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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
The Board of Education takes another step toward deciding reopening plans at tomorrow’s meeting (Monday, August, 3, 7 p.m.).
The virtual session will be livestreamed on westportps.org, and shown on Optimum channel 78 and Frontier channel 6021. Emails to board members can be sent to BOE@westportps.org.
The “Wall of Fame” at Longshore Sailing School displays staff photos going back several decades. Most of them look quite similar. This year’s does not.
(Photo courtesy of John Kantor)
And finally … the legacy of John Lewis, the protests after the death of George Floyd, the linked arms of the Wall of Moms in Portland, the passion of young people after Parkland, the knee-taking by Major League Baseball players — those and so many other acts of standing up for one’s beliefs reinforce the inspiring message of the great Phil Ochs:
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.
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.
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.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: email@example.com. Thanks!)