Wednesday, December 08, 2021

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Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020


Westport Town Offices & Senior Center are closed.
9 a.m. – Electronically – Board of Selectmen: live streamed on http://www.westportct.gov, Optimum ch. 79, Frontier ch. 6020
10 a.m. – via Zoom (register via WCSA 203-341-5099) – Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County Workshop: Staying Positive during Trying Times
6 p.m. – Virtual Westport Library – Restoring a Healthy Economy: The Current State of COVID-19
7 p.m. – Electronically – Conservation Commission: live streamed on http://www.westportct.gov, Optimum ch. 79, Frontier ch. 6020
7 p.m. – 929-205-6099 ID:  870 2962 8986 Code: 975070 – Board of Education
7:30 p.m. – Electronically – Conservation Commission: live streamed on http://www.westportct.gov, Optimum ch. 79, Frontier ch. 6020
8 p.m. – 10 p.m. – 182 Bayberry Lane – Westport Astronomical Society Public Night (masks required)

Westport Senior Center YouTube Channel
Westport Library Event Calendar
Westport Library YouTube Page
Earthplace YouTube Channel
Virtual Westport Museum for History & Culture
See more events: Celebrate Westport Calendar

Superintendent Says No to Full-Time In-Person School for Now

By Jarret Liotta

Schools will remain in the hybrid model at least through December, largely based on expectations that virus infection numbers will trend upward in the coming weeks.

At a Special Meeting of the Board of Education (BOE) Tuesday night Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice shared his decision—part of which is based on his belief that the current hybrid model is also offering students the best educational experience during the pandemic.

“I don’t think bringing kids back fully for four weeks in a pandemic model is really in the best interest right now when we have a model that is working,” he said, stating that health officials are warning of “significant upticks” in virus numbers by Thanksgiving.

“The prudent approach right now is the correct approach to take,” he said.

But many in the community are in disagreement, based on written public comments and a variety of emails that continue to be sent to administrators and BOE members.

“It is time for fulltime in-person schooling, as most of our neighboring districts have already done,” wrote one parent, calling the data “clear” and referencing surrounding districts that have brought elementary school back fulltime in-person.

“Why is Weston in school and we’re not. if we rely on the same data?” another parent wrote.

“This is a complete and utter failure for our children,” still another wrote, stating her second-grade daughter is “falling behind and losing her love of learning.”

Yet other parents applauded the decision, taking note of Scarice’s claim that—given the restrictions of social distancing—a hybrid model with half the number of students in class at a time—affords better educational instruction, with more chances for movement and safe engagement.

“I’m fully in support of your decision,” one mother wrote, echoing a number of statements that simultaneously expressed praise for school staff and extended sympathy for the district’s dilemma in trying to make things work.

“Clearly there’s not any clear consensus among the community and that makes sense,” noted Chair Candice Savin, citing many competing factors.

But once again, beginning the meeting, she reminded the community that this was ultimately Scarice’s decision, though she called it “a collaborative process.”

She said that while board members were giving input—and she said several even requested having Tuesday night’s Special Meeting to have more public examination of the issue—state law placed the decision in the hands of district superintendents based on their best judgment.

“It’s my job and I do take on that responsibility,” Scarice said, beginning the meeting with a lengthy repeat of what he’s shared previously regarding his decision-making process and its driving factors.

“The decision will be based on what I think is best for our school community,” he said, with the evaluation drawn from virus rates and trends, the effectiveness of virus mitigating measures, and the efficacy of the education model in relation to the plan of operation.

Scarice said, however, in his report last week he hadn’t realized the significance of the education model as it would be impacted by a return to full time in-person instruction.

“We’re seeing some really high-powered instruction right now … That becomes compromised in a pandemic classroom,” he said, where the number of students would double, adding additional furniture and limited space for movement.

He cautioned that with a full return—and some elementary classes reaching up to 24 students—children would be constricted to stay at desks in a more old-fashioned approach to instruction.

“We wouldn’t be going back to what we had last October,” he said.

Scarice’s report helped convince at least one board member of his logic, buoyed by comments from elementary administrators pointing out the benefits of the small-class instruction at this time.

“Last week I looked at the handouts and said, ‘Why is everybody going back and not us?’” Vice Chair Jeannie Smith said, noting she now understood the thinking behind his choice.

