Category Archives: Staples HS

Ethan Zorfas Helps Lead Ted Cruz Crusade

When 10 candidates squared off in the 1st GOP debate earlier this month, plenty of Westporters watched closely.

Republicans searched for the best leader. Democrats anticipated a train wreck.

Ethan Zorfas wanted to see how well his boss would do.

The 2003 Staples High  School graduate is one of Ted Cruz’s senior advisors, concentrating on the Northeast. So when New Hampshire holds its 1st-in-the-nation primary 6 months from now, Zorfas’ work may well determine whether the Texan is on a path to the White House — or back to the Senate.

Ethan Zorfas' job is to help Senator Ted Cruz (3rd from right) break out of the GOP pack. Besides these 10, 7 other Republicans are running for president.

Ethan Zorfas’ job is to help Senator Ted Cruz (3rd from right) break out of the GOP pack. Besides these 10, 7 other Republicans are running for president.

It’s a job Zorfas would never have expected a dozen years ago. His main passion entering Staples was basketball. He played it well — and earned Academic All-State honors.

But in his first few days of junior year, terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Lis Comm’s English class spent days talking about how the world suddenly changed.

“I woke up to the outside world,” Zorfas recalls. “For the first time, I realized that policy matters.”

Social studies teacher Justin Cosell opened his eyes to politics. In class, Zorfas learned how to write a bill.

“He was a huge liberal. I was more conservative,” Zorfas says, of the instructor who happens to be Howard Cosell’s grandson.

But a friendship grew. Today, they still talk often about politics.

After graduating, Zorfas headed to Clark University in Worcester. “That’s another liberal school,” he laughs.

Ethan Zorfas

Ethan Zorfas

He joined with a few non-liberals to reactivate a dormant Republican  Club. And he earned $100 a day knocking on doors in New Hampshire during President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign.

After earning a master’s in public administration from Clark, Zorfas worked on a handful of campaigns. He joined the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2008 — “a tough cycle,” Zorfas admits — and stayed on to organize fundraising for congressmen Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming. He then branched out into political consulting for others.

In 2010 he was hired as chief of staff by New Hampshire congressman Frank Guinta. At 25, Zorfas may have been the youngest chief of staff on Capitol Hill.

When Guinta was defeated in 2012, Zorfas restarted his small firm, MarblePort Consulting. (The name combines Marblehead — where he lived as a child — and Westport.)

Zorfas’ New Hampshire ties made him a hot commodity in GOP circles. After the 2014 election cycle, he examined the wide swath of presidential candidates to find the best fit.

Cruz rose to the top of Zorfas’ list.

“If you really want to change Washington and how things work, he’s the only one in the field who can do that,” the consultant explains.

Zorfas had breakfast with the senator in New Hampshire, then flew to Texas.

“I’d only seen him on TV,” Zorfas recalls. “But I was impressed that he’d been solicitor general of Texas, and a clerk for (Supreme Court Chief Justice William) Rehnquist. His constitutional knowledge blew me away.”

They talked about how Zorfas could help Cruz be competitive in New Hampshire. Then, wham: The 30-year-old signed on as a key advisor.

Senator Ted Cruz (Photo/NH Journal)

Senator Ted Cruz (Photo/NH Journal)

His job now is to develop and implement strategies for Cruz to succeed in the Northeast. Zorfas is helping build the campaign infrastructure, and provides perspective to other Cruz advisors.

He speaks frequently with the candidate. “He’s taking New Hampshire very seriously,” Zorfas says.

Zorfas has worked on local, congressional and Senate races. Yet a presidential campaign is orders of magnitude different. Half a year before the first primary votes are cast, he already feels exponentially more energy and enthusiasm.

This month’s Fox News debate marked a major moment, Zorfas says. He sat with 200 supporters at the carefully chosen Texas Roadhouse in Nashua. Like a true professional, Zorfas says, “The feedback is that the senator spoke well, and had a clear message.”

Zorfas knows that a pro-life, gun-rights, anti-same-sex-marriage, climate-change denying Texan is not the first choice of most Westporters. Especially those Westporters who graduated with Zorfas in 2003.

“I had a great group of friends,” he says with pride. “We still talk on a daily basis. Most of them are probably Democrats. But I think they’re very proud of me and my accomplishments, as I am of them. They think it’s great that I can grow my career like this.”

And, he says, “we always have great debates.”

So if Senator Cruz becomes President Cruz, what job would Zorfas want?

“It’s way too early to think about that,” he says with the ease of a practiced politician. “Right now we’re all just focused on winning a 17-person race.”

