When it comes to developing top-notch schools that serve a diverse student population, Claire Gold has the Midas touch.
Ms. Gold, 80, of Easton, is the backbone behind the new Fairchild Wheeler High School in Bridgeport. She also was responsible for getting its two feeder schools, Six to Six Magnet School and the Discovery Magnet School, off the ground.
When asked to name her official title, Ms. Gold responds, “volunteer.”
Her keen interest in providing quality education for economically challenged families and minorities began decades before she focused her attention on the Bridgeport schools. As school superintendent in Westport from 1980 to 1988, Ms. Gold lobbied for Project Concern, a program that bused minority students living in Bridgeport housing projects to Westport to attend school.
“I’m very passionate about this issue,” Ms. Gold said during a recent interview with The Easton Courier at Fairchild Wheeler High School. “I feel that the minorities haven’t been able to make the progress that they should have.”
Because her husband, Julius, was diagnosed with a chronic illness, Ms. Gold retired at the age of 55 from her Westport post. The couple moved from Fairfield, where they resided for 40 years, to Easton.
Ms. Gold said she loves the community.
“It’s very pretty,” she said. “Nature is very important to me. I take a lot of solace from it.”
However, Ms. Gold wasn’t ready to slow down.
“There’s something so wasteful about retirement and not using the skills that you have,” she said.
At two different times, Ms. Gold worked as an interim superintendent for the Weston schools. She also had her own consulting company.
However, education — specifically, providing quality learning environments for children from economically challenged backgrounds — continued to tug at her heart.
Ms. Gold said she did “some soul-searching” and looked for a project where she could make a difference.
“I wanted to do something substantial and meaningful that fit in with who I am as a person,” she noted.
And that she did. With an eye on Bridgeport, Gold set out to build a magnet school near the Discovery Museum that would focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). After many delays, the Interdistrict Discovery Magnet School on Park Avenue in Bridgeport opened in 2011.
Ms. Gold also developed the Six to Six Magnet School, a school committed to meeting the needs of working families while also providing a high-quality education. This school’s academic focus is also based in STEM.
As these two schools took off, Ms. Gold quickly realized there was no place for students to go when they graduated from eighth grade. Plans for the new Fairchild Wheeler High School, a high-tech “green” building, constructed with solar panels, a wind turbine and a rain garden that recycles water, began to take shape. The regional high school, which is open to students in Bridgeport and suburban towns, comprises three learning communities.
The three schools specialize in information technology and software engineering, zoological science and biotechnology, and physical sciences, engineering and aerospace/hydrospace science.
“I spent my 70s on these magnet schools,” Ms. Gold said. “It’s kind of like I was creating the world as I would like to see it — where all students have access to quality education, people are working hard together to educate students and everyone is getting along.”
For a “start-up” project, she said, she is proud of the positive feedback the high school has garnered in only a few short months.
“What I learned most of all is that any kid, given a supportive environment, good challenges and a certain attentiveness about learning, careers and the future, is going to do well,” she said.
Her work in education, though, is far from over.
Although she declines to elaborate on future endeavors, she admitted she has some ideas percolating in her head.
Also, Ms. Gold isn’t completely satisfied with leaving a few loose strings at Fairchild Wheeler. During a tour of the building, everyone — from custodians and students to top administrators — greeted her warmly. When she ran into Dr. Victor Black, principal of information technology, she said, “Sometime soon I want to sit down with you, Victor, and see where we messed up.”
In response, Dr. Black cited a small problem that had already been resolved.
Ms. Gold said she wants to hear about the things that aren’t working because she wants to fix them.
A member of Easton’s Democratic Town Committee, she ran for a seat on the town’s Board of Finance in 2008.
“I lost mostly because this is a Republican town,” she said.
Shortly after the election, though, she was appointed to the board when a seat opened up, which she occupied until resigning six months ago.
“I had too much on my plate,” she said.
Looking around the integrated high school, as teens of every color bustled up and down stairs, hurrying to their next class, she said, “This is a big undertaking.”
Ms. Gold has three grown children, Jehv, Lauren and Allison, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.