Category Archives: Education

Jaime Bairaktaris: “Mr. Dodig, Thank You For Making A Difference In My Life”

Among the many speeches extolling retiring principal John Dodig at a PTA ceremony this morning at Staples, some of the best came from students.

Current junior Jaime Bairaktaris began by talking about moving from Redding to Westport in December of 8th grade — then, a few months later, having to adjust to a new, big high school. He dreaded the 1st day:

I got off my bus, after sitting next to some senior that I swore had to have been 25 years old (full beard, at least 7 feet tall, music blaring), and walked up to the brick building with blue windows.

Jaime Bairaktaris

Jaime Bairaktaris

Coming through a new door is a challenge for anybody. Who knows what’s on the other side? We, as a species, are afraid of the different, cautious of the unknown, proficient at avoiding vulnerability.

But on that other side was a man, smartly dressed and smiling, welcoming me to my first day of high school. He wore a name tag that read “Dodig” (which I pronounced “dodd­ig” for quite some time).

Then Jaime asked the audience to do a little exercise.

We’ll only work 17 muscles,­ but they’re the most important muscles in our body. I need you all to smile — teeth showing and all.

It’ll be 4 years ago this September, but I still remember that he was smiling when I walked through those front doors. A smile is such a simple gesture — remember, just 17 muscles — yet so many people seem to underestimate the power of those muscles.

I’m now a rising senior, jaded in my ways, and well on my way to college. In these three years I’ve learned a lot. But most importantly I can now determine who’s a good person to keep around in life, and who isn’t.

Mr. Dodig was there to help in those times when I found those choice few who maybe weren’t keepers, but he didn’t treat them as typical trouble­makers. Mr. Dodig treated those students as teenagers who were bound to make mistakes, just like we all are. He guided them to make better choices, and now I speak with some of those same kids on a daily basis.

John Dodig received this gift earlier today: a lenticular photo (showing 2 images), by Miggs Burroughs.

John Dodig received this gift earlier today: a lenticular photo (showing 2 images), by Miggs Burroughs.

Throughout my life I will learn many things. Some I’ll take with me; some I will not. The most important lessons I’ve learned from Mr. Dodig are ones that will aid me throughout my life, and should be life lessons for all of us here today.

If I will remember anything from my time here, let it be the importance and immense power that a single smile can have on somebody’s day, and how to accept and forgive others ­even in a world where that may not be the easiest or most popular choice to make.

So Mr. Dodig, I thank you for making a difference in my life and the lives of countless others throughout your 11 years here at Staples High School. I hope as you look back on your days at Staples, thinking about all of the students you’ve watched pass through that front lobby in the morning, and about everybody you’ve been able to help over the years, that you can smile just as much as you’ve made us smile.

The Gift Of John Dodig

What do you give a principal who has given everything to his school?

How about a photo of him in his best “giving” mode?

But not just any photo. This is John Dodig.

And as the wildly popular principal prepares to retire after 11 years at Staples High — and 47 in the field of education — the school’s PTA turned to one of Westport’s best and most creative photographers: Miggs Burroughs.

Dodig received the unique gift this morning, in a special ceremony in the sun-splashed courtyard. First Selectman Jim Marpe, administrators and colleagues spoke — and so, very eloquently, did current students Jaime Bairaktaris and Nick Massoud, and graduate Michael Sixsmith.

Each speaker had stories. But all circled back to a common theme: Dodig’s greatest gifts were his passion, compassion, empathy, vision, willingness to listen, ability to be bold, and deep love for every single teenager and adult in his building.

Which leads to the gift he got today. Burroughs — a 1963 Staples grad — is well known for his lenticular images. They’re 2 separate shots; they change, depending on the angle you’re viewing from. (You can see 16 of them in the tunnel connecting Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.)

One view of John Dodig's lenticular photo...

One view of John Dodig’s lenticular photo…

Burroughs took the photos last month. (Dodig did not know why he was being photographed.) One shot shows a crowd of students streaming around the principal, as he stands in the school’s foyer. That’s a typical spot for him; for over a decade he has greeted thousands of students every morning and between classes — asking how their latest game or performance went, complimenting them on an achievement, answering their questions or merely saying hello.

It’s a diverse mix of students — just as Dodig is fond of noting the diversity that really is a hallmark of Staples High. In the middle of it all, the principal wears his trademark smile.

...and the other.

…and the other.

