This year Newtown Public Schools replaced principals in three of the four elementary schools. It may take months, or years, to discover their true personal, leadership, and educational styles, but first impressions have already been made — the principals have observed the school and the staff, parents and students have checked out the principals.
Barbara Gasparine, Head O'Meadow School
Barbara Gasparine is well-known in the district, having served as assistant principal at Sandy Hook School, and some parents have shared with her that they have heard good things about her from friends at that school.
Gasparine received a warm welcome as many teachers and staff came by her office to introduce and acquaint themselves with their new administrator. On Meet the Teacher day before school started, many parents and students made an effort to meet her.
In the 2010-2011 school year, Gasparine plans to focus on literacy and strengthening the connections between home and school. She has already begun to work with the PTA to encourage parental involvement at the school.
"I have been fortunate to work in schools where the climate has been very positive. In both Sandy Hook and at Head O' Meadow, staff has been supportive of not only of each other, but also me. In both schools, I have seen dedicated, caring people who truly want what is best for our students," Gasparine said in an e-mail.
Chris Geissler, Middle Gate School
On the first day of school, Chris Geissler made the opening announcement over the public announcement system, telling the students that he, too, was nervous.
"I got a lot of positive feedback for that after," Geissler said, adding he was surprised when the office staff applauded after he finished the announcement.
He said he has been encouraged by the "positive buzz" around the building, and the warm welcome from the staff, PTA, and students. He has respect for the past traditions and ways of doing things and is trying to learn about the school. The staff is open to his new perspective and ideas, and he has already begun to make a few process changes, Geissler said.
This year he wants to focus on improving collaboration across all four elementary schools in the district. He said he also hopes to integrate vertically, so that what is being done in the elementary school will help students as they move to the other schools in the district.
After previously commuting from his Sandy Hook home to Fairfield, Geissler said he is happy to be working locally at Middle Gate School. He said he enjoys being close enough to home to be able to go home after school before an evening meeting.
"My kids aren't in school yet, but I will learn about that later," Geissler said of working in his hometown school district. "I have a vested interest in seeing it succeed."
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, Sandy Hook School
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung and new assistant principal Jenn Sinal spent time during the first week mixing and mingling in the Sandy Hook School cafeteria, making the most of every opportunity to get to know the students, and in turn become familiar faces at the school.
Hochsprung describes the SHS students as "enthusiastic and happy to be here."
She said she is enjoying the opportunity to learn about Newtown and specifically the Sandy Hook community, since she previously lived and worked in Woodbury.
The school secretary, Joanne Didonato, "is a huge support in helping me to navigate my new environment," Hochsprung said in an e-mail. "She has a wealth of information about our community and families."
While many teachers would wait for the new administrator to set expectations, Hochsprung said she has been impressed with the high standards of teaching and learning.
"These sentiments were solidified for me when one of our grade-level teams said to me after our first professional development, 'We can't wait to show you what we've got.'" Hochsprung said.