Category Archives: Education

Mark Karagus Settles In At Staples

Mark Karagus likes working at places that were important in his past.

He speaks fondly of 2 career highlights: serving as interim principal at Harding, his high school alma mater, and spending 2 years as baseball coach at Sacred Heart University, where as a student he once captained the team.

But now Dr. Karagus faces a new challenge. After decades at Harding, Sacred Heart — and, more recently, Norwalk and Trinity Catholic High Schools –he’s the interim principal at Staples.

It’s a different setting. Yet it’s not unfamiliar.

Dr. Mark Karagus

Dr. Mark Karagus

In 40 years as a basketball official, Karagus worked plenty of games in the Wrecker gym. He’s been here for other functions too.

“I always admired the respect of students, parents and coaches, and the integrity they brought to the game,” the new interim principal says. “It’s the type of attitude that transcends the school.”

The Bridgeport native adds, “I’m very well versed in Fairfield County schools. Staples has an outstanding reputation throughout the state, and nationally. I’m extremely honored to be selected as part of the learning community here in the 2015-16 school year.”

He decided to be an educator in college, he says, because “you always seek the best career and fit. As a people person, my strongest ties are in schools. Education is a career where a person can make a difference. I enjoy the camaraderie and professionalism of a school environment.”

Karagus likes talking about his stint as Harding’s interim principal. “I was able to instill some of the old traditions, which they really enjoyed,” he recalls. “School colors, songs — the most effective way to succeed is that way.”

He believes he is a good match for Staples. “I’m big on tradition, professionalism and personal integrity,” the administrator says.

In his first 8 days on the job, he’s been impressed by several things: “the widespread academic accomplishments. People love being here. They’re totally committed to Staples. Everyone has been very welcoming.”

Staples High School -- the next stop for Mark Karagus, after Harding, Norwalk and Trinity Catholic.

Staples High School — the next stop for Mark Karagus, after Harding, Norwalk and Trinity Catholic.

As an interim principal, he sees his main role as “continuing the educational, athletic and social environments without missing a beat.” He inherited 2 big initiatives — the 10-year NEASC evaluation, and the introduction of “Bring Your Own Device” technology — and is anxious to see them implemented effectively.

His leadership style, he says, is “instilling confidence in the existing staff. They’ve been here for years. I’ll be a great listener and supporter of projects, because people have placed a lot of work in them. I will help them proceed effectively.”

Though Karagus has retired from active basketball officiating, he still follows high school hoops intently. He also enjoys “dabbling in ’50s and ’60s memorabilia, like music and sports.”

“I’m thrilled at this point in my career to be part of this,” he says in his new office. “I want to have a good year here, and see where we go.”

Nate Greenberg Nails It

Last month, “06880” reported on Nate Greenberg. The 2010 Staples grad — and Ewing’s sacrcoma survivor — had just been selected to give the student address at Union College’s graduation.

A few days ago, he gave that speech. And whether you’re a Union alum or have no connection whatsoever with the school, it’s worth hearing.

Nate spoke strongly and insightfully about his battle. Cancer “can take you down, or build you up,” he said.

For him, that was the beginning of a new life. His disease “brought out the best in me,” Nate said.

A month before his graduation speech, Nate Greenberg was interviewed on Albany's News 10.

A month before his graduation speech, Nate Greenberg was interviewed on Albany’s News 10.

Of course, he had support. He cited lacrosse teammates who shaved their heads in solidarity, Union students he did not know who tied yellow ribbons or wore his #3, and alumni he never knew who reached out to him.

“This is what life is all about,” Nate said.

He cited the importance of virtues like kindness and compassion, noting that life is not just about accomplishments. It’s also about “moments.”

Nate concluded: “Be present. Love. Take time to feel. Appreciate this magical thing called life.”

Click below, to hear Nate’s full speech. Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.

John Dodig: ReSpect

There is only one Derek Jeter.

And there is only one John Dodig.

Inspired by the fantastic Jeter “Re2pect” video honoring the Yankee great on his retirement — with everyone from little kids, cops and Rudy Giuliani to Jay-Z, Spike Lee and even Red Sox fans tipping their cap to the superstar — Staples seniors Zoe Brown and Taylor Harrington set out to give their retiring principal his due.

The result is a remarkable tribute to the high school’s one-of-a-kind leader.

If you know Dodig, and understand all he has meant during his 11 years as principal, you’ll look at this video, smile — and shed a tear.

