Thursday, July 07, 2022

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Frederick J. Raila, 73

Frederick J. Raila, a 50-year resident of Westport, died Sept. 19. He was 73.

The world is a little less bright without his presence . He was loved by all who know him personally and professionally.

Fred received a BS degree with a double major in Business Administration and Advertising from The University of Tampa.

After graduation, his business career brought him from his birth state of Massachusetts to Westport and spanned from executive sales positions in NYC to a successful decade plus in the investment field. In retirement, he enjoyed day-trading and was always ready to provide a tip or two.

When not working and if weather allowed, Fred could be found at Compo Beach Boat Basin chatting with friends, tending to his boat in Bristol fashion, reading the NYTimes in harbor or sailing with accomplishment along the local coastline.

Whether on sea, sand or land, be it Compo Beach or Rayfield Road, Fred would have one of his beloved dogs by his side. Being an avid hummingbird lover since his youth, a casual skier and decent golfer, plus sports car enthusiast, these interests rounded-out Fred’s outdoor interests.

Fred lived for his family. His devoted, lovely and loving daughter, Brooke, was the center of his world and they shared a deep bond … she was always there for her dad. His one and only, his perfect and perfectly precious daughter is how Fred would think and speak of Brooke with pride and admiration.

Brooke, along with the arrival of his first grandchild in 2012, prompted Fred to take up root and move cross-country to the Pacific Northwest.

His son-in-law, Mike, who became a trusting and caring friend, reminisced, “I will miss coming home from work, and watching Fred patiently play on the floor with our boys; more often than not, it was watching Lukas and Henri jump and climb all over Fred, until he would surrender and announce, ‘Brooke, over and out until tomorrow! I love you all!’ It was the same parting line every afternoon, and after each Sunday dinner.”

Fred valued all friendships. For certain, his closest and dear golden friend of 60 years, Paul Valkukevich, of Elliot, Maine summed it up best, “Fred was a faithful friend. Friendship was important, and he was always there when needed. A kind, generous man, friend to all who knew him … He was very proud of our Lithuanian heritage and supported several Lithuanian organizations.” Important to note, Paul was always there for Fred, too.

The talk of friendships would not be complete without the name, Karen, Fred’s former wife. They shared a steadfast friendship for 48 years. Through thick and thin, they were always near each other’s side. Karen, the person to be with Fred before his eyes closed one final time …

Survivors include his daughter Brooke Marie Raila (Michael) Finan of Dunthorpe, OR and two young grandsons Lukas Frederick Finan and Henri Michael Finan, and his former wife, Karen Mariel of Portland, OR. He also leaves behind his older brother Anthony (Gail Prescott) Raila of Plymouth, MA, his niece Cheryl Lynn Raila (Chris) Sullivan of Hanover, MA and his nephew Marc Anthony (Erica) Raila of Arlington, MA.

In his closing remarks, Paul fervently declared, “Godspeed Frederick Joseph Raila. ‘Tegul Dievas tava palaimina Frederikas Josephas Raila.’” Amen

Schools Update From Superintendent

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice today issued the following update to school familiies:

Dear Families of Westport Students,

We have included three important updates in this parent communication: an update on the school reopening model and process to determine full on-site schooling, an annual notification of approved vendors to house student data, and a reminder to families to complete the returning student forms.

Update on School Reopening Model and Process to Determine Full On-Site Schooling

I had the opportunity Monday night to share the potential next phase in our school reopening plan with the Board of Education.  Before the school year began, the district made a commitment to revisit our reopening model after four weeks of instruction. This timeline aligns with Phase 3 of the statewide reopening plan for Connecticut which begins on Thursday October 8. 

A number of school districts across the state and region that originally began in a hybrid model are now fully opened for on-site schooling, particularly at the elementary level. Additionally, regional districts have self-reported very low rates of COVID incidences at the elementary level since fully reopening. 

That said, it is critical that any changes in our schooling models are responsive to trends in virus transmission rates, and in our ability to maintain appropriate mitigating measures to prevent virus spread in our schools and community. 