He has no desire to run for office himself. “Seeing candidates go through what they do, I’m happy where I am,” Zorfas noted. “I love what I do.”

And Ted Cruz loves having this Connecticut-raised, New Hampshire-tested advisor on his very senior national staff.

Aaron Donovan’s Aquatic Adventure

As media liaison for the MTA, Aaron Donovan is intimately familiar with New York’s trains, subways, buses, tunnels and bridges.

Its waterways — not so much.

Aaron Donovan

Aaron Donovan

But the 1994 Staples grad’s parents needed their garage space back. They no longer had room for the 18-foot hybrid vessel — part kayak, part pedal boat, part sailboat — that Aaron and his wife Susan bought from the Boat Locker, and had been storing there.

Aaron knew that New York City’s Parks Department has a small kayak storage area on West 79th Street. But he knew better than most that trailering the vessel on I-95 and into the city was no easy task.

So Aaron and Susan decided to sail. They spent the winter finding locations where they could stay during the 5-day, 4-night August adventure.

Aaron researched sunrises and sunsets, high and low tides, and ebb and flow currents. He could not, however, predict the wind.

After multiple stops at EMS, REI and Stop & Shop, the couple was ready. Launch date was Wednesday, August 6.

Susan Donovan in the 18-foot craft. Smaller than it sounds, no?

Susan Donovan in the 18-foot craft. Smaller than it sounds, no?

The house where Aaron grew up abuts the tidal estuary of Sasco Creek. He’d seen a few kayakers and canoeists on it, but it was certainly an underutilized resource.

Aaron and Susan planned to wait till shortly after high tide, when the current headed into the Sound. But — trips never go according to plan — they left a bit behind schedule, at 2:30 p.m. The current was against them, the water level low.

They walked the boat over sand, mud and gravel in waist-deep water. It was an inauspicious start.

Aaron and Susan Donovan leave Beachside, rounding Frost Point.

Aaron and Susan Donovan leave Beachside, rounding Frost Point.

They could not set up the mast until they’d cleared the bridge that carries Beachside Avenue into Pequot Avenue over Sasco Creek at Southport Beach. In tall sea grass they let out the sails, shoved off into waist-high waves of the incoming tide, unfurled the sails, and were off into a headwind.

Tacking a few times, they cleared Frost Point and Sherwood Point, en route to their 1st campsite in the Norwalk Islands. The winds shifted, the waves diminished and they arrived at 6 p.m. They beached the boat in tall sea grases, and hoped it would still be afloat — not way up a hill — at low tide.

For $35, Norwalk allows overnight camping on 2 of its dozen beautiful, sparsely or uninhabited island a couple of miles offshore. Aaron and Susan chose Shea Island — not Westport’s Cockenoe ($20) — because Shea offers rudimentary restrooms.

Aaron — whose words I am using throughout this report — calls the camping experience “amazing. So close to civilization, you can see the beautiful waterfront estates, shore lights and beaches, and hear occasional train horns and powerboat engines.

“But mostly you feel utterly surrounded by nature. As night falls, as the wind diminishes and the last rays of the sun taper off in pink and orange hues toward the west, you hear the calls of seagulls, and waves gently lapping on the rocky shorelines. It is like a hidden Eden, just 2 miles offshore.”

The view from Shea Island.

The view from Shea Island.

From their campsite atop a bluff, they had great views of the Sound. Long Island seemed close. Manhattan’s towers beckoned in the distance.

They were alone on the isle — though there are 16 campsites — except for a deer and 2 babies, who wandered over from Sheffield Island on a sandbar at low tide. Spooked, they (the deer) left.

After Susan made breakfast (eggs and beans), they loaded up their non-beached boat, and were off again.

(Next: Days 2-3)

Aaron and Susan Donovan's route, from Green's Farms to New York.

Aaron and Susan Donovan’s route, from Green’s Farms to New York.

(For an interactive view of the map above, click here.)

Brad Tursi Kicks It In Nashville

When Brad Tursi was a Staples High School soccer star in the mid-1990s, he dreamed of playing before huge crowds in big stadiums.

He’ll do exactly that tomorrow, at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

But he won’t be kicking a soccer ball. Instead, the 1997 Staples grad will kick it big-time with his band, Old Dominion. They open for Kenny Chesney, on the country megastar’s summer tour.

Brad Tursi

Brad Tursi

The road from Westport to Nashville is not well traveled. But Tursi is not the first Staples alum to make his name there.