“I think it’s really helpful to get your insights and to understand from your standpoint,” she said.

“It’s really interesting to me as a educator to see what this model is doing to kids,” said Allison Moran, curriculum coordinator, noting the positive aspects.

“It’s not something that we necessarily were looking for when we implemented this model … but we’ve really come to appreciate this silver lining,” she said.

Kings Highway School principal Mary Lou DiBella pointed out that the public may be forgetting the impact the pandemic—and related deaths and trauma—have had on children, especially as time has passed and the community is becoming more acclimated to it.

“They do have some social and emotional scars,” she said.

“We forget,” she said. “We were the epicenter for a really long time … and so the kids walked in with that at the beginning of the year.”

Likewise, Coleytown Elementary School principal Janna Sirowich pointed out that the current hybrid model has brought a trickle-down effect to students from staff, who feel safe with the current situation.

“It’s very calm … The students also feel that way. You can’t negate the value of that,” she said, citing a focus on social and emotional wellbeing.

Scarice received push back from BOE member Liz Heyer, who asked if the district had “an obligation to offer full time school if we know we can do it and we can contain the virus while we’re doing it, which I think we’ve successfully proved.”

“How do we define educational efficacy? Is it purely the amount of space that we have to move around in our classrooms?” she said, asking there be qualitative measures put in place to evaluate whether the current model is really showing success.

“I would be concerned if that would be the reason, or even one of the reasons, that we chose to keep this model,” Heyer said of the space issue, “because I’m not sure what that says about the future of elementary school classrooms.”

“We have to be realistic,” she said. “There’s just a cost per student for that unless we’re moving to half days forever.”

On Wednesday Scarice sent the following email to parents:

Dear Families of Westport Students,

Last night I was asked by the Board of Education to share my decision regarding the next phase in our school reopening plan.  I am most grateful for the opportunity to work through this process in collaboration with a team of committed Board of Education members, as well as all members of our school community.

Reopening Recommendation
In short, following a public examination of the advantages and disadvantages of a full reopening, last night I recommended that the prudent course of action at this particular point in time is to remain in our current model for at least the next four to six weeks while monitoring the trajectory of infection rates.

Rationale
This will be a year of responsiveness, i.e. responding to trends in changing data, responding to feedback from parents, students and educators regarding our performance, and responding to any possible breakthroughs that might alter the direction of our way of life during the pandemic (i.e. treatments, testing, vaccines, changes in the efficacy of specific mitigating measures).

I fully understand the entrusted responsibility of decisions such as these and I feel the weight of that responsibility.  That said, beyond delivering the best educational experience possible for our students, I also feel responsible for any efforts to pull the community together during polarizing decisions and possible divisiveness.

I intended to make a decision based solely on transmission rates and our ability to maintain our mitigating measures in a full return.  In full candor, what I did not anticipate was the impact that the current elementary instructional model would have on my thinking in the next phase of reopening.

It is true that a number of school districts across the region that originally began in a hybrid model are now fully opened for on-site schooling, particularly at the elementary level, and these districts have experienced very low rates of COVID incidences at the elementary level.

Furthermore, as promised, we administered an internal assessment of our mitigating measures.  The results are very promising in assuring that not only are the current measures effective, but with some modifications, they show promise to be maintained in a full return, with some exceptions.   

That said, I’d like to reiterate a comment from my last parent letter where I indicated that it is critical that any changes in our schooling models are responsive to trends in virus transmission rates.  Absolute rates remain in the low risk category, yet weekly data has demonstrated a consistent increase in virus transmission.  Yesterday our state experienced the highest positivity rate since June, and just over the border, Westchester County saw the largest jump in positive cases since May while hospitalization rates recently doubled.

Our local Westport/Weston Health District (WWHD) has advised that we take a cautious approach in any reopening moves as they expect an increase in infection rates.  There is evidence of an increase in rates of infection at the present moment.

Although there appears to be a window for a full return before the rates advance to a level that warrants additional restrictions, based on current trends in virus transmission, I do not see the value of what would likely be a temporary return.  The trade off is not our current elementary model for a “normal” classroom and schooling experience.  The trade off is the value of our current elementary model for a “pandemic classroom”.

