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Monday, May 23, 2016

Landon Looking Back: ‘I’ve Been Lucky’

By James Lomuscio

On a recent afternoon, Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon, 76, discussed how much the physical appearance of the Westport Public Schools has changed since he first arrived in 1999. Image
Elliott Landon on eve of retirement: his greatest achievement is people. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Phyllis Groner for

The Greens Farms School, which had been shuttered and used as studio space for artists in the 1980s, was reclaimed and a three-story wing added during his first year.

The former Nike missile site on North Avenue was reclaimed with the Bedford Middle School opening there in 2004.

The old Bedford Middle School on Riverside Avenue was totally gutted, becoming what is now the Saugatuck Elementary School.

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Talking NASA at Coleytown Elementary Image
There was a special treat Friday for some youngsters at Westport’s Coleytown Elementary School. F. Richard Myers (r), a top official with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope project, visited the school where his sister, Annie Roesler (l), teaches kindergarten. He told the students about the scheduled 2018 launch of the telescope, successor to the Hubble Telescope and the largest and most sophisticated space telescope ever conceived. He later lunched with two children from every grade who were chosen based upon essays they wrote. Their questions included specifics about the James Webb Telescope, black holes, age of the sun and earth, and whether life will ever be found in outer space. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

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Music Scholarship Winner

Nicole Mathias, a senior at Staples High School, was awarded the first Joyce and Bernie Zimmerman Foundation Music Scholarship at this week’s Staples Choral Concert. Image
Nicole Mathias: 2016 class awardee. Contributed photo

The scholarship is a special gift from the Zimmerman Foundation that is awarded to one male member and/or one female member of the Staples graduating classes of 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 who plan to major in music.

Applications were subjected to a rigorous review process that included the evaluation of GPA in music classes; participation in various musical and civic experiences, and completion of an essay, an announcement said.

Nicole, who will attend Penn State majoring in music education, is the daughter of Kim and Mark Mathias. He is a Board of Education member.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

UConn Honors for Staples Grad Image
Alexandra Jabick,a 2012 Staples High School graduate, has been awarded the Outstanding Senior Woman Award at the Neag School of Education University of Connecticut, Storrs.The award, sponsored by The Woman’s Center, Alumni and University provost, is given each year to one female student from each school. She is pictured with the dean of the NEAG School Richard Schwab. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Landon Retirement Party Scheduled

Family, friends, and colleagues will fete Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon, who is scheduled to retire at the end of June.

The event honoring Landon, who has headed the Westport school district since 1999, will take place on Thursday, May 26, at 5 p.m. at the Shorehaven Country Club in Norwalk.

Event planners say the retirement party is set to begin with light hors d’oeuvres and cocktails with the program starting promptly at 6 p.m.

Shorehaven Country Club is a waterfront facility located at 14 Canfield Ave.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SES Event Benefits Hole in the Wall Gang Camp Image
Westport’s Saugatuck Elementary School (SES) today held a “walk-a-thon” kickoff ceremony as part of a fundraiser to benefit the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Among those celebrating with students and staff were Melissa Newman (r), daughter of Hole in the Wall Gang Camp founder Paul Newman, as well as Andrea Keefe (2nd r) of the Hole in the Wall Gang organization. Also present was Emily Carr (l), volunteer physician at the camp who was a camper herself and beneficiary of the full-paid tuition. Also pictured are (l-r) Katie Bloom, third grade teacher, Beth Messler, SES principal, and Rae Anne Locke, library/media specialist. Youngsters are Ty Levine, Ali Chodash, Nicole Sternberg, and Sophie Sheeris, all fifth graders and Caring Council Members. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Report: CT 4th Worst in Unfunded Pension Liabilities Per Teacher

By Jacqeline Rabe Thomas

Connecticut has the fourth highest pension costs for its public school teachers in the U.S., a new report released today shows.

The high costs are largely attributed to a failure to save enough to pay for future pension promises, the report from concludes.