Charlie Taylor graduated from Staples in 1961. After roaming from Greenwich Village to LA — with stops in between — Taylor spent the last 3 decades in Tennessee. He’s recorded with, written with and for, jammed with and learned from the likes of Gram Parsons, Minnie Pearl, Chet Atkins, Barbara Mandrell, Rick Nelson and Barry Tashian.

Tashian is also a Staples grad. His route to Nashville began in Boston, where he fronted the legendary rock group The Remains. They opened for The Beatles on their final tour, appeared on Ed Sullivan and Hullabaloo, and were called by Jon Landau “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.”

Brad Tursi continues a small but strong Westport-to-Nashville connection.

Brad Tursi continues the Westport-to-Nashville connection.

After the group broke up, Tashian landed in Nashville. He’s been there ever since, playing with the Flying Burrito Brothers and Emmy Lou Harris, and carving out (with his wife, Staples classmate Holly Kimball) a rewarding performing, recording and songwriting career.

Tursi continues that small but strong Westport connection. He co-wrote “A Guy Walks Into a Bar” — a certified gold song that Tyler Farr took to #1 earlier this year — and “Save It For a Rainy Day” for Chesney.

Tursi’s band Old Dominion got a shout-out last month from Sony Music CEO Doug Morris.

In an interview in The Tennessean newspaper, Morris predicted that the band  would join Chesney, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and Garth Brooks as providing “a new foundation for the company’s country music division.” The day after he heard Old Dominion’s EP, the 76-year-old CEO was singing their lyrics.

You probably are not headed to MetLife Stadium tomorrow, for the Kenny Chesney concert. But if you want to hear the opening band — Old Dominion — check out the video below.

Brad Tursi’s 2nd from the right, manning the oars.

(Hat tip: John Guadagno)

DOT: North Avenue Bridge WILL Be Open

When school buses roll 2 weeks from today, they’ll roll right over the Merritt Parkway, on the North Avenue bridge.

There will be alternating lanes of traffic — but not the nightmare scenario that Westporters involved with Staples High, Bedford and Coleytown Middle, and Coleytown Elementary Schools imagined.

DOT logoThat’s the official word from Kevin Nursick. The Connecticut Department of Transportation spokesman told “06880” this afternoon that “unforeseen circumstances” related to the condition of the structure increased the amount of rehabilitation work beyond what was originally anticipated.

“When we opened the bridge up, it looked worse than expected,” Nursick said. “It’s not a huge structure. But it was evident the deck would need more extensive repairs.”

Since the start of the project, Nursick explained, the contractor was on a “24/6” schedule. Work continued around the clock, 6 days a week.

That schedule changed a week ago, due to issues on the west side of the bridge. A support system was needed for the new parapet. That in turn required the state police to close the parkway for installation.

“It won’t take long — 10 or 15 minutes,” Nursick said. “But there’s a lot of legwork involved. We’re still working with them to schedule a time.”

Nursick promises that one lane on North Avenue will be open to alternating traffic on August 26 — the day before school begins.

It’s likely that North Avenue will be closed again at night, to expedite work.

Until then, Nursick said that crews will work 2 shifts, “probably 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 8 p.m to 3 a.m.”

Nursick said that the entire project will be finished by some time in October — the original time frame.

The Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge -- before reconstruction.

The Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge — before reconstruction.

 

Farmers’ Market Needs Us!

It’s National Farmers’ Market Week (!).  So here’s your chance to vote for the Westport Farmers’ Market as the best in the area.

I usually don’t promote contests of this kind. But if we win — we’re currently 2nd, behind Black Rock but ahead of Norwalk/Rowayton, Old Greenwich and Ridgefield — our fantastic farmers (and bakers, meat purveyors, honey sellers, etc.) earn an important prize: They won’t have to pay their usual 4% fee on sales for one week.

Click here to vote for what we all know is the greatest farmers’ market around.

In other Westport Farmers’ Market news, members of the Staples High School boys soccer team were on hand today, shopping for goods.

Chef Luke Lampanelli (5th from left) joined Staples soccer players Chris Andrews, Max Hammer, Tyler Wright, Noah Schwaeber, Daniel Brill and Aidan Wisher, plus Westport Farmers' Market director Lori Cochran. Luke and the athletes are shopping for, and preparing, a meal for the Gillespie Center.

