As part of Westport’s Professional Development Day, culinary students and staff helped interested teachers — from throughout the district — shop for ingredients, then create and serve a meal too.
The initiative was led by Staples’ 3 culinary instructors: Cecily Gans (owner of The Main Course Catering, and a member of the Farmers’ Market Board); Alison Milwe-Grace (owner of AMG Catering and Events), and Laura Wendt.
The goal was to give educators in the district “an overview of the culinary program’s relationship with the community, the Farmers’ Market, the farmers who provide the raw product for meals the students create, and the challenges those students face as they put meals together,” Milwe-Grace says.
Gans adds, “Building relationships around local food, and connecting farmers to the recipients of the food they grow, catch or raise is fundamental to the Farmers’ Market mission.” The Professional Development Day event strengthened other relationships too: those between students and teachers.
The Farmers’ Market and culinary instructors are dedicated to helping students “grow” — as cooks and people.
Yesterday, those students turned the tables on some of our town’s top teachers.
In the aftermath of yesterday’s threatened shooting at Staples High School, there are a host of heroes.
Superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer, and her central office staff
Staples High School administrators and counselors, who acted quickly and decisively, after receiving information about the threat from…
…A student who knew exactly what to do — and had the courage to do it — upon hearing of a potential threat
Staples teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, cafeteria workers — you name it — who had never practiced a “shelter in place” drill, but showed calm, caring professionalism all day
Staples students themselves. Though worried, they listened to directions, followed them, helped each other — friends and strangers — and made a difficult day as okay as it could be
Westport police, who raced to Staples, worked seamlessly with educators, and helped create a sense of order, security and safety. Police also…
… worked with Staples’ custodial staff, to ensure that the entire sprawling building was safe
The school system’s transportation coordinator, and everyone at Dattco. Drivers — most of whom live out of town — came in quickly from wherever they were, and helped coordinate an orderly early dismissal
First selectman Jim Marpe, who worked with Palmer and Police Chief Foti Koskinas to coordinate town efforts
The Board of Education, who were in the loop and supportive too.
There may be others I have missed. Everyone above will probably say, “I was just doing my job.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done. All did their jobs wonderfully. They did them together, as a team — with people they’ve worked with for years, and those they’d never met.
Westport averted a tragedy yesterday. It didn’t happen by accident.
In the wake of this afternoon’s lockdown at Staples High School, an “06880” reader — and Westport parent — writes:
To Dr. Palmer and all the teachers, staff and administrators of the Westport Public Schools, thank you for your dedication to my children and all of Westport’s students. You have enormous responsibilities and pressure. You are overworked, underpaid and underappreciated.
Thank you for looking out for my children’s emotional and physical safety as well as their education. In difficult situations and uncertain times you are faced with making quick and real time decisions with incomplete information, knowing you will be criticized by someone no matter what action you have taken. Nevertheless you continue to prioritize your students and greet them with confidence, dedication and optimism each day.
Listening intently to the student speakers at last June’s graduation were (from right) superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer, principal James D’Amico, and assistant principals Pat Micinilio, Rich Franzis and James Farnen.
Westport parents, we need to be supportive of educators, administrators and those within the school system. They prioritize our kids’ safety and we need to trust that they know best how to do that.
We have to be OK not knowing everything and letting the people we entrust our kids to do what they need to do. Information that is ours to know will follow if/when appropriate. It’s not easy, we all have mamma bear and papa bear instincts. But we are only hindering efforts and jeopardizing the safety of the one’s we are trying to protect by demanding information and criticizing action taken and information shared.
To Dr. Palmer, administrators, teachers and staff you have my support and trust. Thank you for prioritizing my children and keeping them safe. You are appreciated and respected for all that you do.
Thanks for writing this. And I’d add my own thanks, to the Westport Police Department. They were superb today as well.
Following Westport superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer’s initiative to place school resource officers in schools, and the subsequent horrific shooting in Florida, some local residents are letting their voices be heard. They say that regardless of which side of the aisle your loyalty rests with, protecting children and school staff in Westport should not be a political decision.
An online petition has been started by myself and Adam Schorr. We contend that the need and time for action is immediate, with no time for debate. Many school districts around the country have already stationed police at or in their schools, as a deterrent.
Security against threats from outside the schools is really only one part of the proposed SRO position, however. SROs are used in many school districts across the country, as well as in our neighboring districts. They are educators; relationship builders between students and the police; active, visible deterrents to the crime, drugs, harassment, bullying and alcohol use that is prevalent and growing in our schools.
