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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Staples Students Excel in History Competition

Staples High School students excelled in the the Fairfield Region National History Day 2016 competition at Sacred Heart University Saturday in Fairfield. Image
Matt Gibson, a Staples High School 10th grader, receives his award for “American Immigration Policy 1960s.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

Dozens of area teams competed in the annual academic competition with projects as diverse as Walt Disney and the American Dream, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Islamaphobia.

National History Day has grown in size and popularity in the past few years, offering students a chance to compete academically through their historical research. 

The event, now part of the Staples U.S. History Honors curriculum, saw more than 150 Westport students participate, including some from Bedford Middle School. 

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BMS Science Whizzes Image
Westport’s Bedford Middle School placed second statewide in the Science Olympiad Tournament Saturday at Irving Robbins Middle School in Farmington. The Science Olympiad events include knowledge-based and building events. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

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Monday, March 21, 2016

12 Westport Teens Are U.S. Presidential Scholar Candidates

Twelve Westport teens – seven of them from Staples High School – are among a select group of students nationwide named as honorees and candidates in the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.

The program recognizes students for their academic and extra-curricular involvement with both the school and their community.

The Staples students include: William O. Andrews; Claudia Chen; Rachel O. Corbally; George Menz; Audrey Seo; Steven K. Xu, and Xiaotian Zhang.

Westport students attending other schools include: Brian Beaumonte, Saint Luke’s School; Jacob J. Klegar, Choate Rosemary Hall, and the following Hopkins School students:  Grant M. Moberg; Neha Srivastava, and Michael Zhou.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Final Curtain Call for Staples Players Seniors Image
Tonight was closing night of the Staples Players “The Drowsy Chaperone” and the final main stage production for seniors. Vignesh Namasivayam, Players president and a senior, and director David Roth waved goodbye. Roth and co-director Kerry Long recognized each senior and gave him or her a rose. “I’m just going to try to get through this without crying,” Roth said. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for

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Gallery: Closing Night of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’

Scenes from tonight’s closing night Staples Players production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Lynn U. Miller for

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Tops at Staples Image
Staples High School announced today that William Andrews and Hannah DeBalsi are this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Used to winning, he is co-captain of the Staples championship tennis team while she is a nationally ranked runner – the best female track star in Wrecker history. Andrews will speak at graduation in June. DeBalsi will address her classmates at baccalaureate, the night before. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Finance Board Approves $112.6 Million School Budget

By James Lomuscio

As expected, Westport’s Board of Finance (BOF) tonight unanimously approved the Board of Education’s proposed $112.6 million operating budget for 2016-17, a 1.29 percent increase over the current year.

Touted as the second lowest school board increase in a more than a decade, the budget approval came with a vote of confidence that the school board was on track as much as possible toward toward the finance board’s “zero-based budget” philosophy.

“I think the result is going to be good for Westport,” said Brian Stern, finance board chairman, adding that it would keep taxes in check while funding “excellent town services.”

The Board of Finance also voted unanimously on the overall town budget, $204,039,595, a 0.97 percent increase. It comprises the schools’s and the $91.6 million municipal one, a .79 percent increase, that the finance board approved Tuesday night.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

James D’Amico Voted New Staples Principal

Following a months’ long national search, the Westport school board tonight voted unanimously to appoint James D’Amico, Westport’s director of secondary education, as Staples High School’s new principal. Image
James D’Amico: takes over July 1.  Dave Matlow for

D’Amico, 39, replaces John Dodig who retired last year. Mark Karagus, who has an extensive background in secondary education, is filling in as interim principal through the end of June. D’Amico takes the helm July 1.

“Staples is the crown jewel of Westport,” said D’Amico, lauding its long history of educational excellence. “We have extraordinary teams here that make that happen.

“It’s an honor and an extraordinary responsibility,” he added about heading a school that is “a model of what public education can be.”

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Staples Hosts Brain Talk

The connection between the mind and body is the subject of a Staples High School talk next week by a best-selling author, which is open to the public. Image
John Medina: to discuss brain and body connection. Contributed photo

John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and founding director of two brain research institutes, will speak at the school on Wednesday, March 23 at 6 p.m, the school district announced today.

He is the author of The New York Times best-selling book “Brain Rules.”