Chef Luke Lamparelli (5th from left) joins Staples soccer players Chris Andrews, Max Hammer, Tyler Wright, Noah Schwaeber, Daniel Brill and Aidan Wisher, plus Westport Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran. Luke and the athletes are shopping for, and preparing, a meal for the Gillespie Center. (Missing: Andres Marmelo)

Community service is an important component of the boys soccer program, and the athletes were getting ready to cook a meal for the Gillespie Center.

Chef Luke Lamparelli is also volunteering his time and expertise. He’ll cook with the Wreckers tomorrow. That evening, they’ll serve fajitas, pasta, salad and dessert at Westport’s shelter.

Funds come from a previous effort this summer. Staples soccer players helped shoppers carry bags to cars, in exchange for voluntary contributions.

It’s a great team effort — just like the team voting effort that will make the Westport Farmers’ Market #1!

Farmers Market

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 conted@westport.k12.ct.us. 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)

Cathy Beaudoin’s Amazonian Fashion Adventure

Cathy Beaudoin’s first job out of college was at Macy’s.

She hated it. The recent Trinity College (history major) grad would cry in the stock room. “My feet hurt, and I didn’t like my job,” she recalls.

Beaudoin had grown up in Westport. At Staples High School (Class of 1981) Cathy Lewis was a cheerleader, gymnast, volleyball player, and Inklings photographer.

Fortunately, the Macy’s gig did not last long. She spent the next 10 years at Ogilvy & Mather, in direct response marketing.

She laughs at her next career move: Banana Republic, in California.

Beaudoin was back in retail — but with a marketing lens. She developed a customer database, from scratch.

“I had no fashion background,” she recalls. “I was the unsexy, quantitative one” in the company.

Cathy Beaudoin

Cathy Beaudoin

Five years later, Beaudoin moved on to a much bigger job at the Gap. She was given an idea — build a shoe brand — and the result was Piperlime. It was a rare opportunity, she says, “to start something from the ground up, but within the safe confines of an established company.”

Six years ago, Amazon came calling. They wanted Beaudoin to once again create something entirely new. But Amazon is not an apparel company. They’re only the largest internet-based retailer in the nation.

Beaudoin loved living in San Francisco. She and her husband Sean, a novelist, had a new baby. But the challenge — build “Amazon Fashion,” again from scratch.

“I’ve had a blast,” she says. “I’ve never worked with people so intelligent. Every time I walk in a room, I feel like I’m surrounded by the smartest people I ever went to school with.”

Her work, the pace, the “staggering way we give our lives to it — weirdly, I enjoy it all,” Beaudoin says.

Adding fashion to Amazon was not like adding another product line — books, say, or appliances. Clothes and shoes are completely season-dependent — with a crazy timeline.

“None of the algorithms Amazon built are applicable to fashion,” Beaudoin notes. “For a company like this, which believes so strongly in its formula and playbook, this was counter-cultural.”

It was also necessary, she says.

“That’s the work I’m most proud of: being a voice in the wilderness, and making this thrive.”

Amazon Fashion logo

Beaudoin is also proud of growing her team, from 200 people to well over 1000 “amazing” people; carrying almost 3,000 different brands of shoes, clothing, watches, luggage and handbags, and achieving “astronomical” growth rates in both the men’s and women’s business.

Amazon is divided into Kindle, cloud computing and retail. Retail has 4 divisions; Beaudoin leads the Fashion portfolio from Seattle, and 2 sub-divisions based in New York: Shopbop.com and MyHabit.com.

Of course, not every idea works out. Many, in fact, flop.

“Amazon genuinely encourages you to fail,” Beaudoin explains. “If you achieve all your goals, the premise is that your goals are not tough enough. You’re not taking enough risks. That’s this culture.

“I’ve done tons of things that didn’t work. Customers didn’t care, or we didn’t execute well. There’s no shame in it.”

Clearly though, plenty of ideas work out — very, very well.

Cathy Beaudoin, in action.

Cathy Beaudoin, in action.

Yet for all she’s achieved — and her many years based on the West Coast — Beaudoin still considers Westport “home.”

Her parents are still here. But this is also the place, she says, where “I became me. I have memories of my friends, the Minnybus, pizza, the beach. It was an idyllic, wonderful place to grow up. It’s still home base.”

Many friends from Staples — Coleytown Junior High and Burr Farms Elementary School, even — have not left, or left and returned. She sees them everywhere, every time she is back. Her next visit is a few days away.

So what was Amazon Fashion’s president’s own fashion style, back in the day?

“No one in high school would have thought I had any style,” she says. “I was a fan of high-heel clogs.”

And now?

“Classic business lady-like. And spare.”

