The Board of Education heard good news on several fronts last night. Reporter Brian Fullenbaum says:
Meeting for the first time since 2020 in person, members began with an update from Westport Public Schools supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur. Staples High School has not experienced a COVID case since May 2, and there have been no reported cases in the district since May 25.
In fact, there were no cases at all in Westport this week.
At this point, local schools will not require COVID vaccines for the fall. The state is not expected to mandate them either.
Summer schools will have a nurse in the building this year, and masks will be needed.
Director of human resources John Bayers reported that for the coming school year, 112 sections are budgeted at the 5 elementary schools. As of June 3, confirmed enrollment suggested 115 sections. Principals of Kings Highway and Long Lots are also predicting one more section each, which would bring the total to 117.
Enrollment at Long Lots Elementary School — as at the other elementary schools — may rise this fall.
Bayers speaks with the principals every day. All school buildings can handle the predicted extra classes.
Assistant superintendent Anthony Buono noted that Tri-State — the professional network of 55 area districts — said that while the district faced numerous daily obstacles during the pandemic, it provided students with a positive experience.
The board engaged in a long discussion about learning loss. Board members brought up the amount of screen time, lack of socially rich experiences, and frustration with technology.
In other matters, the board postponed a decision on a provision in the proposed “deadly weapons or firearms policy” about allowing a registered and accepted gun on campus. Members also discussed the hate-based speech policy.
Educators also established tuition rates for out-of-town students, including children of school employees and those in other circumstances.
Currently, 35 children of employees attend school here; the number is expected to be approximately the same in 2021-22. They are charged 25% of the tuition rate for various grade levels. A 3% increase for the coming year was approved.
World Language Department coordinator Marie Zachery described the success of Westport’s exchange programs in Singapore and France, and suggested expanding opportunities to Spain, Germany, Greece and Panama.
The board will move forward on a proposal to name the Staples stadium for former football and track coach Paul Lane.
Last night’s lengthy Board of Education meeting was highlighted by formal approval of the budget and a calendar, plus announcement of 2 new elementary school principals. Brian Fullenbaum reports:
Tracey Carbone will move from assistant principal, to head Kings Highway. She’s been there for 22 years; previously, she served as a 3rd grade teacher, literacy specialist and literary coach. Carbone holds a BA from Boston College, and an MA and 6th year diploma from Southern Connecticut State University.
Kimberly Ambrosio is the new Long Lots principal. She joined the school staff in 2004 as a 5th grade teacher, and subsequently taught kindergarten there. In 2011 Ambrosio was named the district’s K-5 math and literacy coordinator. She later became principal of the Extended School Year program, and co-leader of Westport’s elementary math program. She has a BS from the University of Connecticut, an MS from the University of Bridgeport, and a certificate in educational leadership from Sacred Heart University.
The Board officially approved the final 2021-22 budget of $125,594,582. It represents a 3% increase over the current year.
The Board approved the 2022-23 school calendar. It retains the traditional February and April breaks.
The 2022-23 school calendar.
Staples High School principal Stafford Thomas presented an update on new graduation requirements for the Class of 2023. It includes 1 more credit than now, and provides students with a “capstone” experience. Students can also gain credit through volunteer or club work, or service learning.
The Board of Ed approved renewal of Staples’ alternative education program, Pathways, for the upcoming school year. It was also announced that next year, Staples and the middle schools will return to their pre-COVID schedules. The elementary schools will modify their schedules, to increase recess time, resume 60 minutes of math instruction, and develop consistent minutes for special area classes.
The board heard good news — a “dramatic decline” — on the pandemic front. There was only 1 case of coronavirus in the school district in the past 2 weeks. Supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur noted that the Centers for Disease Control continues to recommend mask-wearing in schools, and Governor Lamont said it must continue for the rest of the school year.
There was no significant increase in COVID cases after the April break. Elementary and middle school student assessment performances were not significantly impacted by the coronavirus. Federal grants due to the pandemic may help the Westport Public Schools show a surplus at the end of the year.
Those were 3 takeaways from last night’s Board of Education meeting, Brian Fullenbaum reports.
There are only 6 current COVID cases in the school district, supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur said, with just 17 students in quarantine. Most are at Staples High School.
265 students age 16 and older attended the first vaccine clinic. The 2nd is May 16.
Multiple classes will now be allowed at elementary and middle school recess. Classroom desks can again face each other, allowing for more classroom collaboration.
Assistant superintendent Dr. Anthony Buono reported on the MAP assessment results, given to all K-8 students. Some performances were consistent or better than last year.