Given that we have contained any spread from the four incidents of positive cases in three of our elementary schools beyond the initial case, we are making a reasonable assumption that our current mitigating measures are working as planned.  This is a testament to the work of our faculty and staff, our parents, our students, and our wider community by supporting a type of social contract that encourages mitigating strategies. 

Yet, it is not lost on me that at this early stage in the school year, with low levels of virus transmission rates, we have indeed experienced four incidents of positive cases in our elementary schools. 

Consultation with Westport/Weston Health District (WWHD) and with the state Department of Public Health (DPH) has pointed towards increases in virus transmission rates across the state and region.  The primary tracking measures provided by DPH indicate that the current rates remain in the low risk category, yet the rates are trending upwards.  For this reason, we have been advised by the WWHD and our medical advisor to remain cautious and conservative before making any changes to our schooling model. 

Additionally, at the elementary level in particular, we have received a fair amount of positive anecdotal feedback on our AM/PM half day model, which I believe distinguishes our district from most others in the state.  This early experience of success, though insufficient compared to a robust full day model, further supports a deliberate approach. 

The decision to remain in a hybrid, or to modify our current model, is an operational decision and as a result, rests within the purview of the superintendent. I was asked by the Board of Education to provide a decision on the next phase of reopening by October 12.  This decision will be communicated to the entire school community with a timeline of subsequent steps. 

A full reopening of the middle schools is not under consideration at this time due to the current status of Coleytown Middle School. Further, concerns about a full reopening of the high school remain due to the size of the student body. Like our regional peers, the consideration of reopening is primarily focused at the elementary level. This decision could initiate a two week preparation period to transition to a full reopening, or it could maintain the current status based on information gathered and assessed.

To be clear, no decision has yet been made, and in full transparency, we have developed a process that will warrant collaboration with partners inside and outside of the school district to serve in an advisory capacity. These partners will assist in making an informed decision for the next phase of reopening.

Within this framework, we will continue to assess the current virus transmission rates and trends, which can be followed on our COVID dashboard (https://sites.google.com/westportps.org/wps2020-2021reopeningourschool/home?authuser=0), and the efficacy of our mitigating measures.  These are two primary areas that will drive the decision. 

This week the School Reopening Committee will reconvene to serve in an advisory capacity. An assessment tool has been administered to all employees to determine the effectiveness of our mitigating measures in our current model, and to forecast how effective those measures could be in a full reopening.  This work is being performed in conjunction with the support of Dr. Frederick Altice, Professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases) and of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases) at Yale University.

Finally, the district has invited members of the Tri State Consortium (TSC), an alliance of high performing public school districts committed to systems thinking and collaborative inquiry, to benchmark our current instructional performance this year.  Through focus groups with teachers, parents, and students during the week of October 12, our TSC colleagues will probe areas of teaching and learning in our current models so that we can benchmark our performance and make efforts to improve the experience for all students.  This work will culminate on October 19 with feedback and eventually a formal report to serve as a tool for improvement.  This study will not impact the decision regarding the next phase of reopening, only our ongoing work of educating students during a pandemic.

A decision that will determine the next phase of reopening will be made public on October 12.  A timeline and plan for next steps will be shared with the school community at that point.  This decision will reflect the best information we have at this time, and will project the best approach for the foreseeable future.  Although not everyone in the school community will be pleased with the outcome, I want to make assurances that the decision will be well thought out and will consider the many needs of our students and the larger community.

Sincerely,

Thomas Scarice
Superintendent

Annual Notification of Approved Vendors to House Student Data

In accordance with Connecticut’s state data privacy law, we are providing annual notification to families of the list of vendors who are approved to house student data for the Westport Public Schools. The list, Approved Technology Resources, is linked off of our Student Data Privacy webpage. The list will be updated throughout the year.

Reminder to Families to Complete the Returning Student Forms

If you have not already done so, we are requesting that each family complete a Returning Student form for each child in the family; on average it will take 10 minutes or less per child. One of the main purposes of the form is to allow families to electronically sign several documents instead of us sending paper versions back and forth. Please click here for a copy of the original email that includes directions on how to start the forms.

