Dr. Landon Looks Back

Way back in 1999, Joyce Landon saw an ad in the New York Times. Westport needed a new superintendent of schools.

She and her husband Elliott loved Westport. When he was superintendent in Ridgefield — a decade earlier — they spent a lot of time here, shopping and riding bikes to the beach. She encouraged him to apply.

He was reluctant. He was happy as superintendent of Long Island’s diverse Long Beach district. Nearly 60, Dr. Landon figured Westport wanted a “crackerjack young curriculum guy.”

His wife persisted. Landon was hired. “Everyone thought I’d be a short-timer,” he recalls.

He certainly was not. He’s been superintendent here for 17 years — nearly 3 times the national average — but the final chapter of his education career is about to close.

Dr. Elliott Landon still has a few weeks left, before cleaning out his office.

Dr. Elliott Landon has a few weeks left, before cleaning out his office.

As Landon prepares to retire — his final day is June 30 — he looks back on his long and remarkable tenure in town.

“I feel like I arrived yesterday,” he says in his Town Hall office. “I’ve had fun. Even with the controversies, I’ve enjoyed it all.”

Landon cites “great Board of Education and community support, and great faculty and administrators. Even during the economic crisis, we held our own. The district did not cut programs. In fact, we’ve expanded them.”

He ticks off his — and the town’s — accomplishments. At Staples, graduation requirements increased from 21 to 25; world language is now a 2-year requirement, with Italian and Mandarin added to the offerings; Science Research, robotics and freshman World Cultures were introduced; music grew; senior internships, the guidance department’s Resilience Project and the Hwa Chong partnership began; John Dodig added “the social and emotional piece,” and guidance, nursing and psychological services were expanded.

Liam Abourezk, BK Browne and Jack Sila showed superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon how they used QR codes on their smartphones, as part of a Staples High project involving art, writing and history.

Staples High School students Liam Abourezk, BK Browne and Jack Sila showed superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon how they used QR codes on their smartphones, as part of a school project combining art, writing and history.

The middle schools added Mandarin and STEM programs, while introducing a  teaming approach. Elementary schools now have literacy and (soon) science coaches.

District-wide, there’s Singapore math, a relationship with Teachers College, and the vision for 2025.

Landon arrived at the start of a major building program. Coleytown Middle School was being modernized; Greens Farms Elementary was reconfigured from the Arts Center, and Bedford Middle School was built on a former Nike missile site.

Meanwhile, the old Bedford Middle was gutted and turned into Saugatuck El. With leadership from Steve Halstead and Dan Kail, Staples was transformed from a dark, cramped and moldy old school into a modern, airy new one.

More recently, Kings Highway Elementary is now fully air-conditioned, while Coleytown El’s gym and cafeteria added a/c too.

Dr. Elliott Landon helped oversee the transformation of the old Bedford Middle School into Saugatuck Elementary.

Dr. Elliott Landon helped oversee the transformation of the old Bedford Middle School into Saugatuck Elementary.

Yet Landon is proudest of the staff he’s helped assemble. “In all those years, we never put limits on hiring,” he says. “We always went for the best people we could find. We picked up people at the top of their game. No one ever stopped us from hiring the best, no matter what the cost.”

He calls the unions — teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals and others — “good to work with. I have no complaints. We might be on different sides of issues, but all of us always wanted the best people, and the best for the kids.”

Landon adds, “The RTM would scream, but it was never personal. And no matter what they said, the Board of Finance always came through in the end.” The result is a staff and school system envied throughout the state.

The retiring superintendent also mentions some of the Board of Ed members he’s worked with: Halstead, Sandra Urist, Gene Cedarbaum, Cheryl Bliss, Linda Merk-Gould, Caryn Gagliano, Don O’Day, Jim Marpe and Michael McGovern, among many others.

“We’ve had issues, of course,” he says. “But overall, they’ve been very, very good.”

Then-Board of Education member Jim Marpe, Staples principal John Dodig and Westport schools superintendent Dr. Elliott Landon observed a student protest at Town Hall.

Then-Board of Education member Jim Marpe, Staples principal John Dodig and Westport schools superintendent Dr. Elliott Landon observed a student protest at Town Hall.

Landon did not get everything he asked for. The expansion of Staples High and redistricting of elementary schools are two examples.

But overall, he says, Westport has been “a fantastic experience. Despite the challenges, the support was always there.”

Among Landon’s personal highlights: Four years ago, he addressed the Staples graduating class that entered kindergarten the same year he arrived. “I saw an entire generation go from K to 12. Knowing I was in some small measure responsible for that was very fulfilling.”