The 2nd shot shows a lone student casually studying. She sits on the school seal that frames the foyer. The school motto — which Dodig has embraced and personified — stands out: “Respsect for Life.”

Burroughs produced 2 copies of the lenticular photo. One will hang at Staples. The other is Dodig’s to keep — and cherish — forever.


Shelley Somers Withdraws As Staples Principal Candidate

Central Middle School principal Shelley Somers has bowed out of consideration as Staples High School’s new principal.

In an email to parents, the lone finalist for the position said:

Good morning. After a long day yesterday at Staples High School, I have withdrawn my name for consideration for the principal position. As I talked with the various groups of stakeholders in Westport, I realized how important Central and Greenwich are to me.

I look forward to working to create a safe and challenging environment at Central Middle School that meets the needs of all of our students. I feel certain that in collaboration with you, my leadership team, and my teachers and staff, Central will continue to grow and to thrive.

Shelley Somers met with administrators, staff members, students and community members yesterday at Staples. She has since decided to withdraw from consideration as Staples' next principal.

Shelley Somers at Staples yesterday. She has withdrawn from consideration as Staples’ next principal.

Westport superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon said:

I think this is a tremendous loss to the children, staff and families of Westport. The search committee and I unanimously recommended Shelley Somers because we had great faith that she would continue the great tradition established by John Dodig.

Landon said that the search for a successor to Dodig — who retires in June after 11 years as Staples’ principal — will now focus on an interim appointment.

Landon said that the interim principal would not be someone from inside the Westport school system. “Choosing someone from inside does not allow for a full and open process” when a choice is then made for a permanent principal, he said.

However, he noted, current district administrators and employees are welcome to be part of the search process.

John Dodig Celebration Set For Friday

John Dodig’s friends, fans — and of course, former students and parents — are invited to a celebration of his 11 years as Staples High School principal.

The coffee event is set for this Friday (May 29), at 9 a.m. in the Staples courtyard.

A couple of speakers will say a couple of words. Dodig will also speak (more eloquently than anyone else, as usual). There will be time for mingling too.

See you there!

This year, John Dodig "graduates" with the Class of 2015.

This year, John Dodig “graduates” with the Class of 2015.


Clarification: No Board Of Ed Vote Tonight

The Board of Education’s executive session tonight will not include a vote on the new principal of Staples High School. That vote would take place at the next public meeting, on Monday, June 1.

Westport Public  Schools

Staples Principal Finalist Meets The Public

Shelley Somers — unanimously picked by a search committee as the only finalist candidate for the principalship of Staples High School — met with parents and other Westporters this morning.

She sat with students during lunch, and will meet with administrators and staff members later today. The Board of Education — all 7 of whose members were at this morning’s forum — will meet in executive session at 5:30 p.m. today to discuss Somers’ candidacy.

Shelley Somers, this morning at Staples High School.

Shelley Somers, this morning at Staples High School.

This morning, after superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon noted Somers’ qualifications — English teacher, department chair, assistant principal and head of an arts, communications and technology school in 2 South Carolina districts; current principal at Central Middle School in Greenwich, where she was recently named Connecticut PTA Middle School Principal of the Year — she stepped up to the podium.

Somers began the session with 100 members of the public by acknowledging difficulties she had in the 1990s, when she owned a daycare center in East Granby, Connecticut. She miscounted the number of children attending an event, causing one child to remain in a vehicle.

“It’s still very difficult for me to talk about this,” Somers said. It has caused her “sadness and shame,” but also shaped her life today.

“I dot all my i’s and cross all my t’s,” she said. “This has taught me humility. I understand the importance of seeking help, gaining trust and moving on. I go to sleep with this at night, and wake up with it in the morning. I carry this with me in my heart. It has helped me very much, as an educator and a person.”

Somers noted that being principal is a “complex job.” She said that while in previous administrative positions she was hired to “fix things,” her role at Staples would be “to take a great school and figure out how to make it greater. You don’t do that by sitting in your office.”

Being a principal requires “a good ear,” she said — something she has learned to develop not only with students, but her own 4 daughters.

Board of Education members listen as a questioner addresses Staples principal candidate Shelley Somers.

Board of Education members listen as a questioner addresses Staples principal candidate Shelley Somers.

A questioner asked how she would adapt to Staples.

“I’m an educator,” Somers replied. “I don’t see myself as ‘a middle school principal.’ I have experience at all levels, as a teacher and an administrator. I’ve learned a lot about how to make good decisions.