Thank you,

Natalie Carrignan, Director of Technology
Suzanne Levasseur, Supervisor of Health Services

Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020


Westport Town Offices & Senior Center are closed.
11 a.m. – 646-876-9923 ID:  858 3044 3977 – Municipal Pension Board
11:30 a.m. – 646-876-9923 ID:  827 4627 7546 – Non-Union Supervisor Pension Board
3 p.m. – Electronically – Reopening of Schools Steering Committee live streamed on http://www.westportps.org, Optimum ch. 78, Frontier ch. 6021
5 p.m. – 8 p.m. – MoCA Westport – Opening Reception, “World Peace” exhibit
7 p.m. – 646-876-9923 ID:  891 0393 7115 Code: 113876 – Coleytown Middle School Building Committee
7 p.m. – 646-876-9923 ID:  824 7317 7589 Code: 118207 – Historic District Commission
7 p.m. – Virtual Westport Library – Free Speech & the 2020 Election Cycle
7:30 p.m. – 646-876-9923 ID:  894 4023 3672 – Flood & Erosion Control Board
7:30 p.m. – Electronically – Board of Finance: live streamed on http://www.westportct.gov, Optimum ch. 79, Frontier ch. 6020

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

Rehearsing ‘Short Cuts’

WestportNow.com Image
Rehearsal for Thursday’s 10th annual international short-film festival, ‘Short Cuts” took place today at the Westport Library. The virtual festival, produced by Nancy Diamond (piictured) for JIB Productions, will live-stream five award-winning short films curated from NY’s prestigious Tribeca Film Festival. Simultaneously, the films will be shown on the big screen at Westport’s Remarkable Theater Drive-In. “Short Cuts”begins promptly at 7 p.m. Information and tickets here. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

Westport COVID-19 Cases, Deaths Unchanged

The state said today its Westport COVID-19 case count was unchanged at 385 (369 confirmed and 16 probable) and deaths also unchanged at 23.

Connecticut’s positivity rate today clocked in at 1.48%, solidly above the gold standard of 1% but down slightly from the previous week’s high of 1.85% and still well below the threshold at which Gov. Ned Lamont has said he would consider postponing the upcoming phase of reopening.

The state’s positivity rate, which had remained mostly below 1% for weeks, jumped higher on Sept. 9 and has dipped back below that line only once since then.

The state reported 121 new coronavirus cases, for a total of 59,241 since the pandemic began. Connecticut reported four new coronavirus-related deaths today.

Steinberg, Stephens Square Off at Debate

Incumbent state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat, and Chip Stephens, his Republican challenger, for the 136th District squared off on tolls, the need for a state funds lock box and local autonomy versus state mandates at today’s candidates’ forum via Zoom.

Other topics included the state’s handling of COVID-19, support for local businesses, the need for a state funds lock box and Connecticut’s unfunded liabilities.

The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce (WWCC) and Westport Library sponsored the debate, which also featured Stephanie Thomas, a Democrat, and Republican Patrizia Zucaro who are running for the 143rd District seat vacated by Republican Gail Lavielle who did not seek reelection.

Questions were gathered by the WWCC’s board of directors, with additional ones solicited from the public via a Zoom chat feature.

The candidates’ responses seemed to fall on partisan lines with Zucaro and Stephens siding with each other on several occasions.

Zucaro said the state’s unfunded liabilities, the result of too generous contracts “prevents us from taking the money and putting it back into things we want.”

Stephens said such liabilities “are bleeding the state.”

Steinberg countered that current state contracts are not the culprit.

“Most of the problems are with contracts that were signed long ago, and we’re left with a legacy liability that’s dragging us down,” he said.

Asked how they thought the state has handles the COVID-19 epidemic, both Steinberg and Stephens gave kudos to Gov. Ned Lamont.

“The governor did an excellent job,” Steinberg said, adding that he would like to see the use of Telehealth made permanent to “change the way we deliver care.”