A couple of years ago, Staples baseball coach Jack McFarland invited Landon to throw out the first pitch on opening day. Without any warmup, he delivered “the most perfect pitch ever thrown,” he recalls.

Not long ago, Landon was certified as a mediator by Quinnipiac Law School. In retirement, he plans to help administrators and teachers settle differences before arbitration.

It’s not a new path. In 1973 — as a young teacher — Landon’s photo appeared on page one of the New York Times, with Albert Shanker. They’d just helped Port Washington negotiate the first 5-year teachers’ contract in the country.

Dr. Elliott Landon

Dr. Elliott Landon

He and Joyce — the woman who convinced him to apply for the superintendency he’s now leaving — do not plan to leave Westport.

They love the town, their home, their neighbors, the beach and library. “I may have time now to join the Y’s Men,” Landon says.

Finally, what advice would he give his successor, Colleen Palmer?

“That’s easy. I’d say, ‘You’ve got great people. Encourage them. Support them. Take their advice. And learn from them.'”

 

11 responses to “Dr. Landon Looks Back

  1. Sheila Flinn

    It was a pleasure to work with him the first time as a young PTA President in 2002 and then again as PTA Council President. He listened to parents, addressed our concerns and always worked with us in partnership. Our schools and kids are lucky to have had him for 17 years. His leadership will be missed.

    • John Dodig

      Elliott was the best Superintendent I ever worked for. He allowed me to run the high school. Too many superintendents interfere too often at that level making the principal’s job more difficult than it should be. He was always encouraging and supportive. He provided guidance and direction and then let me and my team get where he wanted us to go. Having faith in your team and having the strength to allow them to do their jobs are marks of a true leader. I hope his next 17 years are as satisfying as these past 17.

  2. Marjorie Cion

    Please join the celebration of Dr. Landon’s incredible career on Thursday, May 26 at 5:00 pm at Shorehaven Country Club in Norwalk. Tickets are $60 and the deadline to RSVP is Thursday, May 19. For more information, email landonretirementcommittee@gmail.com.

  3. Steven Halstead

    Simply the best!
    Westport has been very well served.
    Thanks.

  4. While every absolute in life has exceptions, as a 20+ years resident of the town who has seen three children go our school system, no one has done more for Westport’s kids or Westport’s property values than Elliott Landon.

  5. Linda D. Parker

    Good morning, Dan – as a girl growing up in Westport, off and on, from1950-1962, I have some questions about schools, and changes to them. I’d love an update with respect to the fact that fact that you’re a busy man! 1.Saugatuck elementary school 2.Greens Farm elementary school 3.Long Lots jr high school 4.Bedford jr high school and the old Staples high school . I was very fortunate to have a visit with Mr Hall at the new Staples high school in 1962, the year of my last visit, yes decades ago! Many thanks

  6. Faith Taylor

    Happy to add my congratulations to Dr. Landon for a terrific career here in Westport. Excellent staffing decisions, disciplined budgeting, passion for teaching and learning and a resilient nature are just a few of the gifts he has brought to his job. Wishing him all the best in his retirement.

  7. Mike McGovern

    “Teaching creates all other professions”

    Preparing our children for success in the 21st Century will be the legacy of Dr. Landon’s distinguished tenure as Superintendent.

    Thank you Elliott.

  8. Congratulations and thank you Dr. Landon. You have made a real difference in our children’s lives, preparing them for their exciting future aspirations. I am glad I got to know you personally during all those years on the Board of Finance. You were always able to put educational needs first, and to make that happen even during difficult economic times. The town will have big shoes to fill!

  9. Steve Stein

    Dr Landon- Congratulations on an amazing 17 year career in Westport as Superintendent of Schools- a consistent record of expanding the learning opportunities for all of our kids.

    The metrics used to judge Dr Landon are the wonderful people he has hired, the incredible learning environment created for our students and the outstanding success of the programs. Theater and Music, Science and Robotics, Arts and Humanities, Writing and Journalism as well as our Athletic Teams- across the board- all excel not just at state levels but often at national levels as well.

    It is a blessing to live in a town where the kids not only get a great education but the family can also look forward to school sponsored events including amazing plays at all the schools, art shows, and our student athletes in competition.

    Thank you – Joyce and Elliot!

  10. Bob Fatherley

    Elliott: As former President of the Y’s Men, I encourage you to join us. You
    get free coffee and donuts, wonderful fellowship, distinguished speakers
    and you don’t have to set your alarm clock. We meet Thursday mornings
    from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Saugatuck Congregational Church. After Memorial Day, we will resume our fall programs the first Thursday after Labor Day. Just show up. We’ll be looking for you. Bob Fatherley