In addition to Elio Longo’s 3rd quarter financial report, showing a probable balance at the end of the school year after COVID-related offsets, there was discussion of proposed capital maintenance projects. The cost over 10 years will be around $100 million. Scarice proposed securing outside professional expertise to provide oversight; the board agreed.
The Board of Education got good news at last night’s meeting: Health insurance costs came in lower than expected for the past year. That’s a potential savings of $285,000 for the district.
In addition, the cafeteria fund’s full year operating loss — originally estimated at $600,000 — has been reduced to $406,000.
Brian Fullenbaum reports that the board also decided not to ask the RTM to restore $235,363 cut from their budget request by the Board of Finance. The lower cafeteria fund operating loss could offset that reduction, if the finance board approves.
Staples High School cafeteria. (Photo courtesy of Inklings)
The Board of Ed did approve a motion for future years: to request a 3% annual budget increase from the RTM.
The board also discussed policy updates, including possession of deadly weapons or firearms, and broadening the current anti-discrimination policy to include “hate.” Future discussions will include the use of gender-neutral pronouns.
A motion to approve policies involving Automatic External Defibrillators, a security and safety plan, and social media was approved.
Assistant superintendent John Bayers noted that by state law, the Board of Ed must provide notice of non-renewal to certified staff no later than May 1. A few staff members on 1-year contracts, to help out because of COVID, have already been notified of non-renewal. Others will be notified soon.
Supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur reported that in the past 2 weeks, 30 students in the district were diagnosed with COVID. Half of the faculty who were vaccinated at the district’s clinics are considered fully vaccinated, while over 150 seniors have registered for the upcoming clinic.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice hopes to set up a $100 million, 10-year plan to maintain Westport Public Schools’ facilities. And the Board of Education wants to develop a mater plan that includes that maintenance project.
Those were among the main discussion points at last night’s Board of Education meeting. Brian Fullenbaum reports that the board will begin discussions with town bodies on collaborationo and resource-sharing to implement the facilities proposal.
The meeting began with a statement by Scarice on the recent shootings in Atlanta. He noted that Westport is already engaging in a district-wide equity study.
Scarice said that since September, 2,800 students and adults have quarantined because of COVID. Only 6 positive cases arose from that group. Overall, 232 students have reported positive cases.
Supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur reported that of 23 positive cases this year, most were at the high school level. Many come from small social gatherings.
So far, over 500 staff members have been vaccinated, at the district’s clinics. The 2nd dose will be given in 2 weeks. The district may create another clinic for students 16 and older, when that cohort is eligible for the vaccine starting April 5.
District officials are discussing how best to identify “close contacts,” in view of the CDC’s new guidelines reducing the 6-foot distance to 3 feet.
As Staples High School gets set to fully reopen this Thursday (March 25), the percentage of full-time distance learners in the district remains steady, at about 20%.
Assistant superintendent John Bayers announced that because of 2 snow days, as of right now the last day for students is Monday, June 21.
The board accepted 2 gifts: $10,000 from the Staples Music Parents Association (to purchase recording technology equipment), and $2,308 from the Saugatuck Elementary School PTA (to purchase books for the “One Book One School” program).
Karen Kleine provided an update on 2nd readings of 3 policies: AEDs, security and safety, and social media.
The social, mental and physical health — and the health of several school buildings — were the focuses at last night’s Board of Education meeting.
On the student side, Brian Fullenbaum reports that townwide health and physical education coordinator Chris Wanner and Staples phys. ed. teacher CJ Shamas presented an update on social and emotional learning.
Embedded in the high school curriculum for juniors, it addresses social and emotional skills from a growth mindset point of view. Video testimonials showed students enjoying the health classes.
Board member Elaine Whitney and Westport Public Schools chief financial officer Elio Longo provided an update on capital projects.
Paving is needed at Greens Farms, Coleytown and Long Lots Elementary Schools, plus Bedford Middle and Wakeman. All roads there are at least 20 years old.
The $1.6 million estimated cost is significantly lower than expected, due to a partnership with the town’s Department of Public Works.
The Saugatuck Elementary roof project is out to bid. Work is scheduled for this summer. It should proceed without state assistance, because the roof is beyond its useful life.
A new roof is planned for Saugatuck Elementary School.
Staples’ roof replacement can be deferred for a year. State assistance may be available.
