Tag Archives: John Dodig

A Proud Day For Westport

The rain that chased Westport’s 2nd annual Pride festival from Jesup Green to Staples High School never materialized. So there were no rainbows in the sky above the courtyard.

But nearby, in the auditorium foyer, hundreds of rainbows were on display. Buttons, artwork, t-shirts, bagels  — rainbows were everywhere.

The rainbow arch was a popular spot for photos.

And a rainbow constellation of Westporters — parents, grandparents, couples without children, 20somethings, clergy members, musicians, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, and scores of kids of all ages — smiled, applauded and hugged all afternoon long.

A small part of the large Pride crowd. (Photo/Dan Woog)

From the opening remarks by 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker — who said that the sponsors, Westport Pride, have made Westport “a better community” — to heartfelt stories from people like former Staples principal John Dodig, former tennis captain Luke Foreman, current students and Amis/Terrain executive chef Jes Bengtson, to entertainment by very talented teens,  and on through closing blessings by Temple Israel cantor Julia Cadrain, it was a day to celebrate inclusivity in our schools and community.

Luke Foreman describes his journey. (Photo/Marjorie Almansi)

The event drew nearly 1,000 members of the LGBTQ+ community, and many allies. They had — in both senses of the word — a very gay time.

Who doesn’t like rainbow bagels? (Photo/Dan Woog)

Staples Class of 2021 graduate Benny Zack returned for the event. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Former Bedford Middle School teacher Kerstin Rao, and Dr. Nikki Gorman. The pediatrician, and owner of Westport Medical & Wellness Center, was a featured speaker. (Photo/Bethany Eppner)

Rainbows were everywhere at Westport Pride. Kids’ activities included arts and crafts and face painting. (Photo/Bethany Eppner)

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, with an official town proclamation. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Former Staples High principal John Dodig inspired listeners with his story. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport RTM member Harris Falk dressed for the occasion … (Photo/Dan Woog)

… as did Rev. John Betit of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church … (Photo/Dan Woog)

… while former 1st Selectman Jim Marpe sported an appropriate tie. (Photo/Dan Woog)

State Representative Stephanie Thomas lent her support. She’s running for Secretary of the State. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport Pride founder and festival co-organizer Brian McGunagle introduced his 3-year-old son Henry to the crowd. They loved him.  (Photo/Dan Woog)

Love is love. (Photo/Marjorie Almansi)

“06880, The Podcast”: John Dodig

As Pride Month begins, there is no better LGBTQ role model than John Dodig.

An educator for 47 years, it was only in his last 11 that he was out publicly as a gay man. But what an 11 years those were.

As principal of Staples High School, Dodig fostered an atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance for all. He was admired and adored by students, staff, and the entire community.

But it took a lifetime of struggle for Dodig to get there.

The other day, I sat with him in the Westport Library’s Trefz Forum. We talked about his career in education, his journey as a gay man, and what it all means for him and our community today.

As always, Dodig was clear, honest, incisive, and very funny. Click here for the newest “06880: The Podcast” interview.

Happy Pride!

Screenshot from John Dodig’s podcast interview.

At The Arts Center: Facing Micro-Aggressions, Head On

In March, the Westport Arts Center opened a new exhibition with an old idea.

“Tête-à-Tête: Reinventing the Conversation Bench” is based on the old Victorian “courting bench.” Its S-shape allows couples to hold intimate conversations without touching. Twenty-eight reimagined contemporary designs and prototypes are on display through May 25.

One of the many tete-a-tete benches at the Westport Arts Center exhibition.

In April, TEAM Westport announced the winners of its annual student essay contest. The topic was micro-aggressions.

Those 2 seemingly unrelated events come together next Wednesday (May 1, 6 to 7:30 p.m.).

The WAC gallery’s tête-à-tête benches are the perfect setting for dialogues on micro-aggressions.

