Tag Archives: Westport Public Schools

Staples: Full In-Person Learning Begins March 25

More than a year after going fully remote — and after beginning the 2020-21 school year at 50% capacity, then transitioning to 75% this winter — Staples High School returns to full in-person education on March 25.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice says:

The district maintained a very conservative approach to our schooling models for the first half of the year. Nearly 7 weeks ago, based on our local experience, input from our public health partners, and a projected drop in infection rates, we reopened our elementary and middle schools for full in-person learning.

Additionally, on March 1, Staples High School increased access for students by implementing a 3 day a week, 75% in-person model.

Since then, our faculty and staff have done a remarkable job and we have experienced great success. The work of our professional educators this year simply cannot be overstated.

We continue to maintain a responsibility to minimizing virus spread in our community. Yet we must balance that responsibility with our obligations to overall student wellness, most significantly, their mental and emotional well-being. As a result, on Thursday March 25, Staples High School will reopen for full in-person learning.

Staples High School’s parking lots will be more filled on March 25. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

Contact Tracing and Quarantines 
In reviewing local data, I found that we have contact traced and quarantined over 2,800 students and adults this year. Out of the 2,800+ quarantined, only 6 who were determined to be close contacts (.002%) have tested positive for COVID.

Additionally, to our knowledge, of the 232 students who have tested positive for COVID, there have been zero known cases of “student to adult virus transmission,” and zero known cases of students experiencing serious health complications as a result of infection.

As a result of this data, we engaged the health district to seek support for revisiting the definition of a close contact, and the duration of quarantines.  Currently, close contacts are defined as being within 6 feet of a known positive COVID case for an accumulation of 15 minutes, while quarantines for close contacts are 10 days in length.

Based on our data, we will now begin to define close contacts as those within 3 feet of a known COVID positive case, not 6 feet. Recent literature has pointed to this change in guidance. Considering that our entire population is masked at all times, our local health district and medical advisor support this change as well.  We will continue to monitor our practices and make adjustments as needed.

However, given the trends in data collected by the health district, we will continue to recommend a 10 day quarantine for those determined to be close contacts. Although the CDC allows for a 70day quarantine following a negative test on day 5, the health district shared that there are more than a few cases in the community, not in our schools, in which a close contact tested positive after day 7. A change was made to reduce the length of quarantine in December from 14 days to 10 days. This standard will remain for the foreseeable future.

“Sophie in Quarantine” (Claudia Rossman)

Early Dismissals
In an effort to provide additional time to support our distance learners, and to accommodate our teachers who have taken on additional responsibilities during arrival and dismissal, the Wednesday early dismissals will continue for the foreseeable future.

However, Staples will begin to provide in-person learning on our Wednesday early dismissals beginning on April 21 within the new full in-person model beginning March 25. Our middle schools are working to revisit their schedule following the April break. More information will be forthcoming about any potential changes to the middle school schedule in the near future.

Travel Guidance 
On March 19, 2021, Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 9S regarding travel will change from an executive order to a recommended practice. Under this order, anyone traveling outside of New York, New Jersey or Rhode Island, for a period of time longer than 24 hours, requires a negative COVID test within 72 hours of return to CT, or a 10 day quarantine.

If using the testing option, an individual should remain in self-quarantine until a negative test is obtained. In collaboration with the WWHD and our medical advisor, the district will continue to support this practice. Please contact your school nurse if you have any questions.

Ending the Year with Normalcy
We have placed a high priority on ending the year with as much “normalcy” as possible. Our thinking is that the more normalcy we end the year with, the easier it will be to start the new year with normalcy. As we plan our end-of-year events and the daily operations, we will look to continue to bring a sense of normalcy to our schools.

Scarice: How A Community Works … Together

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice offered this update today:

It’s been a very busy week, and I would like to provide the school community with some updates.

“We’re Tired of Being A Part of History”
Eight words uttered by one of our middle schoolers recently. Eight words that capture the sentiments and experience of a generation. For me, these are 8 words that scream, “Enough!!”

A generation of post-9/11 babies, raised in schools pierced by the haunting of Sandy Hook. Digital dopamine dispensers at their fingertips. The destructive funhouse mirror of social media staring them in the face. Overly exposed to images of violence and sex. Social unrest. A generational pandemic. Enough!

“If you can’t give children optimism, then what are you doing?” – Matt Haig
I awoke Wednesday morning to a news briefing in my inbox titled, “‘Covid zero’ isn’t going to happen — but normal life still can.”

The optimism that was forecasted weeks ago is just beginning to be realized.

It is true that COVID, like other coronaviruses, will circulate for years.  Yet, the expectation of managing COVID, similar to the seasonal flu, is just before us.

Superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice.

Infection rates have dropped precipitously since January, vaccines are racing to communities, treatments are proving to be effective, and testing is ubiquitous.  Although “COVID zero” is not in our immediate future, the return to an approximation of normalcy is.

