflowers beneath the floor of the desert, it may lie dormant. Now is the time for our best to come out. Perhaps they have never counted on us any more than right now.

 

Madison Educator Is Westport’s New Schools Superintendent

Proclaiming himself fully aware of Westport’s challenges — and eager to get started — Thomas Scarice was named tonight as Westport’s new superintendent of schools.

For the last 8 years, Scarice has served as superintendent in Madison — an affluent and high-achieving New Haven suburb.

But he’s no stranger to Fairfield County education. Prior to that post, Scarice was assistant superintendent of the Weston public schools.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

Before their unanimous (and socially distant) online vote, the 7 Board of Education members praised the new schools’ head with enthusiasm and passion.

He was hailed as “a great communicator,” “intelligent,” “driven,” “innovative,” “a strategic thinker,” “warm” and “engaging.”

Interim superintendent David Abbey — who also was warmly praised for his leadership over the past year — called him a “thought leader.” In fact, Abbey said, “I follow him on Twitter.”

The board noted that even among a “truly exceptional pool” of candidates, Scarice stood out.

In his remarks, the new education leader acknowledged both the coronavirus crisis, and the difficulties Westport public schools have endured. (In the past two years, Coleytown Middle School was closed due to mold, and former superintendent Colleen Palmer resigned after a tumultuous 3-year tenure.)

But our recent national crisis, he said, underscore the crucial role that public schools play. Referencing both 9/11 and Sandy Hook, he noted that helping students in times like these are “part of my calling as an educator.”

Scarice thanked search consultant Joe Erardi, the Board of Education, Dr. Abbey (“an educational giant — a Yoda”), and praised the Westport staff he will soon lead.

Scarice — whose Twitter profile reads “Husband of Kerry, Father of Ella, Owen, and Gavin. Superintendent of schools. Mission driven to transform schooling. Child-centered is the only way I roll” — begins officially on July 1.

Thomas Scarice tonight on the Board of Education livestream, moments after being Westport’s new superintendent of schools.

“State Of The Town” Meeting Set For Sunday

Presidents have their State of the Union addresses. Governors deliver (oddly named) “State of the State” talks.

This Sunday (January 26, 2 p.m., Westport Library), 1st Selectman Jim Marpe will discuss the “State of the Town.” He’ll be joined by Board of Education chair Candice Savin.

They’ll look back at town and school accomplishments over the past year, and preview upcoming initiatives.

There’s audience participation too. A question-and-answer session will be led by RTM deputy moderator Jeffrey Wieser.

The event is sponsored by Westport’s 2 Rotary clubs.

“06880” Persona Interview: Board Of Education Candidate Lee Goldstein

“06880” continues our series of “Persona” video interviews with candidates for local office. Rob Simmelkjaer produces these, as part of his new venture that helps users create casual, interesting conversational videos.

Today’s interview is with Democratic Board of Education candidate Lee Goldstein. Saugatuck Elementary School PTA member Jen Berniker conducted the interview. Click below:

To see all other Persona conversations, click here.

[OPINION] Danielle Dobin: A Vision For Westport Middle School Education

Danielle Dobin is the mother of a Staples High School 9th grader and a Bedford Middle School 6th grader, and vice chair of Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission. Like many Westporters, she has followed the debate over the future of our middle schools — begun a year ago, when mold caused the closure of Coleytown — with great interest.

School district officials, the Boards of Education and Finance, and a special committee are moving ahead with plans to renovate CMS, and reopen it next fall. However, Dobin says, that may not be the right move. She writes:

While the closure of Coleytown Middle School has been a challenge for our community, we can turn it into an opportunity. We can create a modern and innovative middle school that delivers excellent education to all students.

Right now, we are on a path to spend $32 million (minimum) to renovate CMS.  But many in town question that path. They wonder about the wisdom of revamping a building designed by the standards of 1965. They are beginning to see the demographic challenges of running 2 middle schools with declining enrollment. Most importantly, they are beginning to question the rush to get back into CMS without carefully considering all options.

Coleytown Middle School is closed due to mold. Right now, it is set to reopen next fall.

It’s time to pause, and review all the new data and information at our disposal.  It is time to finally have the kind of community conversation a decision of this importance demands.

I want to be clear for those who are only now engaged in this process: When CMS closed, there was no thoughtful discussion — much less a town-wide debate — about what kind of middle school structure would best serve the needs of 21st century education in Westport.