The right candidate is trained to be friendly, open and approachable. Westport has long enjoyed the successful DARE program (although not well funded) and the Westport Police Youth Group, run by officers who know our kids from grade school through high school. Think of the SRO as a DARE officer actually stationed at the school, not the fatigue-wearing, machine gun toting SWAT members we see at airports. But make no mistake, in this day and age, his main duty is security, protection, quick action and notification of threat to the police department. When time means lives, every second counts.
A school resource officer at work.
According to the group, none would argue the threat is real and urgent. None would say this is a better solution than effective gun control, better funding for school security from the government, better mental health intervention or Congressional action. But no one can also argue that any of these things are going to happen in time to prevent or mitigate the next “professional school shooter” who is out there plotting.
This Monday evening (February 26, 7:30 p.m., Staples High School cafeteria) the Board of Education will hear a report from a team of administrators, district security staff, our police chief and deputy police chief on their investigation into the SRO position in place at nearby schools. It is an excellent opportunity to gain the truth about what the position is and is not, and make up your own mind on the subject.
When asked why the SRO position is so urgently needed and should be expedited to approval, one individual says, “We don’t want to be in a position to have to say we should have.”
In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, schools superintendent Colleen Palmer said:
We will continue to review and reflect upon all of our security measures to remain prepared and to enhance any deterrents to school violence. This past Monday, a team of administrators, district security staff, both our police chief and deputy chief, and a representative of our Board of Education conducted a site visit to a neighboring school district that employs School Resource Officers.
SROs are specially trained police officers assigned to work directly in schools to support school safety. Having a School Resource Officer in our District for 2018-19 has been under review for the past few months, as well as other ongoing initiatives.
I am a proponent of School Resource Officers in schools, and in fall 2017 I proposed that the district seek to have at least one SRO in place for the 2018-19 school year. At the board meeting on Monday evening, the board will be discussing this topic as one of its first agenda items.
Westport Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer sent this message to all students and parents a few minutes ago:
I wish to advise you of the potential for a strike by the school bus drivers employed by our bus service company, Dattco. If, in fact, collective bargaining between the bus company and the driver’s Union fails to reach resolution by midnight Wednesday, April 26, THERE WILL NOT BE REGULAR BUS SERVICE to transport your children to and from school beginning Thursday morning, April 27. The only exception will be those special education students currently accessing specialized transportation, for whom the district will continue to provide transportation during the strike.
Should the strike take place, school will still be open on Thursday. I ask you to arrange transportation to get your children to and from school, if at all possible. I urge you to consider forming car pools during this critical period. While it may be tempting to have your students exit your car in proximity of the school campus, please continue to ensure the safe drop-off of your children by waiting in line to pull up to access the official drop-off area. I also ask that any students who do not normally walk to or from school refrain from doing so during this time period.
In the event that you have no means to provide transportation for your student(s) during this period, the District will have very limited resources with a handful of drivers to pick up students individually. These ad hoc runs may not be able to get students to school on time, and may, in some instances run an hour or two after start time. Individuals seeking support for transportation should contact their respective school administration as soon as possible on Wednesday.
The Westport Police Department has arranged to provide additional traffic officers to direct traffic at high volume locations to ease the strain of traffic on our local roads and at each of our school sites.
I urge you to make every effort to have your children arrive at school approximately 30 minutes prior to their normal school start times so that all of your children’s school activities may take place in accordance with their regular school schedules. To accommodate the increased automobile traffic that is anticipated with parent drop-offs you may use both the parent drop-off area and the bus loop at each school in the morning during this period.
Staff members will be in each of our schools to accommodate and handle the arrival of students who may arrive earlier than their usual arrival times. Also, if our community does need to deal with a bus driver strike, we understand that some students may be upset if they arrive late to school with traffic delays, etc. Please assure your student(s) that they will not be penalized in any way for arriving late during this time period.
If a strike does take place, all before and after school activities at the elementary schools will be canceled.
Specifics as to the arrangements surrounding drop-offs and pick-ups and other pertinent information will be emailed to you by your building principals on Wednesday, April 26.
Should we learn before 12:01 a.m. on Thursday that a strike has been averted, we will notify all families via email and will place a message on our SNO-LINE, (203) 341-1766.
Should there not be a settlement by 6 a.m. on Thursday morning, April 27, we will notify you through a telephone message, email, and text that you will need to make alternative arrangements to get your students to school and to pick them up at the end of the day, as described above.
Again, I urge you to do your best to form car pools in the event this potential strike actually occurs. Individual principals will follow-up tomorrow with more specific plans regarding arrival and dismissal at each school.