The report is a project of Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit funded by The Joyce Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

“Like the proverbial Pac-Man, the rapidly rising costs of teacher retirement and insurance benefits are pushing out money that could be spent on salaries,” the report concludes.

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Title I Screening for Preschoolers June 3

The Westport school system is scheduled to conduct screenings of preschool children at risk for learning from 9 a.m. to noon Friday, June 3, at the Coleytown Middle School.

The screenings are under the federal an local Title I eligibility criteria that examines a child’s development in the areas of concepts, language and motor skills, school officials said. The current Title I program is incorporated into the Westport preschool program, Stepping Stones Preschool. 

Officials say each screening will take about 45 minutes. To qualify for a screening, the family must be a residents of Westport, and the child must be 3 years old by September.

Those who are interested can contact Carol Haberlin at (203) 341-1712 to set up an appointment, as screenings are by appointment only, school officials said. For further information, contact Gwen Goldman at (203) 341-1764.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Last School Day for Staples Seniors Image
Today is the last day of school for seniors at Staples High School. Members of the class of 2016 will be off to their internships around the tri-state area starting Monday. Today is Senior Day, an all-day event that happens every year to celebrate the last day for seniors, complete with games, food, and music. Pictured is the college board in the office of Assistant Principal Karyn Morgan on which each student has written his/her college destination, getting a personalized congratulations from Morgan. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jaime Bairaktaris for

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Measure Strips $1B in Bonded Projects off of CT’s Credit Card

By Keith M. Phaneuf and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

The Senate voted early today to rebalance Connecticut’s credit card in the face of shrinking tax revenues, canceling or delaying about $1 billion in financing for a wide array of projects and programs.

Outside of this rebalancing process, the bond package for the 2016-17 fiscal year also authorizes $382 million in new borrowing for municipal school construction, down significantly from financing for local schools approved in recent years.

The Senate enacted the measure 34-2. It now heads to the House of Representatives, which is expected to consider the bill Friday.

The cancelations affect capital projects at public colleges and universities, municipal school districts, economic development programs, social services, housing, recreation and the environment, transportation, and numerous state facilities and information technology systems.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Grim Reaper Day Reminds of Drinking and Driving Danger Image
Elaine Daignault (2nd r), student outreach counselor at Westport’s Department of Human Services, was at Staples High School today showing students the true “size” of a drink using iced tea as part of Grim Reaper Day activities to discourage drinking and driving. It was the 13th annual Grim Reaper Day put on by the Teen Awareness Group (TAG) and was dedicated to Christopher Lemone, youth outreach counselor at the school for 17 years who died last October. (See WestportNow Oct. 19, 2015) TAG also showed a video by some involved in drinking accidents. Click here to view. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jaime Bairaktaris for

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Westport’s Winning Student Writers to be Honored at UConn

Three Westport middle school students will be recognized as writers Wednesday at the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts in Storrs, school officials announced today.

The students’ writing was chosen from more than 1,700 entries for recognition in the 28th annual Connecticut Student Writers contest sponsored by UConn’s English Department..

Abigail Baldwin of Coleytown Elementary School is the winner of the fifth grade fiction division for her story “It Will be Okay.” Her teacher is Ed Wolf.

Bedford Middle School seventh grader Caroline Fording was awarded an honorable mention in fiction for her story “Seeing Through the Storm.” Her teacher is Lorien Hallama.

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Monday, May 09, 2016

GFA Freshman ‘Future Science Leader’

Lila Wells of Westport, a freshman at Greens Farms Academy, has been named a delegate to the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders (CFSTL) in Lowell, Mass. that runs from June 29 through July 1. Image
Lila Wells: going to Massachusetts meeting. Contributed photo

The Congress is an honors-only program for high school students who are passionate about science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), the organization said.

According to the CFSTL, the weekend event is designed to “honor, inspire, motivate and direct the top students in the country who aspire to be scientists and technologists, to stay true to their dream and, after the event, to provide a path, plan and resources to help them reach their goal.”