As was noted in the news briefing that landed in my inbox, “The seasonal flu does not grind life to a halt. It does not keep people from flying on airplanes, eating in restaurants, visiting their friends or going to school and work.”

While Mother Nature’s traditional New England winter begins to recede, and daylight savings approaches with sunsets closer to 7 p.m. than school dismissal, there is reason for optimism as the anticipation intensifies.

How a Community Works…Together
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” – Fred Rogers

Monday morning I rang a bell. That bell was heard by leaders in our community: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, Deputy Fire Chief Mike Kronick, WPS human resources director John Bayers, WPS supervisor of health services Sue Levasseur.

In a matter of 3 days these community leaders imagined, planned and designed a comprehensive school-based vaccination clinic for all WPS personnel. My words could never do this justice, but it was an illustration of how a community works…together.

School-Based Vaccination Clinics
Through a partnership with the Westport Weston Health District, and in collaboration with Weston and Easton, I could not be more enthused to announce that our first vaccination clinic will be held Wednesday, March 3 in the Staples High School fieldhouse from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for members of the Westport Public Schools team.

The plan is to hold clinics each successive Wednesday, based on vaccine availability, until all personnel who want to be vaccinated have had the opportunity. By working across 3 school districts, there is a better chance of securing adequate vaccines as quickly as possible.

Per Governor Lamont, priority must be given to educators who have direct contact with schools and students. All district employees, food service employees, transportation providers, and those who have direct contact with schools and students, will be eligible to receive the vaccine as of March 1 at any location, including the school-based clinic.

We will proceed as quickly as possible in having as many personnel vaccinated, which means that we may have remote days when vaccines are being offered, and we may have to factor in non-school days if side effects from the second dose result in staffing issues.

Remote Learning Day March 3
In order to mobilize our personnel and vaccinate as many members of the WPS school community as possible, March 3 will be a remote learning day for all students, pre-K to 12. It will be synchronous for students, as staff members with scheduled vaccine appointments will alert their students to transition to asynchronous work when they go for their shots. Students will resume synchronous learning once the staff member returns to their assignment.

Additional information regarding upcoming clinics, and how they may or may not impact the school day, is forthcoming.

What’s Next
As our implementation of full in-person learning continues, pre-K to 8, and the high school model increases access to in-person learning for Staples students on Monday (March 1), we will continue to monitor our progress in advancing forward in a measured, safe way.

Vaccinations are a significant leap in the direction of increasing a sense of normalcy for our students. Updates will be provided on further access at Staples and end of the year events. Let the optimism grow and impart it to the children around you.

Stay tuned…

Scarice Addresses Absence Abuses, Distance Learning, Outside Gatherings And More

This afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice provided parents and the community with another COVID update.

After discussing the full reopening of the elementary and middle schools (set for Monday, February 1 — weather permitting), and providing an update on PPE, masks and desk shields — he addressed a rising problem in the district: abuse of the “Absent but Present Online” attendance option. Scarice said:

In a year of disruptions to our normal routines, perhaps nothing has done more to disrupt classroom instruction than the provision granted to families of keeping their child home on any given day, but remaining present “online” for attendance purposes (“APO” Absent but Present Online).

This provision has a very valuable purpose. This was designed to afford parents the opportunity to keep their child home if they have the slightest suspicion that their child might be ill. This is a critical mitigating measure in preventing potential virus spread.

However, in the purest sense of the word, this provision has been abused and must stop being misused.

There are too many examples of students traveling, or staying home for a variety of personal reasons, completely unrelated to the intended purpose of the “APO” standard (which is keeping a suspected ill child home).

The unintended result is a material disruption to the middle and high school classrooms. I am responsible, along with the entire administrative team, for preventing and addressing disruption to the learning environment. Recent misuse of this provision warrants administrative action.

Teachers on a daily basis put a great deal of time into planning for on-site learners and remote learners, simultaneously. As an educator I can share that this task alone is herculean, and it has been done admirably all year long.

Yet when planning for 10 on-site students, and 2 show up because 8 have invoked the “APO” provision, lessons must change on the fly and this disrupts the learning of every student in the class, on-site and remote.

Who will show up each day? No one knows.

As a result, the district is establishing standards for “APO” at the middle and high school level that will prohibit students from accessing this provision unless it is truly being used for the purposes that were mandated from the State Department of Education. Parents at the secondary level can anticipate more information on this in the immediate future as it relates to attendance and the earning of credits at the high school level.

Scarice also talked about the district’s plans to serve on-site and distance learners, in the months ahead.

As stated above, perhaps the greatest instructional challenge this year has been the simultaneous dual instruction of on-site and distance learners, particularly for our secondary teachers. I see this as an unnatural learning environment, or at least very unnatural to the familiar learning environments before the pandemic.

The provision of distance learning is warranted this year, given the need for certain students to take additional precautions. We have a moral obligation to educate these students and are doing so to the very best of our ability. We cannot provide facsimile of on-site instruction, but we can certainly educate distance learners effectively while helping them advance in their education.