In the event the strike occurs and extends more than one day, we will assess the viability of continuing to have our schools open based on the feedback from operations of Thursday, and the number of students for whom the lack of transportation resulted in them not attending school. No matter what, the safety of your students is first and foremost. If you cannot find a safe way to arrange for your student to attend school, please contact the school administration. In those circumstances, your student’s absence from school will not count against him/her.
Our students will follow our lead in how we handle this possible challenge. If we communicate that we have to be flexible and adaptable in our problem-solving, and our students know that they will be not held accountable for any disruption to their day caused by this situation, perhaps they will learn from this how to strategize for success instead of stress over obstacles.
It’s midterm time at Staples High School — so how about a pop quiz for everyone?
The subject is “Westport schools.” The answers are below. No cheating though — and no Googling!
How many students were in Staples’ first graduating class? And what was special about them?
Edward T. Bedford provided the funds for Bedford Elementary School and Bedford Junior High. But he also helped build another Westport school. Which was it?
If you went looking for the old Burr Farms Elementary School, what would you find there today?
True or false: The Doors, Eric Clapton, Rascals and Rolling Stones all performed at Staples.
Name 2 predecessors of Greens Farms Academy.
If a sneaker brand was associated with Bedford Middle School, what would it be?
A longtime principal of the original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street shares the same last name as the founder of one of Westport’s first private academies. What is that name?
The 2nd principal of Staples High School has a parkway in Connecticut named for him. Who was he?
Two Staples High School athletic teams practiced in the basement of the old school, on Riverside Avenue. Which teams were they?
Many decades ago, the Westport Board of Education rejected a proposal to add Spanish to the foreign language curriculum. Why?
Edward T. Bedford is the benefactor of not 1, not 2, but 3 Westport schools.
Before I give the answers, here’s the reason for today’s quiz:
On Sunday, January 29 (3 p.m.), the Westport Historical Society hosts a reception for its new exhibit.
“Westport School Days: 1703-Present” offers a wide and fascinating look at the evolution of education here in town. From the first formal class (on “Green’s Farms Common”), through the growth of private academies and public schools, to today’s nationally renowned system, there’s a lot to learn.
Maps, photos and memorabilia — report cards! a bench from the original Adams Academy! — make for intriguing viewing.
Whether you went to school here or not — and whether you were an A student or spent all your time in the principal’s office — this is one exhibit not to be absent for.
And now, your test results:
There were 6 students in Staples’ first graduating class. All were girls.
Edward T. Bedford helped build both Bedford Elementary School and Bedford Junior High — and also Greens Farms El.
Burr Farms Elementary School is now the site of large homes, on Burr School Road. The athletic fields are still there, however.
False. All of those acts actually did appear at Staples — except the Stones.
A sneaker brand associated with Bedford Middle School would be Nike. The school is built on the former site of Nike missile silos.
Both the boys and girls rifle teams practiced in the basement of Staples High School, when it was on Riverside Avenue. There was a shooting range down there.
Dorothy Adams was the longtime principal of Saugatuck Elementary School. Ebenezer Adams founded Adams Academy. Both buildings remain. Saugatuck is now elderly housing on Bridge Street; Adams Academy is a historic site on North Morningside Drive.
The Wilbur Cross Parkway is named for Staples High’s 2nd principal. He went on to become a distinguished professor at Yale University — and the governor of Connecticut.
The Board of Education rejected a proposal to add Spanish to the foreign language curriculum because they believed it would have little value for Westport students.
(For more information on the Westport Historical Society exhibit, click here.)
The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue …
Alert — and concerned — “06880” reader Kathy Mahieu writes:
I always wanted to be a teacher. As a child, I played school in my Milford basement with my sisters and brother. I earned a scholarship to Sacred Heart University — the first member of my family to attend college.
I worked for almost 30 years in health benefits. I started as a secretary, and eventually became a national leader in behavioral consulting. I worked with companies like IBM, Credit Suisse and Cardinal Health to design mental health and substance use disorder benefit programs.
My son is a graduate student in engineering at Stanford. My daughter is a UCLA sophomore. My children were very lucky to receive a high quality experience in the Westport schools. The community places a great emphasis on education.
When I changed careers, and received my elementary school teaching certification in 2008, I knew I wanted to work in an underserved district.
I want to make the world a better place. I thought I could do that by teaching in Bridgeport.
I knew the schools would not be the same as in Westport. Yet until I began working there, I had no idea of the true extent of that difference.
Kathy Mahieu in her classroom. She is lucky to have a whiteboard.
We all know there is a tremendous disparity in funding between the 2 districts. But I only realized what that meant when I experienced it first hand.
Supplies. Each year, we ask students and parents to bring notebooks, pencils, highlighters and folders to school. Some families can’t afford them. Other teachers and I purchase supplies so that no student goes without. The district does not even supply staples and paper clips to teachers.
