Former Westport school leader: Darien’s interim superintendent takes the helm

Dr. Elliott Landon in his new office at the Darien Board of Education building at 35 Leroy Avenue.

Former long-time Westport Superintendent Dr. Elliott Landon, named interim superintendent by the Darien Board of Education in June following the resignation of Dr. Dan Brenner, began his new job on July 2.

Landon had been retired for two years following this announcement. Brenner left the job after three years following his hiring as executive director at the United Nations School.

Landon was announced as interim superintendent effective for this summer and the entire 2018-19 school year. He was most recently superintendent of schools in Westport, retiring in 2016 after holding that position for 17 years. He also served as superintendent in Ridgefield for nine years, Garden City, N.Y., for three years, and Long Beach, N.Y., for 10 years.

He spoke with The Darien Times last week about his new job, his goals and the future at the end of his first full week.

“I’m still getting acclimated,” he said.

“I anticipated that, but you can never really fully anticipate. It’s been an eye opener,” Landon said.

On Landon’s first day, he attended a construction meeting at 8 a.m. for the Darien High School cafeteria “as a I walked in the door.” He also said he was preparing for his board meeting, which was on July 10.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on. People never realize that for the central office the summer is on of the busiest times of the year,” Landon said.

“But we are looking forward,” he said.

Why Darien

After retiring, Landon said he expected to remain that way. Then he got calls from two districts — Darien being one of them.

Landon said there were several aspects of Darien that convinced him to take the interim job — including working with an ongoing construction project, and the relocation of Fitch Academy — both of which he found “exciting.”

Another attractive aspect of the Darien district is that Landon will be working with some former employees, including Dr. Susie DaSilva, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction and Marge Cion, human resources director.

“I feel comfortable with that and and it will be a lot smoother,” he said.

In addition, Landon had the highest praise for Darien’s Board of Education.

“The board is great. They are really dedicated to the best interest of the kids. That’s an important part of the superintendent’s job — working with the board,” he said.

As far as what Landon had known about Darien before taking the job, he said he had always thought very highly of the district. In his early career days as assistant superintendent in Port Washington, New York, he had visited the district and always held it in “very high esteem.”

Landon had also worked with Darien’s previous superintendents in his role in Westport, but had only gotten to know Dr. Brenner only briefly as he began shortly before Landon retired.

Goals

First and foremost, Landon said he his most important goal is to get the right people in the right positions — a task he intends to work on closely with Marge Cion.

“The selection of staff is very important. It’s my number one priority,” he said.

Landon also said the cafeteria construction and working on curriculum and instruction are part of his goals, saying the district is great, but “of course we always want to improve it and make it better.”

The relocation of Fitch Academy, the alternative high school program that was based at the Darien Library, is also important to Landon. The program was approved to move to one location by Planning & Zoning, but that location recently fell through. A new option is to move into a location at Thorndal Circle, owned by former Selectman Jerry Nielsen and the Nielsen Company. That discussion is expected to take place at the P&Z meeting on July 24.

Landon said from what he knows of the Nielsen location, it “sounds perfect” and he would be a strong advocate.

Setting the budget is “extremely important” and Landon said the budget is the statement of board policy and strategic plans.

“I plan to look very carefully at the budget,” he said.

The future

Asked if Landon would consider staying on permanently rather than just serve as an interim superintendent, Landon chuckled as he considered the prospect, saying he’s no longer “used to getting up 6 a.m.”

“Probably not. But so far I’ve really enjoyed what I’m doing. I don’t know. Whoever knows what will happen or what my feelings will be later on,” he said.

“But I really think the district needs someone who is going to try to stay on here and bring some stability — someone who is going to try to stay on and be permanent,” he said.

“It’s not good when superintendents roll over. I know the board is involved in the search process andI hope to help the board if they need me. Otherwise I’m going to stay out of it,” Landon said.

“It really makes such a difference,” Landon said, citing his 17 years in Westport as well as his long-term previous positions. “

“Stability is so much better,” he said.

Landon also said he planned to reach out to the other town leaders, including First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, P&Z Chairman John Sini and Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky.

“I hope to meet all of those we will be working with,” Landon said.