Monday, December 05, 2016
By James Lomuscio
A new state law requring total town budgets not be more than a 2.5 percent increase over the previous year beginning fiscal year 2018-19 took center stage tonight at the Westport Board of Education.
Joining the board in talks about the 2017-18 school budget were members of the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting (RTM) as well as First Selectman Jim Marpe.
The bottom line: such mandated fiscal belt tightening will increase budget woes as the town grapples with the state’s fiscal crisis, unfunded educational mandates, educational cost sharing (ECS) grant cuts, contractual obligations outpacing inflation and per pupil expenditures jumping 11 percent in the past three years, town and school officials said.
Towns where the total budgets, municipal and school, exceed 2.5 percent will be penalized in terms of state funding, according to the mandate. The total operating budget for the town and schools this fiscal year in $204 million.
By Ellery Saluck
An Advanced Placement (AP) computer science project seems poised to pay off big for two Staples High School entrepreneurs.
Junior Neal Soni and senior Dylan Diamond have created their very own app called Tesla Toolbox. It allows owners of the electric car Tesla to track their speed, route and power usage.
It also lets them control features like lights, the locking and unlocking car doors, the opening and closing garage doors, even climate control.
Users can also start their Tesla or drive it forward or backward without being in it, but with the mere touch of a iPhone.
Saturday, December 03, 2016
Westport Farmers Market visitors today were treated to classical music performed by four members of the Staples High School Chamber Orchestra. Pictured (l-r) are James Gikas 14, Jack Whitten 16, Paz Meyers, 14, and Michael Fording, 16. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com
Friday, December 02, 2016
“The Great Penny Wars” have been fought again at Westport’s Bedford Middle School, and the winner is Westport’s community giving organizations.
Taking part in this year’s battle were 270 eighth graders who waged a friendly but spirited competition to see which teams, or “pods,” could raise the most funds for the annual effort.
When it was all over, it turned out this year’s competition was the most successful in the 12-year history of the program, raising $11,800, organizers said. The funds will aid the holiday gift drive of the Westport Department of Human Services and other charitable programs.
Since the program’s 2004 inception, more than $80,000 has been donated — testament to the spirit of giving among Bedford students.
Thursday, December 01, 2016
The Westport Arts Center and the Anti-Defamation League tonight presented a free workshop for parents of elementary and middle school students, “Bullying, Name-Calling and Cyberbullying: What Children Wish Their Parents Knew.” The speaker, Marji Lipshez-Shapiro, director of education for the ADL, shared insights she has gained from working with young people across the state over the past 26 years, and provided prevention and intervention strategies for parents.The workshop also included a panel of area high school students who shared their personal experiences and responded to questions.The event is part of the community programming for WAC’s current exhibition, “MORE Than Words/#iammore,” a juried community exhibition focused on courage, resilience and empowerment in the face of bullying. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Aubrey Grodin for WestportNow.com
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Bedford Middle School students today held a dress rehearsal for this weekend’s production of “Peter Pan.” A cast of more than 70 seventh and eighth graders helps Peter and friends fly in the beloved classic. Performances are Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m, and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.bedfordactinggroup.com or at the door—$15 for adults and $10 for students. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Phyllis Groner for WestportNow.com
The Bedford Acting Group has a dancing Captain Hook and more in this weekend’s production of “Peter Pan.” Tiickets for the Bedford Middle School production are availabe at http://www.bedfordactinggroup.com or at the door—$15 for adults and $10 for students. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Phyllis Groner for WestportNow.com
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Westport Volunteer EMS Crew Chief Benjamin Frimmer tonight shows off his presidential Lifetime Achievement Award, signed by President Obama, presented to him during the service’s monthly meeting. Frimmer, who is also a dramatic arts teacher at Coleytown Middle School, has been with the service since 1985 and has “demonstrated his skills, abilities, and compassion on thousands of 911 medical emergency calls” according to WVEMS President Yves Cantin. The award is given to those who have served more than 4,000 volunteer service hours, although Frimmer has met that requirement many times over. “I have to say that volunteering, specifically with EMS, has been such a major part of my life, I can’t imagine it any other way,” Frimmer said in a Facebook post. “I couldn’t be more honored to have received this award signed by our outgoing President. I’m not usually one to be excited about certificates or awards, but this one seems quite special. To all my mentors I thank you from the bottom of my heart for showing me the value of giving.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jaime Bairaktaris for WestportNow.com
Four months into her job, Westport Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer said today it is the “best job in the world.”
