After 11 years at the helm — and a tenure in which he has left an indelible mark on Staples High School as a caring, compassionate, energetic and enthusiastic leader — principal John Dodig is retiring.
The 70-year-old educator made the announcement a few minutes ago to his staff, and followed up with an email sent to all Staples parents. Dodig wrote:
All good things must come to an end at some point in time. That time now has come for me. I will retire from this wonderful position as principal of Staples High School at the end of the current school year.
I came to Staples 11 years ago thinking that I would remain for only 1 year while the superintendent of schools and a committee found a permanent principal.
Several months into the position I realized that this was a community in which I had longed to work, and a high school I wanted to lead for several years. Something intangible about the people I met told me that my message of love and acceptance would be not only accepted, but embraced. What a great reading of a community that turned out to be for me.
All of my travels to over 50 countries and my experiences as a teacher in an urban environment, an assistant principal in an affluent suburb and then, a principal in several other communities, helped me understand who I am, what my beliefs are, and what I believe a public high school should and can be.
I spent a few months at Staples and quickly realized that scholarship was supported by everyone, but what was needed was a leader who was not afraid to use the word “love” out loud when speaking about students. It seemed clear to me that Westport and Staples were where I should live and spend the last part of my professional life. I took a chance by applying for the position, and the Board of Education and superintendent of schools took a chance on hiring me.
In this message, I want to take the opportunity to thank all the parents in Westport who have supported me over the past 11 years; the teachers, school counselors and other support staff who have embraced my feelings about high school students, and the administrators who have shared my vision. This very professional team at Staples has made my vision of high school come true.
My 4 assistant principals are all loving people who understand young men and women. I think what I provided for them was the message that it was OK to use the word “love,” or some other form of the word, when working with teenagers who make mistakes.
Suspending a student for a rules infraction is part of the job. Letting those students know that it is their poor decision and behavior that is being punished, and not the individual, is not something most administrators are able to say. It takes courage and confidence to send that message. These 3 men and 1 woman have both.
Without them working with our students every day over 4 years, guiding them, supporting them, helping them resolve problems and stay focused on what is important in the long term, Staples could not provide the nurturing environment that it does. These assistant principals truly take on the role of parent while our students are in school. I cannot thank them enough.
It has been an absolute joy to lead this high school these past 11 years. It is the capstone of my career and something I will never forget.
I was interviewed on television earlier this year about my career, and was asked if there was a teacher who influenced me in a positive way. I immediately said that Mr. Wilner, my 4th and 5th grade teacher in Queens, NY was that person. It wasn’t what he taught us, but the connection he made with all of us that was so powerful. He liked me and I liked him. I’m sure every student in that class would say the same thing.
That connection he made with me has been my guide for the past 60 years. At the end of the interview I said that I hope that I will be someone’s Mr. Wilner. I
hope that many years from now, some Staples grad will look back and say that I helped her or him in a positive way.
Thank you for your support.
John Dodig will join James Calkins in history as one of Staples’ transformational principals. Both used the word “love” with pride. In the turbulent 1960s — while other high schools imploded — Calkins steered Staples with strength and resolve.
In the 2000s — an era filled with enormous pressures, high student stress, and the insane demands of No Child Left Behind and the Common Core — Dodig kept Staples’ very high academic, artistic and athletic standards, while transforming it into a school that students genuinely love.
Teenagers feel safe and accepted at Staples. They know they are nurtured and cared for there. And they thrive.
That will be John Dodig’s greatest legacy of all.