Tag Archives: Westport Public Schools

Schools Survey: Input Sought From All Westporters

As part of the Westport Public Schools’ efforts to develop a long-term strategic plan, a series of surveys has been sent to parents, staff members, administrators, and students in grades 5 through 12.

But all Westporters have a stake in our school system.

“As we project the world our students will inhabit as young adults, it is critical to have robust input from all members of the school community,” says superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice.

He and fellow educators have developed a survey for Westporters without students currently in the school system.

Information gathered from the surveys will be combined with feedback from spring and fall focus groups, and a variety of other data sources, for the initial design of the plan.

“Your contribution in completing this survey will help inform this work,” Scarice says. The deadline is November 15. Click here for the survey.

 

 

Schools’ COVID Update: Teachers’ Masks, Visitors And More

Six weeks into the school year — as the Westport schools see a continuing drop in COVID cases — superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice offers this update.

Starting tomorrow (Wednesday), the Westport Public Schools will allow teachers in grades 7 to 12 to teach unmasked, provided they are vaccinated, in the front of the room, and students are masked and seated.

The option will be considered for kindergarten through grade 5 after November 1, when there is more information on vaccines for children ages 5-11.

Lunch tents will remain in place for the rest of the month. They will be re-examined at the end of the month, pending a better understanding of K-6 vaccinations.

Scarice notes, “lunch coverage at the elementary levels is very challenging. We will move as quickly as we can to return to ‘normal’ lunch.”

A normal school cafeteria.

Westport schools will continue to require visitors to show proof of vaccination at least through December 31. Larger groups of visitors will be permitted to meet in person with building administration permission, provided there is an opportunity to distance (for example, larger rooms), and that visitors are masked with proof of vaccination.

Elementary parent conferences will be held in person for vaccinated parents, virtual for unvaccinated parents. Virtual accommodations for any parent can be made.

With a number of performances scheduled in the next 2 months, the district and Westport Weston Health District decided to monitor COVID transmission rates to guide mitigating measures. Measures to consider include the amount of capacity allowed, and spacing between attendees.

The district is open for building and space rental by community groups after hours. Universal masking is recommended; however, the district does not have however, the district does not have the capacity to enforce measures outside of school hours.

Board Of Ed: Police Patrols, New Roofs

A police officer will monitor the Westport schools. And he or she will do so in buildings with new roofs, and more staff.

Those were some of the decisions made at last night’s Board of Education meeting.

Brian Fullenbaum reports that the Westport Police Department plans to assign an officer to patrol outside the 7 elementary and middle schools. The officer could go inside as needed, offering a chance for students to see the police in a good positive light.

The board will vote on more specific policy regarding this topic in the near future.

The Staples High School roof replacement project will begin immediately after graduation. The total project budget is $5,577,512.

Funding of $1,519,000 was approved for the Saugatuck Elementary School roof project. It will be completed next summer.

The Board of Finance is in the process of approving soft costs, and securing funding.

Board of Ed members also saw a 5-year proposed capital forecast. Including multiple projects and other expenses, the total for the fiscal year 2021-22 was $7,243,707.

Since the spring, the Westport Public Schools have hired 4 new administrators, 39 teachers and 35 non-certified staff members. That’s up 13 teachers and 17 non-certified staff, compared to last year. Interviews were once again done live.

A heath report showed that there were 10 COVID cases last week in the Westport schools. That brings the total since the start of the school year to 34. However, there has been little to no transmission within the schools, said supervisor of health services Suzanne Levasseur.

A new roof is coming soon for Kings HIghway Elementary School,

 

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.

Roundup: Wheels, Donut Crazy, Challah …

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Effective today, Wheels2U Westport — the Westport Transit District’s on-demand, group ride, door-to-train platform shuttle service — is expanding to serve even more of Westport.  The area from Coleytown Road to the Weston border is now included.

The new addition is bounded by North Avenue, Lyons Plains Road and Coleytown Road and includes all of Arlen Road, Fraser Road, Fraser Lane and Snowflake Lane. Wheels2U Westport now provides convenient service to over 90% of all Westport.