Some students don’t have paper at home to complete assignments. I give them paper. And I supply paper for copying too. This adds up. Even though this is 2016, we use paper because…
Access to technology is limited.Some classrooms have computers. Most do not. I have only 3 in my classroom. They are slow, and difficult to use. We’ve got Compaq hardware, which went out of business years ago.
Students share Chromebooks. We use them on a rotating schedule. My own children had more access to technology when they were in elementary school 15 years ago.
You’d think it’s easier to communicate with parents now because of cellphones and voicemail. But some parents’ numbers change frequently or do not operate, due to a host of reasons. Some parents have difficulty using email.
Many parents speak very limited English. It’s challenging to communicate with them. Our school is very good about using multiple languages, but we see an increasing number of students who speak Portuguese or Haitian Creole at home.
A crowded classroom is always a challenge.
Classroom size.Teacher contracts in Bridgeport limit class size to 29. This year, I am relieved to have “only” 27 students. In Westport, parents were up in arms when a class grew to more than 22.
I have no aide. The only paraprofessionals in our school are those assigned to students who require them for IEPs.
Preschool. Most of our kindergarten students did not attend preschool. In Westport, that’s unheard of. As a result, Bridgeport kindergartners are just beginning to recognize letters. Very few can read.
Imagine how that plays through 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades. The disparity between Westport and Bridgeport grows each year.
Nutrition.Students at our school receive breakfast, lunch and a snack each day. For many, this is the only food they get.
Field trips. These help extend classroom learning. However, any cost over $5 per child could be an issue. What a massive difference from Westport.
I want to share a startling experience. Our 3rd grade class read a story about a moose who was falsely accused of stealing a pie. We introduced students to new vocabulary including courtroom, trial, witness stand, etc.
I showed a short video of the inside of a courtroom, to familiarize students with the environment. I was shocked when at least 1/3 of my students said they’d been inside a courtroom.
I could describe many other issues, including limited psychological support resources. But I’ll stop here.
While our school community contends with these incredible challenges, you’d be amazed by the amount of support provided by teachers, administrators and other professionals in the Bridgeport school district.
I’ve never worked with a more caring, giving and supportive group of professionals — both to our students and to each other. We moan and complain about the situation, of course, but we know we are there to ensure our students receive the best education we can possibly provide.
We do everything we can to help them overcome these challenges, so they can succeed in such a competitive and complex world.
It’s one thing to teach reading, writing, science, math, world language, music and art. Westport schools do that — and they do it very, very well.
It’s another thing entirely to teach emotional and social awareness; kindness with sincerity; principled thoughts and actions, and a love of learning.
You can’t test those qualities. You can’t quantify them, or describe them particularly well. Most school systems don’t even think about such things.
Called “Guiding Principles,” they’re part of a conscious initiative to add social, civic and ethical education to the school day. And they’re being introduced system-wide, from kindergarten through 12th grade, not only in the classroom but at recess, in the cafeteria — anywhere students gather, and teachers can teach.
Last week, director of secondary education (and incoming Staples High School principal) James D’Amico and director of elementary education Julie Droller discussed what it all means.
James D’Amico and Julie Droller, in Westport school district headquarters at Town Hall.
“We have a robust social skills curriculum,” D’Amico said. “But we realized we needed to recalibrate what we were doing.”
“We’re addressing more needs than even a few years ago,” Droller added. “Society expects schools to do even more now.”
With the help of Deb Sawch (former Staples English teacher, now co-founder/director of Studies in Educational Innovation at Teachers College, Columbia University) and Allison Villanueva (one of Westport’s Teachers College partners), administrators studied how other top-performing schools — as far away as Singapore and Australia, as near as Horace Mann and as diverse as Berkeley’s Haas School of Business — handled social and civic expectations.
But D’Amico and Droller knew they could not impose any directive from the top down. They had to talk simply, without jargon — and there had to be teacher buy-in.
They worked for 18 months with a group of 45 teachers from throughout the district, to determine the best ways to give students (for example) the opportunity to connect, value and accept others; to act with integrity; to be curious, inquisitive, passionate and joyful about learning new things; to persevere, even during challenges; to view mistakes as part of the learning process, and be flexible in all they do.
It’s not enough for youngsters to work together. They also must connect, value and accept each other; act with integrity, and enjoy what they do.
They also wanted to find ways for adults to model those behaviors.
“We don’t want kids who are compliant,” D’Amico stressed. “We want them engaged in learning.”
