John Dodig, the principal of Staples High School for the last 11 years -- a job he calls "an absolute joy" -- plans to step down at the end of the current academic year next spring.

In a letter emailed to the parents of students Monday afternoon, following an announcement to school staff, Dodig, who is 70, said, "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."

In the letter, Dodig said he found an academic and professional home at Staples when he realized that it was a place that where he did not have to be "afraid to use the word `love' out loud when speaking about students."

At Monday night's Board of Education meeting, Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon said the announcement was a sad one. Dodig, he said, had a "monumentally positive impact and incredible influence" at the high school. "The kids love him and the parents have confidence in him."

Marge Cion, the school system's director of human resources, said the search for a new principal would be "far reaching" with advertisements placed in the New York Times and Education Week, two publications where educators look for jobs.

She said there would also be focus groups with all the "stakeholders" including faculty, staff and parents. There will also be a search committee.

Cion said school officials would like to get input from the entire community.

She said the process would be similar to the one used when Dodig was hired, noting that search had a positive result.

"When he came here, I was told he said he would give it one year and he lasted eleven," said board Chairman Michael Gordon of Dodig. "He has a human touch," he added. "On behalf of the Board of Education, we thank him for his service."

Dodig, who came to Staples after serving as headmaster of Fairfield High School, said in his letter that at Staples, "There was something intangible about the people I met that 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," he wrote. "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."

In his message, Dodig thanks "all the parents in Westport who have supported me over the past eleven 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 four 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," he said. "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 and these three men and one woman have both ... I cannot thank them enough."

He called serving as the Staples principal "the capstone of my career and something I will never forget. I was interviewed on cable 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 fourth and fifth grade teacher in Queens, N.Y., was that person. It wasn't what he taught us, but it was 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. It is that connection that he made with me that 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/him in a positive way."