If you don’t know Dodig, watch anyway. You’ll see the impact he’s had on everyone — administrators, teachers, athletes, actors, musicians, artists, kids who might have fallen through the cracks, secretaries, cafeteria workers, custodians, security guards — and you’ll wish you’d known him.

Zoe and Taylor clearly got the most out of their 4 years in Dodig’s Staples. And turning Jeter’s “Re2pect” into Dodig’s “ReSpect” is pure genius.

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

Congratulations, Class Of 2015!

Staples celebrated its 128th graduation in fine fashion this afternoon. The weather was (thankfully) cool; the speeches were brief but meaningful — and most importantly, the day was about the 460 graduates. This great class got the sendoff they deserve!

The

The “Congratulations Class of 2015″ sign refers to principal John Dodig too. After 47 years in education, he retires this month. He called himself a proud member of ’15.

Plenty of reading material for early arrivals: the graduation program, and the year-end issue of Inklings.

Plenty of reading material for early arrivals: the graduation program, and the year-end issue of Inklings.

Hip surgery just a few days ago did not keep Jake Atlas away.

Hip surgery just a few days ago did not keep Jake Atlas away.

Friends to the end: Sarah Sawyer, Zoe Brown, Sarah Herbsman and Sophia Hampton.

Friends to the end: Sarah Sawyer, Zoe Brown, Sarah Herbsman and Sophia Hampton.

Less than 24 hours after soloing with the choir at baccalaureate, Jack Bowman gets ready to graduate.

A day after soloing with the choir at baccalaureate, Jack Bowman graduates.

Jim Farnen is the very proud assistant principal for the Class of 2015.

Jim Farnen is the very proud assistant principal for the Class of 2015.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet the staff and students during the processional.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet staff and students during the processional.

Valedictorian Everett Sussman earned praise for his insightful -- and quick -- speech.

Valedictorian Everett Sussman earned praise for his insightful — and quick — speech.

Next stop for Jacqueline Chappo: Boston University.

Her cap indicates the next stop for Jacqueline Chappo: Boston University.

Good friends Scott Pecoriello and Patrick Beusse are eager to receive their diplomas.

Good friends Scott Pecoriello and Patrick Beusse are ready to receive their diplomas.

The traditional cap-tossing, in slow motion.

The traditional cap-tossing, in slow motion.

Seniors painted a sign in the courtyard, showing the many places they'll go next.

Seniors signed a poster in the courtyard, showing the many places they’ll go next.

Nicole DeBlasi -- the 2015 yearbook editor -- is a proud graduate...

Nicole DeBlasi — the 2015 yearbook editor — is a proud graduate…

...and so is wrestler Alexander Baumann.

…and so is wrestler Alexander Baumann.

2015 grad

Eniola “Timmy” Kolade celebrates with family members.

Congratulations, Kristen and Pam Onorato -- and everyone else in the Class of 2015.

Congratulations, Kristen and Pam Onorato — and everyone else in the Class of 2015!

Meanwhile, here’s a video shown at last night’s baccalaureate ceremony. Directed by Ken Asada, it features many members of Staples’ Class of ’15 — with a couple of cameos by retiring (but not in the active-participant sense of the word) principal John Dodig:

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.)

Schooled!

Anne Fernandez did not set out to be a teacher. Her first career was investment banking.

But as she looked at family members who are educators — and saw that they seemed happier and more productive than she — Fernandez switched gears.

Anne Fernandez

Anne Fernandez

Inspired by an urge to do something “socially valuable,” she became an English teacher. In her 14 years at Staples High School, she’s earned a reputation as tough but very talented. Her courses include Advanced Placement Literature, Sophomore 2A, Caribbean Literature, and Research and Non-Fiction.

Her Research students in particular have a great role model. In 2010 Fernandez and her sister Catherine Lutz — an anthropologist at Brown University — wrote  Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and its Effect on Our Lives. The  thoroughly documented look at America’s obsession with cars was well-received — and came from the sisters’ personal experiences.

So does their new book, Schooled: Ordinary, Extraoardinary Teaching in an Age of Change.

The genesis was SB 24, a controversial education bill. Hearing Governor Malloy’s comment about teacher tenure that “in today’s system basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years” — and reading online comments from “people who have never worked in a classroom” — Fernandez vowed to do something.

“In my previous career, I had the naive idea that teachers had it easy,” she says. “When I heard what the governor said, I took personal offense. As a teacher, I was working at least as hard, if not harder, than I ever had before.”

She decided to explore “what teaching is really like.”

It was the start of a long project. Fernandez and Lutz used social media to find a variety of teachers in a broad range of settings who wanted to talk about their profession.