Among his topics—how people learn, the effects of stress on the brain and how physical activity benefits cognition, an announcement said.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Staples Students Offered Free Bottle of Water Image
Discoloration of water at Westport’s Staples High School today led to school officials offering one free bottle of water to students. In an announcement, Interim Principal Mark A. Karagus said the school was waiting for the Aquarion Water Company to complete further testing of the school’s hot water heaters, where sediment causing the discoloration has been located. The problem began Thursday, and Karagus said it was hoped to be fixed by Monday. The water issue has been especially vexing for culinary classes, which need hot water for proper dishwashing. Other protocols have been put into place for food safety and sanitation, according to school officials. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jaime Bairaktaris for

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Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Landon to State: Calendar Penalties Threaten Local Control

Westport Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon Monday night in Hartford harshly criticized a legislative proposal that would impose financial penalties on districts that do not adhere to the state’s Regional Uniform School Calendar. Image
Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon testifying in Hartford Monday night. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) photo from CT-N Network

He said every school district has the right to create its own academic calendar.

“I am here today to speak against this latest legislative proposal which would have the effect of imposing severe financial penalties upon those school districts that do not abide by the unfunded mandate regarding a Regional Uniform School Calendar,” Landon told the General Assembly’s Education Committee.

He also urged committee members “to do your best to undo in its entirety the unfunded mandate of a Regional Uniform School Calendar.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Celebrating Dr. Seuss’s Birthday Image
Westport’s Saugatuck Elementary School today celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday and National Read Across America Day by launching its “One Book, One School” initiative. The school-wide book club was kicked off at a special meeting that unveiled the book’s title, “Kenny and the Dragon” by Tony DiTerlizzi, and treated students to a playact of the book. Every family received a keepsake copy, courtesy of the school’s PTA, as well as every faculty and staff member. Said Principal Beth Messler (pictured with students in Amy Howland’s first grade class): “We aim to build a community of readers and have fun doing it.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

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Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Expert on Suicides to Talk on March 16

Following two deaths involving a student and teacher at Staples High School taking their own lives, the Westport school district is hosting a talk on suicides. Image
Joanne L. Harpel: survived brother’s suicide. Contributed photo

The event on Wednesday, March 16 at 7 p.m. at Bedford Middle School will feature Joanne L. Harpel, an expert on suicide bereavement, on the topic “Suicide in Your School Community: What Parents Need to Know,” the Board of Education was told Monday night.

Her talk follows the deaths of freshman Christopher Lanni, 14, on Dec. 23 and English teacher Cody Thomas, 27, on Jan. 23. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has ruled both took their own lives.

The survivor of her own brother’s suicide in 1993, Harpel has a nationwide practice providing personalized guidance to families, schools, faith communities, and others dealing with the aftermath of suicide.

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Monday, February 29, 2016

BOE Appoints New Kings Highway Principal

The Westport Board of Education tonight appointed Mary Lou DiBella as principal of Kings Highway Elementary School effective July 1. Image
Mary Lou DiBella: “greatly looking forward” to job. Photo from Westport Schools television

She succeeds Susie DaSilva who earlier announced she would be leaving to be assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in Darien.

DiBella has been principal of Cabot School in Newton, Mass, for the past five years. Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon said Newton was similar to Westport “in demographics and commitment to education.”

DiBella has been a principal for more than 10 years. She received a bachelor’s degree from Brown University as well as a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Kansas.

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Kindergarten Orientation Set for March 7

The Westport public schools today announced kindergarten orientation will be held Monday, March 7 at 9:30 a.m. at the town’s five elementary schools.

The meeting is for parents of incoming kindergarten students in September to learn about the kindergarten program, meet the kindergarten teachers, and learn about a “Day in the Life” of a kindergarten student,  an announcement said.

There also will be an opportunity to sign up for “mini-k” kindergarten visit in May and to pick up registration packets.

For more information on registration, visit the district website at:

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Staples Nets 10 National Merit Finalists

The 2016 National Merit Scholarship Program has named 10 Staples High School seniors as finalists, each one with a chance to earn one of 7,400 scholarship awards totaling more than $35 million nationwide, school officials announced today. Image
National Merit finalists include: (​back row, l-r)  Nicholas Ribolla, Quinn B. Hughes, George R. Menz, and Grant G. Tobben; (front row)  Aaron J. Samuels, Peter C. Sauer, Hannah H. Debalsi, Jodie I. Baris, and Stephen K. Xu; Missing from picture: Arjun S. Dhindsa. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

Staples finalists are: Jodie Baris, Hannah Debalsi, Arjun Dhindsa, Quinn Hughes, George Menz, Nicolas Ribolla, Aaron Samuels, Peter Sauer, Grant Tobben and Steven Xu.

According to school offcials, winners will be chosen as early as March from a group of more than 15,000 finalists. They said winners will be chosen on the basis of their skills, accomplishments, and potential for success in rigorous college.

Each Staples finalist had to meet the following criteria:  an outstanding academic record, a principal’s recommendation, and SAT scores that confirm the student’s earlier qualifying test performance.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

New Steps to Reduce School Testing Time

By Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

UPDATE Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today dismissed calls from the state’s largest teachers union to stop testing students with the controversial Smarter Balanced Assessment and stood by use of the test results in evaluating teachers.