A distance learner, hard at work.

As we begin the second half of the year and introduce more on-site instruction, the number of learners in the classroom will greatly outnumber our distance learners.

For this reason, and to keep our commitment to providing a high quality experience for distance learners, there is a concerted effort to identify and provide additional supports to distance learners moving forward.  There will be more information about these efforts in the very near future.

Distance learners are defined as a group of students that have elected to engage in distance learning for an extended period of time. This group does not include those students who are intermittently “APO” (Absent but Present Online).

The superintendent addressed vaccines, surveillance testing, and the timetable for Staples High School’s full on-site reopening.

We wait eagerly for educators to be notified that it is time to schedule an vaccination appointment. The time is approaching, particularly with new vaccines entering the emergency approval stage. In the interim, I ask that you join me in advocating for advancing the timeline for educators by contacting state representatives, state senators and other related officials.

COVID-19 surveillance testing is employed in settings as a mitigating measure.  Professional sports along with private schools and various universities have used this approach to identify carriers of COVID-19. The town of Westport has engaged in a program for its employees involving surveillance testing. The town has also offered a partnership with the school district to participate in this program. Monday night I will be sharing information related to this opportunity to the Board of Education.

Questions have been submitted regarding further reopening of Staples High School. We have placed focus on the K-8 level for the time being but will revisit the idea of increased access to additional on-site learning opportunities for students at Staples. Any efforts in this regard will not take place before the February break, but perhaps sometime thereafter. Models of modifying the cohorts to increase cohort size is a likely approach to increase access.

A date has not yet been set to fully reopen Staples High school. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Finally — and powerfully — Scarice appealed to the community to be vigilant about risk factors. Of special note: restricting out of school activities.

Many parents have asked how to help our schools, particularly with our full opening Monday at the K-8 level. I can request one thing that could help significantly.

The virus does not originate in our schools. It comes in from the community, and based on the local health district and our own findings, it is coming in as a result of informal gatherings where defenses are down and transmission occurs.

If community members truly want to help keep our schools open and safe then we would all restrict activity outside of school so that community transmission rates would recede and the virus would not enter our buildings. This would help more than any donation or other form of generosity.

Please keep your eyes on the forecast and have a restful weekend.

Westport Schools’ Full-Time Reopening Set

Elementary and middle school students will return full-time to their buildings on February 1. Staples High School will follow soon after.

That’s the word from Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice. He says:

This school year has been a physical, emotional and psychological test of our collective endurance. We close out the first half of the school year at the end of this month. In the midst of the uncertainty and episodic chaos, I hold a very optimistic perspective for the second half of the school year.

What’s Next
As I shared with the parent community on December 22, I recommended a cautious approach to our school reopening this year.

However, based on 4 months of experience in preventing virus transmission in our buildings, and the similar success of peer districts in our region who have fully reopened, along with the reopening of Coleytown Middle School, I began conversations intended to increase access to on-site schooling for the second half of the school year. These discussions included a full reopening of on-site schooling for all K-8 students, and increased access for on-site schooling at Staples….

We have remained on the course I illustrated for the school community on December 22. There is a great deal of work that has been done, and continues to be done, to safely welcome our students back for additional on-site schooling.  However, we remain on the timeline shared on December 22.

The “Why?”
Those who serve our students, namely our faculty and support staff, are the reason for our success. Our collective support of these professionals is critical to the success we have enjoyed for decades. Yet as a system, our primary mission is to serve and develop our students. In the course of this work, challenges emerge in an ordinary year.  In a pandemic the challenges grow exponentially.

As a community, we are faced with obvious public health obligations to ensure that we are responsibly doing our part as a school system to minimize virus transmission. However, we are also obligated to balance our public health responsibilities with the perhaps less obvious risks that have impacted our children as a result of the reduction of on-site schooling.

The academic, social/emotional, and psychological impact on our students is not captured each evening on the news in cases per 100,000, or in positive test rates.  Yet the impact is real, consequential, and warrants mitigation.

It is time to move to bring these two obligations a bit more into balance.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

In October, the district partnered with the Tri State Consortium and conducted focus groups with almost 250 teachers, students and parents to identify critical problems for us to solve this year as a result of delivering a pandemic education.

Many of the problems that were identified can be addressed, in part, through greater access to additional on-site schooling.

The lack of connections with peers and adults, the academic struggles, and the ongoing challenge of engaging students can all be tempered with additional on-site schooling. This move will not eliminate these problems, nor will it eliminate the profound social/emotional and psychological issues that have emerged for some children, but it will ease the effects on the children we serve.

The benefits full on-site schooling are so important, particularly after long periods of remote and hybrid instruction this year and last year, that bringing our responsibilities to public health and our students into balance is warranted.

With less pandemic experience in the fall, I was less inclined to increase the levels of on-site schooling, particularly at the elementary level which provided an “everyday” model. A move to a “pandemic classroom” was not warranted given the uncertainty of the coming months in the fall.