Lila was nominated to represent Connecticut by the winner of the first Google Science Fair, Shree Bose, academic director of the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists.

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Westporters Score at Underwater Vehicle Competition Image
Four Westport students won four awards over the weekend in a competition involving their underwater remotely operated vehicle, known as a ROV. The, team, called Curiodyssea, competed in the Ranger Division of the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) New England Regionals in Sandwich, Mass. They are the first Westporters to compete in the competition, which challenges students from all over the world to design and build ROVs to tackle simulated missions under water such as capping oil wells and measuring ice thickness. The Westporters won second place overall, first technical report, first poster display, and rookie of the year. Pictured with their ROV (left) are Nicholas Durkin, 15, (Staples High School freshman) Nathan Wang, 14, (Coleytown Middle School eighth grader), John McNab, 15, and Daniel Westphal, 14 (both Staples freshmen.) Curiodyssea received support from the Westport Library, Staples High School, and the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

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Saturday, May 07, 2016

First Westport Pops at Levitt Set for June 9

The first Westport Pops Concert featuring Staples High School vocal and instrumental groups is set for Thursday, June 9, at 7 p.m. at the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts, event planners announced.

This concert, which is planned to be an annual event, marks both the culmination of the Staples school year and its nationally recognized music program, an announcement said.

It also serves as a“pre-season” opening of the Levitt Pavilion’s 2016 summer season, said Thomas Scavone, K-12 chairman of the school system’s music department.

The concert is free, and tickets limited to four per person will be available at noon Wednesday via the Levitt Pavilion website at or by calling Ovationtix at (866) 811-4111.

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Friday, May 06, 2016

Superintendent Shuffle: Weston Hires Greenwich Super Image
William McKersie:  taking over from Westport-bound super. Contributed photo

The Town of Weston Board of Education Thursday night appointed Greenwich Schools Superintendent William S. McKersie as the district’s next superintendent of schools.

He succeeds Colleen Palmer who is leaving for the superintendent’s job in Westport. She will replace Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon, who is retiring next month after 17 years.

McKersie has led the Greenwich schools since 2012.

He takes over a district with 2,400 students compared to almost 9,000 in Greenwich. Both districts rank as among the top districts in the state in national rankings.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

RTM Approves School Board’s $113 Million Budget

By James Lomuscio

Following school board Vice Chairwoman Jeannie Smith’s spirited budget presentation about educational excellence and fiscal responsibility, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) tonight unanimously approved the Board of Education’s $113,128,166 operating budget for 2016-17.

The budget represents a 1.29 percent increase over the current year, the lowest increase since the first year of the recession, said Smith.

During her presentation, Smith also praised Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon, who is retiring in June after 17 years. This was his last budget.

“Elliott has done such an outstanding job over the past 17 years,” said Smith. “He has been the leader of leaders.”

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History-Making Performance Image
James Gikas: Alexander the Great. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

James Gikas 14, a ninth grader at Staples High School, performed his original portrayal of Alexander the Great at Saturday’s state National History Day competition at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

He won second place in the category of Senior Individual Performance, which means he is going to the national competition at the University of Maryland in June.

This will be James’s second time going to the national competition.

He went last year for his performance as Winston Churchill.

James was among six Westport students winning awards at the competition.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

School Board Pleased with Energy, Cost Savings Plan

By James Lomuscio

Doing right by the environment while saving energy costs over the long run was the thrust of an Energy Performance Contracting (EPC) Committee report to the Board of Education tonight—and the board seemed pleased.

The report presented by First Selectman Jim Marpe and EPC Committee member Iain Bruce showed an $8.35 million total cost for the Westport’s eight schools and and four municipal buildings, with energy cost savings estimated at $8.7 million over 10 years.

The total projected costs for the schools, which comprise the lion’s share of the project, would be $7.57 million with $716,689 in energy savings the first year.