“We are not getting rid of the Smarter Balanced test,” the Democratic governor told reporters. The computer-based test is being used for the third year.

The Malloy administration did, however, agree to scale back for the second time in a year the number of Smarter Balanced exams public school students must take.

Last spring the state dropped the exam for high school juniors and replaced it with the SAT college-entrance exam. Today at Woodside Intermediate School in Cromwell, the governor announced that elementary and middle school students will no longer have to submit long-form essays – one of the two English assessments that students had to take last year. Students also will still have to take two assessments in math and one in science.

Click here for more of story

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

High Schoolers Get Discounts

Westport and Weston high school students can now just flash their student IDs to get 10 percent discounts at 40 Westport businesses as the result of a student discount partnership. Image
Joining in announcing the student discount program were (l-r) First Selectman Jim Marpe, Renee Weisz, Christina Dear, Lilly Howes, Kyle Ratner, and Westport Weston Chamber Executive Director Matthew Mandell. CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

The program is the brainchild of Staples High School students who are members of the Westport Youth Commission (WYC) and who teamed up with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce (WWCC) and the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, according to Matthew Mandell, WWCC executive director.

The discounts are available to high school students at Staples, Weston High School and Greens Farms Academy.

Vendors will have the partnership logo sticker in their window to signify participation, and the list of participants can be found on the WWCC and WYC websites.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Shifting Ground for Artificial Turf in CT

By Jan Ellen Spiegel

Susan Lewis’s soccer-adoring son Justin was already through his chemo and radiation treatments for lymphoma and thinking about getting back to his team at Fairfield University when she caught a television report one morning. Image
Justin Lewis when he was undergoing chemotherapy. Courtesy of Justin Lewis

“There was a story about a soccer player,” she said. “I stopped to watch it, and my mouth dropped open.”

The report was about cancer cases among athletes playing on artificial turf made from ground-up used tires – crumb rubber is what it’s called. Some soccer players in particular had been diagnosed, mostly with lymphoma as well as leukemia. The question posed was whether the crumb rubber was the cause.

“Obviously, as parents of this young man, we wanted to understand why or how this could possibly happen,” she said. The first focus had to be on getting Justin better. “But when that came up, I certainly thought, ‘Wow, could that be the answer?’”

Click here for more of story

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Board of Ed Appoints New Member Image
The Westport Board of Education today appointed Vikas Muktavaram to replace Republican Paul Block, who resigned last month (See WestportNow Jan. 5, 2016), and Town Clerk Patricia Strauss immediately administered the oath of office in a Town Hall lobby ceremony. Muktavaram, 43, a Westport resident since 2009, was chief risk officer for an asset management company. He is married to Lavanya Bellumkonda, an assistant professor and cardiologist at the Yale School of Medicine. The couple has two children, Lyah, 11, and Anya, 8. Pictured are (front row, l-r) Strauss, Eileen Flug, moderator, Representative Town Meeting; Muktavaram, BOE Chair Michael Gordon, and First Selectman Jim Marpe, (back row, l-r) BOE members Karen Kleine, Jeannie Smith, Mark Mathias and Brett Aronow. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

KHS Students Perform ‘Willy Wonka’ Image
Fourth and fifth grade students at Westport’s Kings Highway Elementary School (KHS) performed their annual school play Tuesday, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” The school is the only elementary school in Westport that produces an annual play production and has been doing it for more than 25 years. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

RTMers Hot Under the Collar in AC Debate

By James Lomuscio

Members of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) got hot under the collar tonight during a debate over funds for installation of air conditioning at Coleytown Elementary School (CES). Image
RTM Member Meliissa Kane questions Board of Education Chairman Michael Gordon at tonight’s meeting.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Photo from Westport Town Television

After slightly more than two hours of contentious debate and a public flogging of the Board of Education, members approved by a 30 to 2 with 2 abstentions vote a $216,000 school board request to install air conditioning at the school this spring.

The request, reduced from the Board of Finance approved $290,000 due to lower bids, was for a long sought HVAC air conditioning system in the CES gymnatorium and cafeteria. Opened in 1953, CES is the only Westport elementary school among five without such air conditioning.

Tonight parents and others told stories of children becoming overheated, exhausted, passing out and getting injured.

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Monday, February 01, 2016

School Board Approves $113.45 Million Budget

By James Lomuscio

A projected surplus this year allowed the Westport Board of Education tonight to save its school bus monitor program, third grade paraprofessionals, and middle school team leaders next year without breaking the bank. Image
Board of Education members (l-r) Karen Klein, Bret Aronow, and Mark Mathias listen at tonight’s meeting.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

By a unanimous vote, the board approved a $113.45 million 2016-17 operating budget, a 2.05 percent increase over the current year and up only slightly from the 2.03 percent increase that Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon had proposed.