Staples High School students Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno — the 4 TEAM Westport contest winners — will read short pieces from their essays.

(From left): TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, with essay contest winners Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno.

Former Staples principal and Westport Arts Advisory Council member John Dodig, and Westport’s Human Services director Elaine Daignault, will moderate the tête-à-tête discussions that follow.

It’s doubtful attendees will find solutions to this contemporary problem.

But as they sit facing each other on the WAC benches, they’ll have a unique way of looking at it — both metaphorically, and for real.

(Space is limited. Please RSVP by calling 203-222-7070.)

John Dodig: He Does “I Do”

The other day, a Facebook post caught John Dodig’s eye.

A couple was getting married. But because they’re gay, one set of parents refused to attend. So a friend of one of the men stepped in, and took the place of the father.

The two acts — of ignorance and understanding — hit home.

John Dodig

“I understand growing up with the burden of trying to hide who you are,” says Dodig, the popular and highly respected principal of Staples High School who retired in 2015.

“I was terrified too. And one of the worst fears about coming out was losing my parents.”

Dodig did not say the words “I am gay” out loud until he was 46 years old. That day — in front of a mirror — he repeated them several times, just to be sure.

Two years later, he met Rodger. Dodig was principal of Fairfield High School, so they would not be seen together. If someone said “Hey, Mr. Dodig!” when they strolled down Main Street in Westport, Rodger was “trained” to walk away.

By the time he was 60, Dodig was no longer terrified. He was the principal of Staples High School, out publicly and on a mission to make his building a safe place for every student and staff member, no matter who they were.

In June of 2013, Dodig and Rodger were married at the Saugatuck Rowing Club. The joyful ceremony included Dodig’s ex-wife, her current husband, their daughter and her fiance, and Dodig’s daughter, her husband and their children.

Rodger’s mother and his 3 brothers were there too.

“It doesn’t get better than that,” the former principal says.

So when he read that Facebook post about the gay couple, and the friend who stood in for the parents at their wedding, he had 2 thoughts: “The good news is, people are coming out and getting married when they’re young. The bad news is, there’s still a chance they’ll lose their parents.”

Dodig — who is as active in retirement as he was during his 47 years as an educator — decided he could help.

He’s offering to stand in — as a parent, grandparent or friend — for any gay man or woman whose loved one refuses to attend a wedding.

“I’ll go to any ceremony where 2 people commit to love each other forever,” Dodig says.

“The thought that someone finally comes to terms with who they are, and wants to get married, but someone else refuses to be there for them — that’s heartbreaking.”

He posted his offer on Facebook. Almost immediately, a female friend offered to accompany him, so there can be both a “mother” and “father” at a wedding.

“I may never get called,” Dodig says. “But I’m ready to help.”

He invites “06880” readers to spread his offer far and wide. Just email dodig8095@gmail.com.

He’ll even walk you down the aisle.

John Dodig: “Forget The Malls. Shop Locally!”

For years, John Dodig and his husband Rodger have done their holiday shopping on Amazon. That often means gift cards for their many children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, siblings and friends.

This year — with memories of years gone by — they headed to a mall. But after 2 hours in Trumbull, they’d found exactly 2 gifts.

Depressed, they left.

Driving home, they decided to try downtown Westport. They parked in the Baldwin Lot behind Brooks Brothers, and headed to Church Lane.

On a whim, they walked into Savannah Bee Company. The manager greeted them warmly.

John and Rodger learned about bees, honey, sustaining the environment, and the store’s strong support for the community. They also found several perfect gifts.

The bright interior of Savannah Bee Company.

They put them in their car, then browsed more stores in Bedford Square and on Main Street.

“We found something for everyone on our list — and had a great time shopping,” says John, who retired in 2015 after 11 years as Staples High School’s well-respected principal.

“Everyone in every store went out of their way to be helpful. They were beyond friendly.”

John and Rodger finished their shopping, feeling like “supportive and thankful Westporters.”