The investment grade audit report was prepared by the outside consultant NORESCO, the firm that the year-old EPC Committee hired after a competitive bid.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

USN&WR: Staples 14th Best in CT

U.S. News & World Report (USN&WR) has released its top public high schools list nationwide and Westport’s Staples High School is ranked 14th among 25 Connecticut high schools on the list. Nationally, Staples is No. 574. Image

Last year, Staples came in No. 7 in Connecticut in the US&NWR rankings. Nationally it was No. 329. (See WestportNow May 13, 2015)

The magazine cited Staples for its 99 percent graduation rate, a student-teacher ratio of 12:1 and a college readiness score of 53.1. See the USNWR Staples profile here. Its methodology is here.

Staples appeared to score lower on the USN&WR study based on its college readiness score which cited 56 percent taking Advanced Placement (AP) tests and 52 percent passing.

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Entertaining at Diversity Conference at GFA Image
At Greens Farms Academy today, 630 Connecticut students and teachers gathered for a conference sponsored by the Committee on Diversity in Independent Schools. Entitled “Pieces of the Puzzle: More than Identity,” the day was divided into workshops on diversity issues facilitated by students. Students were also entertained in GFA’s new Performing Arts Center by music, talks, and spoken word poetry. GFA sophomore, Ililta Pina of Weston (above) sings “A Change is Gonna Come” to open the conference. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Conttributed photo

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Friday, April 15, 2016

CT High School Population Shrinking

By Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Connecticut is expected to have the third fastest decline of students enrolled in high school in the nation over the next 10 years, the U.S. Department of Education reports. Image
(CLICK TO ENLARGE) U.S. Department of Education graphic

This anticipated 11.6 percent decline means an estimated 17,400 fewer students will be attending high school in 2024 than in 2012, and 5,400 fewer graduating each year. Only New Hampshire and Vermont are expected to have larger declines during the same period, with estimated drops of 14.1 percent and 12.1 percent, respectively.

Nationwide, the percentage of high school students is expected to increase by 2.7 percent, the report said.

Connecticut has seen steady decreases in the number of students of all grades attending public school in the state over the last decade. This report, however, shows the decline is largely among high school students. The number of students estimated through grade 8 is not expected to change much, or 0.3 percent by 2024.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Malloy Defends Education Cuts to Affluent Towns

By Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

As sharp criticism built today of its proposal to end state education aid to 28 of the state’s wealthiest towns, the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy released data to show that most of the towns affected have among the lowest mill rates in the state and rely relatively little on state aid. Image

[Westport, which stands to lose $1,982,936 in educational state aid under the Malloy proposal, had the 13th lowest mill among the 28 towns cited and was third lowest on the list of state aid share as part of its educational budget—tied with New Canaan at 1.85 percent with only Goshen and Warren lower at 0.99 percent and 0.45 percent respectively.]

Facing a sizable budget deficit, the governor on Tuesday proposed eliminating all of the $25 million that the state currently provides to the wealthiest communities through the Education Cost Sharing grant – a move decried by Republican legislators who largely represent those communities.

“We’re in a new economic reality. With fewer resources, it requires difficult choices,” said Devon Puglia, spokesman for the Democratic governor. “We need to provide support to schools and districts that need it most. Taking the same percentage of cuts in towns with wildly varying mill rates and tax bases just doesn’t make sense. We believe we should protect those schools that rely on us most.”

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Steinberg: Proposed $2M Educational Cut ‘Dead on Arrival’

UPDATE Westport State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg said today that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to eliminate education cost sharing (ECS) grants to 28 of Connecticut’s wealthiest school districts—including an almost $2 million cut for Westport—is “dead on arrival” in the state legislature. Image
Jonathan Steinberg: Malloiy’s proposal “a provocation.” Contributed photo

“We in the legislature, virtually all of us, view it as a provocation,” said Steinberg, who represents Westport. “We interpret it as the governor telling us he doesn’t need to respect the legislature, and he’s making it very difficult for us to engage in further negotiations as we attempt to reach closure on the budget in the next few weeks.”

