Tag Archives: Westport Public Schools

Meet Stacy Fowle: Westport’s Teacher Of The Year

Growing up in Westport, Stacy Jagerson was fortunate to have many superb teachers: “legends” like Dave Harrison, Sarah Herz, Nancy Roche and George Weigle.

She also had Jo Ann Davidson and Karen Ernst, at Kings Highway Elementary and Bedford Middle School, respectively. Both are former Westport Public Schools Teachers of the Year.

Stacy — now Stacy Fowle — moved back to Westport nearly 20 years ago. Her children have gone through the Westport schools. Last year, Enia Noonan — Fowle’s daughter Addy’s Staples High Italian teacher — was selected as district Teacher of the Year.

Every fall, a different educator is chosen Teacher of the Year. The newest honoree comes from Greens Farms Elementary School: 5th grade teacher Stacy Fowle.

She’s clearly learned a lot from her former instructors and current colleagues. But her career path was not always clear.

Stacy Fowle, with her Block “S” from the Staples High School soccer team. “That’s the last award I won, before Teacher of the Year,” she jokes.

At Staples she captained the 1984 soccer team, and sang in choir. But although she looks back on her 13 years in the Westport schools “very, very fondly” — and calls her education here “amazing” — Fowle was not always a standout student.

“There were some rough patches,” she admits.

She attended St. Lawrence University, but dropped out before graduation. She traveled in India for 6 months, then volunteered as an English as a Second Language instructor in New York City.

That inspired her to take grad school courses to become a teacher. But first, she realized, she needed an undergraduate diploma.

She completed her degree at Sacred Heart University, then entered the Bank Street program.

Fowle calls the school’s progressive approach “transformational.” Her educational philosophy — “very child-centered, not top-down lecturing” — was honed there.

Stacy Fowle

Fowle taught for 7 years at PS 234 in Tribeca. She spent the next 7 as a literacy consultant, helping teachers build reading and writing curriculums.

She was living in Brooklyn on September 11, 2001. By December, Fowle, her husband and 3 young children had moved to Westport. “We were ready,” she says.

She was ready too for a new challenge.

“Consulting is lonely,” she notes. “You’re an outsider. And you’re not always received well by teachers.”

Fowle missed having her own class, and “being on a team with colleagues.”

Meanwhile, she wanted to put all the ideas she was talking about into practice.

Fourteen years ago, she got that Greens Farms 5th grade job. She’s been there ever since. This district is a great fit, she says, for her child-centered approach to education.

Stacy Fowle (3rd from left), with her Greens Farms Elementary School “team”: Mary Ellen Barry, Chris Chieppo and Christine Theiss.

Teachers of the Year do not know who nominated them, or why. But Fowle suspects she was selected in large part because of her work around sustainability, and the composting program she helped develop at her school.

Students, staff, parents, cafeteria workers and custodians — all are involved. The concept has spread to other schools in the district. Non-school organizations have taken note too.

Fowle’s environmental consciousness comes from her family. Her mother, Sherry Jagerson, began composting in the 1970s. (Decades later, she was a driving force behind the creation of the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve). Her brother Ty is a leader in the solar energy field.

Stacy Fowle with her brother Ty and mother Sherry, at the New York Climate March.

Fowle praises Westport school administrators — at her school, and the town school office — for their “full support” of Greens Farms’ composting initiative.

And — much like Miss Americas take on causes like civil rights or HIV education — Fowle is using her Teacher of the Year platform to raise awareness of sustainability.

In her speech at the public schools’ convocation — the first district-wide event of the year — and last night, when the Board of Education feted her, Fowle spoke passionately about the power of students to take on “hard work” like climate change.

“It’s real. It’s our future,” she says. “We need to talk about Westport schools as a leader not just in academics, arts and sports, but the environment.”

Greens Farms students avidly join in the “zero waste” effort.

Her words have already had an impact. At a restaurant the other night a Staples teacher recognized her, and came to Fowle’s table.