That said, given our experience since then, and the experience of our peers in the region, along with the significant benefits of full on-site schooling, in my judgement it is time to begin this transition.

The Transition Process
Elementary Schools
The transition to full time on-site schooling will begin with a full asynchronous remote day for all elementary students on Wednesday January 27 in order to provide teachers the time needed to accommodate their classrooms for full enrollment.

A special 2-day transition schedule (January 28 and 29) will be shared next week by the elementary principals to their school communities which will illustrate how they will gradually welcome back their entire student body, with the first full K-5 day of on-site schooling scheduled for the first day of the second half of the school year, Monday February 1.

From that point forward, elementary students will engage in full school days, with changes made to arrival/dismissal, bus seating assignments, lunch, and recess.  The principals will communicate this information, and more, to their families in the coming days.

Given the need for our elementary faculty to deliver their instruction in a pandemic setting, and all of the professional challenges associated with this, like most districts in our region, Wednesdays will remain an on-site half day for students. Afternoons will be reserved for teachers to work with colleagues as they continue to solve instructional problems unlike any they have experienced in their careers as a result of COVID-19.

Greens Farms and 4 other elementary schools will reopen full-time on February 1.

Lunch will be served in homerooms and efforts will be made to “de-densify” the classrooms where appropriate when serving lunch by accessing other areas of the school building.

A parent survey is forthcoming which will gather information on any changes in distance learning requests from parents and transportation intentions (i.e bus or bring your child to school).

The distance learning option will remain for students and this program will be largely unchanged, providing consistency for this population of students.  More information about the distance learning option will be provided by the elementary principals in communication to their families.

Middle School
The middle schools will also transition to full time on-site schooling on the first day of the third quarter, February 1. The middle schools will transition the first phase during the month of February and the second phase on March 1.  Phase 1 will have all students return in person for full day instruction on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, while maintaining the existing Distance Learning half-day schedule on Wednesdays (February 3, 10 and 24 only).  Phase 2 will commence on March 1 with students attending school in person all 5 days, eliminating the Distance Learning Wednesday….

A parent survey is forthcoming which will gather information on any changes in distance learning requests from parents and transportation intentions (i.e bus or bring your child to school).  Distance learners at the middle school level will continue to have access to live streaming.

Coleytown (above) and Bedford Middle Schools will also reopen full-time on February 1.

High School
Like the elementary and middle school levels, the Staples team has also developed plans for an increase in on-site schooling for students. However, given our tragic loss last week of a senior and the impact on the school of working with students to process the events at the nation’s capital, for good reasons, the Staples plans are a week or so behind schedule.

In full candor, my expectation last week was that the Staples team would fasten their attention to the work of supporting students and staff as a result of a heartbreaking loss to the school community.

That said, it is expected that these plans will be reviewed and considered for implementation in the coming weeks. The perhaps less obvious effects of the pandemic (social/emotional, psychological) have hit our high school population particularly hard and we have an obligation to respond. I am confident that we will.

Staples High School will reopen full-time shortly after the other schools. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

The Unintended Consequences
Along with perhaps lessening the negative academic, social/emotional and psychological effects of the pandemic on our students, there will be some unintended consequences.  With more students on site it is very likely that we will see increased numbers of students and staff recommended to quarantine in light of being considered a close contact to a positive case.

Additionally, it is also likely that in some instances, a full, temporary school closure might be warranted in response to a positive case that includes many close contacts. Staffing our schools has been a challenge, and that challenge has the potential to grow during full on-site schooling.

We expect an increase in the number of distance learners, as this has been the case with our regional peers. Districts in the region that have successfully transitioned to full on-site schooling have reported a 5%-10% increase in distance learners at the outset of implementing full on-site schooling.

Finally, our buses will likely see more students on board. Vigilance in mask wearing on our buses, and in all settings will be critical to our continued success.

Final Note
As I shared on December 22, given the performance of public schools across the state, and here in Westport, I am confident that our resilience will continue to maintain high levels of safety for staff and students. It is clear that with continued vigilance in mask wearing, schools can remain resilient while serving more on-site learners safely. Of course, for this school year all parents will be afforded the right to distance learning for their child.

Communication throughout the system will be essential to making appropriate changes as necessary. We will continue to monitor our performance and the effectiveness of our safety measures. In response, we reserve the right to make programmatic adjustments along the way.

You can expect building principals to follow up with families in the coming days as we prepare for this change in learning models.

Schools Are One Step Closer To Full Reopening

Since September, the Westport Public Schools have operated on a hybrid model since September. Some students learn in school each day; some learn at home. 

This morning, in an email to parents, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice gave an update. Schools have not proven to be the vectors of COVID transmission many expected, he notes. In fact, they are some of the safest places during the pandemic.