In the area of capital maintenance projects — from $500,000 to $2 million — superintendent Thomas Scarice noted that outside companies can help maximize value, and stay on schedule and within budget. He would like to create a school modernization master plan, then use help from an OPM to get through the process, including larger maintenance projects. The board discussed collaborating with the town on capital projects.
The board approved a new policy for minority staff recruitment. It updates the former document with more inclusionary language.
Supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur’s COVID report noted a slight uptick in cases in Westport schools last week, to 13 cases. The district’s first vaccination clinic for staff — run in conjunction with Weston and Easton — is scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday, March 3) in the Staples fieldhouse. 250 people are expected to get shots.
C. Chien covered last night’s Board of Education meeting for “06880.” She writes:
Last night’s Board of Education meeting primarily addressed the upcoming budget and COVID-19-related issues.
Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice began the virtual session by emphasizing that there is no shortage of masks in the schools, thus no need for donations from parents and community members. However, donations will be taken at the central office only, to increase the stockpile.
Scarice then emphasized that the flexible Absent In-Person Present Online (APO) attendance option the schools implemented in response to the pandemic — initially intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 if any student experienced symptoms — is being abused. There are reports of students going on vacation, and that attendance on assessment (test) days drops significantly.
“Absent In-Person Online” attendance — designed for students who feel sick, and are encouraged to study online for the day — is being abused, school officials say.
This leads to “material disruption” in the school environment. Scarice noted there may be changes to the policy.
After updates on the Youth Arts Collaborative program in the elementary schools, and on statewide COVID-positivity rates, the bulk of the meeting focused on items being considered for budget cuts in the 2021-22 school year.
Budget discussion focused on the potential implementation of a pay-to-play fee policy for sports. That model is used in towns including Weston, Wilton, Darien, Ridgefield, Trumbull, Avon and Simsbury, but not in New Canaan, Fairfield or Greenwich.
There was discussion too of eliminating the grade K-2 world language program. Board members questioned what would replace it, and whether that would be of benefit to the students.
Much of the public comment on the budget focused on the elimination of certain administrators in the schools.
On the slate for potential cuts are grade level assistants at Staples High School, the reduction of 1 full-time paraprofessional per school at the elementary level, and the reduction of one full-time assistant principal at Kings Highway and Saugatuck Elementary Schools, to match the numbers at Coleytown and Greensn Farms Elementary Schools. Public comment emphasized the impact this cut may have on students with special needs.
The board made no final decisions. Budget discussions will continue at further meetings.
In September 2018, Coleytown Middle School closed due to mold.
Today, teachers return. Tomorrow they’ll be joined by students.
The $32 million remediation and renovation project was not easy. The school was in far worse condition than anyone imagined. A global pandemic disrupted both the supply chain and some of the workforce.
But the reopening comes only a couple of months late. And the final cost is right on budget.
The exterior of the “new” Coleytown Middle School.
Staff and students will enjoy an entirely new HVAC system. Every window has been replaced. The exterior cladding is new. The entire property was regraded.
The entry atrium and library are bright and fresh. Science classrooms have been modernized.
Most importantly, for the first time in decades the school will not smell. The dank, musty odors that permeated the building — remembered miserably by generations of Coleytown Colts and their parents — are gone.
A new seal graces the entryway,
The school’s closure — after students reported dizziness and nausea — was first projected to last a month. Sixth and 7th graders were sent to Bedford Middle School; 8th graders headed to Staples High.
But the months stretched on. After educators and other officials considered everything from an entirely new $75 million building to permanent abandonment of the site, a middle ground — renovation — was the solution.
On March 4, 2018 a building committee was formed. The next day, they held their first meeting.
Chair Don O’Day — a former Board of Education head — and members John Broadbin, Jay Keenan, Karen Kleine, Srikanth Puttagunta, Joe Renzulli and Vanessa Valadares went right to work.
They had 3 charges: repair or replace the climate control system; repair or replace the exterior, to prevent water incursion, and regrade the exterior grounds to move water away from the building.
That meant replacing the entire roof, and every window; changing the exterior walls, adding new insulation and metal cladding; installing an all-new heating, cooling and dehumidifying system (and adding air conditioning to the gym), while regrading and installing a French drain outside.
Every window is new — including these large ones in the cafeteria.
The committee hired building engineers Wiss, Janey, Elstner Associates; mechanical engineers Kohler Rohan; civil engineers Langan Connecticut; general contractor Newfield Construction, and interior designers CPG Architects.
Susan Chipouras — who earned kudos overseeing previous renovations of Staples and Saugatuck Elementary School — served as project manager.