Schooled coverDuring summers and vacations, the sisters traveled across the country. They conducted in-depth interviews, asking questions like “Why do you teach? What is your life like? What are the most pressing educational issues today?”

A magnet elementary school teacher in St. Paul — originally from Finland, often held up as a model country — spoke about American reforms like standardized tests in kindergarten and cuts to recess time that seem antithetical to education.

A woman on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota described what it’s like working with students always on the verge of dropping out.

A science teacher in rural South Carolina who teaches about evolution told how she is able to meet students where they are, while still holding on to scientific values.

A young, talented and energetic woman in Arizona had always wanted to be an educator. But what she found — scripted lessons, merit pay based on her students’ performance on standardized tests — drove her out of the profession after 4 years.

Schooled includes interviews with teachers who are old, young and career-changers. They’re in public schools, magnet schools and charter schools. One is a home-schooling mother in Ohio.

The sisters “did not cherry-pick Teachers of the Year, or incredible innovators,” Fernandez says. Instead, they sought out “typical teachers.”

They found men and women who are inspired, and others who are dejected.

They also found a “pincer movement,” with teachers caught between social forces on the left and right that make their jobs much harder.

Education has changed quite a bit in the last few years.

Education has changed quite a bit in the last few years.

Rising childhood poverty, income inequality, the explosion of technology, increasing linguistic diversity, budget cuts, larger class sizes — all that, plus a wave of “education reforms” — make it difficult for teachers to do a good job, the authors’ interviewees say.

Yet, Fernandez says, “we met so many people who are so profoundly dedicated to children, and education.”

The book’s subtitle is apt. “We found ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” Fernandez notes. “There are so many smart, dedicated teachers with lots of great insights into education today.”

In her own classroom, Fernandez says, the project has helped her “focus on what matters. The teachers who keep going don’t get distracted by educational fads or political squabbles. They stay wedded to their educational philosophies.”

For so many teachers, she adds, education is about “so much more than their academic subjects. They see their job in long-term terms: helping build adults.”

Writing Schooled reminds Fernandez that teaching is “not about the next day’s lesson. It’s about contributing — with all the other adults in the village — to produce another adult who will move us forward.”

(Schooled will be published on July 15, by Teachers College Press. To order a copy, click here.)

Staples Students Take Over Town Hall

For a town that celebrates arts in every way, our Town Hall has been a bit art-free.

Until now.

For the past few weeks, Sue O’Hara’s English 3A students have worked on a multi-disciplinary project. All year long, the Staples High School juniors studied the intersection of literature, art and life. Now they’ve put their knowledge, insights and research skills to the test.

Noah Staffa, Daniel Perez Elorza, Graham Gudis, senior intern Allie Benjamin and Staples English teacher Sue O'Hara describe the research and writing process. The

Noah Staffa, Daniel Perez Elorza, Graham Gudis, senior intern Ale Benjamin and English teacher Sue O’Hara describe the research and writing process. The “Westport scenes” shown behind them are located just inside the entrance to Town Hall.

They scoured the town’s vast art database for intriguing paintings, drawings and photographs. They plucked their favorite pieces from wherever they were — storage, private offices, whatever — and installed them in Town Hall corridors.

But that’s not all. They dug deep, to learn about each artist and piece of art. They delved into history, culture and social development. They figured out which works would be appropriate where. And they designed multimedia effects — narrations, poems, songs, sound effects — to go along with each, via QR codes.

Liam Abourezk, BK Browne and Jack Sila, with superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon, using QR codes on their smartphones to access more information on the illustrations outside the educator's office.

Liam Abourezk, BK Browne and Jack Sila, with superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon, using QR codes on their smartphones to access more information on the artwork outside the educator’s office.

For example, the Town School Offices on the 3rd floor are now graced by 2 Stevan Dohanos Saturday Evening Post covers — both drawn in Westport, one of the 1946 Staples High School band — as well as a number of photos showing children playing.

Two 1946 illustrations by Stevan Dohanos -- both using Westport models -- hang on the 3rd floor of Town Hall.

Two 1946 illustrations by Stevan Dohanos — both using Westport models — hang on the 3rd floor of Town Hall. “Star Pitcher” shows a gang of boys waiting for their friend to finish mowing, so they can play baseball. “Big Game of the Season” shows the Staples band in action. Both were Saturday Evening Post covers.

Around the corner on the 3rd floor, outside the town’s Finance Department, the art is different. “Westport is about politics, culture and money,” say students in the group overseeing this section — and the art there shows it.