Next month, administrators will begin exploring options for returning more students to school, more of the time. Scarice says:

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone the very best during the holidays, and a very happy new year. This has clearly been a year like no other.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

I shared with the faculty and support staff during my opening address in September that in my research, I’ve found that the very best organizations are marked by a culture where each individual can count on each other.  This year I’ve found that to be the case right here.  Look to your right, look to your left and you’ll find someone on the team that you can count on.  If this is the culture during a pandemic, I can assure you that there will be no limit to what we can accomplish as a school system.  We can, and should, have a bold vision for our schools in the post-COVID world.  This energizes me a great deal.

As I shared Monday at the Board of Education meeting, I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit math classrooms at Staples a couple of weeks ago. I was humbled by the work of our faculty in leading classroom instruction this year.  This morning I got a tiny window into the burdens of “Zoom instruction” as I struggled to engage a class of kindergarteners in my read-aloud of “The Gruffalo.” Not my finest moment, but being in the presence of our students is where I find such purpose and fulfillment. I hope Mrs. Sweeney was able to clean up my “digital mess” afterwards!!

At the expense of sounding gratuitous, I see the work of our faculty and support staff this year as nothing short of remarkable. Yet, just over the horizon I can begin to see us starting to turn the corner. With our team and the support of our parents and community I am beyond enthused about the second half of our school year!!

What’s Next?
Take a look towards the horizon and the immediate future and you will see that vaccines are on the way, new testing technologies are arriving regularly to communities, and treatments for the virus have advanced well beyond the approaches of last spring.

Locally, like countless other school districts, we have demonstrated incredible resilience in preventing virus transmission in our schools. I was told earlier in the fall that the safest place in our communities outside of our homes is in a public school. I found this unbelievable at the time. But now, based on almost 4 months of experience and the vigilance of everyone in our schools, I believe this to be true.

I have recommended a cautious approach to the reopening of our schools this year. However, a great deal has changed over the past 9 months. Perhaps most profound for schools is that high community transmission rates have had little impact on school-based virus transmission.

What’s confounding is that community transmission rates were initially identified as the primary driver affecting the reopening of schools among public health experts, including the Harvard Global Health Institute which guided Connecticut’s efforts. In fact, just last week, Tom St. Louis, occupational health program director for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, concluded in a statement to superintendents that the high rates of spread in communities are not translating to similarly high rates of transmission in schools. He acknowledged that most experts did not know this would be the case when guidance was provided over the summer.

Population density is a factor in mitigating spread, thus the reason for hybrid models this year. Yet, there is ample evidence across the state of minimal to no virus spread in schools with greater population density than the current levels in our schools.

This track record of remarkable resilience, along with the timing of the reopening of Coleytown Middle School, and with the critical need to balance our responsibility to public health with the social/emotional/academic wellness of our students, has led me to begin conversations about engaging in additional reopening efforts for the second half of January, including a full reopening of on-site schooling for all K-8 students.

Coleytown Middle School’s renovation is nearly complete. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

When We Return January 4, 2021
We will begin the New Year in the current hybrid model beginning on January 4. However, we will monitor the conditions around us, and within our schools, in an effort to begin to possibly open our schools for full on-site instruction at the K-8 level later in the month. Additionally, we will look to broaden access to Staples for more on-site instruction for all learners, beyond those identified as “at-risk.”

I have asked the administration from each of the three levels to have plans ready for my review by the end of the first week of January in anticipation of implementation for the second half of the month. Specific plans and dates have yet to be identified. This information will be forthcoming shortly thereafter.

Given the performance of public schools across the state, and here in Westport, I am confident that our resilience will continue to maintain high levels of safety for staff and students. It is true that it will not look like our classrooms prior to the pandemic and that a return to a “pandemic classroom,” particularly at the elementary level, was not optimal as rates sharply trended in the wrong direction in October and November. I stand by the prudent approach I recommended in the fall. Yet since then, we have learned more and more about schooling during the pandemic.

It is clear that with strong mitigating measures, particularly fidelity to mask wearing, schools can remain resilient while serving more on-site learners safely.  When we return, we will begin the process of planning for more on-site learners in earnest for the second half of the school year which begins later in January.

Of course, for this school year all parents will be afforded the right to distance learning for their child.  We will continue to serve our students in this arena and seek to continually improve our practices in remote instruction.

Until then…
As I shared with the faculty earlier, we have an opportunity to take a break from perhaps the greatest professional challenge we will face in our careers, an eleven day respite. For all of us, this should be time to reconnect with our families and friends in safe ways. Perhaps some Netflix viewing (if so, you must watch “The Social Dilemma” with your teens), some unwinding, and some time to unplug.  Whatever may come over the break, I have complete confidence that we will turn a corner to a positive horizon in due time.

Remembering Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan — a longtime teacher and administrator, who had a profound impact on the Westport Public Schools — died Monday, surrounded by his family. He was 81.

Sullivan (not to be confused with the Staples High School Latin teacher with the same name) began his career here in 1964, as a Long Lots Junior High School math teacher.

He was named department chair in 1969, then vice principal in 1973. In 1986 he moved to Coleytown Elementary School as principal. He retired in 1997; served as a special assistant for building, planning and construction, then returned full-time in 2001 as principal of Greens Farms Elementary.