Stephens said that while “I have to give kudos to the governor,” he felt there was “too much fear mongering” which negatively impacted businesses and schools.

Zucaro said that while Lamont “generally speaking, handled it well,” there remains a need for more transparency.

Regarding COVID-19’s effect on Connecticut businesses, Thomas said consumer confidence was key to jump starting the economy.

“Until we have consumer confidence, that is not coming back,” she said.

Thomas suggested a sales-tax-free week would be a good start.

Stephens, a long-term Planning and Zoning Commissioner (P&Z) and its former chairman, railed against the state’s “intrusion on local autonomy with talk about eliminating single-family zoning” and negating a town’s desire to preserve its character.

“Westport has done its job,” Stephens stressed in terms of affordable and diverse housing in response to the state’s affordable housing act 8-30g.

The statute allows developers to override local zoning laws if a town does not have 10% of its housing stock, which Westport, at 4%, does not.

Steinberg agreed, “Leave it to local zoning.”

“We want more diverse housing, but we need to do it ourselves,” he said.

A second WWCC and Westport Library virtual debate is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 13, at noon featuring incumbent state Sen Tony Hwang, a Republican, and Michelle McCabe, a Democrat, competing for the 28th District.

Also scheduled for that forum are incumbent state Sen. Will Haskell, a Democrat, and Kim Healy, a Republican, competing for the 26th district.

Go to Chamber webpage to view today’s debate.

— James Lomuscio

Candidates in Debate

WestportNow.com Image
State representative candidates took part today in a Westport Chamber of Commerce/Westport Library virtual forum that covered a wide range of issues. They included Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat, and Chip Stephens, a Republican, running for the 136th District, and Stephanie Thomas, a Democrat, and Patricia Zucaro, a Republican, who are running for Republican Gail Lavielle’s 143rd District seat. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

Victor R. Grann, 87

Victor Robert Grann, a former Westport resident, died Oct. 4. He was 87.

He was a husband and father and a devoted doctor. He was born in New London in 1933, and resided in New York City.

He graduated from Yale University and, before attending the New York Medical College, served in the U.S. Army. He had a long and successful career as an oncologist at Stamford Hospital and Director of the Bennet Cancer Center in Stamford,

Upon retiring from clinical medicine he went on to complete a Master’s degree in public health at Columbia University. He subsequently joined the faculty of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, where he spent the remainder of his career studying health outcomes in cancer care, including preventive strategies for women with breast cancer-related mutations and effectiveness of cancer chemotherapies.

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Phyllis; his daughter Alison (David Gutstein); his sons David (Kyra Darnton) and Edward; and five grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation at: alzdiscovery.org

Despite Low Virus Numbers, In-Person School Could Cause Challenges

By Jarret Liotta

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice intends to wait another week before making his recommendation on whether to reopen the elementary schools full time, but he made it clear that staffing in particular could present a formidable resultant challenge.

The Board of Education (BOE) heard updates from Scarice and Suzanne Levasseur, supervisor of health services, Monday night amidst divided opinions from parents.

“It’s a tough spot to be in,” Chair Candice Savin told Scarice, who is gathering feedback from all 1,000 school employees over the next several days, as well as health officials, before making a decision he said would probably come next Monday.

“By the end of the week we’ll certainly be a lot clearer,” he said, noting there were 115 elementary classes that would require safe, appropriate set up—19 of which have 21 or more students.

“I don’t envy having to make that call because I could talk myself into it either way,” said Savin, specifically reminding the public that it was Scarice’s call and not that of the BOE.

“Of course we’re all working together but I just wanted the public to be clear on the process,” she said.

At this time Scarice said he is not looking at a full reopening at the secondary level, owing to the numbers at the combined Bedford Middle School, as well as space considerations at Staples High School.

The hope is that Coleytown Middle School will open some time in December.

“I do think the challenge of 2,000 kids at the high school is certainly imposing,” Scarice said.

