Tag Archives: John Dodig

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.)

Congratulations, Class Of 2015!

Staples celebrated its 128th graduation in fine fashion this afternoon. The weather was (thankfully) cool; the speeches were brief but meaningful — and most importantly, the day was about the 460 graduates. This great class got the sendoff they deserve!

The

The “Congratulations Class of 2015” sign refers to principal John Dodig too. After 47 years in education, he retires this month. He called himself a proud member of ’15.

Plenty of reading material for early arrivals: the graduation program, and the year-end issue of Inklings.

Plenty of reading material for early arrivals: the graduation program, and the year-end issue of Inklings.

Hip surgery just a few days ago did not keep Jake Atlas away.

Hip surgery just a few days ago did not keep Jake Atlas away.

Friends to the end: Sarah Sawyer, Zoe Brown, Sarah Herbsman and Sophia Hampton.

Friends to the end: Sarah Sawyer, Zoe Brown, Sarah Herbsman and Sophia Hampton.

Less than 24 hours after soloing with the choir at baccalaureate, Jack Bowman gets ready to graduate.

A day after soloing with the choir at baccalaureate, Jack Bowman graduates.

Jim Farnen is the very proud assistant principal for the Class of 2015.

Jim Farnen is the very proud assistant principal for the Class of 2015.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet the staff and students during the processional.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet staff and students during the processional.

Valedictorian Everett Sussman earned praise for his insightful -- and quick -- speech.

Valedictorian Everett Sussman earned praise for his insightful — and quick — speech.

Next stop for Jacqueline Chappo: Boston University.

Her cap indicates the next stop for Jacqueline Chappo: Boston University.

Good friends Scott Pecoriello and Patrick Beusse are eager to receive their diplomas.

Good friends Scott Pecoriello and Patrick Beusse are ready to receive their diplomas.

The traditional cap-tossing, in slow motion.

The traditional cap-tossing, in slow motion.

Seniors painted a sign in the courtyard, showing the many places they'll go next.

Seniors signed a poster in the courtyard, showing the many places they’ll go next.

Nicole DeBlasi -- the 2015 yearbook editor -- is a proud graduate...

Nicole DeBlasi — the 2015 yearbook editor — is a proud graduate…

...and so is wrestler Alexander Baumann.

…and so is wrestler Alexander Baumann.

2015 grad

Eniola “Timmy” Kolade celebrates with family members.

Congratulations, Kristen and Pam Onorato -- and everyone else in the Class of 2015.

Congratulations, Kristen and Pam Onorato — and everyone else in the Class of 2015!

Meanwhile, here’s a video shown at last night’s baccalaureate ceremony. Directed by Ken Asada, it features many members of Staples’ Class of ’15 — with a couple of cameos by retiring (but not in the active-participant sense of the word) principal John Dodig:

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.)

Jaime Bairaktaris: “Mr. Dodig, Thank You For Making A Difference In My Life”

Among the many speeches extolling retiring principal John Dodig at a PTA ceremony this morning at Staples, some of the best came from students.

Current junior Jaime Bairaktaris began by talking about moving from Redding to Westport in December of 8th grade — then, a few months later, having to adjust to a new, big high school. He dreaded the 1st day:

I got off my bus, after sitting next to some senior that I swore had to have been 25 years old (full beard, at least 7 feet tall, music blaring), and walked up to the brick building with blue windows.

Jaime Bairaktaris

Jaime Bairaktaris

Coming through a new door is a challenge for anybody. Who knows what’s on the other side? We, as a species, are afraid of the different, cautious of the unknown, proficient at avoiding vulnerability.

But on that other side was a man, smartly dressed and smiling, welcoming me to my first day of high school. He wore a name tag that read “Dodig” (which I pronounced “dodd­ig” for quite some time).

Then Jaime asked the audience to do a little exercise.

We’ll only work 17 muscles,­ but they’re the most important muscles in our body. I need you all to smile — teeth showing and all.

It’ll be 4 years ago this September, but I still remember that he was smiling when I walked through those front doors. A smile is such a simple gesture — remember, just 17 muscles — yet so many people seem to underestimate the power of those muscles.

I’m now a rising senior, jaded in my ways, and well on my way to college. In these three years I’ve learned a lot. But most importantly I can now determine who’s a good person to keep around in life, and who isn’t.

Mr. Dodig was there to help in those times when I found those choice few who maybe weren’t keepers, but he didn’t treat them as typical trouble­makers. Mr. Dodig treated those students as teenagers who were bound to make mistakes, just like we all are. He guided them to make better choices, and now I speak with some of those same kids on a daily basis.

John Dodig received this gift earlier today: a lenticular photo (showing 2 images), by Miggs Burroughs.

John Dodig received this gift earlier today: a lenticular photo (showing 2 images), by Miggs Burroughs.

Throughout my life I will learn many things. Some I’ll take with me; some I will not. The most important lessons I’ve learned from Mr. Dodig are ones that will aid me throughout my life, and should be life lessons for all of us here today.

If I will remember anything from my time here, let it be the importance and immense power that a single smile can have on somebody’s day, and how to accept and forgive others ­even in a world where that may not be the easiest or most popular choice to make.

So Mr. Dodig, I thank you for making a difference in my life and the lives of countless others throughout your 11 years here at Staples High School. I hope as you look back on your days at Staples, thinking about all of the students you’ve watched pass through that front lobby in the morning, and about everybody you’ve been able to help over the years, that you can smile just as much as you’ve made us smile.

The Gift Of John Dodig

What do you give a principal who has given everything to his school?

How about a photo of him in his best “giving” mode?

But not just any photo. This is John Dodig.

And as the wildly popular principal prepares to retire after 11 years at Staples High — and 47 in the field of education — the school’s PTA turned to one of Westport’s best and most creative photographers: Miggs Burroughs.

Dodig received the unique gift this morning, in a special ceremony in the sun-splashed courtyard. First Selectman Jim Marpe, administrators and colleagues spoke — and so, very eloquently, did current students Jaime Bairaktaris and Nick Massoud, and graduate Michael Sixsmith.

Each speaker had stories. But all circled back to a common theme: Dodig’s greatest gifts were his passion, compassion, empathy, vision, willingness to listen, ability to be bold, and deep love for every single teenager and adult in his building.

Which leads to the gift he got today. Burroughs — a 1963 Staples grad — is well known for his lenticular images. They’re 2 separate shots; they change, depending on the angle you’re viewing from. (You can see 16 of them in the tunnel connecting Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.)

One view of John Dodig's lenticular photo...

One view of John Dodig’s lenticular photo…

Burroughs took the photos last month. (Dodig did not know why he was being photographed.) One shot shows a crowd of students streaming around the principal, as he stands in the school’s foyer. That’s a typical spot for him; for over a decade he has greeted thousands of students every morning and between classes — asking how their latest game or performance went, complimenting them on an achievement, answering their questions or merely saying hello.

It’s a diverse mix of students — just as Dodig is fond of noting the diversity that really is a hallmark of Staples High. In the middle of it all, the principal wears his trademark smile.

...and the other.

…and the other.

The 2nd shot shows a lone student casually studying. She sits on the school seal that frames the foyer. The school motto — which Dodig has embraced and personified — stands out: “Respsect for Life.”

Burroughs produced 2 copies of the lenticular photo. One will hang at Staples. The other is Dodig’s to keep — and cherish — forever.

dodig