Honored educators serve Westport, where they grew up
Stacy Fowle is the Westport Public Schools’ 2019 Teacher of the Year.
To her colleagues and fifth grade students at Greens Farms Elementary School, that’s not surprising. In addition to doing everything an educator does — and those roles would fill this entire column — Fowle helped spearhead a composting initiative that spread first throughout the school, then to others in the district.
Sustainability is one of Fowle’s passions. It’s not hard to see where it comes from. Her mother, Sherry Jagerson, was an environmentalist long before most people heard the word. There was a compost heap behind the family’s Woodside Avenue home in the 1970s. Sherry Jagerson was a driving force behind the creation of the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve, a serene oasis on Hillspoint Avenue, after the demolition of Allen’s Clam House. Fowle’s brother, Ty Jagerson, is now working in solar energy.
Fowle is now teaching — and earning honors — in the same school district in which she herself was educated. She’s a product of Kings Highway Elementary School, Bedford Junior High and Staples High School. She was one of the first stars after the Wreckers formed a girls soccer program; she sang in the choir under the legendary George Weigle (after failing her first audition, she notes). And, although she is now a professional educator, she admits that she was not always a stellar student.
In her speech to the Board of Education last week after being named Teacher of the Year, Fowle paid homage to those who had come before her. In fact, she said, she was taught by two of them — Jo Ann Davidson and Karen Ernst, at Kings Highway Elementary and Bedford Middle School, respectively, while her daughter Addy took Italian from Enia Noonan, last year’s Teacher of the Year.
Fowle’s selection was a proud moment for her, and her mother (who still lives here). It was a proud moment for the Westport Public Schools. But Stacy Fowle is hardly unique.
Our schools are filled with men and women who were themselves educated in the same district where they now work. They teach at every level, and every subject. I cannot do all of them justice, but some names are especially familiar (and as legendary as the teachers they themselves had).
Suzanne Sherman Propp honed her love for singing under the same Dr. Weigle who taught Fowle. After Colgate University, she embarked on a career in the music industry. But something drew her back to the Westport schools. She changed careers, and is now a beloved elementary music educator — at Greens Farms, as a colleague of Fowle’s.
Ben Frimmer learned to act under Al Pia, the famed Staples Players’ director. Frimmer has carried on that tradition as Coleytown Company director. Many of his actors and tech crew continue their passion — and, in some cases, their career path — at Staples High School. Current Players’ director David Roth did not go all the way through the Westport schools (his family moved here when he was a teenager), but he found a home in Staples’ “4 Building” (the arts wing), and for nearly two decades he has honored Pia’s legacy as his successor. Roth took the lessons he learned, added his own special talents, and made Staples Players one of the finest high school drama troupes in the nation.
He’s been doing it a long time — but not nearly as long as Laddie Lawrence has been coaching track and field. In fact, the Staples High Class of 1964 graduate may have the longest career or any coach, in any sport, in the state: 51 years, and counting. Lawrence coaches three seasons a year (cross country, indoor and outdoor track), and each team has dozens of athletes. His influence on them is profound, and ongoing. And Lawrence’s lifetime passion began right here, in the same town and school where he has spent his entire professional life.
Can similar stories be told in other towns? Sure. Schools in small towns across America are filled with teachers who are teaching in the same place they grew up. Of course the New York City schools employ numerous men and women who graduated from there (though the odds of them ending up in their old schools are remote).
But I bet there are not many Fairfield County suburban districts that have the number of alumni coming back to teach that Westport does. The lessons learned as children and teenagers seem to be particularly meaningful and impactful here.
That’s why Stacy Fowle, and so many other men and women, are now passing those same lessons on to today’s youth.
Who, a decade or two from now, will likely be contenders for Westport Teacher of the Year too.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.