Residents living in the service area can use the Wheels2U Westport app to request a pickup  between 5:45 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., and 4 and 8 p.m., to be taken to or from the Saugatuck or Greens Farms train platform and their front door.

Pickups should be requested about 20 minutes before you would normally leave to drive to the station.  The fare is $2 when paid with the Wheels2U app.  A Metro North Uniticket rail/bus pass can also be used.

For more information, click here. For more information about the Westport Transit District’s services for the elderly and people with disabilities, click here.

New service area.

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Westport’s VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 reserved a special table today. The setting honored the 13 US servicemembers killed last week in Afghanistan.

The “Missing Man Table” — also known as the “Fallen Comrade Table” — is steeped in symbolism. It is a humble way to remember the sacrifice of the men and women who gave their lives protecting our freedom.

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Just in time for the new academic year, the Westport Public Schools have unveiled a new website.

The look is clean and fresh. There’s tons of information, in an easy-to-navigate, intuitive layout.

Click here to explore it on your own. Be sure to check out the drone video for each school. Just click on the name, and get a bird’s-eye view of every facility. (Hat tip: Seth Schachter)

Screenshot of the new website

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Donut Crazy is back open. This is the most recent sign, on the train station door:

(Photo/Gary Nusbaum)

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Last night’s almost-season-ending Levitt Pavilion performance — Dr. K’s Motown Review — had a filled-to-capacity audience dancing in the street.

Or at least, in their pods.

Three shows remain: Always-popular DNR, in a benefit for Westport EMS and first responders (September 10, 7:30 p.m.); Barboletta, a tribute to Santana (September 11, 7:30 p.m.), and Sheryl Crow, a ticketed benefit show (October 8, 8 p.m.).

Click here for tickets and details.

Last night’s Levitt Pavilion show. (Photo/Lauri Weiser)

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Dogs are not allowed on Compo Beach (until October 1).

So this one — at Winslow Park Animal Hospital on the Post Road — made his own.

(Photo/Molly Alger)

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Every home should have a challah.

And not just on the East Coast.

The Westport-based delivery company has just acquired ChallahFresh, Silicon Valley’s tech-enabled business.

“My goal is to deliver a freshly baked challah, candles, a weekly dose of inspiration each week, plus black & white cookies, rugelach or hamentaschen to as many homes, nursing homes and college dorms as possible in the US, says CEO Scott Sharkey.

“Now we ae one step closer to accomplishing this.”

Sharkey donates a portion of each challah subscription to a charity of the customer’s choice. A dropdown menu offers a dozen or so options, including ADL, Doctors Without Borders, Feeding America, Red Cross, Save the Children, St. Jude’s Hospital, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Fund, Hadassah and UJA Federation.

For more information, click here.

Challah, from Every Home Should Have a Challah.

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Wendy Crowther explains today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo:

“Two bumble bees harvest resources on a stand of thistle at Baron’s South last week. Thistles have a high wildlife value. They not only provide pollen and nectar to bees and butterflies, but later the flowers turn to seeds that will be eaten by goldfinches. Even the down from the seeds will be used by birds to line their nests.”

(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

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And finally … in honor of today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo (above):

 

 

Scarice Offers Update, Preview On New School Year

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice says:

The entire Westport Public Schools team has been gearing up for an incredible start to our school year. In a matter of days the 2021-2022 school year will be underway.

Before our year starts I’d like to share some more updates:

New District Website
We have launched a new district website. As you scroll the site you will find a much more modern appearance with easy-to-use buttons. This effort is just Step 1 in the process of improving our overall online presence.  The updating and overhaul of current content on our site is underway, and a plan to add weekly content and “news” about our schools will begin when the school year starts.

We will engage our district Facebook page next week as we share district “news” through this social media outlet. Finally, we are aiming for an October launch of a new district app that parents can customize and add to their smartphone.

Communication is a high priority for our district, and these tools will further advance our communication improvement efforts.

Outdoor Lunch for Students
The district recently secured formidable tents to provide students an opportunity to eat lunch outside for the first few months of the school year, in an effort to thin out the number of students in the cafeteria. These structures provide an opportunity for fresh air and appropriate cover in the event of rain and wind. I suspect the outdoor lunch will be a big hit with our kids,

Vaccines for All WPS Employees
As you are aware, the Governor issued an executive order requiring all pre-K-12 employees to have the Covid-19 vaccine. Routine testing will be enforced for any employees exempt from this provision due to religious or medical reasons.