Other important matters like the Downtown Plan and Saugatuck Transit-Oriented Development involved meaningful public outreach and various charettes, surveys and meetings to gauge public opinion. There was nothing like that last year.

Timing (“get CMS back as quickly as possible”) was prioritized over thoughtful consideration of all options available to us. The Board of Education did begin a process to explore options, but this was quickly circumvented. As a result, we did not plan for the future. We simply opted to re-create the past.

So what has changed?

First, let’s recognize that we have time to develop a thoughtful solution. Middle school at Bedford is working well. With the improvements of additional teaching and office spaces, a 9-period day and a merged student population, students are thriving.

We are no longer in the time crunch we thought we were in. We have the flexibility to take the time necessary to decide the best path forward in terms of design, budget and vision.

Bedford Middle School currently houses every 6th, 7th and 8th grader in town.

Second, as is becoming increasingly obvious, our demographics no longer easily support the choice to maintain 2 middle schools. Moreover, the work of the Board of Ed and the many maps circulated by their demographer make clear that while some redistricting plans may create parity in the middle schools in terms of balanced enrollment, it comes at great cost to our elementary schools.

At the elementary school level, these plans create immense disruption. They lead to dramatic under- and over-utilization of various schools. No simple re-balancing solution on the table achieves all of the criteria set forth by the Board of Education.

This was not understood by most residents — or even many elected officials — until quite recently.

Third, the CMS Taskforce under the strong leadership of Don O’Day has done a fine job of researching the cost to repair CMS and managing a complicated process. My call to rethink our path is in no way a criticism of their important work.

In fact, they can concurrently continue their process while as a town we mull whether we want to actually repair CMS.

Construction has not yet begun at CMS, so sunk costs are minimal. Before we decide as a town that we want to spend millions of dollars repairing a circa-1965 building, let’s confirm that the cost will be limited to $32 million.

Let’s also figure out our tipping point. What if the cost to repair is $35 million. What if it’s $45 million?

I propose we take advantage of all the new information, and reconsider the path we are taking. Let’s take a thoughtful look at all the options: continuing on the current path, building a new state-of-the-art middle school, or creating one spectacular unified middle school for the entire district.

One unified middle school campus — with an addition designed in concert with our educators and administrators — has many advantages:

1. Every middle school student will be educated in a modern space, thoughtfully designed for the team-teaching method and reflective of our needs in 2020 and beyond.

2. A unified middle school will drive all our resources to a centralized campus, where our talented educators can collaborate and innovate across grade cohorts and areas of study.

3. A unified middle school will resolve our demographic issues for a long time, without a disruptive redistricting to achieve the optimal balance.

4. We can look as a community to the current CMS site to create a resource for all our schools: a modern computer lab to provide for coding and programming classes, a science lab for our Science Olympians, and indoor fields for our athletes.  We can dream big.

The Planning & Zoning Commission invites every stakeholder to a special planning session to discuss this important topic on October 22 (7 p.m., Town Hall).

Public comment from all Westport residents is welcome and encouraged. If you want to leave a written comment, please comment here — in the sunlight where everyone can see — and not on private Facebook groups that have segmented us into elementary school parents, middle school parents and everyone else. (Click “Comments” below — and use full, real names.)

The P&Z staff will ensure that every comment left on this public forum is included in the public record. Whether you favor a unified middle school, a newly built state-of-the-art CMS or a rehabbed CMS, please voice your thoughts.

The CMS Taskforce has not yet begun to spend the full $32 million. It’s time to be deliberative, not impulsive. There is a lot of new information to consider regarding demographics, redistricting and the benefits of a unified middle school.

This is a huge expenditure for our town. It will impact everyone’s taxes.

Let’s be sure it reflects how the public envisions our middle school institutions over the next 3 decades.

Interim Schools Superintendent Is A Familiar Face

Dr. David Abbey — an experienced and popular administrator in Westport, who subsequently moved on to positions as principal and superintendent in nearby towns — is returning here.

Tonight, he was named Westport’s interim superintendent of schools.

The Board of Education announced the appointment. It is effective Wednesday (May 8). He will serve until a permanent superintendent is found — “presumably for the 2020-2021 school year,” the board said.

Dr. David Abbey

In Westport, Dr. Abbey served as coordinator of the Westport Regional Center and department of special education at Staples High School.

He then moved to New Canaan in a variety of roles, including director of pupil personnel services, principal of New Canaan High School, and superintendent of schools.