Those are the facts. But they don’t convey the warmth, empathy or great good humor that made Dan Sullivan a legend in Westport education.

I was not exactly an Einsteinian math pupil. But I had Mr. Sullivan in 8th grade, and he made math actually fun. Like any great teacher, he loved his subject. But he understood that not all of us would be mathematicians — and that was okay. He also had a wicked sense of humor.

Dan Sullivan

Later, when I was a substitute teacher, Long Lots was a favorite school. Mr. Sullivan fostered a warm, loving schoolwide environment. I saw how he treated every student sent to the office as a special individual, worthy of his time, his ear and his respect.

In the 1980s and ’80s, Long Lots had a very complex schedule. Classes were varying lengths: science labs were long and met only a couple of times a week; foreign language classes were short but met often, for example.

Because of those time periods, very few classes let out at the same time. The halls were never crowded — the bane of any school.

It was a brilliant schedule. It was devised completely by Mr. Sullivan — all by hand. Many schools could have benefited from the setup. Of course, no other other had a Dan Sullivan to create and implement it.

And — this would never happen today, for many reasons — he allowed a neighborhood dog the free run of school. One day Doozer wandered in to Long Lots, and never left. He roamed the halls, sat in on classes, and lay down in the cafeteria.

Most vice principals would have called Animal Control. Mr. Sullivan turned a blind eye (when he wasn’t petting him). It helped make Long Lots feel not like a school, but a home.

Mr. Sullivan had a similar impact on colleagues throughout the Westport Public Schools. He was an innovative thinker, a wise mentor, and a very funny guy.

Dan Sullivan graduated from Milford High School in 1957. He earned a BS from Southern Connecticut State College, an MS in secondary supervision from the University of Bridgeport, and certificates in advanced studies for administration and supervision from Fairfield University and Teachers College, Columbia University.

He later became an adjunct professor at both the University of Bridgeport and Sacred Heart University.

Mr. Sullivan is survived by 4 children: Kevin of Los Angeles, Maureen and Lorna of Philadelphia, Daniel of Fairfield, and 6 grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Lorna.

A private service will be held tomorrow. Donations can be made to Alzheimer’s research, in his memory. Click here to send condolences to his family.

Superintendent Scarice: Mitigating Measures Work

Today, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice updated the community on Westport Public Schools’ immediate future, quarantine practices, supports for quarantined students and distance learners, transportation, travel guidance and COVID reporting.

He also added a few personal thoughts on what we might expect over the horizon. He wrote: 

The Immediate Future
As projected in October, community infection rates increased sharply over the past month. Meanwhile, our schools have shown a remarkable resilience in halting any spread of the virus in our buildings. I am confident that vigilance in maintaining our mitigating measures (i.e. masks, distancing, hand hygiene, etc.), as well as keeping the density of our schools at 50% capacity, have ensured this measure of success.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

We have identified nearly 80 positive student and staff COVID-19 cases in our schools since September. As a result, nearly 1,500 students and staff have been asked to quarantine.

Yet there has been little to no spread of COVID-19 once positive cases have been identified in our schools. The lack of positive COVID-19 tests of those in quarantine is affirmation of our ability to halt the spread of the virus once it enters our schools.

We will return to on-site schooling in the hybrid model on Monday (November 30) at all of our schools. There will be just over three weeks until our next break beginning December 24. As I mentioned in my last message to the school community, I see this year in 4-6 week increments.

Public health experts project high transmission rates until the start of the new year. It is critical that parents and those in the community partner with us to maintain the same vigilance that is evident in our schools in order to keep our schools open for on-site schooling. An outbreak of the virus, or staffing challenges, can put all of our schools into a fully remote model.

Sharpening Our Quarantining Practices
Quarantining is a necessary mitigating measure in preventing the spread of COVID-19 once a positive case has been identified. As the number of positive cases dramatically increased over the past few weeks in our community, placing Westport into the high risk category, we took a conservative approach with our contact tracing efforts in the schools. This approach led to recommended quarantines for large numbers of staff and students.

Again, our mitigating measures have been extremely effective resulting in a very limited number of positive cases through in-school transmission. This fact is most significant. In reviewing data related to the number of quarantines associated with close contacts in our schools,  it has been determined that spread in our schools has been extremely rare.

Despite the “second wave,” in-school transmission of COVID-19 is very rare at Staples High School, and throughout Westport.

For example, of 508 classroom exposures recorded at Staples High School through November 23rd, only one is believed to have led to an additional positive case within the school. This success in controlling the spread of COVID-19 allows us to modify our current approach to contact tracing, specifically in the middle and high school, which will help limit the number of students and staff needing to quarantine.

With support from the Westport/Weston Health District, and our medical advisor, Dr. Norman Weinberger, we intend to take a more precise approach when determining “close contacts” and recommending a self-quarantine.  These changes will be in effect after we return from the Thanksgiving break.