Under Malloy’s plan, Westport would see its state educational aid reduced from $1,988,255 to zero.

Malloy’s proposal to cut ECS grants is the administration’s latest effort to close a $922 million deficit projected for the next fiscal year. While the proposal aims to cut the ECS grants to the wealthiest towns, it aims to protect the state’s 30 lowest performing school districts.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

For Landon, a Letter of ‘Integrity’

By James Lomuscio

For Westport Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon it’s a matter—and a letter—of integrity. Image
Elliott Landon: has attorney’s letter for tonight’s meeting. Dave Matlow for

And at tonight’s Board of Education he will be tooled up with school counsel’s written opinion to the board that the February break does not violate the state’s Uniform School Calendar policy.

According to Landon, the opinion by Thomas B. Mooney and Jessica Richman Smith of the firm Shipman & Goodwin vindicates him from board members “questioning my integrity” at the March 28 when Landon said he had checked and cleared the February break with the school system’s legal counsel.

Landon, who is retiring in June, bemoaned the day after the meeting that some board members questioned his integrity “for the first time in 17 years”  when he told them had direct confirmation. (See WestportNow March 29, 2016)

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Saturday, April 09, 2016

Tryouts for the Staples Cheerleading Team Set Image
Tryouts for the Staples High School Cheerleading Team for eighth to 12th graders will be held Wednesday,  May 4. From 3 to 6 p.m., there will be a clinic to learn cheers and dance, organizers said, to be followed at 7 p.m. by tryouts. The sessions will take place in the Staples field house. Those interested must complete a registration form online. For additional information, visit: (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

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Friday, April 08, 2016

Proud Artist Image
Emanuel Linvald, 5, of Westport shows off his self-portrait today at a Westport Library reception marking the Week of the Young Child. The annual event is a celebration hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers and families. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Phyllis Groner for

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Staples Junior Named Governor’s Scholar

Staples High School junior Emily Schussheim has been named a Governor’s Scholar, the Westport school district announced today. Image
Emily Schussheim: among 30 students chosen. Contributed photo

The Governor’s Scholars Awards recognize academically talented high school students in schools throughout the state. Emily was among 30 students chosen for the honor.

In addition to excelling in academics, she has found time to stay involved in her many passions, including being a cellist in school’s chamber orchestra as well as principal cellist for the Norwalk Youth Symphony.  She is a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society.

An accomplished writer, her work has been published in the school’s literary magazine, Soundings, as well as Canvas and Creative Kids. 

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Landon: Board Questioned His Integrity

By James Lomuscio

UPDATE (adds board statement) Westport Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon, who is retiring in June, today bemoaned that some school board members Monday night questioned his integrity “for the first time in 17 years.” Image
Elliott Landon: “They were questioning my truthfulness.” Dave Matlow for

At issue: Landon’s word based on legal counsel regarding the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic calendars.

Landon told the board that he had direct confirmation from school counsel Thomas Mooney that his plan to have three, one-week vacations during those academic years did not violate the state’s Uniform School Calendar policy.

The state policy stipulates only two one-week vacations throughout the academic year, not three. Landon, conferring with Mooney, said that three weeks, specifically the February break, passes muster under the law since four flex days could be added to the Presidents Day holiday.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Another Honor for Staples Senior Image
Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon presents Jaime Bairaktaris with his award. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

In appreciation of his commitment to service, Staples High School senior Jaime Bairaktaris has been awarded a Certificate of Recognition from the Secretary of the State of Connecticut and the Connecticut Citizenship Fund.

The award, announced today by the school district, recognizes high school students who have gone above and beyond to make a difference to their community.

Staples was asked to nominate one student for this honor and Jaime was selected “because of his kindness, his hard work, and his consistent dedication to service in Westport,” the announcement said.

In addition to his studies, Jaime is a WestportNow contributing photographer and volunteers as an Emergency Medical Technician for Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Services where he serves on its board of directors. 

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