Jerry Davidoff’s Concern

It’s ancient history to many Westporters, but in 1970 our town engaged in an ugly battle over a plan to bus a few Bridgeport students to Westport.

The proposal — Project Concern — was passed by the Board of Education.  Enraged citizens initiated a recall petition against the board chairman, Joan Schine. 

An enormous crowd packed a hearing in the Staples auditorium.  When Westport Education Association president Dick Leonard announced that his executive board had voted to endorse Project Concern, and oppose the recall effort, a man standing in the front leaped to his feet. 

That started a standing ovation — in part of the room.  The other part booed.

Jerry and Denny Davidoff

Jerry Davidoff and his wife, Denny (Photo courtesy of

The man was Jerry Davidoff.  He died Saturday at 83.  A 40-year resident of Westport, he served for nearly a decade on the Board of Ed — 2 as chairman — and 4 more on the RTM.

“Jerry was willing to stick his neck out, and stand up for what was right,” Leonard recalled this morning.  “He was a liberal thinker, and a very constructive influence on Westport life for many years.”

Jerry Davidoff accomplished much in his life of service to Westport.  In addition to politics, he earned renown as a champion of civil liberties, and a national lay leader in the Unitarian Universalist church.

But Dick Leonard will always remember Jerry Davidoff for the moment he rose to his feet, in a moment of passion and power, and led a standing ovation for a cause he believed was right.

13 responses to “Jerry Davidoff’s Concern

  1. Are the children that come from Bridgeport chosen by their academic achievement? What’s the current criteria? And who makes that decision? And once they are chosen, do they have the option to remain throughout their school years regardless of their performance? Or do they have to maintain a certain level of grades or loose the spot to another child?

    I’m aware of the program, but never hear anyone discuss it. How many children is it open to each year?

    • The program ran for about 10 years, and ended in the 1980s when transportation funds were no longer available. Students were chosen (as I recall) based on a combination of academic achievement and parental support. It was a tremendous program; a number of Bridgeport youngsters went on to achieve great professional and personal success, and Westport youngsters’ eyes were opened wide to a different life 10 miles away.

      Today’s program is different. Also valuable, but different criteria.

  2. Dan- Are you sure it ended in the 80’s? I think the last class from project concern graduated with me in 1992. A very beneficial program that some that I know truly took advantage of.

    • Good call. The last new class was in the ’80s. Students who were in it stayed through graduation — in ’92. A great group of young men and women.

  3. Dan, thanks for the info.

    Must the children of today’s progam provide their own transportation to the Westport schools?

    Who would know the answers to the above questions I asked in my previous post.

    And congratulations on today’s soccer!

    • Bus transportation is provided to the Bridgeport students. BUT it is very limited — one run, which picks up kids all across Bridgeport. They get up VERY early to get to school on time. It’s a sacrifice most Westport students don’t even know about — and don’t comprehend.

      This also means there are limits on after-school activities — it’s tough for them to get home if they stay after school. But the students are involved in a variety of Staples activities, and contribute greatly to our school.

  4. What an awesome contribution your article makes towards Davidoff’s legacy; People like him personify the difference between good intentions and progressive action.

  5. Julie Horowitz, based at SHS, manages the current Open Choice program and there is a group of dedicated PTA (and other) volunteers who help Open Choice students make their school experience more full here in Wesport by providing transportation and outreach to the students and families of our Open Choice program. Full disclosure, my father is Dick Leonard and I have MANY childhood memories of dinners at our kitchen table with the subject of the recall, Project Concern, Jerry Davidoff and Joan Schine on the menu! The last comment is exactly right. Davidoff was a do-er. All just part of Wesport’s activist history! Dan, thank you. An excellent and important post.

  6. I had the pleasure of working with Julie Horowitz for 3 years helping her with the Open Choice program. I was the PTA liaison. Every year 5 Bridgeport 1st graders are picked in a lottery system and get to come to school here in Westport, or one of nine other towns. Bridgeport parents put their children in this lottery not having any idea which town their children may end up in, but knowing they have a chance to get a better education than they would in Bridgeport. It is a leap of faith. The only requirement is that the child is enrolled in kindergarten in Bridgeport. As long as the children continue to reside in Bridgeport they can stay in the Open Choice program. Julie helps to make the transition easier for these youngsters. It is not an easy job but she does it beautifully along with the help of a number of concerned Westport parents who buddy up with the Bridgeport parents. The extra support is crucial to helping these families feel like they belong in our system.

    • Julie Horowitz

      Thank you Joanne for your kind words.
      One of my responsibilities as a Westport Board of Ed employee is to coordinate Westport’s Open Choice Program (also referred to as Project Choice), a CT. State Dept. of Education initiative resulting from the 1996 Sheff v. O’Neill decision. There are currently 42 Bridgeport children (grades 1 through 12) who travel each day by bus to Westport. Cooperative Educational Services in Trumbull administers the program for the area seven towns (Westport, Weston, Fairfield, Easton, Monroe, Stratford, and Trumbull) which serve approximately 190 Bridgeport school children. The Open Choice program was instituted in 1997 and attempts to address desegregation by enabling inner city students to attend schools in neighboring suburban towns . I am happy to provide additional information to anyone interested in the OPen Choice program. I can be reached at #341-1455 or by e-mail

  7. To their great credit, my parents not only supported the Project Concern project but also signed me up as a second-grade “host” during the program’s first year. I became fast friends with Charles, and only in retrospect did I realize how vitally important all this was to my own development. It was a great idea.

  8. Dear Dan,

    Many thanks for telling a story that many — me, at least! — had forgotten. I appreciate you and Dick Leonard reaching back to these days. They seem like yesterday, don’t they?

    Mom, John, and I thank you for the recognition. We’ve been telling a lot of stories lately like this.

    I’ve been posting some materials about Dad on a blog at You’re welcome to take a look at it — still a bit sparse but it should fill out this month.

    The memorial will be 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 28, at the Unitarian Church in Westport, 10 Lyons Plains Road.

    Again, Dan, many thanks for this story.

    Kind regards,
    Doug Davidoff
    Arlington, Massachusetts

  9. As a teacher, I am impressed by Julie Horowitz’s thorough attention to ensuring Project Choice kids’ involvement in before and after-school activities. As a former host family, I have fond memories of Sandra, Vivian & Mona sleeping at our house every Wednesday night. Also, I have amazing memories of Realand Uddyback, the teacher at Bedford Elementary who I believe worked with the Project Concern program. Thank you to the Jerry Davidoffs and Dick Leonards of the world for making it a better place.