Discovering A Treasure – May and June 2020
Entering Villa Maria School as its Interim Head last August, I knew I was in for an adventure and a time of discovery. The school was fairly empty of people though I was welcomed immediately by the administrators and the administrative support staff who had been keeping the school going during the summer when there was no official Head of School. I sensed their relief that I was there and could make some decisions they had delayed for the opening of school. The warmth of their welcome made it clear to me that I had come to a very good place to hopefully contribute to the work of the school as it searched for a new Head.
Over the summer months, Board members, teachers, parents and students stopped by for short visits to ask questions, submit paperwork, and to figure out who this woman was who would head their school over the next school year. Many were willing to generously give me some of their valuable summer vacation time to participate in interviews that allowed me to begin to gather information about the school, its students, educational program, strengths and areas of challenge. Some clearly thought I would be holding the reins until the permanent Head arrived, but I knew in my heart, I would do everything possible to keep the school moving forward and gaining strength.
The need to update an aging technology platform and technology in general was soon apparent as an area that needed attention and that was an easy one to take on. We began by bringing in a CAIS (Connecticut Association of Independent Schools) team of six Directors of Technology who would do a full day visit and analysis of our current technology and steps we needed to take to upgrade this important support for teachers, administrators and students. The report they created outlined the steps our school needed to take now and into the future to upgrade our technology and provide the support and professional development needed to ensure that it will strengthen the educational program. A Technology Committee was formed, and with the support of our generous families and other donors, we began to replace aging equipment with Chromebooks for students, Mac Laptops for teachers, and Promethean Active Boards for classrooms. The Number 1 recommendation of the report was that Villa needed a Director of Technology to provide leadership as we expanded the use of technology to meet the needs of students and staff. After a comprehensive search, we found Mrs. Peggy McNamara, a technology specialist from the New Canaan School who was enthusiastically hired as Villa’s first Director of Technology. We are excited that she will begin this summer!
Many other changes were made this year. One was to replace paper communication with more information being sent digitally to our families. This allowed for a more effective communication process and a timelier one.
With the help of a new employee, Joanne Sabato, who filled a new role as Chairperson of the PPT/CSE process, as well as monitoring student progress, we began to make progress in establishing meaningful goals and providing needed supports for our students. Joanne’s skills in this area and broad vision have helped us to begin to change the whole IEP process with school districts into a more positive one. With my full support, she has begun to build relationships with the school districts from which our students come and with our parents, allowing her to better understand what each group needs or wants prior to being in the often very formal PPT or CSE meetings in which there have often been antagonistic feelings on both sides in the past. As a result of her work and that of our faculty, these meetings have become more positive and productive with far better outcomes.
These are but a few highlight of what we have accomplished this year, but perhaps my greatest discovery was the amazing strength of our faculty and staff, often unrealized by them or others. I found a fiercely dedicated faculty who had strong convictions about the important role they could and would play in the lives of their students. They were determined but humble and I believe didn’t realize how amazing they were. They put in many hours of work both during and after the school day, sought professional opportunities to learn, and were always willing to go an extra mile for a child or the school. 13 new faculty and staff members joined us at the beginning of the school year. It was remarkable to see them become contributing members of the faculty almost immediately. This happened because individual faculty members immediately reached out to them to offer help and support, some formally as mentors, team leaders, or subject area coordinators, and others offering help as their new colleagues.
As a group, it soon became clear that every adult in the school cared deeply about our students, wanted to know each of them as people, and believed that they could and would make a difference in their lives. There was unwavering hope and a strong conviction that each and every child would grow and learn that year. This was a unified feeling that was powerful and quite remarkable. As an educator and leader in both public and private school settings, I had never experienced such unanimous agreement of the work ahead and the confidence that working together they could achieve success with each and every student. Indeed, that was the key to the treasure that I had discovered! That special ingredient that is often lacking in other school settings.
For me, that treasure has made this year one of the most rewarding of my career in education. Thank you, Villa Maria, for allowing me to be a part of this AMAZING TEAM!!