In a wide-ranging talk to the weekly meeting of the Westport Rotary Club at Branson Hall at Christ & Holy Trinity Church, she said it is “truly a privilege to serve in this role.”
“I do live in Westport,” said Palmer, who was formerly superintendent in Weston. And, bringing laughter from the audience, she added: “And so I’ve tried to figure out how to make a left turn into Starbucks….the problems we should have.”
“I love it here,” she said. “I love the vibrancy. I love the energy. I love the intellect, the passion, the talent of this community.”
Westport Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer said today while Westport is “kind of an oasis here, isolated in so many ways,” a new administration in Washington will bring changes as “things cascade down to us.” Addressing the weekly meeting of the Westport Rotary Club, she said, however, she is not overly concerned. “I’m not so worried about the federal government because whatever they’ve done I tried to find a way creatively to do what I need to do…and I’ve been successful so far.” she said. But she added: “I am more worried about the long-term funding of education.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) WestportNow.com photo
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Following a day before Thanksgiving tradition of more than 40 years, students from Westport’s Coleytown Middle School gathered today for its annual giving assembly. The school community donated 2,000 items of food, boxes of school supplies and hygiene kits and more than $4,300 in funds to seven area nonprofits serving the needy. Recipients included Homes with Hope, Saugatuck Congregational Church, Westport’s Department of Human Services, Al’s Angels, Connecticut Quest for Peace, Westport Animal Shelter Advocates and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo
Friday, November 11, 2016
UPDATE The principal of Westport’s Staples High School says students have been sharing “offensive and defamatory memes” on a Facebook page and asked parents to support efforts to stop the practice.
In a letter to parents Thursday, James D’Amico also disclosed that about a dozen students were so upset by Tuesday’s presidential election results that they met with school counselors.
D’Amico, who took over the post on July 1, explained that memes are “images, video, text, etc. that are modified generally with captions that are usually intended to be humorous.”
But he said “the vast majority of the memes shared on this page were offensive and mean-spirited to say the least. We are fortunate that a brave student came forward to share this information with us.”
Monday, November 07, 2016
By James Lomuscio
Despite enrollment drops in Westport’s elementary schools and crowding at Staples High Schools over the past five years, the trend will reverse itself in the next five years, Board of Education members heard tonight.
Donald G. Kennedy, senior staff member at the Marlborough, Mass.-based New England School Development Council (NESDEC), based the rosy forecast on “the move-in factor” due to the recession ending and the town remaining a desirable place to live.
“People want to be here and want to buy homes in Westport because they like the quality of life and they like the schools,” said Kennedy, who has been projecting Westport enrollments since at least 2005.
Sitting in on the meeting were members of the Board of Finance, taking note to work with the school board as it begins working on the 2017-18 operating budget.
Friday, October 28, 2016
Students at Westport’s Saugatuck Elementary School today celebrated at their fifth annual Halloween Boo Bash. About 850 partygoers enjoyed a magic show, DJ, games, and raffles at the sold-out event. All proceeds benefit SES enrichments. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo
Monday, October 24, 2016
Westport real estate attorney Candice Savin joined the Board of Education tonight, taking her seat after being sworn in by Town Clerk Patricia Strauss following unanimous approval by the board.
Savin replaces Brett Aronow, who stepped down from the seven-member board Sept. 26. Savin will fulfill the term, which ends November 2017.
Savin, a Democrat, was one of three finalists out of 10 applicants interviewed by the Democratic Town Committee’s (DTC) search committee. Savin serves as vice chair of the DTC but was not involved in the search process.
Michael Gordon, school board chairman, touted Savin’s background. She served on the Kings Highway School’s PTA, the boards of The Conservative Synagogue and Hadassah, as a former New York City prosecutor and currently works a local real estate attorney, he said.