“She said she’s composting now. And she’s changing the way she works,” the Teacher of the Year says proudly.

Of course, Fowle adds, the school district honor is not hers alone. It recognizes “our initiative, and the work being done by so many kids and colleagues.” She also cites administrators, parents and community members, for their support.

So what’s been the reaction of her students, to the news that their instructor is Teacher of the Year?

Not much. After all, they’re only in 5th grade.

Besides, they’re too busy composting.

After Coleytown: School District Considers 9 Plans For Next Year

When mold closed Coleytown Middle School in September, school administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents scrambled to adjust.

Sixth and seventh graders moved to Bedford Middle School. Eighth graders headed to Staples. That temporary measure will last through the current school year.

Now — with the fate of CMS still undetermined — educators and townspeople must plan for the next school year.

Yesterday at Town Hall, superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer presented 9 options to the newly formed Community Advisory Group. Comprised of teachers, administrators, PTA members and others, they have a December 10 deadline to present a 2019-20 plan to the Board of Education.

The options — which may be amended as work continues — include:

  1. Keeping 6th grades at elementary schools; all 7th and 8th graders would remain at Bedford. Stepping Stones Preschool would move from Coleytown Elementary to a rented facility; Long Lots kindergartners would attend CES in that space.
  2. As above, but Long Lots 6th graders would attend Coleytown El in the current Stepping Stones place.
  3. Stepping Stones would move to a rented facility. Long Lots 6th graders would attend CES; Saugatuck and Kings Highway 6th graders would go to Bedford Middle School (which would include portable classrooms); Greens Farms 6th graders would remain in that school, and CMS 7th and 8th graders would remain at BMS.
  4. All 6-8th graders would attend Bedford on a staggered schedule. For example: grade 6, 7 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.; grades 7-8, 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  5. Maintain the current plan: All 6th and 7th graders at BMS; CMS 8th graders at Staples.
  6. All students in grades 6-8 attend Bedford on the same school schedule.
  7. All students in grades 6-8 attend Bedford, with double sessions. For example: Session I, 7 a.m. to noon; Session II, 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  8. Housing one of the following at a different, rented location: Early learning center (Stepping Stones Preschool and all kindergarten classrooms districtwide); 6th grade; 8th grade; all of Coleytown Middle School.
  9. Utilize 1 of the 5 elementary schools to house CMS. Those elementary school students would be redistricted to the other 4 elementary schools.

The Community Advisory Group’s next meeting is tomorrow (Tuesday, November 20, 7:30 p.m., Bedford Middle School).

[UPDATE] Juvenile In Custody For School Threat

A juvenile is in custody, Westport police said this afternoon, after threats were directed at a teacher, and the entire Staples High School population.

Staples officials called police at 9 a.m. this morning, after the student was overheard stating he had “thoughts” of a mass shooting.

Police said they have found firearms belonging to the student’s father, and locked in a safe. More may be located.

Westport schools are expected to open on time Wednesday.

After The Storm: Westport Schools Delayed By 3 Hours

In the aftermath of last night’s storm — which, on the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, brought nearly 5 inches of rain and near-50 mph winds to Westport — Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer says:

Due to many downed trees and wires, we are delaying school by 3 hours today.

Currently 25% of Westport is without power as well. Please be careful of any downed lines that you could encounter today in your travels to work. I expect all of the damage has not yet been reported to officials. We will continue to assess the situation as the morning light reveals storm damage. Please be safe, wherever you are.

Superintendent Reveals Cut List

With the state budget in tatters — and towns now on the hook for things like teacher pensions — superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer presented a $977,000 cut list to the Board of Education last night.

Board members listened to and considered each of the “mitigation strategies” offered. No action was taken.

The Board of Education determines the exact list of reductions. The next step after that is the Board of Finance.

The biggest suggested change ($170,000) comes from health insurance, as a result of reduced staff.