Rob Brink’s Running Times

Usually, Dan Goldberg says, he and his friends don’t get each other birthday presents. A drink at a bar is a big deal.

But Goldberg’s 30th birthday present for longtime friend — and former Staples High School (Class of 2003) track teammate — Rob Brink made the New York Times.

On Thursday, the sports section described the caper. Goldberg — a private equity guy — flew in a top distance runner from Arizona to race with (and against) Brink, a grad student at Cornell University business school.

The kicker: that elite runner is a woman.

The Times story noted that Brink — the “most competitive person” Goldberg knows — regularly beats him, his twin Mark and their fellow runners. “It kind of feels like a present to ourselves,” Goldberg said, anticipating that Sara Slattery would kick Brink’s butt.

After all, she’d run a 1-hour, 13-minute half-marathon — 4 minutes faster than Brink’s personal best.

In Brink’s favor: 12 weeks before, Slattery gave birth to a baby girl.

The story — written in typical Times let’s-see-what-those-crazy-millennials-are-up-to style — describes Slattery’s gifts for Brink (running gear, energy tablets and a watch); the pre-game dinner at Goldberg’s apartment (at which Slattery described the pain of childbirth as “worse than racing”), and the combination of excitement and fear all the friends felt about the coming gender showdown (Brink will “say he hasn’t been training, which is a complete lie,” Goldberg said).

Sara Slattery and Rob Brink, at East River Park. (Photo/Hilary Swift for New York Times)

Sara Slattery and Rob Brink, at East River Park. (Photo/Hilary Swift for New York Times)

The 12-mile workout consisted of 8 1,000-meter intervals, drills, and 20-minute “jogs.”

Slattery gave Brink everything she had. She set a brutal pace. The race was all everyone — especially Goldberg and his buddies — hoped it would be.

During the last interval, Brink pulled ahead. Goldberg ran with him as inspiration. Near the end, they slowed down so they could finish together with Slattery.

Brink called Slattery “amazing.” Six weeks earlier, he said, “I was running an ultra-marathon. You were giving birth. I am totally wiped.”

He called it “the best birthday ever.”

(To read the entire New York Times story, click here. Hat tip: Rob Sobelman)

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.”

World Orphan Disease Community Gets A Local Push

MadisonMott is a relatively small Westport branding and marketing firm with a big portfolio.

madisonmott logoFrom funky Saugatuck digs, they handle logos, identity development, web design and massive content management platforms. Clients like the Yale School of Music, a French wine seller and a Puerto Rican property love MadisonMott’s blend of hip creativity and pure professionalism.

ClearPharma is a fledgling Westport company seeking to make a big name in the “orphan disease” world. They’re creating an online software platform called onevoice. It’s designed to build communities by providing the 2 things that patients and families who suffer from 7,000 rare illnesses most crave: emotional support and curated disease information.

Despite its international scope, MadisonMott is proud of its local roots. And onevoice creator Dan Donovan — a native Westporter — likes to use as many local resources as he can.

Their partnership was solidified thanks to Staples High School soccer. Donovan captained the state championship 1981 team. MadisonMott founder/CEO Luke Scott also played for the Wreckers, graduating 10 years later.

onevoiceShowing a flair for learning about new and totally unfamiliar subjects, Scott and his team jumped into the project. MadisonMott first created a logo for onevoice.

Very quickly, they moved onto more technical challenges. The online platform — to be rolled out later this year, linking thousands of diseases that pharmaceutical companies traditionally have not cared about, and medical researchers overlook. To promote the platform, MadisonMott built the product website. “It’s the coolest site I’ve ever seen,” Donovan says.

Donovan brought Scott to trade shows, including the World Orphan Drug Conference in Washington, DC. They left with 69 leads — nearly all of them solid. Donovan credits a lot of the success to MadisonMott’s deep understanding of what onevoice is trying to accomplish.

“They’re as much a part of us as my own team,” Donovan says.

“And they’re almost part of us,” Scott agrees.

A screen shot from the onevoice platform.

A screen shot from the onevoice platform.

“This is a very tangible thing,” Donovan — who had a long career in pharmaceuticals, then formed his own company focusing on medical publications — says.

“We’re meeting patients and families who are impacted every day by rare diseases. This is so meaningful.”

“We’re a marketing and branding company,” Scott says. “But it’s nice to know we can help impact lives.”

The marketing industry has already paid notice. The Connecticut Art Director’s Club presented MadisonMott with 2 gold awards, for the OneVoice logo and website.

Soon, the entire orphan disease community will take note too.