Tag Archives: Westport Board of Education

Student Enrollment Spikes; Schools Add Sections

The COVID surge in real estate has led to a spike in students.

Westport’s 5 elementary schools have 88 more students than officials planned for previously. With a total of 2,335 boys and girls in kindergarten through grade 5, that means an additional 6 teachers.

Brian Fullenbaum reports that assistant superintendent of schools John Bayers provided those figures at last night’s Board of Education meeting — the day before school opens. He noted that Long Lots had the highest rise — 581 students, up 40 over projections — resulting in 5 kindergarten sections.

Coleytown and Greens Farms both added kindergarten sections, while Kings Highway added one in 4th grade.

Numbers continue to fluctuate. Bedford and Coleytown Middle School figures, and those for Staples High, were not provided last night.

Enrollment at Long Lots rose more than any other elementary school.

District supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur said that Westport’s COVID rate is higher starting school this year than last year. There were 18 cases in town last week, 4 of them in school-aged youngsters. Some of the new cases were in fully vaccinated people.

In Westport, 94.9% of 12-17-year-olds have received at least one vaccination. 86% are fully vaccinated.

Vaccinated students do not need to quarantine if they have been in the same class as someone who has been exposed — unless they show symptoms.

Levasseur also noted that the statewide mask mandate in schools runs through September 30. Westport does not allow teachers to unmask, although the state permits it.

Visitors to schools must show proof of vaccination.

There is no remote learning this year. However, the district has 8 on-call tutors for students who need to quarantine.

Levasseur said that the town has expressed interest in a sate program that would allow free voluntary testing for students in grades K-6.

Superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice and Westport Police captain Ryan Paulsson talked about patrols at Westport schools.

Currently, a School Resource Officer monitors Staples. An additional officer was posted at Bedford last year.

Scarice suggested that there should be a patrol position for a police officer to monitor all 7 elementary and middle schools, including perimeters. He noted the positive influence on students of seeing the officer as a a friendly face and role model.

The Board of Ed also discussed the Staples High School roof project. The original budget was $5.3 million; this might be lowered to $5 million. If approved on September 8, the project is scheduled to start after school ends in June. It would be finished by the start of the new school year.

[UPDATE] Jonathan Steinberg, Candice Savin Enter Race For Selectmen

Democratic State Representative Jonathan Steinberg has entered the race for 1st Selectman.

His running mate is Board of Education chair Candice Savin.

Steinberg — a native Westporter, and 1974 Staples High School graduate — is in his 6th term as state representative. As co-chair of the Public Health Committee, he worked closely with the Department of Public Health and governor’s office on COVID response.

A long-term member of both the Transportation and Energy & Technology Committees, he has addressed issues like electric vehicles, solar power and infrastructure. In Hartford, where he is a leader of the House Democratic Moderates Caucus, Steinberg has also been at the forefront of budget issues.

Jonathan Steinberg

Before joining the legislature, Steinberg spent 7 years on Westport’s RTM. He was elected unanimously 3 times as deputy moderator. He represented the RTM on the Town Plan Implementation Committee. He also co-founded the Westport Cinema Initiative, to bring a movie theater downtown.

Steinberg’s political career follows nearly 2 decades in healthcare marketing, with Fortune 100 companies. A graduate of Yale College and NYU’s Stern School of Business (MBA), his hobbies include softball, golf and antiquing. He and his wife Nancy have 3 children — all Staples graduates — and are members of Temple Israel, which his grandfather helped found.

Steinberg cites “friends on both sides of the political aisle, combining compromise with the need to move forward,” and more than 20 years’ experience in strategic analysis and decision-making in the business world, as reasons to run for 1st selectman.

“I have a vision for Westport,” he says. “No one will work harder than me.” Referring to the hours he puts in, he jokes he is one of the state’s “best minimum-wage workers.”

Jonathan Steinberg, in Hartford.

Steinberg’s vision includes reinstating “brown bag lunches,” implementing many of the Downtown Plan ideas (such as dredging the river, and embracing it for multi-use), encouraging economic vitality, and initiating conversations on topics like what to do with Baron’s South.

“The flip side of the pandemic is so much pent-up energy,” he says. “New families are here, looking to do things in new ways. I love the spirit of volunteerism here. Everyone wants to get involved, however, they can.”