He has also served as interim director of human resources for both the Newtown and Wilton Public Schools.

“It is gratifying to find someone of Dr. Abbey’s caliber to lead our schools through this transition period. The fact that he has experience in the Westport Public Schools adds to Dr. Abbey’s ability to quickly and effectively engage with our Westport community,” said Mark Mathias, Westport Board of Ed chair.

Dr. Abbey added, “I would like to thank the Board of Education for appointing me as interim superintendent of schools. The Westport Public Schools is an outstanding district — and has a longstanding and well-deserved reputation as a lighthouse district, supported by a highly engaged community and benefiting from an excellent group of teachers, administrators and staff. For me, working in Westport is a homecoming of sorts.”

Dr. Abbey replaces Colleen Palmer, who served for 3 years. She is on medical leave through July.

Anthony Buono Named Acting Schools Superintendent

Anthony Buono

Anthony Buono — Westport’s assistant superintendent of schools — will serve as acting superintendent, Board of Education chair Mark Mathias said tonight.

Colleen Palmer will be on medical leave until August 1, the Westport News reports. That’s when her retirement — announced last month — officially begins.

Buono came to Westport last July from Branford, where he was associate superintendent of schools.

Schools Superintendent Announces Retirement

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Colleen Palmer has announced her retirement, effective August 1.

She has been an educator for 35 years, and a superintendent for 15. She was hired by Westport in 2016.

Dr. Colleen Palmer

Board of Education chair Mark Mathias thanked Dr. Palmer for “her many contributions to the Westport Public Schools.”

He added, “She has worked tirelessly on behalf of our students through a challenging time for our community. Her priority throughout has been the growth and success of each child. Her commitment to continual improvement will guide our work for years to come.

“We know that Dr. Palmer will continue her dedicated work on behalf of the Westport school community during her remaining time as superintendent and we wish her all the best for the future. We appreciate Dr. Palmer giving appropriate notice so that the board can assure that the work of the district proceeds without interruption.”

At Monday’s Board of Ed meeting, members will begin the search for a new superintendent.

Board Of Ed Offers Update On Coleytown Middle

Two months after mold forced the closing of Coleytown Middle School — sending 6th and 7th graders to Bedford Middle, and 8th graders to Staples High School — administrators, town officials and the Board of Education is working hard to find a temporary solution. The Board of Ed says:

Our school district is undergoing an unprecedented situation. Seven weeks ago we voted to move students out of Coleytown Middle School. The Board acted quickly to hire both the architect and industrial hygienist to provide 3rd-party evaluations of the condition of the building.

We are sending this communication to the community to let you know what actions are being taken by the Board to address this situation in both the short- and long-term.

Coleytown Middle School

Last Monday, we heard a report from KG+D Architects about their assessment of Coleytown Middle School. KG+D offered very preliminary cost estimates of 3 options to remediate or rebuild Coleytown Middle School, ranging from $25 to $70 million.  The report is available for viewing at: http://bit.ly/KGD-CMSReport-2018-11-05.

The Board of Education also authorized the creation of an ad hoc townwide committee to advise and make recommendations to the Board on the short- and long-term needs of our district’s educational and physical facilities. Our town has precedent for these committees and we are moving expeditiously to activate these. People willing to serve on this committee can send an email expressing their interest to Mark Mathias (mmathias@westportps.org).

Ultimately these decisions lie with the Board, but we are soliciting community input in order to inform our decision-making.

So, what’s happening next?

First, on Thursday (November 15, Bedford Middle School, 7:30 p.m.), an open meeting will be held. The public can hear from and ask questions of Kris Szabo, Dr. Adam Rosen and James D’Amico (Coleytown, Bedford and Staples principals) about progress at Bedford and Staples. District administrators and members of the Board of Education will also be present.

Second, no later than Monday, November 19, we will receive the report from the industrial hygienist on their review and recommendations on Coleytown Middle School.