In addition, $100,000 comes from the cafeteria fund reimbursement for operating expenses, and $98,141 from deferring the hiring of the director of secondary education for one year. Other large cuts include a middle school literacy coach and curriculum resources ($66,000) each; not funding an “innovation fund” ($50,000).

Palmer has identified 39 items overall for deferral or elimination. They include personnel like a part-time psychologist, paraprofessionals, 2 Staples grade level assistants, and secretarial help in the district. Also listed: the Staples athletic budget, maintenance, and supply items like Long Lots bathroom renovation, Kings Highway art stools, and Staples library and computer chairs.

To view all the recommended changes to the proposed education budget, click here.

Colleen Palmer: A Chat With Westport’s New School Superintendent

Not much gets by Colleen Palmer.

“I noticed the Westport Public Schools website has very few photos of students,” the town’s new superintendent of schools said last week, at the end of her 1st week on the job.

She knows there are privacy issues involved. But, she said, if students are the primary focus of the district — and she is emphatic that they are — they should be a visible focus online too.

It was a whirlwind week for the incoming education leader. She’d just finished 5 successful years in Weston; before that, she was superintendent in Monroe. Palmer also served as a high school prinicipal at Nonnewaug, Hamden and Simsbury.

Dr. Colleen Palmer.

Dr. Colleen Palmer.

She was not looking to leave Weston. She’d invested a lot of time and energy there; the schools are excellent, and she was deeply rooted in the community.

Yet when Westport’s search firm tapped her on the shoulder, she turned around.

Palmer knew this town, from working many years with then-superintendent Elliott Landon. The closer she looked at Westport — learning about initiatives like the 2025 Lens and collaboration with Teachers College — the more excited she became.

The opportunities and challenges here — in a district larger and more diverse than Weston — offered “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Palmer says. “I realized if I didn’t apply, I would always regret it.”

Westport Public SchoolsAfter her appointment this winter — she was the only finalist — Palmer did her homework. She read documents and reports. She made phone calls. As the budget process unfolded, she watched every Board of Education, Board of Finance and RTM meeting she could.

Now, she’s got a nice Town Hall office. But she’s not spending too much time there.

“I’m visiting every school, and meeting every person I can,” she says. “I’m getting to know the facilities, and what goes on behind the scenes. I’m trying to listen and learn.”

Her initial impressions?

“Westport is a very authentic place. Everyone is focused on what’s right for students. They’re passionate, dedicated and inspiring.”

Educators “want to share what they’re doing,” she adds. “There’s a can-do attitude, and a lot of collaborative problem-solving.” One immediate example: addressing space issues at Kings Highway Elementary School.

That’s wonderful. But, I wonder, don’t all teachers and administrators focus on kids?

“There are great educators everywhere,” Palmer counters. “What I see here is such a high level of performance, throughout the entire district.”

In that context, she says, “I tell people: ‘dream big.’ My job is to remove barriers. We’re all looking for better ideas, and better ways to do things.”

Colleen Palmer's Town Hall office has a great view. But she is getting out and around, meeting as many Westporters administrators, teachers and residents as she can.

Colleen Palmer’s Town Hall office has a great view. But she is getting out and around, meeting as many Westporters administrators, teachers and residents as she can.

Palmer looks forward to building on the strong foundation that already exists. She is particularly excited by the “Guiding Principles” initiative, fostering emotional intelligence.

“We have to look at the whole child,” Palmer says. “Success is not bound by academics alone. There’s also the quality of life as they go through the school system, and the tools they have for life.”

She hopes that Guiding Principles values like “kindness with sincerity” will be part of the entire district culture, for adults as well as students.

Using 2 of her favorite phrases — “Failure is not an option” and “Hope is not a strategy” — Palmer calls herself “tenacious and realistic.” She cites a major achievement in Weston — getting a waiver from the state, in order to do holistic rather than formulaic scoring for teacher evaluations — as an example of her ability to do what’s right for students and staff, unencumbered by rigid thinking.

