Category Archives: Education

Staples High School Expansion Plans Released

The “new” Staples High School is already a decade old. Ten years after opening, the 3-story building still looks fresh.

But the school population has risen. It’s now nearly 1,900 — 100 students over the 1,800 it was planned for. Projections — based on demographic trends, as well as housing starts and the addition of multi-family housing in Westport — show enrollments of 1,900 or so students for at least the next several years.

Staples High School now has 1900 students.

Staples High School now has 1900 students.

With those figures in mind — and current and future advances in areas like science, technology, art, engineering, math, robotics, 3D modeling, social studies and world languages, as well as increased state graduation credit requirements — superintendent of schools Elliott Landon has released a Facility Planning Study.

The 43-page document is based on work by Fuller & D’Angelo (the architects of record for the 2005 addition/renovation), ASW Engineers and CPS Cost Estimators.

The informational guide — conceptual in nature — offers 3 potential building additions. The unanimous recommendation of all parties was a single-level scheme. It provides a 2-story engineering and robotics lab on the southeast corner (near the current horticulture garden); another 2-story conference space opposite it, then more classrooms and auxiliary spaces connected to current corridors and the cafeteria area, toward the gym. This creates a new circulation loop eastward (by the back parking lot) of the current library.

Three views of the proposed expansion of Staples High School. The new construction -- shown in white -- would be on the easternmost part of the current building, from the current horticulture class garden northward toward the cafeteria.

Three views of the proposed expansion of Staples High School. The new construction — shown in white — would be on the easternmost part of the current building, from the current horticulture class garden northward toward the cafeteria and gym.

The cost estimate totals $21.2 million. State reimbursement could return $2 million to the town.

The plan is of course in the early stages. Public input — plus many rounds of commission meetings, beginning with the Board of Education on Monday night — lie ahead.

1st Day Of School!

In honor of the 1st day of the 2015-16 school year, “06880” celebrates the very 1st day of a new school.

Back in 1953, Coleytown Elementary School opened its then-modern doors. Fred Cantor — an indefatigable researcher and (more importantly) 1965 Coleytown El grad — has unearthed a fascinating scrapbook documenting that initial year.

Created by 5th graders Marcia Sorisi, Karen Olson and Jan Pontius, it offers an intriguing look into bygone days.

For example, famed Saturday Evening Post and US postage stamp illustrator Stevan Dohanos created a mural for the lobby of the new building his young children attended.

Called “American Heritage,” it showed scenes like the Liberty Bell, flag and “American Indians.” Below, he puts the finishing touches on 1 of the 3 panels.

Coleytown El - Stevan DohanosTelevision was relatively new in 1953. Here’s how the school reacted:

Coleytown El - TV

The librarian — Mrs. Stevenson — said: “Nowadays … if children don’t become readers when they are small, they probably never will.”

Interscholastic sports were big in Westport’s elementary schools (in 1953, the others were Greens Farms, Bedford and Saugatuck). Besides the Coleytown baseball team — in spiffy Major League-type uniforms below — there were reports of the 6th grade girls playing Bedford in kickball, and the boys basketball team meeting Bedford as a fundraiser.

Coleytown El - interscholastic baseball

The 5th graders wrote about everyone getting polio shots — without any kind of anti-vaccine movement — as well as a “Dental Honor Roll.”

Coleytown El - Dental honor roll

The young Coleytown El students did plenty of writing, back in the day. Patricia Ferrone analyzed why she liked the school: “It is very modern. The teachers are very nice.” Also, Mrs. James gave gum chewing days. And there were water fountains, a built-in sink, maps of the world, plate lunches and a health room.Coleytown El - Why I like by Patricia Ferrone

One more tidbit from the scrapbook: the creation of a class newspaper. The goal was to experience “the task which faces newsmen in collecting the news.”

The editor-in-chief was a boy named Gordon Joseloff. Sounds like the experience served him well. Before winning 2 terms as 1st selectman, Joseloff was a CBS  correspondent, senior producer and bureau chief in New York, Moscow and Tokyo. Today, he’s editor and publisher of

If you’ve got memories of your 1st year in a new Westport school — or elementary school memories of any kind from here — click “Comments” below. Let’s celebrate the school year ahead with a fun look back!

