Westport school board thanks outgoing members

WESTPORT — With election season in the rear view, the Board of Education’s outgoing members were honored by family and colleagues on Monday.

Chairman Mark Mathias and member Neil Phillips, who stepped down from their roles following the meeting, each uniquely contributed to the board and received high praise from their colleagues.

SIGN UP here to get daily Westport News and alerts on breaking news.

“As a board member you led with a heart, and as a chairperson you led with a heart,” BOE member Vik Muktavaram said of Mathias. “As serious as this board gets to be, you made this board fun. We’re going to miss you.”

Mathias, whose 16 years on the board made him the longest-serving member, announced in July he would forgo seeking re-election.

Over the years, Mathias said he has worked with passionate parents, knowledgeable board members, high-performing superintendents, wonderful teachers and engaged students.

“We haven’t always agreed on how to continue to strengthen our schools, but we always have the same goal of providing our students with the best education possible,” he said. “... We are all a part of the education system in Westport. Each of us has the ability to make a positive impact on our school and children. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to contribute to so many children's’ lives through my service on the Board of Education.”

Colleagues and family also commended Mathias for his efforts.

“You never saw a problem, only an opportunity to make something better,” said his wife, Kim Mathias. “Every encounter would remind you of why you were on the Board of Education in the first place, and that was to make a positive difference for the students, the staff and the citizens of Westport.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe noted he has been a calming voice for the school board throughout the years.

“Westport’s a better place for you having served 16 years on the Board of Education, and I know Westport will be a better place for all the other services that’s left for you,” Marpe said.

Phillips, who served as a Representative Town Meeting member for four years prior to joining the BOE in 2018, was also praised for his work as a town official.

“In both cases you made great contributions to the community,” Marpe said, adding Phillips and Mathias’ willingness to collaborate with other town boards has helped the district through a difficult year.

“Despite those challenges, you were steadfast in your focus in doing the very best for our students, our staff and our community,” BOE member Elaine Whitney said.

Mathias and Phillips were presented with gifts and a plaque from district staff and fellow board members.

Despite joining during a difficult time for the school district, Phillips said he had no regrets.

“It has truly been a privilege to serve with each one of you, some of whom I already counted as friends and others who I now add to that list,” Phillips said. “I am proud to have gone through the fire with all of you.

Newly elected Democrats Youn Su Chao and Lee Goldstein will occupy the seats vacated by Mathias and Phillips on Nov. 19.