Thanks For Caring

Staples High School principal John Dodig is a passionate, compassionate and very involved educator.

He’s also a keen observer of teenagers – and a gifted writer.

Here is his “Principal’s Message” in the most recent PTA Newsletter.  I can’t think of a better message to kick off the holiday season.

I was struggling to come up with a message that is appropriate for the November PTA Newsletter.  I knew it should be related to Thanksgiving, but I could not think of something I had not said in the past.

This morning it came to me while standing in the foyer greeting kids as they entered school.  It was right in front of my eyes all along, but I took it for granted and never shared it, so I will share it now.

Charlie Greenwald

Around 7:15 a.m. last month a senior, Charlie Greenwald, entered the building.  He is one of dozens of kids who come up to me each morning and shake my hand or engage me about homework, the weather, a game won or a performance in the auditorium.

In the middle of our brief conversation, Charlie excused himself to walk to the des of Patty McQuone, our attendance secretary, to greet Alex, one of our special needs students.

Alex gave Charlie the broadest smile I have ever seen.  He took Charlie’s hand, and the 2 of them talked to Patty for 3 minutes, all the while holding hands tightly.

I had the urge to take their picture with my iPhone and turn it into a poster, but did not.  What a warm, positive way to begin the school day for the 2 of them, for Patty, and for me. That image remained in my mind for the entire day.

The scene at a recent Best Buddies dance. (Photo/Madeline Hardy)

I learned later that day that under Mrs. McQuone’s advisorship, the Best Buddies Club has grown to become the largest club at Staples, with over 220 students. That means about 15% of the student population is in a club that exists solely to support and benefit special needs students.  They provide individual help to each of our students, and once a year they organize and host a dance for special needs students from all over the state.

Over the last 7 years I have written about problems teenagers face.  I’ve written about drinking, cheating, bullying, speeding and other issues that have always existed, and will continue to exist long after I leave Staples.

Some teenagers make poor decisions, but that is part of life.  I talk about them; we as teachers and administrators deal with those matters, but that kind of behavior is seldom the primary focus of our attention.

What we focus on is the fact that our kids are fun to be with 7 hours a day, 5 days a week.  They amaze us every day with something unexpected and positive that they say or do.

John Dodig is a "superfan" of Staples students.

I looked at a list of the over 90 clubs here, and was astonished at the number of them devoted to helping young people somewhere in the world.  Some are raising money to build a school in Guatemala, some are providing soccer balls for young kids in Iraq and Afghanistan, some are feeding the homeless, and a huge number are helping those who were born with a severe handicap and who attend Staples High School.  What a wonderful job I have!

So here is what I am most thankful for, and will share with my family at the Thanksgiving table this year. I am thankful that I am the principal of Staples High School with students who, bottom line, are caring, respectful, involved, and willing to work hard to become well-educated, responsible human beings.

I am thankful that my mother taught me that individual people are important for one reason or another. Because I took her words to heart, I take time each day to get to know your sons and daughters, and to see first hand their warm and caring nature.  Working with your children is a joy, and I am truly thankful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving!

15 responses to “Thanks For Caring

  1. Carissa Simon Keepin

    What a fabulous Principal. Reminds me of my Staples’ Principal, Mr. Calkins back in 1969-1971. Also very caring, involved leader who loved us!

  2. What a great way to start our day..the hope of the world rides with these wonderful young people..Congratulations on supurb leadership..

  3. Very nice to see focus on the good the kids do and not just
    the trouble they get into.
    And how lucky for them to have such a terrific principal.

  4. Dan,

    Thanks for the wonderful story. Thank you John Dodig for all you do, and have done.
    Thank you to the teachers & staff at Staples High School, past and present that have nurtured so many to become so caring in their own ways.

    Thank you to the Administrators, teachers and staff members all over this place we call earth that provide that nurturing each and every day.

    Thank you to the children that come to school each day, to learn what it means to care for some one that is in need.

    Thank you Charlie Greenwald for setting such a wonderful example of caring!!

    Tom Wall
    Staples High School
    Class of 1970

  5. Terry Brannigan


    Dan & John, I have a 3,7 & 9 year old. I hope you will still be doing what you do when they pass through. Please hang in thee, I promise it will be worth the wait.

    Charlie, you reap what you sew, the best is yet to come for you.

  6. After watching the national news lately,, this piece is welcome at so many levels. Thank you to Mr. Dodig and to Dan for sharing it.

  7. Wonderful story.

  8. Kerstin Warner

    This is wonderful. I know I will include Mr. Dodig, Charlie, the Staples community, and all my warm and caring colleagues in the Westport schools when I reflect on the things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

  9. Way to go, Charlie, for a warm gesture that is second nature to you. Way to go, Mr. Dodig, for not only celebrating Charlie’s act of kindness, but for fostering a caring community of kindness among Staples students!
    P.S. Come and see Charlie as Riff in “West Side Story.”

  10. a Westport fan!!!

    Dan, that was the BEST story ever, thank you so much for sharing!!!

  11. A great story on so many levels! Thanks

  12. Thanks for this story, Dan, and thanks to John Dodig for noticing moments like this and sharing them.

    I can’t say that this story about Charlie surprises me – he is an exceptional young man and a wonderful, warm leader in his own way!

  13. Fantastic story. And note Charlie is the son of two former Staples students – so I am inclined to think a lot of good has been going on for a long time and Charlie in his own way is playing it forward. May it continue for generations.

  14. Typical day for John Dodig. Greatest principal ever. I hope everyone in town realizes what he does for Staples

  15. Linda Gramatky Smith

    Wonderful story.

    When we had our Staples Class of 1960 50th anniversary a year ago, Dan gave a fabulous 2-hour tour of the “new Staples” to about 80 classmates. And it touched me that the highlight of the tour was when Dan was standing in the lobby and describing what kind of principal John Dodig is. He told how “Mr. Dodig” had retired from another town and then came back to be Staples interim principal and then loved the staff and students so much he asked to be considered as the permanent principal. (Hope I have my facts straight). When Dan described what makes Mr. Dodig great (“He believes that the staff is capable of handing any problems or challenges, so he tells them that he is not going to micromanage them. But he asks that IF there is a problem that he not be caught unawares but for them to give him a heads up.”), well, I could hear this collective sigh from all the ex-teachers in our class of `60 as they admired this kind of wise leadership. We all agreed that our beloved Staples is in very good hands!