She is not anti-data. But, Palmer says, “we have to be smart. My job as superintendent is to be effective, efficient and coherent. Any goals we set need realistic timelines. And then we have to all hold ourselves accountable.”

Though she calls a superintendent’s job “24/7,” Westport’s new leader has a life beyond school. Three years ago, driving across the Saugatuck River, she saw scullers on the water.

She took lessons at the Saugatuck Rowing Club, and fell in love with the sport. Now, at dawn, she rows a single.

“There is nothing more beautiful than the flat Saugatuck River, as the sun comes up,” Palmer says. “It’s so peaceful and serene. It’s where I do great thinking.”

Palmer — a swimmer — recently joined the Westport Weston Family YMCA too.

She loves cultural events, travel, and her 3 sons and 5 grandchildren. She just built a lakeside house in Vermont. It’s her “grandchild trap.”

The new superintendent — who prefers “Colleen” to “Dr. Palmer” — replaces a man who served a mind-boggling 17 years, in a very difficult public position.

How long will she be here?

“I love my work. I thrive on it,” she says. “I have a healthy balance in my life. This job has long hours, but I take care of myself.

“I have no exit plan in mind. I look forward to a long tenure here.”

Westport Vs. Weston: Which Schools To Choose?

A woman emailed me yesterday. She and her husband grew up in Fairfield County; they now live in Westchester. They want to “come home” to Connecticut — but are torn between Westport and Weston. She says:

I understand the difference between the towns and properties themselves – what I am really interested in (obsessed with?) is the differences between the schools.

My impression is that Weston is more traditional, maybe has fewer course course offerings, but a smaller, more personal experience?

I know both systems are “excellent.” I’m looking, if possible, specifically where there is less pressure (if anywhere) on the kids, and where there is less teaching to the test and true creativity allowed on the parts of the teachers. Any other thoughts are welcome too.

So there you have it, “06880” (and 06883). Click “Comments” to respond. Please address the questions asked — no tangents this time. Please cite specific examples, if possible. And play fair — no ad hominem attacks.

Weston's Hurlbutt Elementary School (left); Westport's Green's Farms El.

Weston’s Hurlbutt Elementary School (left); Westport’s Green’s Farms El.

Kindergarteners Do Answer Questions

Recently, “06880” posed a question the Board of Education needed answering:  When was kindergarten first offered in the Westport public schools?

Plenty of readers posted answers online, with recollections dating back to 1941.

But that’s not the half of it.

According to Jennifer Robson, administrative assistant to the superintendent, additional sleuthing in the Town Hall vaults showed records of 4- and 5-year-olds being educated as far back as the late 1800s.

In 1916 — the 1st year that record books actually describe children by grade (not just age) — the Bridge Street School (predecessor to the original Saugatuck Elementary School, on [duh] Bridge Street) had a “sub-primary grade,” filled with 4- and 5- year-olds.

By 1918, there were 26 students in what the Bridge Street School actually called “kindergarten.”

Student rosters read like a hit parade of old time Westport names: DeMatttio, Gilbertie, Saponare, Valiante, Tedesco, Cribari, DeFeo, Fiore and Zeoli, among others.

Youngsters at the Bridge Street School, around 1915. Recognize any relatives?

Jennifer says that the other schools in town did not appear to have kindergarten at that point.  They also enrolled far fewer students than the Bridge Street School.

“They seemed to run more like country schoolhouses,” Jennifer notes, “with perhaps 30 students total, spread through grades 1-5.”

What are your recollections of your early school days in Westport?  Click “Comments” to respond.  Let’s limit this one to elementary schools, with no tangents into No Child Left Behind, Obama’s education policy, or anything else please!

A Question Even A Kindergartener Can Answer

For some reason, NESDEC — the organization that does yearly enrollment projections for the Westport Public Schools — recently contacted the Town School Office looking for background info.

