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After 14 Years- Donna Pagé Retiring As Sandy Hook School Principal



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After 14 Years—

 Donna Pagé Retiring As Sandy Hook School Principal

By Eliza Hallabeck

It was a slow progression over time, Donna Pagé said on Friday, March 26, with tugs from family members regarding sacrifices made for the job, but, the time has come to refocus her priorities.

At the Board of Education’s March 16 meeting, Ms Pagé announced her retirement after 14 years as principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“Right now I am kind of in a different zone. It is hard for me to realize this is going to happen,” Ms Pagé said in her office, surrounded by class photos of Sandy Hook School graduates, family photos, and one photo of her from her first teaching position in San Antonio, Texas.

“I can hardly remember a time that I wasn’t interested in working with children,” she said.

In middle school she taught swimming, and was a summer camp counselor.

“I never wanted to be a principal,” said Ms Pagé. “That was never a goal of mine. That came about because of encouragement by mentors and principals I have worked for.”

Attending the University of Connecticut for her undergraduate work, Ms Pagé then attended Southern Connecticut State University for her master’s, and Fairfield University for her sixth-year degree.

Since starting her teaching career, she has worked as a mentor administrator for the Connecticut Principals Center, the facilitator for the Vanguard School Partnership with Barnum School of Bridgeport, an adjunct professor at the University of New Haven, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, and Harvard University Principal’s Academy-Institute on Leadership: An Evolving Vision.

She said her work on the BEST Mentor and Trainer of Trainers program with the state of Connecticut from 1987 to 1989 gave her the administration bug.

Looking back on why she went into the field, Ms Pagé said her original reasons for becoming a teacher have been fully achieved through her career.

“It’s more than I hoped it would be,” said Ms Pagé.

A Stratford native, Ms Pagé headed to Texas, where her husband was finishing school, for her first teaching position. Since that first year, she said, she has taught every elementary level, and before coming to Sandy Hook School in 1996 she was a principal in East Haven for five years.

Newtown, said Ms Pagé, has been a wonderful place to work, and from the start of her Sandy Hook School career there were noticeable themes within the school.

“What I think about when I think about our students,” she said, “is their incredible compassion and empathy for one another, and I recognized it right away.”

Another aspect of working at Sandy Hook School, she said, has been the parents. Ms Pagé said the school is constantly enriched by parent efforts, from volunteering in classrooms to going on field trips and sometimes gardening on school grounds.

“There is just not an aspect of our programs that is not better because of them,” she said. “I thank them for their contributions, for their support of our staff, and for supporting our efforts for children.”

She said she knows administrators in other towns who feel frustrated with the lack of support from parents, but at Sandy Hook School that has never been the case. When announcing policies or calling homes to address issues, parents ask what they can do to help.

“I’ve always considered myself to be a teacher,” said Ms Pagé. “I just feel my classroom is different, and my classroom has been the classroom of my staff. In that respect, I feel I have been able to continue that work. To me, being a principal is the best job, because you have the best of all worlds. You work with teachers, you work with parents, and you work with children. I have always had fun going into the classrooms as a grandma of sorts, creating chaos and leaving.”

She has loved working with students, having fun with students, asking students tough questions and getting minds going, she said.

With her retirement Ms Pagé said she is looking forward to traveling to see her 14 grandchildren, who are between the ages of 1 and 11, her mother in South Carolina and other relatives, including a cousin in Sweden.

Her mind will still be on education, she said, and she will be looking for consultant opportunities from across the state once retired.

“There is a lot happening nationally in the world of education right now that is aligned with what my interests are in terms of school improvements,” she said.

Sustained High Achievement

Over the course of her 14 years at the school Ms Pagé became involved in community programs, such as the Strategic Plan construction for Newtown Public Schools, and Sandy Hook School was recognized as one of the first Vanguard Schools in Connecticut in 2005.

The Connecticut Vanguard Schools Initiative is a public/private partnership designed to focus on school reform efforts that have demonstrated success in improving educational performance for students of all backgrounds. The Connecticut State Department of Education, in partnership with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, put in place a process to identify and recognize successful schools and have them share their successful school improvement strategies.

“It showed sustained high achievement that I think we continue to work toward,” said Ms Pagé.

Another accomplishment, she said, would be having a relatively large school while maintaining the small school climate at Sandy Hook.

“And that is one of the reasons why we implemented the One School One Read program, because we were looking for opportunities to make connections between the students, teachers, and families,” she said.

Implementing activities like One School One Read, she said, made students interact with each other in ways they would not have otherwise. The program distributes one book to each student in the school for families and students to read together.

In 2008, Ms Pagé was also named the Connecticut Federation of School Administrators 2008-2009 Administrator of the Year.

Mixed Emotions

Now, she said, she is feeling many mixed emotions in regard to retirement. When asked what she will miss the most, she said it will be the little things, the unanticipated things.

The other day a father brought in bagpipes, and, instead of having an assembly, it was decided to have him do an impromptu school walkthrough.

“I have to tell you I was very choked up to watch the kids walk by,” she said. “It is the little things that excite kids that you don’t even expect. I will absolutely miss that and so much more.”

She hopes she has made an impact on teachers lives, and, Ms Pagé added, she has felt that to be her emphasis.

“I’m an advocate for children first and foremost,” she said, “and the best way to advocate for children is to put an outstanding teacher in every classroom. That is where my emphasis has been, and I believe there is a prevailing excellence at our school. I believe you do find that excellence from classroom to classroom.”

In her position as principal at Sandy Hook School, she said she has been involved in celebrating and marking people’s lives. She said she will miss members of the faculty and staff at the school, including her secretary, Joanne Didonato.

Ms Pagé said she is sure there will be many tears come June, but knows the shared leadership of the school community will continue.

“I may be the principal,” said Ms Pagé, “but I am by far not the only leader,” she said, adding she knows if she is not in a room, there are others who will step up to lead.

To the person eventually taking her position, Ms Pagé asked him or her to keep a balance between programs and accountability measures.

“I have taken those accountabilities seriously,” Ms Pagé said, adding she is hoping 21st Century learning will not be hampered by having too much discreet assessment in place.

Looking forward, she also said to the next principal of Sand Hook School, “It is trite but true; children are our future, now more than ever. I think that to the extent we can provide them the best possible foundation, we are not only ensuring their success, but also the success of our country and our world.”

Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said the announcement is a real loss for Newtown Public Schools.

“She is a principal who understands good instruction and how to not only run a good school, but also how to make sure every classroom is on the top instructionally.”

After working with Ms Pagé for the past two years, Dr Robinson said she has great respect for the Sandy Hook School principal’s knowledge.

“What she has managed to do in her tenure there, at our largest elementary school,” said Dr Robinson, “is phenomenal.”

As her final message in announcing her retirement, Ms Pagé spoke to the students, “To the children I would say, thank you for allowing me to have the most wonderful career in the world.”

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