Friday, October 21, 2016
There was a strategy session Wednesday at the Westport-Weston Family YMCA involving the Y, Westport Library, Westport schools, and Westport Parks and Recreation Department. The informal conversation was about leveraging existing resources to better serve Westport and enhance opportunities for learning together, a library announcement said. Pictured (l-r) are YMCA CEO Pat Riemersma, Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer, Westport Parks and Recreation Director Jen Fava, and Westport Public Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo
Monday, October 10, 2016
The Board of Education was told tonight that next year’s school budget may be up 4.1 percent and that hidden mold at Coleytown Middle School (CMS), which is not a health hazard, may cost as much as $250,000 to remediate.
Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer, who took over July 1 from retiring Elliott Landon, informed the board about the budget and health issues and said the budget number was “a very preliminary one.”
“If we kept the same workforce and just moved those folks forward a year and followed our bargaining union contracts… and projected increase in health costs, we would have to ask for an increase of 4.1 percent,” she said. “That number is daunting.”
She reminded board members that the current operating budget, which increased 1.29 percent over the previous year, benefitted from “positive trends” in the health reserve account as well as other factors.
Wednesday, October 05, 2016
About 250 Kings Highway Elementary School (KHS) students today joined schools around the world to celebrate International Walk to School Day. The event began at 8:10 a.m. with students, parents teachers, and staff walking from Westport Board of Education Technology Center on Riverside Avenue, arriving at KHS five minutes later. Organizers said the events raise awareness of the need to create safer routes for walking and bicycling and emphasize the importance of issues such as increasing physical activity among children, pedestrian safety, traffic congestion and concern for the environment. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Monday, September 26, 2016
Brett Aronow and the Westport Board of Education bid a warm farewell to each other tonight. She said she and her husband, Keith Stein, have sold their Westport home and plan to travel around the world. Each board member expressed parting words to Aronow. Mark Mathias (r) said, “I always admired your disarming way to bring people together.” Aronow’s final comments: “In the end, it’s always been about the kids.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Westporter Michael Gordon, chair of the Board of Education, was on the CNBC business cable channel today offering advice to CEOs on the hot seat at congressional hearings in recent days. They include John Stumpf, chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo, involved in a fake accounts scandal, and Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan, maker of EpiPens, whose recent price increases have stirred controversy. “It looks wimpy to pick on the little guy,” said Gordon, whose firm Group Gordon offers public relations strategic services to some of the nation’s top firms. “Heads must roll,” he said. “You have to show real contrition and follow up with action ... Take responsibility and stop shifting blame.” He said firms in the congressional spotlight should offer up an ethics policy as part of their response. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) WestportNow.com photo from CNBC
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
By Jacqueline Rabe Thomaswww.ctmirror.org
The state Supreme Court will hear an expedited appeal of a lower court’s conclusion that the way the state distributes education aid and oversees local schools is unconstitutional.
Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers accepted petitions by Attorney General George Jepsen and the lawyers for the plaintiffs for a direct review by the Supreme Court of different aspects of the decision by Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher.
Moukawsher demanded plans from the state within 180 days to establish new standards for teacher evaluations, high school graduation and elementary and secondary education and an overhaul to how schools are funded. Defending the state, the attorney general’s appeal called the decision a judicial overreach.
The plaintiffs, a coalition of parents, school officials, and teacher unions, had asked that the high court hold off on hearing the state’s appeal until remedies crafted by lawmakers had been ruled on by the lower court.
Monday, September 19, 2016
Two Coleytown Middle School students, Charlotte Zhang (l) and Michelle Kaminski, received honorable mention awards in the Middle School Poetry division of the recent 2016 Trumbull Arts Festival Literary Competition. Excerpts of Michelle’s poem, “A Paper Journey,” and Charlotte’s poem, “United As One,” were read to the audience in a ceremony at the Trumbull Public Library. Their teacher is Paul Ferrante. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo
Thursday, September 15, 2016
By Mark Pazniokaswww.ctmirror.org
Attorney General George Jepsen’s office today filed an appeal asking the Connecticut Supreme Court to conclude that a trial judge embarked on “an uncharted and legally unsupported path” last week in asserting authority over how the state distributes education aid and sets standards for graduating from high school, serving special-needs students and evaluating teachers.
“This decision would wrest educational policy from the representative branches of state government, limit public education for some students with special needs, create additional municipal mandates concerning graduation and other standards, and alter the basic terms of educators’ employment – and entrust all of those matters to the discretion of a single, unelected judge,” Jepsen said.