“It was never my intent to stay in middle school — though I love it dearly,” she added.

At Central, she said, “I walked into a building with challenges. I spent a lot of time listening. I knew just being optimistic would not be enough.”

She cited her “open door policy. Parents knew I was there to help them and their children navigate the middle schools years. Parents learned I was a student advocate.”

The Board of Education may vote tonight on a new principal of Staples High School.

The Board of Education meets in executive sesssion tonight on a new principal of Staples High School.

Somers drew applause when — in response to a question about the Smarter Balance testing that was introduced this year — she said, “I don’t think junior year is the best place to put it.”

She reiterated her focus on students. “They’re the reason I got into education,” Somers said. “I am accessible to them. That’s number one with me.”

In reply to a question about a principal’s priorities, she said her top three are physical and emotional safety; availability and listening; and instructional leadership.

One questioner wondered about the “learning curve” needed for a new principal in a new school.

“Sure,” she agreed. “But I am prepared to make decisions.” She said she would talk to current principal John Dodig, and recognized the “strong administrative staff and student support teams” already in place.

Finally, someone asked Somers about the future. “I have younger kids,” the parent said. “I’ll be here for the next decade.”

“So will I,” she replied.

Nate Greenberg Scores — On And Off The Field

In late summer of 2013, life was going well for Nate Greenberg. He was heading into senior year at Union College. He’d scored 50 goals for the lacrosse team, and was now captain.

Suddenly, life changed. He was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a pediatric bone cancer.

Nate Greenberg, soon after his diagnosis.

Nate Greenberg, soon after his diagnosis.

The former Staples lax captain (and member of the state championship soccer team) endured several rounds of chemo. Surgery removed a tumor from his hip. He had a full hip replacement, and partial reconstruction of his femur.

His many friends rallied in support. The entire Union lacrosse team shaved their heads, in solidarity with their captain.

It was a brutal experience. But the disease is in remission. And this is where the story gets really interesting.

Though no longer able to play, Nate has remained active as the team’s middies coach. The other day, News10 in Albany described the profound influence he has had on the Dutchmen. Reporter Josh Sims called him “one of the most influential voices on the roster. When Greenberg talks, the team listens.”

Recently, for example, Union was losing to Nazareth at halftime of the NCAA tournament opening round .

Senior Connor Hall said Nate’s halftime speech brought tears to his eyes. “You don’t get more hyped than that.”

Nate’s message — “the tougher team is going to win” — sparked the Dutchmen to a 15-12 victory.

A screenshot of News10's interview with Nate Greenberg.

A screenshot of News10’s interview with Nate Greenberg.

Sims continued:

The word “tough” described Greenberg to a “T” after his battle with cancer.

“When he came back for games, he was pale and frail and skinny, and he wasn’t the young man that left us,” Union head coach Paul Wehrum said.

Now much stronger, Nate told Sims: “This is my time to give back to (my team) what they gave to me.”

He has a new outlook on life.

“I’m just way more focused. I know what the other side is. I’ve been close, so every day is a gift,” Nate said.

Now Nate has another gift to give.

Union College LogoA professor encouraged Nate to apply for keynote speaker at graduation. He had stiff competition — including the valedictorian — but he beat out more than 2 dozen classmates.

Learning of his selection, he told Sims, “was like scoring my first goal versus RIT. I’ve never felt anything like that, and coming from the year I’ve had, hitting that accomplishment was like nothing else.”

On June 14, Nate will address a crowd of about 10,000. He’ll tell his story. It’s sure to be inspirational. Connor Hall will probably have tears in his eyes again — along with everyone else.

Ewing’s sarcoma may have slowed Nate Greenberg down. It may have changed his college career, turning him from player to coach.

But there’s a lot more to do. After graduation he heads to Israel, then to Europe with friends. An economics major, he hopes for a career in commercial real estate.

Chances are, he’ll find time to inspire teammates, friends and total strangers for years to come.

(To see the entire TV segment on Nate Greenberg, click here.)


Jim Marpe, Board Of Ed Laud Landon

Superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon announced this morning that he will retire at the end of the 2015-16 school year. First Selectman Jim Marpe praised the longtime educator: 

I have had the honor and privilege of working alongside Dr. Landon for a number of years, including my 8-year tenure as a member and chair of the Board of Education. Since taking office as first selectman, he and I have remained steadfast in our commitment to collaborating and forging a positive relationship with the town and Board of Education. I look forward to continuing this precedent during the remainder of Dr. Landon’s tenure and with his successor.