As I articulated last night, with substantive support from the elementary principals and our Elementary Curriculum Coordinator, Ali Moran, our current model enables our faculty to deliver an instructional program during this time that would be restricted in the “pandemic classroom”.  Our current model empowers our teachers to work closely with individual students and small groups, actively moving within the confines of our mitigating measures to ensure that academic progress is not lost, but actually advanced.  It also supports social/emotional development in ways that would be compromised in a fully reopened “pandemic classroom.”

This week we have engaged in an analysis of our entire K-12 reopening instructional model with focus groups at each level for teachers, parents, and students. This information will be instrumental in our efforts to improve our programs for students.  There are clearly areas for improvement. Although we will stay the course, this feedback could alter our practices across all levels, elementary, middle and high.

If we are to be assured of anything it is that the landscape will continue to change.  We’ve seen this since the onset of the pandemic in March.  Guidance on masks, virus transmission on surfaces, and most recently on the effectiveness of neck gaiters, has evolved and changed regularly.  In fact, my own thinking has changed as I received input from the school community and was able to conduct classroom observations in each elementary school.  I anticipate that changes will continue and our responsiveness will mark our success.

Our next step is to receive the feedback from our focus groups and take action.  It is likely that this will begin with reconvening the district wide School Reopening Committee.  Updates will be forthcoming as we continue to move forward. 

Given the advantages and disadvantages of a full reopening, I am confident that we can balance safety with desirable instructional experiences for our students by taking the prudent course of action at this particular point in time.  We will continue to monitor the changing environment and look to fully return when infection rates stabilize and trend downward so that we are able to loosen the restrictions in the educational setting.

Sincerely,

Thomas Scarice
Superintendent

Westport COVID-19 Cases, Deaths Unchanged

The state said today its Westport COVID-19 case count was unchanged at 394 (377 confirmed and 17 probable) and deaths also unchanged at 23.

The CT positive test rate for COVID-19 increased to 2.4% today, the highest positivity since June 12, Gov. Ned Lamont said.

From late June through early September, the state kept its positivity rate mostly below the gold standard of 1%. As schools and universities reopened and the weather began to cool, that rate ticked above 1% — and stayed there for about a month, rarely falling below that threshold and never spiking up to 2%.

But today, the state reported that its daily positivity rate had jumped up to 2.4% — after 320 COVID-19 cases were identified out of a total of 13,398 test.

The state also reported an increase of 17 hospitalizations, for a total of 172 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Connecticut hasn’t seen that many coronavirus patients hospitalized at once since June 19.

“It’s not totally unanticipated,” Lamont said at an afternoon news briefing. “We always anticipated there would be some sort of a flare-up again in October or November … but it is concerning.”

Single-day rate spikes, moving up or down, can be anomalies, the governor said, noting that last week Connecticut enjoyed one single-day rate as low as 0.7%.

Connecticut’s weekly average infection rate — a much more important COVID-19 metric for many health care experts — is still one of the lowest in the nation, he said, while other key benchmarks also remain favorable.

—CTMirror contributed reporting

Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020


Westport Town Offices & Senior Center are closed.
9:15 a.m. – Virtual Westport Library – Job Search Work Team
Noon – 646-876-9923 ID:  838 2409 0891 Code: 121316 – Arts Advisory Committee
Noon – via Zoom – Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce Debate: State Senators (register here)
4:30 p.m. – Virtual Westport Library – Create a Writing Portfolio for Your College Resume
7 p.m. – Electronically – Board of Education: live streamed on http://www.westportps.org, Optimum ch. 78, Frontier ch. 6021
7 p.m. – 646-876-9923 ID:  849 8433 7758 Code: 873960 – Historic District Commission
7 p.m. – Virtual Westport Library – The Haunted Theatres of Broadway

Westport Senior Center YouTube Channel
Westport Library Event Calendar
Westport Library YouTube Page
Earthplace YouTube Channel
Virtual Westport Museum for History & Culture
See more events: Celebrate Westport Calendar

CT COVID-19 Hospitalizations Increase

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Connecticut have risen to their highest level in nearly four months, state numbers showed today.

Connecticut currently has 155 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, up 21 from Friday and more than twice the number reported as recently as two weeks ago.

The state hadn’t previously recorded so many hospitalizations at a given time since June 19, when it was still recovering from a devastating spring surge.

Today’s increase in hospitalizations was not concentrated in any particular area of the state but was instead spread across several regions. Fairfield County leads Connecticut with 42 hospitalized patients, followed by Hartford (38), New Haven (36) and New London (25).