In reading, for instance, “we don’t want kids to just flip through pages,” Droller said. “We want them to stop, talk with each other, grapple and compare ideas. We want them to ask questions, without waiting for the teacher.”
All well and good. But how does that happen in a school system — and national environment — that demands quantifiable measures, like getting through a unit and preparing for standardized tests?
“That’s a good question,” D’Amico said. “The changes can be subtle. In 8th grade social studies classes, it could mean changing an assignment from ‘Write about the American you admire most’ to ‘Write about the most principled American you admire.'”
Who would you pick as your most principled American?
“We’re naming these principles,” Droller continued. “We’re saying, ‘Here’s what being empathetic means. Here’s what it means to be persistent. Here’s what a growth mindset looks like.'”
This August, Westport hosts its 1st-ever district-wide keynote address. Dr. Marc Brackett — director of Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence — will talk about the ability to manage emotions. He believes that emotional intelligence can be taught. In fact, he says, it must be.
Workshops will be offered to parents too, so they can partner with teachers and administrators in the initiative.
“If we don’t have these principles in place, kids don’t learn anything,” D’Amico says. “We can’t go a mile wide and an inch deep. Kids already have access to plenty of information. We have to focus not on what you learn, but how you learn.”
“It’s a shift for our teachers,” Droller admitted. “We’re saying, ‘It’s okay to pare back. It’s okay to develop students as learners,'” not as mere receptacles of facts.
Teachers do this already, D’Amico said. What’s being added is the emphasis on it, as a district-wide focus.
“Teachers own it,” he concluded. “They’re reading books about growth, mindset, grit. This is going to come from them and their colleagues. We’re all excited.”
Less than 3 months ago, a Staples High School student suffered cardiac arrest while watching a soccer game.
Quick action by trainers and bystanders — including CPR, and the use of an AED by the father of a player — saved the teenager’s life.
An equally speedy response has brought dozens of AEDs — portable defibrillators — to every school in Westport.
The Adam Greenlee Foundation — named for another student brought back to life a year earlier — partnered with the school district and Westport PAL. Within weeks, they’d raised over $85,000.
Last week, 26 AEDs were installed in school gyms and other important locations. The one below was mounted near the Staples cafeteria.
Another 22 AEDs, with travel cases, were given to schools for use on field trips and sports events outside of Westport.
This spring, 17 more will be installed in outdoor cases, for athletic fields and recess areas. Ten others have been given to PAL, for use at sports events outside town.
It was an amazingly rapid — and crucial life-saving — community effort.
Just imagine: If the state Department of Transportation worked at this pace, the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge would already be repaired. The North Compo/Main Street/Clinton Avenue realignment would be finished. And the Bridge Street bridge renovation would be over and done, somehow pleasing every single Westporter.
At Brien McMahon High School, a student said recently, anyone who brings a laptop to class is considered weird.
Westport, meanwhile, plows ahead with its “Bring Your Own Device” initiative. Beginning next year, students will be required to provide their own technology during the school day.
Students use their own devices — which tie in to classroom technology like Smart Boards. (Photo/NBC News)
According to Inklings, the Staples newspaper — accessible online, of course — the Board of Education heard a BYOD progress report last month.
A PowerPoint presentation (natch) noted that this month, parents will be advised of specifications for “devices that may be purchased.” The months ahead brings parent information sessions, student input and “boot camps” for students and teachers.
Inklings reported that the Westport School District will provide “refurbished devices” for elementary and middle schoolers who are financially unable to purchase their own; Staples students will get new Chromebooks. Funding comes from a $30,000 line item for new technology purchases this year.
Electronic devices don’t necessarily lead to isolation. In fact, they can increase collaboration. (Photo/HerffJones)
According to Inklings, townwide director of technology Natalie Carrignan said that 60% of students already bring their own devices to school.
At Staples, that percentage seems low. Laptops, tablets and cellphones are everywhere. They’re used constantly — often for schoolwork, occasionally not.
Each month, it seems, fewer and fewer students sit at the desktop computers that fill the library and learning centers. And the laptops that teachers can sign out for class use are often slow, unreliable and out of date.
Sure, Staples students use laptops to play games or watch videos. But even in the cafeteria, the amount of schoolwork that gets done is compelling. (Photo/www.District196.org)
If you think there should still be a debate about using technological devices in school, you might have argued a century ago that cars may not be the best replacement for horses.
Westport students live their lives online. So do most teachers.
Our school district’s job is to prepare young people for life through the end of this century. Administrators and the Board of Ed are figuring out how to harness technology, to best serve education in the sciences, humanities and arts. They recognize reality in many forms (including financial).
But if you’d like to offer your own insights, click “Comments.” On whatever electronic device you’re using right now.
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