(Hat tips: Fred Cantor and Carol Borrman)

Westport Helps Waltersville’s Garden Grow

Westport has a long history with Waltersville School. For years, Staples High School world language students have volunteered at the K-8 facility across the street from the former Father Panik Village in Bridgeport.

Now another group has stepped up. Last spring, the school wanted to transform a barren courtyard into something more inviting. They asked the Westport Garden Club to help.

The low-key — but very committed — 90-year-old organization said “of course!” The result: 4 beautiful perennial gardens.

The Westport Garden Club was joined by Pivot Ministries, a Waltersville neighbor. Labor, design and plants were all donated.

Westporters and Bridgeporters work together at the Waltersville School.

Westporters and Bridgeporters work together at the Waltersville School.

Yesterday’s ribbon-cutting yesterday was a festive affair. School staff, Garden Club members and Pivot Ministries helpers joined together to celebrate.

The opening of Waltersville School this year will be very joyful indeed.

Remembering Leah Rondon

Colleen Rondon is a much-admired Bedford Middle School teacher. Former students remember how often — and lovingly — she spoke of her own 3 children.

The entire Westport community was stunned and saddened to learn of a tragic accident that took the life of her youngest child and only daughter. Leah Marie Rondon died last Thursday, at just 6 years old.

Leah was about to enter 1st grade, and looked forward to taking the school bus.

She played soccer, basketball and softball, and was the Ansonia Boys & Girls Club “2015 Girl of the Year.” She loved reading, and proudly listed all her summer titles on the refrigerator.

Leah Rondon

Leah Rondon

The family’s many friends have organized a GoFundMe campaign. The webpage says:

As the Rondons begin the heartbreaking task of putting Leah to rest, we are asking for donations to assist them with funeral and other miscellaneous costs they may incur during this difficult time, so they can focus on family, healing, and honoring their daughter’s memory. Colleen and Henry Rondon are amazing parents, educators, and caring members of every community in which they are involved. We know they would do the same for us and ask you to give whatever you can in their time of need.

A mass of Christian burial is set for tomorrow (Tuesday, August 25, 10 a.m.) in the Church of the Assumption, 61 N. Cliff Street, Ansonia. Family and friends may call at the church tonight, from 3-7 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made John C. Mead School Library, 75 Ford St., Ansonia, CT 06401; Ansonia Boys & Girls Club, 28 Howard Ave., Ansonia, CT 06401; or Ansonia Recreation Department, 253 Main St., Ansonia, CT 06401.

The Continuing Education Of Ellen Israel

Ellen Israel loves being head of a school where “learning happens in a pure way.” There are no standardized tests; virtually no grades or homework. Nearly every student wants to be there. Each classroom is “filled with joy.”

That utopian version of education exists right here in Westport. It goes on during the day, in the evening and throughout the summer. It doesn’t get much press, but several thousand people a year participate.

It’s Westport’s continuing education program, and Israel is the new director. She wants everyone to know: It’s not just “night school” for bridge and knitting anymore.

Ellen Israel, Westport's energetic new director of continuing education.

Ellen Israel, Westport’s energetic new director of continuing education.

Continuing ed encompasses summer enrichment classes in animation, coding, culinary and sports. There are summer theater productions (this year: “Godspell” and “Seussical.”)  A few students take make-up classes in science and math; others want to free up space for courses in the academic year.

Continuing ed also includes after-school classes in areas like chess and rocketry. Off-site programs are run in conjunction with a Pilates studio and restaurants.

“We’re busy and active,” Israel says. “And our goal is to make continuing ed even more active and vibrant.”

Just a month into her new job, she’s still figuring out what works, and what the community needs. She looks forward to partnering with other town organizations, public and private.

“Culinary camp” is one of continuing ed’s most popular summer courses.

Her learning curve won’t be too steep, though. Israel is a native Westporter. A proud Staples High School graduate (Class of 1984), she went on to Tufts as an art history major.

Her path to continuing ed was not straight. But, she says, “it all makes sense now.”

