Superintendent Elliott Landon sat down with us to discuss the successes of the Westport school system, some challenges facing this academic year, and even the secret to his longevity in a job with rapid turnover.
Having taken the helm in 1999, Landon is already the most senior schools superintendent in Fairfield County. He is a veteran in the position, having previously served as superintendent in Ridgefield, CT; Garden City, N.Y, and Long Beach, N.Y. Amidst those experiences, Landon explains what factors set Westport apart.
“The constant challenge of people who are very much invested in their community and in their schools, many of them having incredibly successful careers… they help to drive the progress of the community and that is what distinguishes Westport,” he said.
To explain success in Westport's public schools, Landon credits a cummulative effect, “the quality of staff, the resources, the motivated kids, it’s like a perfect storm.”
Landon is also proud of recent reccognition of success at Staples High School. Last week, Staples was named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, a recognition Landon believes to be “long overdue.”
“It happens to be a great school, great staff, excellent Principal, a really, really good school,” said Landon. “And it’s a caring school, that’s what makes it different I think. Not only are they focused on academics obviously, but I think Staples has developed a personalized environment where no kid can fall through the cracks.”
Last year Landon helped to launch an initiative entitled “Westport 2025: Meeting the Global Challenge” which he hopes will better provide the district’s students with deep conceptual understandings and skills to solve real world problems.
“Instead of taking curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep, we’re trying to make it very deep, less broad, if you will, so that kids get deep conceptual understandings that they are able to take with them wherever they go,” he said.
Landon sees a challenge for the coming year in Connecticut’s new System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED). Last year the system was piloted in districts throughout the state and according to Landon, for Westport schools, “it's truly a waste of time.”
“It’s taking a lot of time away from what we’re all about. We’ve always been really good on teacher and administration evaluation…but the problem is with this system it’s a one-size-fits-all model and it’s not really geared for the systems that are stable and have control over what happens in their schools. We all get painted with the same brush and for us it’s really redundant,” said Landon.
A true anomoly in educational administration, Landon has now entered his 15th year in the position in Westport. We asked him to reveal his recipe for longevity in a job that can be known for quick turnover.
“Great boards!” exclaimed Landon. “Each of the boards of education have understood their role is truly policy making, and the administration of schools is the superintendent’s role, so we don’t have a lot of interference that a lot of the other communities have.”
Landon's current contract as Superintendent of Schools in Westport runs until June of 2016.