School district faculty and staff filed into the auditorium at Newtown High School on Thursday, August 21, for a convocation ceremony to mark the near-beginning of the 2014-15 school year.
Representatives of local boards and the Newtown Police Department were also in attendance, including members of the Board of Education and First Selectman Pat Llodra.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda Gejda pointed out near the start of the event that just as the end of summer approaches, a sense of restlessness can become common, until the familiar routine of the school year returns.
“We must recognize the important role that each of us plays in the important work of preparing our students to be successful adults,” Dr Gejda said, before listing a number of ways district staff help students. “Our success in preparing Newtown’s youth for the future depends upon our ability to work together as a team. As a community dedicated to the children of Newtown, let us begin the school year with a commitment to positive action, a common purpose, and solid principles that will define and guide our efforts to support students in attaining the knowledge and skills that will be the foundation for their success.”
When he spoke before the gathered crowd, Board of Education Chair Keith Alexander thanked each person present for his or her dedication to Newtown’s students. He also said he expects the 2014-15 school year to be another year with impressive accomplishments.
Mrs Llodra, a former educator, said the gathered district staff was an audience she cares about “deeply.”
“I know well the hard work the teachers do every day and the challenges of the administrative leadership,” said Mrs Llodra. “To me, there was nothing more important or more rewarding than the time I spent in the classroom or the school office.”
The first selectman also said she is hopeful for the future, and, “I know we will thrive.”
Newtown Federation of Teachers President Tom Kuroski also spoke during the ceremony. The 2014-15 school year will mark Mr Kuroski’s 30th year in the district, he said, before thanking Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, for gathering so many for the convocation ceremony.
“I look forward to working together with Dr Erardi and the Board of Education over the coming years to collectively achieve the goal of making Newtown the best school system in the state of Connecticut and in the country,” Mr Kuroski said.
This year’s convocation ceremony was the first time Mr Kuroski said he has seen such a gathering of the district’s employees, and he took a moment to thank each member present who supports the teachers daily.
“These are the secretaries, the custodians, and the paraprofessionals,” said Mr Kuroski, “as well as all the other educational personnel that, really without their help, we would never be able to achieve the goals that we have in front of us.”
Teachers marking their 25th year in the district this school year were also recognized during the ceremony, and Newtown International Center for Education (NICE) team members spoke about the efforts the program will make this school year.
A slideshow of photos taken during new teacher orientation was also shared during the event, before Dr Erardi announced a surprise.
Honoring John Reed
At the graduation ceremony for the Newtown High School Class of 2014, Dr Erardi said a new tradition of recognizing retiring teachers and staff members was begun. One person was not able to attend that event. Dr Erardi then called up three of former superintendent of schools John Reed’s grandchildren to help announce the presentation of an honorary degree for Dr Reed.
“It is with great pleasure, honor, and distinction — and surprise to Dr Reed — that we will be presenting to him, with his grandchildren, his graduation of the Class of 2014,” said Dr Erardi.
A standing ovation welcomed Dr Reed to the podium.
When he returned to the district following the departure of former superintendent Janet Robinson, Dr Reed said he felt honored to be able to return.
“I always knew how much I missed it,” Dr Reed said, before explaining that being a part of an institution with people he cares about was a “capstone” to his professional career.
“I always said, throughout the year that I was here, that I’ve gotten so much more from my relationship in knowing our parents, our students, our staff, and the Board of Education than, frankly, I had the ability to give,” said Dr Reed. “I will be eternally grateful for that. Have a wonderful year. I love you all.”
Dr Erardi said he feels privileged to be the superintendent in Newtown and to represent the work of the school district. The superintendent recalled a word from a letter he wrote to teachers a few weeks before the event.
“The word was courageous,” Dr Erardi said, “which I believe defines, in my limited knowledge, Newtown, Connecticut. Courage in so many places and so many different spaces.”
A Great School District
Dr Erardi also admitted he has no interest in being a “good school district,” but instead is interested in being great. Moving from good to great, Dr Erardi said, is possible because of the people who attended at the convocation ceremony.
“I’m a true believer and huge proponent of professional learning communities,” Dr Erardi said. “We need to learn from each other and challenge each other to raise the bar.”
Dr Erardi quoted a letter Sandy Hook Elementary School art teacher Leslie Gunn wrote to him, “We need to continue to show our community and the rest of the world that we as a system value all children and will continue to support and guide each child to success.”
The letter went on to support rebuilding the system with “intelligence, compassion, with mindfulness, and good leadership.”
Some family members of the children who lost their lives at Sandy Hook School on 12/14 were present for the ceremony, and Dr Erardi said he invited them to hear from him that the work of the school system will be built on intelligence, compassion, trust, and partnership.
“And I assure you that every person who is here this morning will understand the journey and work toward this goal,” said Dr Erardi. “A new year, a new beginning, an opportunity to be respectful to the past, and to make a significant difference one student at a time.”
Dr Erardi said he is certain the school district employees, the Board of Education, and other local board members will meet the challenge of “ensuring every child, every day, every opportunity, all in all of the time, because we are all in this together.”