Granger at the Movies: ‘Ratched,’ ‘Emily in Paris,’ ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’

By Susan Granger
Special to WestportNow

Serving as an origin prequel for the tyrannical nurse in Ken Kesey’s novel/Milos Forman’s film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the new, eight-part Netflix series “Ratched,” set in 1947, introduces stern, sharp-tongued Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), who oozes calculating, condescending control over those she encounters.

Susan Granger at the Movies

When her story begins, former WWII nurse Mildred is applying for a job at Northern California’s luxurious Lucia State Hospital, where the notorious killer of four priests, Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock), is to be held before facing trial.

There she encounters snippy head nurse Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis) and secretive, drug-addicted, ethically-challenged Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones). After deviously securing a night-nurse position, Mildred Ratched quickly asserts her manipulative authority.

Meanwhile, Mildred also spars with a private detective (Corey Stoll) in the employ of eccentric heiress Lenore Osgood (Sharon Stone), whose deranged son lost his arms and legs after a terrifying LSD trip with his doctor.

There’s a patient (Sophie Okonedo) with multiple personalities, along with the boorish, vote-seeking Governor (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his press secretary Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon), who reveals that she’s a lesbian at a time when homosexuality was considered sinful mental illness.

Deliberately Hitchcockian, the lurid, pulpy melodrama is filmed in eye-popping, candy-colored Technicolor with stylish costumes and extravagant production design.

Series creator Evan Romansky and developer/director Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story”) envision a four-year run, the final season featuring conflict between Mildred and Randle McMurphy.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” won Best Picture in 1976 with Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher nabbing Best Actor and Best Actress as Randle McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, respectively.

“There’s so little known about Mildred from the film. So everything was open for interpretation … and because it’s Ryan, he went to some very extreme places,” says Sarah Paulson, who appreciates that that Mildred is “really, really defined and multidimensional—with a real shape and a real life.”

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Ratched” is a sinister, sadistic 7, riddled with explicit depictions of bizarre sexual behavior, punishing hydrotherapy and grisly lobotomies.

Since the definition of a “guilty pleasure” is a cheesy movie/TV program that one enjoys, despite feeling that it’s not generally held in high regard, the new Netflix series “Emily in Paris” fits that perfectly.

It’s a fabulous fantasy of fashion, glamour, and romance as seen through the eyes of 20-something Emily Cooper (Lily Collins), a junior “social media marketing” executive at Savoir who, when her boss unexpectedly gets pregnant, is transferred from Chicago to the boutique agency her company recently acquired in Paris.

Unlike her boss (Kate Walsh), who was fluent in French, unpretentious, unsophisticated Emily is immediately dubbed “la plouc” (“The hick”) by her new colleagues (Samuel Arnold, Bruno Gouery), particularly her chic, snobbish new boss, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), who resists Emily’s suggestions and resents her intrusion.

Resisting Emily’s dogged determination to “bring an American perspective,” Sylvie and her co-workers do not want to be Americanized. As a result, plucky, ever-smiling Emily suffers a myriad of stumbling, social embarrassments in the City of Light—until she becomes an Instagram influencer.

In social media, influencers are people who have a reputation for their knowledge/expertise on a particular topic. Brands love social media influencers because they can create trends and encourage their followers to buy products they promote.

So—beyond all the fun and frivolity—this breezy series gives insight into how social media works, particularly among entitled, ambitious millennials. Created by Darren Starr, it follows his half-hour, rom-com “Sex and the City” format—served with deliciously delectable croissants.

Predictably, likable Emily acquires a confidante (Ashley Park) as her love life grows more complicated, involving several boy-friends, including her neighbor/chef (Lucas Bravo) who’s involved with Emily’s other girl-friend, sweet-natured Camille (Camille Razat).

Not surprisingly, in France, this show has been severely panned for its stereotypical depiction of their culture … i.e. arrogant Parisians are nasty, rude and lazy, smoking constantly, and cheating on their spouses.

On the Granger Gauge, “Emily in Paris” is a superficial, simplistic, yet slyly seductive 6, a guilty pleasure.

While writer/director Charlie Kaufman’s films—“Synecdoche, New York,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” ‘Being John Malkovich,” and “Adaptation”—are, admittedly, an acquired taste, his latest venture into dual identities and dreamlike realities “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is his most eerie, abstract, and confusing.