Steinberg applauds Westport’s environmental awareness, but sees opportunities to do even more, in areas from expanded composting to additional solar panels. He’s interested too in expanding diversity among town employees, and encouraging mass transit.

All his ideas, he says, “relate to our values as a community.”

Steinberg says that “over many years, our selectmen have served our community well. We are proud of their managerial competence.” However, he would ask, “How can we do things differently? Do we need a director of economic development? What about charter revision?

“I think we can do a better job of interfacing with the community. I really want dialogue with residents, commissions and boards. I’d hit the ground running. I don’t have too many preconceptions. But I’m prepared to lead.”

Steinberg is pleased to run with Savin. “She’s demonstrated true leadership,” he says of her work with the Board of Education.

“Her ability to take on different tasks is what I want in a partner. We’d work together like (former selectmen) Gordon Joseloff and Shelly Kassen did.”

Candice Savin

Savin — a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Duke University School of Law — began her career as a New York City prosecutor. After moving to Westport in 2002 with her husband and 2 small children, she built a thriving real estate law practice.

As Board of Ed chair she faced a series of challenges: a controversial superintendent of schools, mold at Coleytown Middle School, and COVID.

She is motivated by “a strong focus on kids, and the importance of consistency and excellence in our schools.” She is proud to have led the board during the past few difficult years. “Our schools are in a really good place now,” Savin says. “We have strong leadership and vision, and greatly improved maintenance.”

Savin — whose community involvement includes co-chairing the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening”; leading The Conservative Synagogue’s rabbi search, and serving as the Democratic Town Committee’s finance chair — says a major factor in her decision to run is “the chance to work with Jonathan. He’s decisive, he gets things done, he works super-hard for Westport, and he knows the issues better than anyone.

“We’re a great team. We know everyone, from young people to seniors. We have a broad connection to the community. And we both know how to build consensus, make tough decisions, be inclusive as possible, and lead in the right direction. We’ll be true to Westport’s values: the arts, environment, inclusion, and taking care of our neediest citizens.”

(Click here for the Steinberg/Savin website.)

 

Board Of Ed: Planning Ahead For Fall

The Board of Education is moving forward with plans for a more normal school year this fall.

Vaccinations would not be required. But masks may still be mandatory.

That was part of the draft report presented by assistant superintendent Dr. Anthony Buono, at last night’s meeting. The board is required to submit a draft plan to the state next week. It may be revised, as conditions change closer to the opening of school in September.

Brian Fullenbaum reports that — according to the current draft plan — students would not have to wear masks at recess.

Students: Don’t toss those masks just yet!

Social distancing will be encouraged, the draft report says. The district will continue to perform contact tracing, and recommend quarantine when necessary. Daily concentrated cleaning will also continue.

In other fall reopening news, the middle schools will implement a math tutoring program, with sessions before and after school.

Staples High School will return to its pre-pandemic schedule of 40- to 60-minute periods, rather than this year’s 80-minute blocks. A writing lab will be added, and there will be more opportunities for students to use the fitness center and fieldhouse.

In other matters, the board:

  • Honored retiring staff members
  • Discussed the timing of the Saugatuck Elementary School roof replacement project
  • Heard comments about the NYU equity study
  • Talked about the success of the middle school 3-year engineering and design class.

A report on the Search Institute survey results — a self-assessment administered to 800 students in grades 7 through 12 — showed that they reported strong social and emotional competence, and strong skills in self-management and social awareness.

A majority reported that the pandemic was stressful. A major of students also strongly agreed on the need to work with the community to eliminate racism and discrimination.

Nearing the end of his first year, superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice is turning his attention from COVID to “emerging themes” in the district. These include sustaining professional development, child development, and the amount of testing being done.

The board also approved a motion to support naming the football field after former coach Paul Lane.

Board Of Ed: COVID Down, Elementary Enrollment Fluid


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.

 

 

Board Of Ed: Budget, Calendar, New Principals And More

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.

Board Of Ed: COVID Easing, Schools Move Forward

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.

Board Of Ed Discusses Budget, Policies, COVID

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.

Board Of Ed: Facilities, Funding And COVID Facts

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.

Board Of Ed: Pupils, Projects And More

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.

Board Of Ed Meeting: Masks, Money And More

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.