Vaccines for All WPS Visitors
During the 2020-21 school year, school visitors were prohibited. In keeping with our approach of reevaluating our strategies every 4-6 weeks while we confront the pandemic, we will add and remove layers of mitigation as the conditions permit.  At this point, we will incrementally welcome back visitors to our schools this year with certain restrictions.

Given that we are requiring all WPS employees to show proof of vaccination, we are also requiring all visitors to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to be permitted to visit school buildings. Visitors in the buildings will be limited to educational or school business needs and will need to be approved by the building administration. Access for contractors and vendors will be limited to essential building operations. For parents attending Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meetings, Section 504 meetings, and other required meetings, we will offer virtual meetings, but also host in-person opportunities with proof of vaccination.

Superintendent of School Thomas Scarice was vaccinated last spring. (Photo/John Bayers)

Back to School Night
As with last year, we will host our Back to School Night virtually. We are in the process of determining the most secure and reliable manner for our network to accommodate a live session for parents on Back to School Night. Additional information will be provided in the next week or so with finalized plans; however, I can assure you that the night will be virtual.

Provisions for Unmasked Teachers During Instruction  
Last week I informed the school community that the state Department of Public Health has released the latest guidance that permits teachers to remove their masks during instruction, provided they are vaccinated, all students are wearing masks, and the teacher is at the front of the classroom at least six feet from any student. Although I welcome this change as we start the year, after some feedback, I am recommending that we wait a few weeks into the school year before implementing this provision.

We will add and remove mitigating measures as the conditions warrant. This provision will be revisited later in September and will either be implemented or delayed, depending on the virus conditions.

Thank you for your support of our efforts. I can assure you that the team is energized and ready to kick off the school year, and to provide your child with an outstanding experience. Again, as we continue to confront the pandemic, we will do our best to reassess our approach every 4-6 weeks with an eye to peeling back layers of mitigation when possible so that our children can fully return to normalcy in our schools.

Kerstin Rao: A Gifted Teacher’s Empowering Career

As the child of 2 professors who encouraged voracious reading and dinner debates, Kerstin Warner Rao said that “education was inescapable.”

She pretended to be a teacher for her sister. Yet as an art major at Vassar College, Kerstin’s goal was to become a New York City artist.

She learned quickly that materials are expensive, and most artists make little money. In 1987, when a friend invited her to teach at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s School for the gifted, she gave it a shot.

On Day 1, Kerstin fell in love with her 3rd graders. They were vulnerable. They had senses of humor. And when she saw a light bulb switch on in their heads — when they grasped a new concept, in an “aha!” moment — it felt addictive.

Kerstin Warner Rao

Kerstin taught for 3 years in Brooklyn. She married, and moved with her husband to her home state of Minnesota. She taught for 4 more years there. When her child was 18 months old, the family returned to her husband’s native Connecticut.

They chose Westport for 2 reasons. It had a reputation as an artist’s colony. And Kerstin’s Brooklyn mentor, Dee Appleman, ran A Child’s Place preschool on Hillspoint Road.

Kerstin interviewed for 2 jobs. Teaching gifted children in Greenwich was her dream. But with a young child, she did not want to commute. So in 1999 Kerstin she became a Greens Farms Elementary 4th grade teacher.

The school was reopening, after years as the site of the Westport Arts Center. Music instructor Suzanne Sherman Propp sang a theme song she’d written for the new school. “Tears ran down my face. That song made us a community,” Kerstin says.

She was inspired too by master teacher Karen Ernst Da Silva, who gave each new Westport teacher a sketch journal. Two decades later, Kerstin has filled 20.

That first year at Greens Farms was tough. There was no cafeteria, playground, gym or library. But the staff grew close. Kerstin still meets regularly with her 4th grade colleagues: Mary Ellen Barry, Christine Theiss and Erin Shepard.

