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Fond Farewells From Departing Middle Gate And Sandy Hook Principals

Fond Farewells From Departing

Middle Gate And Sandy Hook Principals

By Eliza Hallabeck

With just a few days left on the job, Judy Liestman, who is leaving to work in New York, and Donna Pagé, who is retiring after 14 years with Newtown schools, sat together on June 18 to reflect on their last days in the district.

Both had their final days on June 22. Ms Liestman previously told The Bee that Ms Pagé has been a mentor to her since she began her career in Newtown.

Ms Pagé said she was looking forward to a trip to Sweden to visit a cousin following her last day in the district, just before a family gathering when she returns in July.

Two days after her last day, Ms Liestman said she will be shadowing for her new position. She will also spend a weekend with friends.

But mostly, Ms Liestman said, she is looking forward to being with her husband, who relocated two years ago to take a job in New York State, forcing the couple to live apart.

“It’s been a long process to make this decision,” said Ms Liestman, “and it has been hard.”

While it was a hard decision to leave Newtown, she said it was the right decision for her to make.

Ms Liestman, who has been principal of Middle Gate for the past 11 years, announced at the March 29 Board of Education meeting she was anticipating relocating to New York to be with her husband. For the past two years Ms Liestman has been traveling roughly six hours on the weekends to visit her husband. Ms Liestman has been hired to be the director of student services in Pittsford, N.Y.

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

Both principals, who have been working closely with one another since Ms Liestman started working in the district in July 1999, said there were surprises at their schools as the last days approached.

Ms Pagé found herself “queened” during a celebration for Flag Day. A parade ensued, with Ms Pagé leading while playing cymbals she had been given. On the last day of school, June 17, Ms Pagé said she brought the symbols out again to say goodbye to students as they got on the bus. She also had “We’ll Be Together” from Grease playing over the loud speaker as the students left.

“I was clanging the cymbals until my secretary took them away,” said Ms Pagé.

In the morning before school began, Ms Pagé was also greeted by her full staff out front of the school. They had displayed the school’s motto on easels also to welcome her.

“It’s emotional,” said Ms Liestman. “Very challenging.”

“Then to know that Judy is leaving too...” said Ms Pagé, finishing Ms Liestman’s sentence, “makes it even more difficult.”

Ms Liestman said the pair will continue to talk despite distance and no longer working in the same district.

One surprise Ms Liestman received was at a staff goodbye party on Friday, June 11, when staff presented her with letters written from all of the students in the school. At her last Community Circle meeting Ms Liestman was also surprised by students singing songs for her.

She picked a few of the letters from students to share with staff and students as her own goodbye to the school.

“Some of them were just very confused,” she said. “When I said I was going to New York, they thought I was going to New York City, so they kept drawing skyscrapers and everything else. Where we are going to live in New York is very different. There is a farm on the corner with four cows.”

While she said she would prefer to leave without fanfare, Ms Liestman said she understands.

“It’s hard to have all these endings, but you know it is good for everyone,” said Ms Liestman.

Both agreed it has been a great ending for each of them.

“The new principals have a lot to look forward to,” said Ms Liestman. (See related story in this week’s Education Section of The Newtown Bee.)

Ms Pagé said there are wonderful teams in place at both Sandy Hook School and Middle Gate School that are ready to help with the transitions.

“We’re always amazed by the community,” said Ms Liestman. “The Newtown parents are so supportive.”

Ms Pagé said both she and Ms Liestman were also approached with support from the staff as the prepared to leave.

“We wish the district well in the years ahead,” said Ms Pagé. “It is kind of a tumultuous time in education in the country… It’s a time when extraordinary leadership will be necessary.”