WESTPORT, Conn. -- Elliot Landon started his career as a school superintendent 39 years ago in Ridgefield. It comes to a close on Friday, June 17, just a few miles away in Westport, where he has worked since 1999.
In between have been a few other stops, several controversies and an unwavering commitment to the children in the school districts he has served. “Elliott has done such an outstanding job over the past 17 years,” Jeannie Smith, school board vice chairwoman, said in a recent Westport Now article. “He has been the leader of leaders.”
Landon, 76, is a Brooklyn native who spent part of his childhood selling refreshments at Ebbets Field, the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He graduated from James Madison High School -- also the former school of Carole King, Bernie Sanders and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, among others -- and attended Brooklyn College.
After an early interest in chemical engineering, Landon transitioned to liberal arts and obtained a doctorate degree from Columbia University’s Teacher College. He started teaching at his old school in Brooklyn, and began his administrative career in Port Washington, N.Y.
Landon came to Connecticut in 1977 as the superintendent at Ridgefield before returning to New York from 1986 to 1999, when he got the position in Westport.
A report in The Hour when Landon was hired in Westport said the biggest challenge facing the district was receiving support for building projects to handle a projected enrollment increase. Landon worked quickly to address the building issues.
In his first year, Greens Farm Elementary, which had been used as studio space for artists, was reclaimed and workers added a three-story wing. Over the next few years, Bedford Middle School moved to its current site on North Avenue, Saugatuck Elementary (the former site of Bedford Middle) was renovated and Coleytown Middle and Elementary Schools and Staples High School received major alterations.
Landon also improved the district academically. It now has full-day kindergarten -- something Landon coveted since Day 1 -- and upgraded programs in languages, math and science. Landon said in the Westport Now article he is most proud of the fact that he has hired nearly administrative leader currently in the Westport system. But he has had his share of controversies as well.
Landon is longest-tenured superintendent in the state -- and also its highest paid. His annual salary is $292,000, and he has been the highest paid state superintendent for several years. “Is the Westport, Connecticut, School Superintendent paid more than US President Barack Obama? If so, why?’’ one blogger wrote.
Landon also faced criticism for his handling of a mold problem at Kings Highway Elementary in 2007, a cost overrun of $1.65 million for mold remediation at Kings Highway, and the decision to allow controversial author Salman Rushdie to speak at Staples High in 2015. He even faced criticism in Long Beach, N.Y., from a group that believed he engaged in illegal tactics to gain approval for a school budget in 1999.
Landon will be replaced by Colleen Palmer, the current superintendent at Weston, who takes the reins this summer.
When he joined Westport, Landon said he was a “people person,” “open, honest and a good listener,” according to the story in The Hour. As he ends his tenure, Landon’s assessment appears to be an apt and accurate description.