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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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