Instructional Support for Distance Learning and Quarantined Students
As the number of students in distance learning and quarantine increased, new challenges were posed for our school district. I suspect we would have concluded last summer that an increase in distance learners (i.e. from 168 in K-5 on October 30 to an anticipated 207 on November 30) and those in quarantine would coincide with a move to fully remote instruction. However, given the resilience demonstrated by our schools, and the encouragement of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, our doors remain open for on-site schooling in the hybrid model.

In order to address the number of students in need of instruction in distance learning or quarantine, I am very pleased to share that we have secured the services of multiple certified teachers to provide support for these programs.  These resources should be in place to start following the Thanksgiving break.

Transportation
The provision of transportation is guaranteed for each public school student.  However, given the complexity of transportation during the pandemic we encourage parents to transport their children to and from school whenever possible. Decreasing density on our school buses will minimize the need to quarantine students when a positive case is identified on a bus. Of course we will continue to transport all students in need of transportation.

Socially distanced school buses (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Travel Guidance
Travel guidance has been issued. Interstate and international travel is forbidden without following the guidelines. Failure to comply with Connecticut’s travel policies (https://portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus/travel) may result in a civil penalty of $500 for each violation.  Please take this seriously and adhere to the guidelines issued by the CDC and Connecticut Department of Public Health.

COVID-19 Reporting Hotline
As a reminder, we have developed a COVID-19 reporting hotline to report positive cases only. The number is  (203) 341-1016. Also, an email can be sent to PositiveCovidReport@westportps.org.  If your child has tested positive for COVID-19 please use one of these two methods to communicate to the schools.  You may also contact your school nurse for any follow up information. See this link for more information.

Over the Horizon
As challenging as this year has been, and as dark as it is expected to get over the next 8 weeks or so, I am more optimistic now than I’ve ever been about our future.

Although we have used rather primitive methods to confront this pandemic (i.e. physical distance, masks, etc.), the ubiquity of biotechnology breakthroughs is close to catching up. Treatments have emerged for those infected. Proactive surveillance testing is becoming a reality, and not just for the NBA and the most exclusive colleges and private schools. Vaccines are racing towards the finish line with success rates that match the aspirations and hopes of recent biotechnology promises.

With that, I would like to bring your mind to the other side of this pandemic, which could be within reach in a matter of months. Although I do not expect a “war is over” declaration, I do anticipate that these breakthroughs will conspire with our collective purpose to turn our exclusive attention towards the work of teaching and learning, towards the work of preparing all learners for the challenges of the modern world, and towards building a system that enables all students to thrive and make positive contributions to their world.

A return to “normal” school could be oaround the horizon.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, for this reflective moment, for this optimism, I am most grateful.

In closing, I’d like to share one of my favorite pieces on the purpose of education. As you contemplate the other side of this pandemic and a potential renewed vision of our schools, may these words rise within you and inspire you to action.

In 1947, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote this essay for his school newspaper at Morehouse College. Although published nearly 75 years ago, it rings as true today as it did then.

Have a restful and peaceful Thanksgiving,
Tom Scarice

Roundup: Schools Dashboard, Stew’s Tree, More


Want to know how our schools are doing, COVID-wise?

The Westport Public Schools’ web page has overviews, schedules, plans, FAQs — all broken down by elementary, middle and high school levels — along with a “dashboard.”

It shows the number of individuals (staff and students) with positive confirmed cases, who are currently isolating. The most recent number was 37.

There’s also the number of staff and students currently quarantining, because of suspected exposure. That number: 854.

Click here for the page. Then bookmark it, for future reference.


First Christmas tree of the season? Spotted yesterday at Stew Leonard’s:


Señor Salsa said “adios” in January.

Now, nearly a year later, the Post Road West spot is being replaced by … a Mexican restaurant.

Oh, wait. That’s the same story I posted back in May.

I guess it all depends on what the meaning of “Coming Soon” is.


And finally … today marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Elton John’s 5th album. How do I know this obscure fact? Well, the title was 11/17/70 …

Schools Superintendent Updates The Community

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice is conducting a master class in communication. Today he provided these updates to the community:

COVID Update
On October 13 I shared with the community that the public health experts we consulted projected a significant spike in rates of infection in the subsequent 4-6 weeks. The following chart of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people illustrates the fulfillment of those projections. 

As the rates of positive COVID cases increase in the community, cases enter our schools.

However, since we returned in September, we have been able to mitigate the spread of the virus, maintaining safety in our schools.

That said, I cannot say the same for other settings in the community. In full candor, the ability to maintain in-person schooling is largely dependent on the vigilance of the community to apply the same mitigating measures your child experiences each day in school.

Our cases are widely related to lapses in the community. Local public health experts are not reporting widespread outbreaks in schools, but they are uncovering outbreaks in informal settings (e.g. youth sports, informal gatherings/parties, car pools, etc.).

This is not intended to cast aspersion on such activities, but only to implore those in the community to support our efforts in anticipation of a long winter confronting this pandemic. We will continue to work as vigilantly as we can to enforce our measures as well.