“If we do change the model,” from hybrid to full time, “we have to consider that there could be multiple changes that we weren’t anticipating,” he said, including major issues centering on adequate staff and substitutes.

“This is an area that is a big concern with a full reopening,” he said, noting the district is still having trouble hiring new substitutes.

“It could put us in a compromising position to remain fully open,” Scarice said.

John Bayers, director of personnel and general administration, echoed that while they have been able to cope with the smaller situations—in particular four identified cases of COVID-19 in the schools since September and consequent related quarantines—on a larger scale coverage could become insurmountable.

“It is a very significant concern about the ability to staff buildings should we run into an issue where there are multiple quarantines going on, or there could be other issues,” Bayers said, and would necessitate closing entire buildings.

He said the issue didn’t solely involve certified staff, but also support staff, which he said “are really also what make these buildings work.”

Scarice said staff has been exemplary in its ability to be flexible in coping with changes, but noted, “As we stretch, that elasticity has a chance of breaking.”

Bayers reported that, since noon today, 346 replies have already been received from staff members to what Scarice emphasized was not a survey, but an informal questionnaire regarding progress with mitigating measures, safety, and school operations.

BOE member Liz Heyer suggested that staff responses may not be reliable, as individuals could be bringing their own agendas to the questions.

“There could be inherent bias,” she said, later adding she didn’t mean to imply that they would out-and-out lie.

“I think our staff will be professional and give us very honest answers,” Scarice said, noting he felt it was important to include them.

“I think it’s critical that all the folks in the system … certainly feels that they had a voice in shaping that narrative,” he said.

Other BOE members indicated favoring a full opening, citing several area districts that have full-time in-person elementary and have not reported any virus cases.

“I do want to think about the high school as well,” said Vice Chair Jeannie Smith, noting the square footage of Staples “is tremendous.”

“I just want to be thinking about the kids and what we want them to get to have,” she said, also suggesting the middle schools reopen full time in December, after CMS has moved back.

“This is not a done deal,” Scarice said of the decision either way, explaining that along with staff input, they’ll be looking at the virus numbers in the town, county, and state.

Levasseur provided the BOE with an update on virus protocol and the latest numbers.

“They all continue to be in the low category, (but) they certainly are trending higher,” she said.

“The good news is that our mitigating measures continue to seem to work,” she said, “We are not seeing transmission in schools.”

“We do have students and staff that are in quarantine (but) these are from mostly outside exposures,” Levasseur said.

Several members of the public commented on the issue, both for and against a full-time in-person reopening for elementary.

“I would strenuously urge you not to go to a full-day schedule,” said parent Melissa Alexander, noting there are still risk factors among younger children.

“Children can and do get Covid,” she said, “and on occasion this can be severe and even life-threatening.”

Parent Steven Seltzer, meanwhile, cited “irrational fear.”

“Since other towns are open, what is concerning about Westport? … Why would there be a need for three weeks more of data?” he said.

In relation to the competing opinions—as well as imminent input from staff—Scarice said it would all add to the decision he would ultimately make alone.

“This is not a referendum … It’s a judgment call,” he said.

“This is a decision that’s going to be made on health and safety factors and what we believe is best for kids,” he said.

Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020


Westport Town Offices & Senior Center are closed.
9:15 a.m. – Virtual Westport Library – Job Search Work Team
10 a.m. – Westport Library via Zoom – Book Chat with Nina Sankovitch
Noon – via Zoom – Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce Debate: State Representatives (register here)
4:30 p.m. – Virtual Westport Library – Create a Writing Portfolio for Your College Resume
5 p.m. – Electronically – Zoning Board of Appeals: live streamed on http://www.westportct.gov, Optimum ch. 79, Frontier ch. 6020
7 p.m. – 646-876-9923 ID:  878 7212 4927 – Historic District Commission & Architectural Review Board
7:30 p.m. – Electronically – Representative Town Meeting: live streamed on http://www.westportct.gov, Optimum ch. 79, Frontier ch. 6020
7:45 p.m. – Imperial Parking Lot – Remarkable Drive-In Theater: “Goldfinger”

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