Another key hire was EnviroMed. The Meriden-based firm industrial hygienist firm identified contaminants, and oversaw a rigorous removal protocol.
All furniture was taken out, cleaned and tested. Items that did not pass were thrown out.
“The school was a lot sicker than we thought,” O’Day says. “There were a number of structural challenges to address.
“We couldn’t just put in a new roof, windows and HVAC. We had to shore up the structure in a far more significant way than we expected. The town finally realized we needed more than just a Band-Aid.”
The renovated school is bright and airy. This is the atrium at the entrance.
O’Day lauds former CMS PTA co-presidents Sue Herrmann and Lee Goldstein for “relentlessly telling anyone who needed to hear that this building was sick, and not an appropriate place for kids or staff.”
Principal Kris Szabo and the custodial staff also worked hard to address all issues.
“The town has sent a clear message: Our children are valued,” O’Day says. “It’s our priority that they attend a school they’re proud of, and that will help them learn in the 21st century.”
The library has been modernized too.
He cited the Boards of Finance and Education, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, principal Szabo and Westport Public Schools director of technology Natalie Carrignan for “making our committee’s job a lot easier. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Now, at last, the new Coleytown Middle School is ready for prime time.
Some teachers have gone in on their own time, to set up their classrooms. They’ll all be on hand today, making sure everything is ready when students return tomorrow.
A world language classroom is ready for students.
It will be like the first day of school for everyone. Current 8th graders spent only 3 weeks in the building before it closed. Seventh and 6th graders have never been inside.
Of course, a few details remain.
Exterior work will continue through February — but only on Wednesdays and weekends, when students are not inside.
Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice’s office is working with the state to obtain reimbursement of up to 20% of eligible spending.
Then there’s one more item to address. The company that created all the handsome new signage spelled one word wrong — every time.
It’s “cafeteria,” not “cafteria.”
Whatever it’s called though, it too looks — and smells — great.
Don O’Day in the cafteria — er, cafeteria. (Photos/Dan Woog)
It’s official: Westport schools will open next month with a hybrid model.
Still to be determined: the elementary school schedule. Those students will still alternate between morning and afternoon sessions, but the original plan — to switch which youngsters are in which session every week — may not be utilized. The Board of Education put off a vote on the elementary schedule, pending a parent survey.
In related news: Coleytown Middle School will not be available to begin reopening until November 18. The first day for students will likely be after Thanksgiving.
Our rough roads are getting a bit better.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation has begun a milling and resurfacing project on 1.27 miles of the Post Road, from the Sherwood Island Connector to Maple Avenue.
Certain lanes will be closed from 7:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Work is expected to be done by August 31.
In the first 3 weeks of the project — part of the town’s Zero Food Waste Challenge goal of decreasing residential food waste by at least 25% — Westporters dropped off 2 tons of food at the transfer station.
The site was temporarily closed to enable Department of Public Works staff to assist with cleanup after Tropical Storm Isaias.
Food scrap recycling will resume at the transfer station on the Sherwood Island Connector this Saturday (August 22).
To get a food scrap recycling starter kit, email email@example.com.
The Paparo family was the first to drop off food scraps for Sustainable Westport’s recycling project.
In other environmental news, Wakeman Town Farm is giving away its precious Brown Gold. The all-natural compost/fertilizer is rich in nutrients from WTF’s organic gardens, select organic veggie scraps, and animal manure.
In other words, it’s really good s—.
It’s also free. Just BYOB (bag or bucket), and haul away a load for your fall garden. It’s outside the red barn at 134 Cross Highway.
Wakeman Town Farm’s Brown Gold. BYOB (bag or bucket).
MoCA Westport is selling messenger bags, as a fundraiser.
But these are not glorified grocery bags, with “MoCA” stamped somewhere.
Made of high-quality material and featuring digitally printed artwork, they feature 10 local artists: Trace Burroughs, Yvonne Claveloux, Bethany Czarnecki, Susan Fehlinger, Jana Ireijo, Amy Kaplan, Susan Leggitt, Fruma Markowitz, Dale Najarian and Jay Petrow.
The bags are $200 each. But the opportunity to carry a handsome bag with great art, everywhere you go — while supporting an important Westport institution — is priceless. Click here to see all 10 bags, and purchase (at least) one.
The bag designed by Yvonne Claveloux.
And finally … on August 18, 1920 — exactly 100 years ago today — Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. It was the 36th (and final) state needed, to ensure that women had the right to vote. Less than 3 months later, 26 million women were eligible to vote for the first time in a presidential election.
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.
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