From age 16 to post-college, she was a graphic designer. But living in San Francisco during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, she suddenly realized “I could do more to make the world a better place than designing corporate brochures.”

She joined the League of Women Voters in that city, doing everything from answering phones and event planning to creating the annual voters’ guide. It was a fantastic learning experience.

She also met Mark Bieler there. He’d graduated a year before her at Staples, but they connected 3,000 miles from Westport. Four years later he proposed. They came back east — he for business school, she to work for the Boston Children’s Museum in corporate membership. That’s where she learned about finance.

Then came kids; a move to Weston; a master’s degree at Fairfield University; jack-of-all-trades work with the Connecticut Writing Project (teaching, writing, curriculum development, budgeting). Israel turned that 2-week workshop for teachers into a summer-long series of camps, adding workshops that focused on students from high-need districts.

Continuing ed website

Earlier this year, Israel saw a posting for Westport continuing ed director. She thought, “This is it! It incorporates everything I’ve ever done.”

Now, with a staff of 3 “fantastic, incredibly knowledgeable, super-efficient women” — Joanne Samela, Tina Granata and Sheila Gallanty — Israel is rockin’ a formerly sleepy portfolio.

“We run a teeny school district,” she notes. (And a self-sustaining one. The Board of Education provides no funds for continuing ed.)

She looks forward to getting more of Westport’s “most valuable resource” — its teachers — involved. Israel’s goal is to “give them a venue to share their passions — whether it’s inside or outside of their specialty, after school and evenings.”

She hopes too to tap into the artists, writers, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, tech experts and professors who make up this town. Even a one-hour lecture is fine. Israel wants to involve everyone.

“I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet as long as your arm” of ideas, Israel says. “Tell people to call me if they want to help!”

Done. If you’d like to suggest a class, offer yourself as a teacher, or learn more about current and future offerings, call 203-341-1209. Email Or click here.

But don’t be put off by the somewhat stodgy website. Jazzing that up is on Ellen Israel’s to-do list too.

(Hat tip: Cecily Gans)

“1-Room Schoolhouse” In A Westport Driveway

It’s an incongruous sight: Sitting in the driveway of a wooden, wizened 1720s house is a multi-colored, futuristic-looking structure. A sign calls it “The Think 3-D Lab.”

Folks passing 178 Cross Highway, near the Fairfield line, have wondered what’s up. The answer is: something very, very cool.

The “lab” — actually a 100-square-foot, easily disassembled building — is the brainchild of Mark Yurkiw. It’s in front of the saltbox home (which still bears a musket ball hole in the front door, thanks to Redcoats who marauded past on their way to Danbury in 1777).


The “Think 3-D Lab” sits in front of Mark Yurkiw’s 1720s-era house. (Photo/copyright Amy Dolego/ Winton Studios)

Mark spent an intriguing career in New York. A physicist by training and artist by avocation, he’s designed magazine covers and TV commercials; worked on films and special effects, and created “storytelling sculptures” for Fortune 500 companies and non-profits. (His “Homeless Statue of Liberty” for New York Cares helped bring in a million used coats.)

Mark’s son met James Potter, an architecture student at Norwalk Community College. When James heard that Mark was working on a project for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, he said he wanted to be involved.

The project was for a 10-year-old boy in upstate Connecticut. He wanted a place to play Legos and Minecraft games.

Mark’s mission was to “meld the physical and digital worlds. I wanted to educate this boy about his future.”

So Mark, James and NCC engineering student Andrew Myers spent the past 2 months designing and building “the 1-room schoolhouse of the 21st century.”

James Potter and Mark Yurkiw inside the

James Potter and Mark Yurkiw inside the “1-room schoolhouse.”

That “1-room schoolhouse” includes LED lighting; a bed for “dreaming” about creativity; a solar-powered fan; a 3Doodler pen for writing in space; a wireless “Internet of Things” kit; magnetic walls; movable tables — and, of course, plenty of space to experiment with Legos. Most of the materials were donated.

What Mark calls “the world’s first off-the-grid 3-D printer” — it runs on solar panels — is being manufactured now. It will be installed soon, donated by Tiko 3D.

Mark’s idea, meanwhile, has morphed from educating one boy about his future, to inspiring an entire generation of children.