John’s advice: “Forget the malls. Shop locally! Our shop owners need our support. And they provide everything we need during this gift-giving season.”

Look Who’s Taking The Haberstrohs’ Hot Pepper Challenge!

When word got out that Patty Haberstroh’s family was promoting a hot pepper challenge to raise funds for ALS research, some big names responded:

Shaquille O’Neal. Charles Barkley. Domonique Foxworth. Dan Le Batard. The Miami Heat.

Now the popular Department of Human Services’ program specialist’s fellow town employees have done the same.

Yesterday 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Staples principal James D’Amico, assistant principals Jim Farnen and Rich Franzis, and former principal John Dodig gathered at Town Hall.  After a bit of banter, they all ate eye-tearing, sinus-clearing, unfathomably hot habaneros.

It was not easy. But they did it for Patty.

And when they were done, they challenged others to do the same.

D’Amico dared the Staples science department (whose chair grows his own peppers). Farnen challenged the Staples athletic department (which includes me, as Staples boys soccer coach — yikes!). Dodig named the guidance department.

Marpe topped them all. He dared the entire Board of Education — and superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer — to eat a habanero or jalapeño.

Videos will be posted soon.

But don’t laugh too hard. We may challenge you next.

(Click here for the Haberstrohs’ hot pepper challenge donation page. Video by Justin Nadal, Staples High School media lab instructor.)

BONUS VIDEO: Check out this new video. It features plenty of celebrities — and tons of Westporters too. And after you click on — please keep the ALS Pepper Challenge going!

TEA Talk Sunday Explores Art, Social Change

Everyone knows about TED Talks.

But here in Westport, we’ve got TEA Talks.

The Westport Arts Advisory Committee’s annual TEA — that’s Thinkers Educators Artists — event is set for this Sunday (October 29, 2 p.m., Town Hall).

The topic is timely and relevant: Art and Social Change.

Three 20-minute conversations among Westport arts professionals will explore how artists working in theater, art, writing and music can move popular thought, or sway public opinion.

In a nod to today’s fraught times, they’ll ask (and hopefully answer): “Does it take difficult times or momentous events for artists to create work that is a form of political and social currency?”

In the late 1960s, Naiad Einsel’s “Save Cockenoe Now” posters were a local symbol of the intersection of art and social change.

Carole Schweid (actor/director, Play With Your Food) and Michael Barker (managing director, Westport Country Playhouse) will address theater’s historical role addressing social issues.

Miggs Burroughs (artist/graphic designer/no further introduction needed) and Mark Yurkiw (artist/entrerpreneur) will discuss the influence of visual art on social change.

Haris Durrani (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

And John Dodig (former Staples principal) will chat with 2011 graduate Haris Durrani about the young writer’s fiction novella, “Technologies of the Self,” about the life of a young American Muslim after 9/11.

Durrani will also be presented with the Horizon Award, given annually by the Arts Advisory Committee to a Westport artist under the age of 32 who shows extraordinary accomplishment and potential.

Rounding out the afternoon are professional performances of songs expressing socially conscious messages, from yesterday (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”) and today (Pasek and Westport’s Justin Paul’s “Dear Evan Hansen.”)

A reception follows the intriguing TEA talks, at the Westport Historical Society across from Town Hall.


New Principal Named At Staples High

After a nationwide search for the next principal of Staples High School, the top candidate turned out to be a very familiar face.

A few minutes ago, the Board of Education approved the selection of James D’Amico. He was one of 3 finalists for the position.

James D'Amico

James D’Amico

D’Amico is intimately familiar with Staples. A highly regarded social studies teacher there from 2001-2009, he also served as grade 6-12 social studies department chair from 2005-2014.

In 2014, D’Amico was named assistant superintendent for secondary education. His office was in Town Hall, but he remained a familiar presence at the high school.

Superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon made the decision after weighing several factors. They included understanding “the very complex culture of Westport”; experience in a large high school with excellent academics, arts, athletics and extracurriculars; experience as a department chair and district administrator, and respect from colleagues.

D’Amico’s “knowledge of our high school is incredible,” Landon said. “And his background and record are exciting. He has intelligence, patience, a reflective mind and an incredible vision for the future.”

Board of Education chair Michael Gordon echoed Landon’s praise.

Staples sealD’Amico is “brilliant academically, but also very human. He has a big heart, is a great listener, and is balanced and thoughtful,” Gordon said. “He’s a strategic thinker, but also willing to make hard decisions. Staples will be lucky to have him, now and for the long term.”

Accepting the position, D’Amico called Staples “our crown jewel. We will do extraordinary things. This is great honor — and responsibility.”

He pledged that the high school will be “a role model for what public education can be.”

D’Amico certainly knows the school he’ll be leading. As a faculty member, he earned high ratings — 4.35 out of a total of 5 — on a sometimes-snarky teacher rating website. Among the comments:

  • Cool teacher. Cool guy.
  • Really cool teacher, lets you be yourself in class and does not attempt to steer the class dynamic….He thinks of really fun activities for the class. He is a good grader and he will always listen to you for your opinions or thoughts.
  • awesome. hes funny, clear, fair grader.
  • Mr. D is AWESOME. hes really funny and a good teacher
  • Mr. D is pretty cool and does fun activities with class
  • HE IS SO AWESOME…really good at explaining things…just sometimes the test questions are tricky
  • He’s really funny and an excellent teacher. Follow directions and you’ll do really well in his class.
  • Mr. D is awesome. Ask him to sing you his song, it rules. AP US is unreal…everyone should take it…

D’Amico majored in educational leadership and administration at the University of Connecticut. He worked in the office of orientation services, as a resident assistant, and was active in the marching band.

After graduating in 1998, D’Amico earned a master’s degree in secondary education and a 6th year in education administration, both also from UConn.

At Staples he was advisor to the Junior Statesman Association. He is also an assistant den leader for his son’s Cub Scout pack.

D’Amico succeeds his former boss, John Dodig, who retired last June after 11 years at Staples’ helm. Mark Karagus has served as interim principal for this school year.

D’Amico assumes his new post on July 1.

In its 132 years, Staples High School has seen many principals. James D'Amico is its newest.

In its 132 years, Staples High School has seen many principals. James D’Amico is its newest.

Putting The “Class” In 2016

It’s a tradition at Staples High School for senior girls to start the year by painting their cars.

They try to include their graduating year, along with slogans. The results range from funny to meh, proud to X-rated.

But this year saw something new: An homage to a former principal.

John Dodig retired last June. But — as this photo sent to “06880” by Lily Bloomingdale shows — he is certainly not forgotten.

John Dodig - 2016

A very classy move indeed!

John Dodig: ReSpect

There is only one Derek Jeter.

And there is only one John Dodig.

Inspired by the fantastic Jeter “Re2pect” video honoring the Yankee great on his retirement — with everyone from little kids, cops and Rudy Giuliani to Jay-Z, Spike Lee and even Red Sox fans tipping their cap to the superstar — Staples seniors Zoe Brown and Taylor Harrington set out to give their retiring principal his due.

The result is a remarkable tribute to the high school’s one-of-a-kind leader.

If you know Dodig, and understand all he has meant during his 11 years as principal, you’ll look at this video, smile — and shed a tear.

If you don’t know Dodig, watch anyway. You’ll see the impact he’s had on everyone — administrators, teachers, athletes, actors, musicians, artists, kids who might have fallen through the cracks, secretaries, cafeteria workers, custodians, security guards — and you’ll wish you’d known him.

Zoe and Taylor clearly got the most out of their 4 years in Dodig’s Staples. And turning Jeter’s “Re2pect” into Dodig’s “ReSpect” is pure genius.

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)