The next year, Kerstin interviewed for a spot as the gifted teacher at Bedford Middle School. She’s always had an affinity for gifted students with learning challenges — dyslexia, ADHD, whatever — and her sample lesson with the most challenging 7th grader won her the spot.

For the next 20 years, Kerstin was an integral part of “Workshop,” as Westport’s gifted students program is called.

The program dates back to 1974. Founder Annette Fournier was an educational pioneer, Kerstin says. Workshop takes students — those identified as requiring services beyond the scope of the regular curriculum — for half a day, once a week. They are given free rein to think, create, grow, test boundaries and take risks, with like-minded peers — all without the pressure of grades.

“They can write plays, and not worry that they’ll be teased for weird puns,” Kerstin explains. “They work on puzzles, improv, role-playing. They do anything that keeps their minds alert and challenging. At the same time, they foster strong, deep friendships.

“They don’t have to worry, ‘What does the teacher want?’ ‘What’s the angle of this test?’ It’s ‘what am I curious about?'”

In 2018 Coleytown Middle School was closed; students relocated to Bedford, Kerstin Warner Rao and CMS Workshop teacher Martel Rynderman shared a corner of the cafeteria behind the elevator shaft. They made it a fun space by channeling Hogwarts.

Kerstin knows that a gifted program can be criticized as elitist. The response, she says, should be not to cut the program, but figure out how to expand it for more students.

She is grateful to the Westport Public Schools for their long commitment to Workshop. Still, it has suffered budget cuts. Once, there was a full-time gifted teacher and full-time paraprofessional at all 5 elementary schools, and both middle schools. Right now, Bedford is the only school that still has a full-time workshop instructor. The others are part-time, with other duties.

Kerstin — who is still in touch with many former students — say that they are the ones who kept her going for more than 20 years. “This is more than a job. It’s a calling. I got to know every child as an individual — their hopes, their dreams, their worries. And every day we laughed. Really, really heartily.”

Every year, Kerstin Warner Rao hosted veterans in her classroom for Veterans Day. They were invited by the 8th grade social studies teachers. When Westport’s amazing Ted Diamond visited 5 years ago, she drew his sketch, and wrote some of his important ideas.

Last summer was difficult, though. In the midst of the pandemic, Kerstin had difficulty sleeping, reading and concentrating. Her anxiety level was high.

Working with a therapist, she realized she was unable to teach this fall. The school district was “unbelievably supportive and kind,” Kerstin says, helping with her medical leave as she took care of herself.

Now — as she retires from the Westport school system after 22 years — Kerstin is clear about the importance of speaking openly about mental health. She challenges this “very competitive town to bring its ‘A’ game about mental wellness. Be compassionate, vulnerable, real with each other. Have the courage to support one another, and model and share our journeys.”

Bedford principal Adam Rosen invited Kerstin to speak to the staff. “I was upfront, that I was in no condition to come back this year,” she says. At the Board of Education reception for all retirees, he gave a heartfelt speech honoring her. (Click below for his speech, and her response.)

“Many of my students have struggled with mental health issues,” Kerstin notes. “I always told them that was just one moment in time for them.” Still, it was not easy for her to stand in front of colleagues and reveal her own vulnerabilities.

“Mental health still has a stigma,” she says. “It can hit anyone, out of the blue. But if your culture supports you, that’s amazingly important.”

So now — nearly 40 years after leaving art behind for a career in education — Kerstin returns to her roots.

She created a new greeting card business: Cuppa Cards. Her drawings are based on bouquets from the Westport Farmers Market.

Kerstin’s cards are on sale at Aarti Khosla’s Le Rouge Chocolatier. She’ll expand to other Connecticut stores this summer.

A few of Kerstin Warner Rao’s greeting cards.

Her second new business is Curate Your Mate. Based on her own experience as a divorced woman who started dating again in her 40s, it’s a “midlife dating coach service.”

“I’m not a matchmaker,” she stresses. “I’m a 1-on-1 coach who helps you figure out your goals, and how to achieve them.”

That’s not so different from what Kerstin Rao did for the past 21 years, for her Workshop students. She met them where they are, heard their dreams, and walked proudly with them on their journey to fulfillment.

Which is exactly the description of every “gifted” teacher.

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.