Staples principal 'finalists' out of the running, as Landon, Dodig win honors
Surprises set the tone for Monday's Board of Education meeting.
While two of the Westport school district's top administrators were recognized for statewide honors, the search for a new Staples High School principal is unexpectedly back at "ground zero" -- a week after two finalists who had been vying for the job faced parents' questions at public forums. Both men are now out of the running, Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon told the school board.
The school board was told there were several applicants for this year's honor from the 230 PTA councils statewide, which include about 45,000 members.
In nominating Landon, the Westport group cited his involvement in the districtwide 2025 Vision that was launched in 2010 with the goal of developing students' critical-thinking, creative communication and problem-solving skills, as well as cutting edge programs like Singapore math, and the addition of "many new and exciting courses at the high school," Sheila Flynn, past president of the Westport PTA Council said, in explaining the reasons for Landon's selection.
Landon also meets each month with local PTA presidents, she said. "We may not always get the answers we want from him," she said, but "his answers are always thoughtful and well-reasoned."
She added that, "in a high-performing district like ours, he truly embodies the message of the Connecticut PTA."
"I am overwhelmed and want to thank the Westport PTA Council for nominating me," said Landon, the superintendent of Westport's schools since 1999. "I am frank and sincere in saying that this is the greatest honor I can get as a professional," he added. "We are here for kids and parents and you are our clients."
Landon said the school district is committed to high-quality education. "Without the input from parents, we would be mediocre," he said. "You keep us aware, alert and informed. Thank you for being the parents you are."
The second honors announcement was that Staples Principal John Dodig has been named the state's High School Principal of the Year by the Connecticut PTA Council.
"He promotes a caring, loving and inclusive environment," said Wendy Morgan-Hunter , co-president of the Staples PTA Council, in making the announcement. She said there are dozens of clubs at Staples. "That diversity comes from John's core belief of students finding their place," she said.
Dodig said he also was overwhelmed when he learned about the honor earlier in the day. He said he's worked in six different school districts, but the PTA in Westport is particularly involved "and not only at budget time."
Dodig, who served as Staples principal for the past 11 years, is retiring at the end of this school year.
He said that when the two finalists for his job were being interviewed last week, one student, who was impressed by one of them, said to his teacher: "He's so fifth dimension."
"Where else but in Westport would a teenager say something like that?" said Dodig. "They get it."
But the two finalists for the principal's job, who were interviewed at forums held for high school parents, will not be taking over from Dodig for the next academic year. "Neither would be moved forward," said Landon.
The candidates for the job were Lou Moore, principal at Ramapo High School in the affluent community of Franklin Lakes, N.J., and Frank Costanzo, principal of the Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School in New Haven.
Landon, without elaborating, told the board that one of the candidates has decided instead to take a job in Baltimore where he would be creating a new school for underprivileged youth. Landon didn't mention what happened with the second finalist.
Board of Education Chairman Michael Gordon said he received an email from Moore, who is taking the Baltimore job. "The opportunity he had is very unique and allows him to open doors to young children limited by poverty," Gordon said. "At the end of the day, he was looking for a different kind of challenge."
"So we are at ground zero again," Landon said, adding that school officials would again be posting the position internally and externally and doing widespread advertising. He said they haven't ruled out hiring an interim principal.
"Westport and Staples deserves a star and we will get a star," said Gordon.