He hopes that community college students will build dozens — hundreds! — of these “3-D labs.” They can design their own, or buy them pre-built and set them up, in libraries, schools, pediatric hospitals and backyards.

The money the students earn can help fund their 4-year college degrees. At the same time, they’ll reach and teach even younger kids.

“I’m inspired by 20-year-olds who inspire 10-year-olds,” Mark says.

Another view of the interior. Check out all the Lego materials under the desk -- and the bunk bed for

Another view of the interior. Check out the Lego materials under the desk — and the bunk bed for “creative dreaming.” (Photo/copyright Amy Dolego Winton)

And that “3D Lab” sitting in his Cross Highway driveway? Mark says it will be disassembled next Thursday, then trucked upstate as a surprise gift for the 10-year-old Make-a-Wish boy.

“His jaw will drop,” Mark says.

Then he turns back to work. A creative tinkerer’s work is never done.

(Mark is looking for sponsors to get his idea — as part of a non-profit foundation — off the ground. To help — or for more information — email

You Can Go Home (To Coleytown El) Again

In 1963, Fred Cantor’s parents moved to Easton Road from Queens. Two years later he graduated from Coleytown Elementary School, just down the street.

To mark that 50th anniversary, a small group — Fred, Nancy Saipe, Leslie Schine, Andy Lewis, Jeff Wilkins, Dan Magida and Cherie Flom Quain — arranged a literal stroll down memory lane. Principal Janna Sirowich and her assistant Carol Borrman helped them take a tour of the current school on Tuesday. Here’s Fred’s report:

Coleytown was K-6 during our time there — the peak years of the baby boom era. Our 1965 photo shows 97 kids in 6th grade. We had 3 teachers, so that’s 32-33 students per class!

Coleytown Elementary School's graduating 6th graders, in 1965.

Coleytown Elementary School’s graduating 6th graders, in 1965.

Most in our group had not been back inside in decades. Some long-lost or fuzzy memories were jogged during our visit.

There was no formal auditorium at Coleytown. The gym with a stage on the side doubled as the auditorium. We had an annual Christmas concert there. Parents sat in rows of folding chairs on the basketball court.

The gym/stage space brought back memories of a graduation ceremony. Boys and girls walked in from the playground. We were lined up by height, from shortest to tallest.

The rear view of Coleytown Elementary School, before expansion and modernization.

The rear view of Coleytown Elementary School, before expansion and modernization.

Walking down the corridors and visiting old classrooms evoked other images from the distant past:

  • Nap time in kindergarten, where kids stretched out on giant towels.
  • A particularly unruly 3rd grader who was disciplined regularly by having his desk placed in the hallway.
  • Developing a newspaper-reading habit for current events discussions, by clipping stories on topics like civil rights and space exploration.

Everyone remembered recess fondly. Popular games were 4-square and “maul the ball carrier” (tackling the kid with the ball — an activity schools might not embrace today).

Report cards have certainly evolved over 50 years. Our 5th grade math classes were divided into “fast,” “high average” and “low average” tracks. We were also graded on “penmanship.”

Fred Cantor's report card.

Fred Cantor’s 5th grade report card. It’s quite a bit different from those used today. According to teacher Miss Belz, Fred “made good progress this year.”

At this stage of life, thinking back on those early childhood years elicits thoughts of classmates and friends no longer with us.

Those feelings were particularly poignant this week. Our classmate Andy Lewis — who looked very forward to the tour — died of an apparent heart attack just days before he was to head to Westport.

My last email exchange with Andy was about our Coleytown experiences. He said he’d walked home for lunch “if the menu was bad, like fish sticks.”

Andy’s sudden death is also a reminder that we never know what the future holds. We should be grateful for every opportunity to reunite with old friends.

Old friends gather in the Coleytown Elementary School gym (from left): Cherie Flom Quain, Fred Cantor, Jeff Wilkins, Nancy Saipe, Dan Magida, Leslie Schine.

Old friends gather in the Coleytown Elementary School gym (from left): Cherie Flom Quain, Fred Cantor, Jeff Wilkins, Nancy Saipe, Dan Magida, Leslie Schine.

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.)