Year in Review / Education became a national issue in Westport in 2017
WESTPORT — Right from the beginning, it was a year of national headlines for Westport Schools.
TEAM Westport’s annual essay contest, this year asking Staples High School students to reflect on white privilege, drew angry responses from anonymous callers and writers around the country and was covered by the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, at home, Coleytown’s mold remediation project dragged on overbudget and past due, Staples was ranked a top high school in the state, an elementary administrator left his post unexpectedly and a middle school social studies teacher was honored at the state level.
Here is a look at some of the top stories from the education beat in Westport this year:
When mold was discovered in a Coleytown Middle School classroom in August 2016, it was first expected to cost $250,000 to remediate. The job was supposed to wrap up by January 2017. More than a year later, rooms continue to be found with unacceptably high levels of mold. As of this fall, 27 classrooms and a second-floor hallway had been remediated at a cost of $628,560, necessitating a transfer of $327,000 into the school’s carryover account in August of this year. There was $213,000 in the account at that time.
In November, four additional rooms were found. The cost of remediation, according to Director of School Operations Elio Longo, is not yet available for the remaining classrooms. It remains unclear whether any further remediation will need to be done in the school.
In June, Staples High School was ranked fifth best school in the state by U.S. News and World Report, beating out other local schools like Darien High School, New Canaan High School and Greenwich High School.
The report noted Staples’ high graduation rate, low teacher-to-student ratio, and a high number of Advanced Placement test takers.
Parents were nearly forced to find alternative rides to school for their children in April as contract negotiations between Westport Public School bus drivers and their employer, Dattco, appeared stalled. Though the drivers’ contract expired April 26, buses continued operating the following day amid negotiations.
An agreement was ultimately reached in May.
Long Lots Principal Jeffrey Golubchick was placed on administrative leave in February so the school could review letters allegedly sent by Golubchick’s lawyer to some teachers and subordinate administrators making legal claims against them. The school did not elaborate on the content of the letters, nor did Golubchick comment at the time.
In April, Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer announced in an email to parents that Golubchick, who was still on leave, would resign at the end of the school year.
Westport drew national attention this past winter when an essay topic for the annual essay contest put on by TEAM (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism) Westport. The essay asked Staples High School students to reflect on white privilege and its impact on them personally and more broadly on society. A record number of students participated, but the topic drew a troubling amount of racist and hate-filled calls and emails after the Associated Press ran a story on the essay on Jan. 31.
Staples High School discontinued two child development classes and the Play School, and an eight-student preschool after it was discovered that the instructor of the classes and director of the school, Linda McClary, did not possess the necessary certifications from the state. It was announced to parents in February that no Staples teacher possessed the family and consumer science certification needed, and that the classes and preschool would be terminated at the end of the school year.
In April, the Board of Education approved a Psychology of Child Development course as a way of continuing the child development course. In August, Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer announced that “Little Wreckers,” a preschool that would allow high school students to experience early childhood education, would be launched in January.
Courtney Ruggiero, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Bedford Middle School, was honored this year as Westport’s top teacher and was named a finalist for the state’s Teacher of the Year.
In October, Greens Farms Academy announced a replacement for longtime Head of School Janet Hartwell. Longtime educator and former professional musician Bob Whelan was named Hartwell’s successor effective July 1. Whelan will come to Westport via Lake Forest Country Day School in the Chicago suburbs, where he was head of school.