Of course, Town Hall was not totally artless before yesterday. Several large murals already hung above the auditorium, and outside the first selectman’s office and Westport Community Theater.

O’Hara’s students researched each mural, and wrote in depth about what those murals mean to Westport.

Thanks to the Stapleites, Town Hall looks a lot jazzier today than it did before.

And that’s fitting. The nerve center of town — housing not only our chief politicians and educators but also planning directors, engineers, election clerks and the tree warden, among others — was not always municipal offices.

For decades it was Bedford Elementary — a school.

[UPDATE: As Thomas Greene notes in the “Comments” below, he was the boy mowing the lawn in the Stevan Dohanos illustration. All the boys used as models were 6th graders at Bedford Elementary School. So that piece of art now hangs in the building where it began.]

Tom Owen: “It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time”

As a Staples High School student in the early 1970s, Tom Owen had great teachers. But, he admits, “I wasn’t as invested in them as they were in me.”

A self-described “jock” who claims football, skiing and baseball got him through school, it’s not surprising that Owen ended up coaching at his alma mater.

It’s harder to believe he also spent the past 36 years as a teacher there.

Owen retires this month after a storied career. He coached Wrecker golfers to 3 state championships — he was an all-around jock — and “15 or 20″ boys and girls state skiing titles (he lost track during his 23- and 5-year Staples stints, with 8 years at his son and daughter’s Joel Barlow High School in between).

But his impact is even greater on countless special education students. He guided group after group from 9th grade to graduation — and remained their mentor far beyond.

Tom Owen, Staples High School Class of 1974.

Tom Owen, Staples High School Class of 1974.

It was an unlikely career for a kid who spent his freshman year at Norwich University — a private military school in Vermont.

“That didn’t go so well,” Owen laughs. “I thought I could ski every weekend, and carry on my high school shenanigans. Instead, I ended up walking thousands of tour duties.”

Transferring to Ohio University was a better choice. He joined the rugby team — a jock is a jock — and after sophomore year, told a counselor he wanted to be a phys. ed. teacher.

She suggested he look into a new field: special education. It appealed to him — particularly because he could coach after school.

Owen started as a Staples paraprofessional in 1979. That same year, Long Lots Junior High football coach Bob Yovan retired. His former school — the same place he’d met his future wife, Deb — handed the 24-year-old his 1st head coaching job.

He quickly realized how lucky he was. His 2 jobs — teaching and coaching — brought him in contact with tens of thousands of “amazing” people. “I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do this,” Owen says. “I had the greatest interactions with kids, parents and colleagues. I got to be a teacher for students, a counselor for families, an educator and a mentor.”

Tom Owen liked taking students out of the classroom. He believes learning can take place in many ways, and many places.

Tom Owen liked taking students out of the classroom. He believes learning can take place in many ways, and many places.

In the 1990s, he and longtime fellow teacher/friend/sidekick Diann Drenosky — who also retires this month — worked in a separate building near Staples’ 9 Building. “The Little House” provided an innovative way to teach both academic and living skills. The kids were tough, but Owen, Drenosky, paraprofessional Ann Rully and Westport Police youth officer Arnie de Carolis created a warm, family atmosphere there.

“It was a great program,” Owen says. “We were devastated when it ended.”

Generations of students are grateful that he and Drenosky remained a team. “We laughed a lot — at each other, and ourselves,” Owen recalls. “We cried some too. She’s a special person, and she touched so many people over the years.”

Coaching allowed Owen to reach other students, in different ways. “Looking back, I can’t believe the amount of time and emotional investment I put into it,” he says. Football and golf are demanding enough; he just shakes his head at the memory of “standing on the Southington ski slope at 9 p.m., when it’s minus-30 degrees.”

Much has changed over the past 36 years, of course. As a coach, he’s seen far greater parental involvement — for better and worse.

Tom Owen met Debbie Goustin -- his future wife -- at Long Lots Junior High School.

Tom Owen met Debbie Goustin — his future wife — at Long Lots Junior High School.

“Parents help a lot with organizing now,” he says, declining to discuss the negative aspects. “My parents basically just showed up at a few games.”

He has the special perspective of having attended the same school where he spent his entire teaching career.

“Things were so casual back then,” he says of his student days. “The stress level was way lower — maybe to a fault. The stress kids have today is over the top.

“We were much more independent. Our parents were way less involved. We solved things more on our own.”

He is not putting today’s teenagers down, he notes. “That’s just the way it is. I would have done better in school if I was under all the rules and regulations we have today. I definitely took advantage of the lack of discipline.”