One question was:  What year was kindergarten first offered in our schools?

The answer is:  No one is sure.

Records trace Westport kindergarten back to 1953 — but they’re incomplete before that.

So, “06880” readers:  If you attended kindergarten here any year before Dwight Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II took over, click “Comments” and tell us when.

Inquiring minds — and NESDEC — want to know.

Was there kindergarten in Westport in 1952? "06880" readers must know.

We’re #5!

There’s been a bit lot of back-and-forth on “06880” lately regarding the value of the Westport school system.

Everyone’s got a different rating method.  They range from standardized test score comparisons with similar towns in our “District Reference Group,” which seems fairly reasonable, to the dip-shitty Newsweek method, which takes the number of AP (and AP-type) exams administered, and divides by the number of graduating seniors.  (Theoretically, the top school could be one where every student takes every AP test offered, and no one passes any of them.)

Into the fray roars Forbes — sort of.  In a story befitting “The Capitalist Tool,” they’ve created “The Best Schools For Your Real Estate Buck.”

Using their methodology — combining the 17,589 towns and cities in the 49 states that administer standardized tests (see ya, Nebraska!) with results from the standardized National Assessment for Educational Progress federal tests of randomly selected 4th, 8th and 12th graders — they calibrated results of “individual cities in a single state with national standards to come up with an absolute score for each city.  It then graded them on a curve.”

I am not bright enough to figure out what all that means.  (Hey, I took math at Staples in the ’70s.  I must have been absent the day we studied this stuff.)

I am, however, bright enough to know that standardized tests — particularly when each state sets different standards — are not the brightest way to assess schools, teachers, administrators, learning, learning outcomes, creativity, blah blah blah, even bang for one’s real estate buck.

Whatever.

Forbes ran the data, crunched the numbers, threw salt over their shoulder, and came up with the highest-ranking city.  The one that got the “100” that the rest of the 17,588 towns and cities get curve-graded against.

The best-bang-buckiest town — the one we should all immediately move to, to maximize our investments in our kids and our homes and the future — is, of course…

…Falmouth, Maine.

Duh.

Using Forbes’ quasi-scientific methodology, Westport does not even make the top 10.

No Connecticut school systems do, though.  In fact, only 2 in the entire Northeast:  Barrington, RI (#4) and Bedford, NH (#5).  The rest of the top 10 includes Mercer Island, WA (#2), Pella, IA (#3), and from 6th to 10th, Manhattan Beach, CA; Moraga, CA; Parkland, FL; St. Johns, FL, and Southlake, TX.

But wait!

If you’re scoring at home using the “District Reference Group” method, Forbes has better news for Westport.  Sort of.

They’ve sliced and diced their list according to median housing prices.  We’re in the highest group — “$800,000 and Upand here the list is a bit more Northeast- and California-centric.

Westport — with a median home price of $931,690 (when?  2007?) and an “Ed Quality Index” of 87.81 — is the 5th best bang-bucking school district in the entire wealthiest Forbes quarter.

We trail the winner (Manhattan Beach, CA) and runners-up New Canaan, Lafayette (CA) and Palo Alto, but lead Darien, Orinda (CA), Weston (MA, not CT), Rye (NY) and Cupertino (CA).

This is described as "the women of the Manhattan Beach 6-man volleyball tournament." Yes, I understand these are not men, and there are more than 6 of them. But who am I to argue with the top school district in the category of wealthiest median home prices? Whatever they teach there must be right.

So there you have it.  Sort of.

But feel free to devise your own ranking system.

I have added together all the grades achieved by students in grades K-12 in every course taken (except physical education); divided by the number of parking spots in each parking lot; multiplied by the square root of parent or guardian’s IQ and cholesterol scores, and done something or other with the hypotenuse of the hotness factor of superintendents, boards of education and building principals.

I am happy to report that, by this perfectly logical method, the Westport school district is the 2nd best in the country.

Number one is — damn! — Falmouth, Maine.