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Superintendent's Updates

Superintendent's Update

Good afternoon,

I always say that we are not perfect, but beyond some operational challenges mentioned below, we have had a very successful start to the year!!!  There is renewed energy and a positive vibe in the school culture, something that was challenging as we confronted the pandemic.    

Back to School Nights are underway, the summer heat has subsided, and as we complete our second week of the school year, I want to emphasize that we intend to sustain the early momentum we have experienced.  

Our primary focus has been to reestablish a positive, inviting school climate for all in our school communities.  You will notice additional efforts and gestures to this end.  Engaging our kids in the learning process, while maintaining child-centered practices is a high priority.  

A great start does not guarantee a great school year, and my responsibility is to support our team in delivering on our promises.  I am most optimistic after these first two weeks. We have problems to confront, but with a strong school culture, I have no doubts that we will meet those challenges, some quite formidable.  

And on with some updates…

22-23 School Calendar Changes

The Westport Board of Education voted on Tuesday, September 6, 2022, to revise the existing 2022-2023 student calendar. (See attached and linked here)  The changes to the calendar are as follows:
 

  1. Schools will be closed on Monday, January 2, 2022, to mark the observance of New Years Day. Students and staff will return from the winter recess on Tuesday, January 3, 2022.
  2. The last day of school will now be Thursday, June 15, 2022.
  3. The five built in snow days will now be June 16, 20, 21, 22 and 23.
  4. The Westport Public Schools will be closed on Monday, June 19, 2022, to mark the observance of Juneteenth. This closure will only go into effect if two or more snow days cause the school year to extend beyond June 15, 2022.

It is important to note that the built in snow days could potentially move the last day of school to Friday June 23, 2022. Therefore, please keep in mind, when making summer recess plans, that schools may be in session from June 20 - June 23. 

Transportation

Unfortunately, transportation continues to be a disappointment. The students and parents who are impacted by issues in transportation are highly frustrated.  We share that frustration.  

I can assure you that our team is working feverishly to resolve these challenges.  We have experienced modest success in thinning out some dense rides in order to shorten the overall bus ride and increase reliability in pick up and drop off times.  We will continue to apply similar interventions to other routes where possible.

The unfortunate truth is that we continue to be at a disadvantage due to the driver shortage.  We ordinarily operate with approximately 58 drivers and we are currently functioning with approximately 51.  We have not approached the level of disruption that some other CT districts have experienced as one CT district had to close school this week due to insecure transportation routes.  

That said, we have identified specific buses that we are targeting for further intervention to increase reliability and assure pick up and drop off times.  Additionally, we have tightened up our communication protocols to get messages to parents as soon as possible about any changes in routes.  Finally, the “WheresTheBus” app is scheduled to go live in the next couple of weeks. As much as we would prefer to go live immediately, it would be a significant error to activate the app while some routes remain in flux as we intervene, and until we are certain the app is accurate and useful.  

Again, students and parents who are impacted by these issues have every right to be frustrated.  We share that frustration.  As I mentioned last year when speaking about facilities, we have an expectation of a certain standard for our schools.  We have some facilities below that standard that warrant remodeling or new construction.  Likewise, the current level of transportation service is below the standard we expect in our district.  We will continue to work to improve this level of performance until it meets the community’s expectations.  

COVID

As we continue the start of the school year, the District is operating as close to pre-pandemic practices as possible.  The District Health Team will employ thoughtful mitigation strategies, monitor COVID-19 cases, and implement respiratory prevention strategies as necessary. Project COVID DeteCT (weekly monitoring),  the use of the COVID dashboard, the COVID hotline and daily notifications to classrooms will no longer be in effect. We ask that COVID cases be reported to the school nurse. 

In the event that there is a cluster or outbreak with several cases of respiratory illness including influenza or COVID-19  in one class, parents/guardians will be notified through a classroom letter. We will continue to follow guidance from both the CDC and the State Department of Public Health and will adjust mitigating measures as indicated.

Vaccinations continue to be the most important line of defense in preventing respiratory diseases like influenza and COVID-19. Updated COVID boosters are now available and recommended for people 12 years and older and can be found at Vaccines.gov - Find COVID‑19 vaccine locations near you.

The Aspetuck Health District also has available appointments for influenza and updated boosters and can be found on their website at Aspetuck Health District – Public Health Services and Information. Additional information on State DPH guidance can be found at   Link to DPH/CSDE/OEC guidance.

For more specific information on isolation and other COVID specific guidelines please see our Return to School Plan for the 2022-23 School year at Return to School Plan.

Successful Start With New “Healthy Use of Technology” Approach

In full candor, we held our collective breath as we implemented a “healthier use of technology” approach.  It is not perfect, but I am proud to report that the initial implementation is very positive.  Teachers report significantly more dialogue between students in transition times, before and after class, as well as during interactive instruction.  

Though they might not admit it, we believe that many students are relieved to some degree.  I’ve personally watched the insidious comparisons on social media compromise the happiness and welfare of my own children.  This phenomenon is pervasive.  We will not halt this phenomenon due to these changes, yet, we are seeing positive signs in our schools and classrooms by limiting distractions and restoring much of the humanity that was lost over the past few years.  

This is only one strategy that we have employed in restoring our school culture and encouraging healthy interpersonal development, but the early feedback has been very positive.  

Respectfully,

Thomas Scarice

Superintendent of Schools

 

 

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Staples High School, 70 North Ave, Westport, CT 06880, USA