But, he adds, “I wouldn’t do anything any differently.”

Owen’s free-spirited attitude continued into adulthood. At his retirement dinner, colleague Tony Coccoli said, “Every Tom Owen story ends with, ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time.'”

Coach Tom Owen, on the golf course.

Coach Tom Owen, on the golf course.

Retirement will give the self-described “jock” more time for sports. He and Deb’s children, Patrick and Lex, spend winters at Jackson Hole. Owen may become a ski instructor, and/or work in a golf pro shop.

“I’m 59 years old,” he says. “I’ve ‘gone to school’ for 54 of those years. This fall will be a big adjustment.

“I look forward to it. But I feel really, really fortunate to be part of Westport for so long.

“While you’re in the middle of it, things just happen. But now as I get away from it, I realize how in many ways, this town and school defined who I am.”

 

FBI Head Highlights GFA Graduation

It had to be the biggest graduation address ever in Westport — and not just because the speaker is 6-8.

FBI director James Comey keynoted Greens Farms Academy’s 90th commencement yesterday — and not just because he lives around the corner.

Comey — whose previous jobs include deputy attorney general, US attorney and general counsel at Bridgewater Associates — is the father of graduating senior (and student council chair) Claire Comey. Two of his 5 other children also attended GFA.

After noting that a drone flying overhead was not the FBI’s, Comey discussed 4 keys to success: high emotional intelligence; effective communication; the courage to ask questions, and care for one’s reputation.

Want to hear more of what an FBI director says to 78 teenagers? Click below.

 

Nice Try, Mikell!

For America’s rugby fans, the Collegiate Championship tournament is as big as basketball’s March Madness, or football’s BCS series.

Today, all of those fans are talking about Mikell Washington.

The 2012 Staples grad scored the winning try — in extra time – to give Penn State a big win in pool play, against St. Joseph’s. The match — televised lived on NBC Sports — was played at PPL Park in Philadelphia.

An exuberant Mikell Washington.

An exuberant Mikell Washington, after winning a pool game in the national championship tournament.

Mikell is one of 4 siblings who attended Westport schools throughout his career, as Open Choice students from Bridgeport.

He threw himself into Staples activities — including rugby, wrestling, football, choir and band — while working 2 jobs during the school year and 3 in the summer.

He is triple majoring at Penn State, with a goal of attending law school.

As the rugby world found out yesterday, Mikell Washington is a young man who stops at nothing to reach the goal line — or his goals.

(For the final 1:47 of the pool game — including Mikell’s winning try — click here. Hat tip: Joanne Heller.)

Mikell Washington (center) in Staples High School's 2011 Candlelight Concert. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Mikell Washington (center) in Staples High School’s 2011 Candlelight Concert. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

 

Barnes & Noble & Bassick

Most days, a Barnes & Noble book fair would not be “06880”-worthy.

Tomorrow is not most days.

barnes-and-noble-logoWestport’s calendar is filled with events like these: Schools and arts/education non-profits ask their supporters to shop on a particular day at our lone remaining bookstore. They give vouchers to the cashier — or simply mention that they’re helping that day’s special organization. The organization earns up to 25% of the amount spent in their name.

Most times, it’s a way for groups to pad their already-ample treasuries.

Tomorrow’s “Book Fair” is a way to help Bassick High School beef up their very important Book Club. It’s one of their key fundraisers this year.

Bassick parent Joanne Kennedy (left) and parent center worker Kizzie Gibson promote tomorrow's Barnes & Noble Book Fair.

Bassick parent Joanne Kennedy (left) and parent center worker Kizzie Gibson promote tomorrow’s Barnes & Noble Book Fair.

The Bridgeport school is going all out. Bassick students will come to Barnes & Noble in the morning. They’ll hear Westporter Michaela MacColl talk to them about being a writer. Copies of her books — historical fiction for young adults, focusing on famous females — will be on sale. (The most recent: The Revelation of Louisa May.)

Barnes & Noble staff are impressed by how hard the Bassick students, parents and staff are working to make this a successful fundraiser. I’m happy to do my part, publicizing this one (after saying “no” to so many similar press requests).

Though less than 10 miles away, Bassick and Westport schools might as well exist in parallel universes.

It’s easy to support our town’s fundraisers — and just as easy to skip them.

This is one we should make every effort to attend.

(Not in Westport — or unable to get to Barnes & Noble tomorrow? Click on www.bn.com/bookfairs any time from June 1 to June 6, and use ID 11614286 at checkout.)

Bassick