Jepsen lightly approached the question of where Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s broad indictment of public K-12 education was right or wrong as a matter of policy, but the appeal sharply attacks his legal basis for ruling that shortcomings he identified violate students’ rights under the state Constitution to a free and adequate education.
In a ruling that drew national attention, with The New York Times likening it to “a cry from the heart on the failings of American public education,” Moukawsher concluded the state has a duty to ensure that education aid and other education polices be “rationally, substantially, and verifiably” connected to educational need.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Ten Staples High School students and one from Greens Farms Academy today were among approximately 16,000 semifinalists named in the 62nd annual National Merit Scholarship Program.
The seniors have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 7,500 National Merit Scholarships worth about $33 million that will be offered next spring.
The Staples students are JiSu Ahn, Isabelle Amlicke, Alexander D. Ialeggio, Nicole T. Kiker, Lindsey N. Marks, Brendan J. Massoud, Grace McGinley, Ulyana Piterbarg, Tia Pogue, and Phoebe Spear. The Greens Farms Academy student is Christopher J. Glynn.
To be considered for a Merit Scholarship award, semifinalists must fulfill several requirements to advance to the finalist level of the competition.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
By Mark Pazniokaswww.ctmirror.org
New Haven — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said today he agreed with the “core” of Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s finding last week that Connecticut’s distribution of education aid was so irrational as to be unconstitutional, but the ruling raises so many legal and practical complexities that he will defer a decision on an appeal to Attorney General George Jepsen.
The governor’s embrace of Moukawsher’s central finding should shock no one: As mayor of Stamford, Malloy was part of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding that sued the state 11 years ago; and as governor, Malloy has tried and largely succeeded in funneling the majority of new education aid to the state’s 30 lowest-performing school districts.
“If we are talking about the portion of the decision that had things to do with actual funding or how we disperse the funds that we spend, I am largely in support of what the judge was saying,” Malloy said. “I think he made very valid points. You know why I think he’s making very valid points? Because I’ve been making the same points for the last five years.”
He refused to join Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who urged Jepsen today to appeal Moukawsher’s conclusion that the state’s funding formula was unconstitutional and his order that the state devise a new funding formula and remedies for other shortcomings in 180 days.
Monday, September 12, 2016
2017 Westport Teacher of the Year Mary Elizabeth Fulco of Staples High School was honored tonight at the Board of Education meeting where the eight runners-up were also announced. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Teacher of Year Mary Elizabeth Fulco (sitting, c) of Staples High School, was honored tonight at the Board of Education meeting. She is pictured with nominees (seated, l-r) Lisa Thomas, Greens Farms Elementary School, and Jamie Viesselman, Kings Highway Elementary School; (standing, l-r) Candace Banks, co-president PTA Council; Michael Gordon, chair, Board of Education; nominees Amy Koppe, Greens Farms Elementary School; Priscilla Jones, Kings Highway Elementary School; Alycia Dadd, Staples High School; Janet Zamary, Staples High School; Karen DeFelice and John Horrigan, co-presidents, Westport Education Association (WEA), and Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer. Teacher of the Year nominees not present are Susan O’Hara, Staples High School, and Sarah O’Mahoney, Bedford Middle School. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Wednesday, September 07, 2016
By Mark Pazniokas and Keith M. Phaneufwww.ctmirror.org
In a broad indictment of how Connecticut supports its poorest schools, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled today that the state’s method for distributing education aid is irrational and unconstitutional, while declining to second-guess the General Assembly on the ultimate level of state spending.
Moukawsher said the plaintiffs failed to meet their high burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the quality of public education violates the state Constitution by the standards of minimum funding or the adequacy of instruction in the state’s classrooms. But he gave them a victory on the question of how aid is distributed, special education is funded and the standards to which students and teachers are held.
He handed the state, the plaintiffs and General Assembly an ambitious five-point outline for action on revamping how teachers are evaluated and paid, special education students are evaluated and served, and more broadly, how the state directs $2 billion in annual state spending for local education, plus another $1 billion in reimbursements for school construction and renovations.
“So, change must come,” Moukawsher said. “The state has to accept that the schools are its blessing and its burden, and if it cannot be wise, it must at least be sensible.”
Westport’s Greens Farms Academy today welcomed 715 PreK-12 students from 20 towns in Connecticut and New York to their first official day of school. A group of Upper School boys was among the first to arrive on campus. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo