Almost any weekday at around 5:30 a.m., if you look out over the Saugatuck River, you’ll see many early bird rowers taking advantage of dawn’s quiet serenity. Among these early risers there’s a face that will soon become very familiar to the Staples community: Dr. Elliot Landon’s successor as Superintendent of the Westport Public Schools, Dr. Colleen Palmer.
After 17 successful years in the position, Landon has decided to retire in order to spend more time with friends and family, leaving behind a long-lasting legacy. As high as expectations may have been for finding his successor, Michael Gordon, Chair of the Board of Education in Westport, believes that Palmer is the “perfect candidate to build on the success of our school district,” referencing her “strong academic vision” and her “ability and expertise to make the hard decisions we want a superintendent to make.”
Palmer began her career by teaching at a school for deaf students in Colorado, an experience which she says “left an indelible mark on my view of education and how we must personalize education for each student.”
Following her stint in Colorado, she returned to her home state of Connecticut to teach at Naugatuck High School before becoming a principal at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury, Hamden High School, and Simsbury High School. She then took on the position of Deputy Executive Director of the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) in Hartford, Connecticut. Within her role at CREC, Palmer was essentially the superintendent of eight interdistrict magnet schools, as well as being in charge of Open Choice students and collecting a multitude of impressive accolades. Subsequently, she took on the job as superintendent of Monroe schools, and is now completing her fifth year as the superintendent of Weston schools.
Palmer is ecstatic to be stepping into control of the Westport School District, calling it a “true honor to have been selected.” When asked what she considered her greatest accomplishments, Palmer said that she couldn’t narrow down her achievements, instead sharing the themes she focuses her work around.
“[I’ve always concentrated on] ensuring equity and access of high quality education for every student, actualizing the dreams of students, and challenging the status quo when it no longer meets our needs,” Palmer said.
She added that her successes have come from “forging partnerships” with sometimes unlikely partners, “ creative problem-solving that yields a totally new, innovative way of doing things, and a commitment to do the right thing for my students, staff, and schools, no matter what it takes.”
Palmer doesn’t have any specific plans as of yet, saying that she wants to have “thoughtful” discussions with members of the community to see what they’d like to maintain or change.
Some students, like Daniel Call ’16, who has been in the Westport school system his whole life and has younger siblings who will follow in his footsteps, have ideas about what they’d like to see done.
“I think that she should consider the idea of an open campus, like many other high schools across the country have,” Call said. Palmer currently oversees an open campus system at Weston High School.
Palmer calls the role of superintendent, “more of a lifestyle,” adding, “There are many long days and numerous night and weekend commitments involved in fulfilling the responsibilities of this position.”
However, Palmer does remain active in her own personal interests. She picked up rowing a few years ago after being “captivated by the beauty of watching rowing boats being launched from the Saugatuck Rowing Club dock.”
Outside of rowing, Palmer also enjoys skiing, spending time with her three sons and five grandchildren, cooking and traveling–even claiming to have “a little bit of a nomad spirit.”
Palmer is thrilled to be assuming the role of superintendent, calling the Westport School District “an exemplary district of high academic achievement, excellence in the arts, outstanding athletics, and spectacular co-curricular offerings that extend learning.”
She then added, “I wholeheartedly embrace its vision that each student must be globally ready upon graduation from Staples to succeed in our interconnected worldwide community.”
Gordon, as well as the rest of the district, is just as thrilled to welcome Palmer to the district, saying, “We are excited for Dr. Palmer to build on Dr. Landon’s great legacy.”