Based on Canadian writer Ian Reid’s 2016 novel, it begins with a young poet/physicist, Lucy (Jessie Buckley), uttering that phrase while her boyfriend, Jack (Jesse Plemons), drives her to meet his parents. There’s an impending blizzard as Lucy evaluates the uncertainty of this current romantic relationship.

Jake’s creepy parents (Toni Collette, David Thewlis) live in a rural farmhouse. They’re as socially awkward as Jake. The disorienting family dinner is decidedly surreal—perhaps because the parents seem to drastically age right before our eyes.

Periodically, the scene shifts to an elderly high school janitor (Guy Boyd) who is contemplating suicide. As it turns out “Jake” is an idealized version of his younger self. It’s a vague point but its veracity is glimpsed as Lucy removes some of the janitor’s blue uniforms from the washer/dryer in the basement.

Meanwhile, throughout the narrative, there are allusions to Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma.” The janitor enjoys watching a high-school production of the popular musical, including the bizarre dream ballet sequence spilling into the deserted hallway.

Perhaps the symbolism of that dance is the key to understanding Charlie Kaufman’s elusive doppelganger concept because Jake has been pretending he’s someone else and the “Oklahoma” reference, plus Jud Fry’s warbling “Lonely Room” serves to eliminate that delusion.

Sprinkled into the dialogue are lengthy quotes from poet Eva H.D. and film critic Pauline Kael, along with a debate about the lyrics to the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Then the film concludes with Jake reciting the Nobel Prize acceptance speech delivered by schizophrenia-afflicted economist John Nash in Ron Howard’s Oscar-winning “A Beautiful Mind” (2001).

On the Granger Gauge, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a frustrating, fantastical 5. You’ll need a lot of patience to sit through it.


Susan Granger

(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

George H Batchelder, 89

George H. Batchelder of Santa Rosa, CA, died October 7 after a long battle with cancer. He was 89.

George H Batchelder, 89
George H Batchelder Contributed photo

George was born on June 16, 1931 and raised in Berkeley, California. He spent his early years boating and fishing on the San Francisco Bay with his family.

He received his BS in Chemistry from UC Berkeley. Several years later he met Laurie, his wife of 60 years. After serving in the Army in Korea, he joined Stauffer Chemical Company in Richmond, CA as a research chemist. George worked for Stauffer his entire career. He relocated the family to Westport, CT in 1967 for a new position and ended his successful career as the company’s Employee Compensation and Benefits Director.

In CT, George and Laurie settled into a life focused on raising their family. He was a dedicated and devoted husband and father and an active member of the United Methodist Church of Westport. George also enjoyed sailing and instilled his enthusiasm for being on the water with the entire family. He never lost his love of sailing, maintaining his own sailboat well past his 80th birthday.

After retirement, he and Laurie returned to California, settling in Santa Rosa in 1994. George dedicated much time and energy to many charitable endeavors serving as an active board member of the local NAMI-SC chapter for about 14 years, as the Secretary of the Santa Rosa East Rotary for the better part of 20 years, and as a devoted member of the First United Methodist Church of Santa Rosa.

He enjoyed travel throughout his life, driving the family across the US multiple times, organizing trips to many National Parks, and skiing with the family. His family will tell you that one of his mottos was, “leave the place better than you found it.” In retirement he and Laurie explored more of the US and Europe, including elder hostel bicycle tours. His love of the outdoors, patient temperament, and observant nature lead him to become an avid birder, a hobby he shared with his siblings. Early in life George mastered traditional silk-screening techniques which resulted in many years of lovingly handcrafted Christmas cards. He also spent a bit of time with paints, creating landscapes as well colorful paintings for his children’s bedrooms. George will be deeply missed.

He is survived by his wife Laurie, son Glenn (Candace), daughter Linda, son Keith (Danielle), son David, and grandson Aiden. He is also survived by his siblings Paul (Paddy), Jim (Wynn), Ann Graf (Phil), John (Janice).

In lieu of flowers the family kindly suggests gifts in George’s memory to the Santa Rosa East Rotary www.santarosaeastrotary.org or the First United Methodist Church of Santa Rosa Foundation (UMFSR) www.fumcsantarosa.org.