“I think we put together a very progressive budget academically,” said Michael Gordon, school board chairman. ” ...and yet, it is an exceptionally lean budget.”

The school board unanimously voted to restore the bus monitor program, which Landon had proposed cutting to save $125,000.

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Board of Ed Honors Staples Teacher Image
At tonight’s Board of Education meeting, attendees observed a moment of silence in memory of Staples teacher Cody Thomas, 27, who died Jan. 23. Chairman Michael Gordon said he clearly remembers when Thomas addressed the board last year. “After what he said, we all wanted to go back to high school,” said Gordon, citing “his connection” to students. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Westport Gets $126,290 School Technology Grant Image
Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell (at Westport forum Nov. 15, 2015): “will empower more students.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) photo

Westport will receive a $126,390 technology grant as part of a state effort to help Connecticut school districts put more computers in classrooms and increase Internet bandwidth in schools across Connecticut.

State Department of Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell announced the grant following State Bond Commission approval of $10.9 million to be distributed to 171 school districts across the state.

The investment is part of the state’s broad efforts to strengthen computer and technology resources as schools continue to implement Connecticut Core Standards and administer computer-adaptive tests aligned to these standards, an announcement said.

“If we want our students to thrive in school and have the skills and knowledge to succeed in the hightech world they will enter after high school and college, we have to teach them technology skills,”  Wentzell said.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

School Bus Monitor Cut Raises Fears

By James Lomuscio

It happened a generation ago, but the 1991 death of an 8-year-old Westport girl run over by her school bus still resonated at tonight’s Board of Education meeting. Image
School board member Jeannie Smith and Michael Gordon along with Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon listen to audience comments tonight.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

At issue was a proposed cut in Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon’s 2016-17 $113.4 million school budget that would do away with Westport’s school bus monitor program except for special education students.

Landon, seeking to save $125,000 in the budget, said the monitors were no longer needed because, among other things, technology has made school buses safer.

Another reason, he said, is that a number of the monitors have retired and it is hard to find replacements. This left only one-quarter of the elementary school buses with monitors, which he called inequitable.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

No Surprise, Landon is School’s Top Earner

By James Lomuscio

Click here for top 50 list

As expected, Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon in 2015 again topped the school system’s list of wage earners with $282,226 in compensation. Image
The top 20 Westport 2015 school wage earners, as provided by the school business office.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Landon, who after 17 years at the helm is retiring at the end of the school year, remains Connecticut’s highest paid schools superintendent.

On July 1 he will be replaced by Weston Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer, whose salary agreement with the Board of Education stands at $285,000.

Landon’s salary for 2015 is slightly lower than in previous years when it stood around $287,000. Elio Longo, director of school business operations who released the wage earner list today, said that Landon had deferred some of his 2015 compensation to the end of this year.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Landon: ‘No Comment’ on Lanni Parents’ Letter

UPDATE Westport Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon today declined to comment on an open letter to him from the parents of 14-year-old Staples High School freshman Christopher Lanni that asked the administrator to investigate whether their son’s sudden death was related to cyberbullying. Image
Elliott Landon: at Jan. 5 BOE meeting where Lanni death discussed. Dave Matlow for

“We have been in constant communication with the Police Department since Dec. 23 and have no further comment,” Landon said in a statement.

In their letter (see WestportNow Jan. 13, 2015), the parents asked to bring the police into the investigation if necessary. Social media posts by Westport parents during the holiday break speculated that Christopher had taken his own life as a result of persistent cyberbullying.

Westport police said today they have already investigated the death and turned up no evidence of cyberbullying.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Parents Ask for Probe Into Son’s Death

See text of letter here

The parents of 14-year-old Staples High School freshman Christopher Lanni have appealed in an open letter to Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon to investigate whether his recent sudden death was related to cyberbullying. Image
Elliott Landon (at Jan. 5 Board of Education meeting): “The spreading of misinformation is harmful to our community.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

They asked to bring the police into the investigation if necessary.

“We request a thorough, professional investigation of allegations that Christopher was being bullied at school and/or on social media platforms (i.e. Instagram) by his fellow Staples students,” wrote Cornelia L. Gallo and Peter Lanni.

The letter dated Jan. 6 was sent to Westport news media tonight. Christopher died Dec. 23 in Yale-New Haven Hospital, according to a family-supplied obituary. No cause was given for his death.

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Cookies and Milk for Midterm Exams Image
Staples High School guidance counselors today handed out cookies and milk as well as fruit and fortunes to students to ease the stress of midterm exams. “Cookies and milk—they’re good for you,” shouted one counselor through a megaphone. Counselors have embarked on a program to make school life less stressful.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jaime Bairaktaris for

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