Third, we are currently constituting the ad hoc townwide committee that will include stakeholders from our town. Dates for the ad hoc committee-related and community events include:

  • Tuesday, November 13 (Town Hall, 7:30 a.m.): The Finance and Facilities Committee has first on its agenda the “Formation and composition of a town-wide committee” that was authorized by the Board last Monday
  • Sunday, November 18 (Town Hall, 5 p.m.): Preview to the ad hoc committee by Dr. Colleen Palmer, superintendent of schools, the 2019-2020 academic year options
  • Monday, November 19 (Staples cafeteria, 7:30 p.m.): Dr. Palmer will present to and discuss with the Board of Education options for the 2019-2020 academic year
  • Tuesday, November 27 (Long Lots Elementary School auditorium, 7 p.m.): Evening open conversation and public feedback on the options presented
  • Wednesday, November 28 (Town Hall, 12:00 p.m.): Daytime open conversation and public feedback on the options presented
  • Thursday, November 29 (Town Hall): Ad hoc committee will meet to discuss the 2019-2020 academic year options and make a recommendation to present to the Board of Education
  • Monday, December 3 (Staples cafeteria, 7:30 pm): Ad hoc committee will present to the Board of Education their recommendation
  • Monday, December 10 (Staples cafeteria, 7:30 p.m.): The Board of Education will decide how to proceed for the 2019-2020 academic year.

The challenges our town has faced this academic year are substantial. Closing a school during the school year is not a decision that we take lightly. The situation has affected everyone in our schools, and is a test of our ability to handle disruption. Through years of building top teams of teachers, staff and administrators, we are confident in our teachers, staff and administrators.

It’s also clear that this year is different for everyone involved with our education system. This is not the year that anyone planned. Some people have been affected more than others. We have been and continue to work to address everyone’s needs.

Bedford Middle School

Most importantly, we have focused on the safety of our students, faculty and staff and our continuing efforts to provide the top notch education for which Westport is known.

More updates will be coming from Dr. Palmer and the Board of Education as we work through this together.

Finally, we appreciate the feedback we have received from the community. It is your support, varied perspectives and specific insights that help us make decisions that will affect us now and for years to come. Board members’ individual contact information can be found by clicking here. Alternatively, the entire Board can be reached by email at boe@westportps.org.  Videos of our public meetings can be viewed by clicking here.

[OPINION] Don Bergmann: “Police In Schools Is A Mistake”

Alert “06880” reader Don Bergmann writes:

Following the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook School Elementary School, Westport undertook and paid for many school security actions.

One first step was to hire the Kroll security firm to generate a school security report. No member of the public, no members of the RTM and, I believe, no member of the Board of Finance was permitted to read the Kroll report.

Well in advance of the report, the issue of police in our schools was raised and discussed.  Then-superintendent of schools Elliott Landon made it clear that he did not support police in our schools.

I believe that judgment was supported by the then-Board of Education, and most in Westport. I believe that judgment evidenced a conclusion that the presence of police in our schools sent the wrong message, and was inconsistent with the function and spirit of education. My recollection is that the idea of police in our schools was viewed as something that had no home in places of learning, youthful interaction and openness.

Our present superintendent of schools, Dr. Colleen Palmer, may be proposing to assign, possibly even hire, 5 police to protect, may I say “guard,” our students while in school. I believe the Board of Education may support Dr. Palmer.

I believe this proposal is an unfortunate reaction to contemporary events. It comes about in part, if not primarily, because of the assertions of parents of students that “we must do something,” and the willingness of the school administration to respond to such cries for action by introducing a police presence into our schools.

I believe an ongoing police presence in our schools is a mistake. I believe it conveys a new and troubling feel to our schools, to education and to the interactions of all who are present in our schools: students, teachers, administrators, nurses,  cafeteria workers, and all others who contribute to the effective and joyous functioning of our schools.

Dr. Landon concluded that there should be no police patrolling our schools. Dr. Palmer appears to have concluded otherwise. The Board of Ed will have to make the initial decision, though roles for the Board of Finance, the RTM and maybe the Board of Selectmen are almost certain.

It is also important that the Kroll report be re-read. It would also seem sensible for the RTM and other elected officials to have access to the report, at least as to the issue of police in our schools. That particular aspect of the Kroll Report should probably also be available to the public.

In making a decision, I believe the input of our nearly 1,000 school employees is relevant. I also believe the voices of our students should be heard. In all cases, those voices must not be allowed to be pressured into silence by the actions and words of those who are so fearful for their children they do not welcome dialogue.

My concern is not cost, even though the cost for 5 police in our schools is significant. Even without new hires, but rather redeployments, the cost is significant since officers will be taken from present areas of responsibility.

The present thinking  appears not to include the cost of 5 police in the proposed school budget for 2018-19. I believe that approach would be wrong.

This letter (somewhat longer) was addressed to the school administration and the Board of Education. However, I ask others to weigh in. The views of the RTM, Board of Finance — indeed, of all elected officials and citizens — are important.