Retiring Hawley Principal Reflects On Her Time In The District

When Jo-Ann Peters-Edmonson arrived in the district in mid-1998, Hawley Elementary School was still a kindergarten through fifth grade institution.

Different areas of the building were used for classrooms at the time, like the multipurpose room and the lower level of the building’s 1921 section. The latest addition to the building had just been built and finished in 1997.

Ms Peters came to Hawley from East Haddam, Mass, where she was working as an assistant principal. While searching for principal positions, Ms Peters happened to find the opportunity at Hawley.

“I knew that the fit was right after meeting with [then-superintendent of schools] John Reed on a Saturday morning for three hours for my first prescreening interview,” Ms Peters said.

The interview, Ms Peters remembered, focused on who she was as a person, her philosophy and her vision. That first interview led to more meetings, a site visit, and an interview with the Board of Education.

From the start, Ms Peters said she made connections with each student.

“I think one of the things that always surprises parents is that I always knew all of my students by name,” Ms Peters said, “and, obviously, I knew them as students both academically and socially… I believed that good administrators should be very visible in the classrooms.”

That philosophy and practice has not changed, Ms Peters said.

“As an administrator you need to be collaborative with staff and parents,” she said.

She had only kind words about the faculty and staff at Hawley.

“I have an amazing staff,” Ms Peters said. “I think the most important thing is that we have worked collaboratively to shape Hawley into a community of learners… I think that if you build trust and respect, your staff is more willing to take risks and challenges.”

As an administrator, Ms Peters said her job was to support the staff through those challenges.

Ms Peters said she has also had supportive families and community throughout her years at Hawley.

“It’s been the highlight of my career,” Ms Peters said, about working with the staff, parents, and community members.

Whenever there was a need, Ms Peters said, parents stepped up to help.

Some of her happiest days at Hawley were the first day of each school year, every time a celebration, like the school’s annual art show, occurred at the school, and field days. When the fifth grade students were transitioned to Reed Intermediate School, Ms Peters said that was also a “happy memory,” because the school was able to reclaim space.

The opening of the Mary Hawley Café also stands out for Ms Peters. The cafeteria space was created down a stairway in the original 1921 Hawley building and opened for the start of the 2010-11 school year.

Since starting at Hawley, Ms Peters said she has worked with four superintendents and 13 principals.

“I’m confident that the new administrative team is excellent and under the strong leadership of [Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr],” said Ms Peters. “Newtown Public Schools will continue to grow and flourish.”

Of everything Ms Peters said she will miss, it is “the people” that stand out to her.

“I’ll definitely miss the students, the staff, parents, and my colleagues,” said Ms Peters.

Yet, Ms Peters also said it is important to leave “loving what you do.”

By the final day of the 2013-14 school year Ms Peters office was filled with mementos and gifts.

A retirement party was held for her at Roberto’s Restaurant in Monroe on April 10. Her family, friends, family members, and Hawley community members attended. Members of the Hawley PTA were there along with former superintendents of schools John Reed and Evan Pitkoff, and Board of Education member John Vouros. Food, drinks, and tributes were offered throughout the night. Several videos were also prepared and shared during the event.

A week before the school-year ended, Ms Peters sent a letter home to Hawley families saying, “This year, more than any ever the time has flown by as the reality sets in that I will be ending my long career as the principal of Hawley School. I have truly loved serving the Hawley community and working closely with the Hawley staff and parents to provide a warm and nurturing environment where standards are high and students are encouraged to work hard, be kind, and enjoy learning.”

When the Hawley PTA sponsored an outdoor movie night on June 6, Ms Peters was surprised by what she said was an “amazing gift.” Over the coming summer a swing set will be installed on the school’s playground in honor of Ms Peters. The message with the gift read, “You have been the heart of Hawley School for over fifteen years. To honor and thank-you, the parents and staff of Hawley are donating four swings (including one ADA) to be installed on our playground in time for the 2014-15 school year so that the students will always remember the love and joy you’ve fostered during your time here.”

Ms Peters said she thinks she is leaving Hawley in a “great place.”

She said she thought it was important to remain at Hawley during the initial recovery process following the events of 12/14.

“I believe we have come very far,” said Ms Peters.

The Board of Education accepted Ms Peters’ resignation during a meeting on December 23. While Ms Peters formally retired in December, she stayed on at her school as acting principal. On April 29, the school board unanimously voted to hire Christopher Moretti to be Hawley’s next principal. He is set to start his tenure on July 1.

With her retirement, Ms Peters said she is looking forward to spending time with family and friends, traveling with her husband, Craig, and spending time working on her hobbies.

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