Sunday, December 03, 2023



School Uncertainties Still on BOE Agenda

By Jarret Liotta

Construction at Coleytown Middle School (CMS) remains on schedule for an October reopening, but the big question is whether students will even be going back at all this fall. Image
Work continues on Coleytown Middle School. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for

“It is literally changing sometimes daily with things that you’re hearing from the C.D.C., from state officials, from other sources,” said John Bayers, director of human resources and general administration, who is co-chairing the School Reopening Steering Committee (SRSC) with Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

The two shared an update with the Board of Education (BOE) tonight on formation of the committee that aims to get plans in place for any of a number of potential scenarios for next school year.

“You hear different ideas, (but) we’re not committed to anything,” Bayers said, noting that fall could bring a full return or a partial return to school buildings for smaller groups of students on a rotating basis.

National Merit $2,500 Scholarship Winners Named

The National Merit $2,500 scholarship winners were announced today, They included five from Westport, three of whom attend Staples High School.

The winners:

Cordelia Chen, Staples High School; Probable career field: Undecided
Nora B. Dockter, Staples High School; Probable career field: Parks and Recreation
Henry C. Fisher, Hopkins School; Probable career field: Academia
Paz Elijah Meyers, Pierrepont School; Probable career field: Biomedicine
Benjamin A. Spector, Staples High School; Probable career field: Chemical Engineering

Praise for School Special Ed Staff Change

By Jarret Liotta

Parents gave high praise to the new choice for special education leadership in Westport tonight when the Board of Education (BOE) unanimously approved appointment of Michael Rizzo to the post of assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services. Image
Michael Rizzo: special ed expert. Contributed photo

The BOE also opened its honeymoon period with the new Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice during a short discussion on how he hopes to approach his new job, which officially begins July 1.

The BOE — and the co-chairs of the PTA’s special education committee in particular — fervently welcomed back Rizzo, a former Westport administrator, to the post that was suddenly vacated by Tina Mannarino over the winter.

Mannarino reportedly was on extended sick leave for several months, then on April 1, Interim Superintendent of Schools David Abbey announced that she was leaving “at the end of this school year to pursue other opportunities,” with Ann Leffert, interim director of special education, taking her duties.

RTM Approves $121.9 Million School Budget

Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) tonight unanimously approved a $121,936,487 Board of Education operating budget for 2020-21, a 3.12% increase over the current academic year.

The reopening of Coleytown Middle School (CMS), a 10% bump in school health benefits and funds for facilities upgrades are key reasons behind next year’s increase.

That amount, plus aid to private and parochial schools and debt service brings next year’s total education budget to $131,429,948, a .41% increase.

In response to a question by RTM member Wendy Batteau about added educational costs due to COVID-19, Acting Schools Superintendent David Abbey said that distance learning challenges will “inevitably relate to additional costs.”

BOE OK’s Coach Stipends; Forms Committee to Reopen Schools

By Jarret Liotta

Two items related to the COVID-19 crisis were addressed by the Board of Education (BOE) tonight, including paying stipends to the high school’s spring coaches.

Hoping to stay ahead of the curve, the BOE is also implementing a superintendent’s School Reopening Committee (SRC) to begin planning on how to proceed with logistics when the time comes.

“I believe this needs to be our primary goal for next year,” said Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent for teaching & learning, describing it as likely to be an extremely challenging endeavor.

He said several scenarios will have to be examined by a group that will include administrators, union representatives, a health official, one parent, one BOE member and four work group chairpersons of undetermined backgrounds.

Members Named on ReOpen Westport Advisory Team

First Selectman Jim Marpe today provided additional details on the establishment of the ReOpen Westport Advisory Team (Advisory Team).

As previously stated, the purpose of the Advisory Team will be to advise the first selectman on issues relating to the reopening of the Westport economy and community as they navigate the risks of COVID-19 for the foreseeable future.

The members of the Advisory Team include: Jennifer Tooker, Second Selectwoman – chair; John Bayers, director of human resources & general administration – Westport Public Schools; Mark Cooper, director – Westport Weston Health District;  Jen Fava, Parks and Recreation director; Sara Harris, operations director; Police Chief Foti Koskinas; Mary Young, Planning and Zoning director; Randy Herbertson, president – Westport Downtown Merchants Association; Matthew Mandell, director – Westport / Weston Chamber of Commerce, and Brian Stern, chair – Board of Finance.

The Advisory Team will be focused on working with the local business community. It is not charged with making regulatory decisions.

Cost of Coach Stipends Questioned for This Season

By Jarret Liotta

It wasn’t even on the agenda, but a peripheral debate of whether to pay spring coaches their stipends during this time of closures is prompting the Board of Education (BOE) to put it to vote next week.

Elio Longo, chief financial officer, tonght shared details on $550,000 in savings that have resulted from the closures during the operating budget’s third quarter.

But that does not include an additional $241,000 that is currently earmarked to pay Staples High School (SHS) coaches, who Superintendent of Schools David Abbey said are already doing their work with students.

“We have approximately 50 coaches this spring who have already begun their work in a variety of ways,” he said.

CMS Delay Confirmed, but Reopening Date Still Unknown

By Jarret Liotta

It’s going down to the wire, but there’s still a fair chance that Coleytown Middle School (CMS) can be reopened for the next school year.

Don O’Day, chair of the CMS Building Committee, returned to tonight’s Board of Education (BOE) meeting to confirm his assessment that the opening will be delayed between four and eight weeks, based on a revised schedule from Newfield Construction, the project management group.

“We’re looking at an opening date that has an October handle, but we don’t know when in October,” he said, calling some delay a certainty.

At the April 13 BOE meeting, school administrators cautioned that while a delay of up to two months was manageable in terms of transitioning the CMS students out of Bedford Middle School with limited disruption, beyond that it could raise challenges.

Webinar Set for Parents of High School Juniors and Seniors

A webinar has been scheduled for Monday noon on “Parenting High School Juniors and Seniors During the Coronavirus Pandemic” featuring Westport educators and psychological professionals.

It is sponsored by Westport Together, an alliance between the town, the Westport Public Schools, the PTA and many local nonprofits to strengthen the health and well-being of youth and families through programming and education.

“As families manage the day-to-day realities of staying safe in our homes during the COVID-19 outbreak, many parents of juniors and seniors are contemplating ways to support their children during this critical time in their development,” said Second Selectman Jennifer Tooker in a news release.

The program features local mental health professionals Deb Slocum of the Staples High School Counseling Department, Karen Krupnik of Positive Directions – the Center for Prevention and Recovery, and Dr. Valerie Babich. director, Westport Public Schools Psychological Services.

Staples Announces Graduates With High Honors

Staples High School has announced the names of 19 exceptional students graduating with High Honors from the class of 2020.

A student will be designated with “High Honors” if his/her academic grade point average falls in the top 4%t of the graduating class. 

According to Principal Stafford Thomas “this class, my first, is extremely talented and the most astonishing aspect of this accomplishment, is that these students were involved in a number of extracurricular activities and various aspects of school life which took a great deal of focus outside the classroom as well.”

The class of 2020 High Honors honorees include Justin Berg, Audrey Bernstein, Cordelia Chen, Nora Dockter, Brianna Dwyer, Tyler Edwards, Charles Effman, Kathryn Enquist, Natasha Johnson, Edward Kiev, Samuel Laskin, Anella Lefebvre, Edan Leshem, Aydan Moskowitz, Maximus Pace, Patricio Perez Elorza Arce, Benjamin Schussheim, Harrison Sholler and Benjamin Spector.