Dr. Elliott Landon (right) with First Selectman (and former Board of Education chair) Jim marpe.

Dr. Elliott Landon (right) with First Selectman (and former Board of Education chair) Jim Marpe.

On behalf of the Town of Westport, and as its First Selectman, I wish to congratulate and thank Dr. Landon for his dedication to the Town, its schools and most particularly, the multitude of children for whom he advocated. Through his 16-year career as Westport’s superintendent, he consistently raised the bar of excellence and has made the schools in Westport some of the most successful in the country.

His expertise and advocacy for our school system is laudable. Due to Dr. Landon’s leadership, Westport’s education system has provided and will continue to provide the necessary tools for the next generations to achieve personal growth and success for years to come. I wish Dr. Landon much health and happiness as he prepares for retirement.

Meanwhile, the Westport Board of Education released this statement:

We would like to thank Dr. Landon for leading our schools to tremendous heights during his 16-year tenure.  Westport is widely regarded as one of the top school districts in the state and in the nation, and Dr. Landon has been integral to our collective success.


Now, for the first time in 17 years, the Westport Board of Education will commence a search for a new superintendent, who will begin serving upon Dr. Landon’s retirement.  The Board is prepared for a thoughtful and thorough search process.  We will take the time necessary to find the right candidate to meet the needs of our students for the next generation.


We will conduct a nationwide search, and we will engage a search firm with a national scope that has worked with high-performing districts such as ours.  We have exceptionally high standards for the leader we will appoint, and we plan to involve the community throughout the process.  The Board will reach out to all of our stakeholders, including parents, teachers, administrators, staff members, students and the broader community for their input on the qualities they seek in a new superintendent.


We will make regular announcements about both our process and our progress, and we welcome your input at all points, starting today.  The seven of us can be reached at a single email address:


In addition to thanking Dr. Landon, we want to thank all of the outstanding teachers, administrators and staff members who work on behalf of Westport’s children each day.  Our schools are thriving because of all of their professionalism, collaboration and dedication to our students. 


We very much appreciate all that Dr. Landon has done for our District and all he will continue to do for the next 13 months.  We look forward to the community’s participation as we search for his successor.


UPDATE: Temple Israel Threat Ends; Lockdown Ends At Coleytown

Earlier today, Westport police were called to Temple Israel. Preliminary reports say there were concerns about 1 or 2 people with weapons. Apparently, none were found.

The temple was the site today of a “Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Women’s Luncheon.” IDF officers — including an Israeli Air Force captain — were to discuss the roles of women in that country’s military. It appears that 1 or 2 people planned to disrupt the event.

Nearby Coleytown Middle School was locked down as a precaution.

Coleytown Middle School principal Kris Szabo sent this message to parents:

This afternoon our school was in lockdown for 45 minutes at the request of the Westport Police Department for an external threat at Temple Israel.  All ended well and our students returned to Homeroom where they were given an opportunity to debrief and ask questions. We thank the Westport Police Department for its immediate reaction and concern for the safety of all our children.

Temple israel

Elliott Landon To Retire Next Year

In a letter sent this morning to staff, parents and the community, Westport superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon announced his retirement, at the end of the 2015-16 school year. He has served in Westport since 1999.

Calling his position an “honor and privilege,” Landon cited a collaborative effort that has made Westport’s school system “the envy of teachers, administrators and school staffs throughout our state and nation.”

Dr. Elliott Landon

Dr. Elliott Landon

He thanked administrators and principals for “working diligently and relentlessly to make our schools the best they could be.” He cited teachers and support staff for creating a district that is “a beacon of excellence admired by professional educators everywhere.”

He added thanks to “our secretaries, paraprofessionals, nurses and health aides, custodians and maintainers” for helping create a “welcoming, supportive and healthy” environment.

His final thanks were to “the parents who have supported our work so passionately,” and the Board of Finance and RTM for providing “the financial support necessary to make our dreams come true.”

Westport is Landon’s 3rd superintendency, and his longest. He came to Westport after 10 years in Long Beach, New York. Prior to that, he served 9 years as Ridgefield’s superintendent.

Landon began his teaching career at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, following his graduation from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

He said he is announcing his retirement 13 months in advance, to give the Board of Education time to select his successor.