Dan Sullivan — a longtime teacher and administrator, who had a profound impact on the Westport Public Schools — died Monday, surrounded by his family. He was 81.
Sullivan (not to be confused with the Staples High School Latin teacher with the same name) began his career here in 1964, as a Long Lots Junior High School math teacher.
He was named department chair in 1969, then vice principal in 1973. In 1986 he moved to Coleytown Elementary School as principal. He retired in 1997; served as a special assistant for building, planning and construction, then returned full-time in 2001 as principal of Greens Farms Elementary.
Those are the facts. But they don’t convey the warmth, empathy or great good humor that made Dan Sullivan a legend in Westport education.
I was not exactly an Einsteinian math pupil. But I had Mr. Sullivan in 8th grade, and he made math actually fun. Like any great teacher, he loved his subject. But he understood that not all of us would be mathematicians — and that was okay. He also had a wicked sense of humor.
Later, when I was a substitute teacher, Long Lots was a favorite school. Mr. Sullivan fostered a warm, loving schoolwide environment. I saw how he treated every student sent to the office as a special individual, worthy of his time, his ear and his respect.
In the 1980s and ’80s, Long Lots had a very complex schedule. Classes were varying lengths: science labs were long and met only a couple of times a week; foreign language classes were short but met often, for example.
Because of those time periods, very few classes let out at the same time. The halls were never crowded — the bane of any school.
It was a brilliant schedule. It was devised completely by Mr. Sullivan — all by hand. Many schools could have benefited from the setup. Of course, no other other had a Dan Sullivan to create and implement it.
And — this would never happen today, for many reasons — he allowed a neighborhood dog the free run of school. One day Doozer wandered in to Long Lots, and never left. He roamed the halls, sat in on classes, and lay down in the cafeteria.
Most vice principals would have called Animal Control. Mr. Sullivan turned a blind eye (when he wasn’t petting him). It helped make Long Lots feel not like a school, but a home.
Mr. Sullivan had a similar impact on colleagues throughout the Westport Public Schools. He was an innovative thinker, a wise mentor, and a very funny guy.
Dan Sullivan graduated from Milford High School in 1957. He earned a BS from Southern Connecticut State College, an MS in secondary supervision from the University of Bridgeport, and certificates in advanced studies for administration and supervision from Fairfield University and Teachers College, Columbia University.
He later became an adjunct professor at both the University of Bridgeport and Sacred Heart University.
Mr. Sullivan is survived by 4 children: Kevin of Los Angeles, Maureen and Lorna of Philadelphia, Daniel of Fairfield, and 6 grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Lorna.