Staples High School On Full Remote Through Thanksgiving, Bedford and Coleytown Middle Schools Return to Hybrid Monday November 16
Due to a staffing shortage as a result of significant quarantines, Staples, Bedford and Coleytown Middle were all placed on remote learning for November 12 and 13.

Staples will remain on remote through Thanksgiving, and the middle schools will return to the hybrid model on Monday November 16. Click here for full details.

How Do Mitigating Measures Work?
At the expense of oversimplifying the use of mitigating measures, perhaps this graphic captures it best from the Cleveland Clinic.

 

Can My Child Get a Negative COVID Test to Return to School From Quarantine?
No. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. During this time, even after a negative test, you may develop symptoms and become infectious within this 2-14 days time frame after exposure. This is based on consistent guidance from the CDC and the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

Can My Child Return to School After a Positive COVID Test if They Subsequently Get a Negative PCR Test?
No. A student can return to school 10 days after the onset of symptoms or 10 days after the date of the positive test. A subsequent test does not negate a previous positive test.

Does My Child Need a Negative COVID Test to Return After a Quarantine Period?
No. If your child does not develop symptoms they may return to school after the 14 day quarantine period. If your child does develop symptoms, it is best to have your child see their pediatrician.

Next Steps
We will continue to monitor our ability to mitigate virus transmission in the schools and maintain our staffing levels so that we can receive students on-site safely. However, it is possible that an intermittent or extended remote learning period may be implemented if necessary for our schools.

Roundup: Munchkins, Drugs, Halloween, More


Hey, Westport kids (age 5 to 13 ). If you’ve wanted to be in an amazing Staples Players production, here’s your chance!

Players’ radio theatre kicks off with “The Wizard of Oz” this Sunday (October 25, 6 p.m.) — and they want to hear your best munchkin voice.

Send a recording of you saying “follow the yellow brick road!” (munchkin-style). Players’ senior officers will pick 5 winners. Those recordings will be played on air during the live “Wizard of Oz” broadcast. (Click here for details.)

Winners also receive a $10 gift card to Saugatuck Sweets.

Click here, then click the blue “Submit Recording for Munchkin” button to upload your file. Include your name and phone number in the recording. The deadline is 6 p.m. Friday (October 23).

Need inspiration? Click below.


This Saturday (October 24) is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

You can celebrate with the Westport Police Department. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., they’ll be at the Senior Center collecting unused and/or outdated pills and patches. Vape pens are okay if the batteries can be removed.

If the vape pen battery cannot be removed, try an electronics chain store. Also not accepted on Saturday: liquids, needles and sharps.

The service is free and anonymous — no questions asked. For more information, click here.

PS: A year-round collection bin is located in the lobby of Westport Police headquarters. Prescription drugs can be properly disposed of there at any time.


The good news is: This Saturday  (October 24) over 100 Westport kids will take part in the 10th annual Window Painting Contest. They’ll vie for prizes in 3 categories: Scariest Artwork, Best Halloween Theme, and Most Original.

The more good news; 48 businesses all around town — shops, restaurants, services, delis, fitness centers and more — have offered up their windows.

The bad news: That’s not enough. The sponsoring Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce needs at least 20 more, to fill the demand.

They plead: Please donate your business window! You’ll do the town a service. In fact, it will be the perfect Halloween “treat.” Click here to register your window.


This Saturday (October 24), the United Nations turns 75 years old.

For over 50 of those years, Westport has celebrated that birthday with colorful flags. They fly every UN Day on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. That’s fitting: its namesake founded by the local United Nations Association, and Westport’s’ UN International Hospitality Committee.

On Saturday (11 a.m., Town Hall front steps), a public ceremony marks United Nations Day. First Selectman Jim Marpe, Hospitality Committee vice chair Bill Hass, and Staples High School Model UN president Lucas Slater and vice president Aidan Rogers will speak.

Special guest speaker Aye Aye Thant will discuss the importance of the UN. She should know: The Westport resident’s father is former UN Secretary General U Thant.

After the event, a bipartisan expression of support for the UN takes place at the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. Marpe and local legislators will gather near the flags of UN member countries — which have flown there proudly, for decades.

(Photo/Jeff Simon)

Mike Burns spotted this sign on Compo Road South, near Longshore.

Finally, a candidate we can all agree on!


The Westport Public Schools’ guiding principles include social and emotional awareness, sincere kindness, principled thoughts and actions, and constant learning.

Several students have been selected, for embodying those principles. They are Caroline Caggiano, James Dobin Smith, Rachel Greenberg, Colin Konstanty, Natalia Maidique and Kyla Race.

Congratulations to all!

Three honorees (from left): James Dobin-Smith, Colin Konstanty, Caroline Caggiano.


How foggy was it last night? Very, as Andrew Colabella’s shot of the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge shows:

And finally … in honor of Staples Players’ “Wizard of Oz” radio broadcast (see story above):