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Retiring teachers, principals praised at BOE meeting

Published 3:58 pm, Friday, June 6, 2014

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  • Ten of this year's 13 retiring educators pose for a photo at the New Canaan High School, in New Canaan, Conn., Monday, June 2, 2014. From left to right, West Elementary School Acting Principal Joanne LaVista, teachers Mary Ellen Lyons and Debra Cassens, Anne Mullin, East Elementary School Principal Alexandra "Bunny" Potts, and teachers Wendy Guda, Ann Clay, Stephanie Moore, Lynn Hohl and Mary Lou Cantrell. Photo: Nelson Oliveira / New Canaan News
    Ten of this year's 13 retiring educators pose for a photo at the New Canaan High School, in New Canaan, Conn., Monday, June 2, 2014. From left to right, West Elementary School Acting Principal Joanne LaVista, teachers Mary Ellen Lyons and Debra Cassens, Anne Mullin, East Elementary School Principal Alexandra "Bunny" Potts, and teachers Wendy Guda, Ann Clay, Stephanie Moore, Lynn Hohl and Mary Lou Cantrell. Photo: Nelson Oliveira

 

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Superintendent of Schools Mary Kolek praised the work of 13 retiring educators at a Board of Education meeting Monday, June 2.

Before she introduced them, Kolek said all of the retirees have helped shape the town's school system for decades.

"Collectively, I believe we have over 360 years of experience sitting in the room with us right now," Kolek said. "So when you think of the collective wisdom and dedication and the number of students that have been touched by these people we're about to speak about, it really is awe inspiring in many ways. It really changes generations."

Of the 11 retiring teachers, one is from South Elementary School, three are from East Elementary School, three are from Saxe Middle School and four are from New Canaan High School.

With 39 years of experience in the district, NCHS math teacher Wendy Guda is the longest-serving educator to retire from New Canaan Public Schools this year.

Kolek said Guda always had an innovative approach as a teacher.

"A woman ahead of her time in 1989," Kolek said, Guda stated that one of her goals was to incorporate the personal computer in regular math tests because she felt the device ultimately would become an essential part of math teaching.

"If we had all invested at the time using Wendy's wisdom, we'd all be able to retire right now," Kolek, who also is retiring this month, said.

Guda's lectures went beyond the numbers, according to the superintendent. "Taking her class means learning not just about math, but about what it means to work hard and to think hard," Kolek said.

Another longtime New Canaan educator Kolek spoke about was Mary Lou Cantrell, a fourth-grade teacher at South Elementary School who has worked with the district for 26 years.

"Mary Lou not only loves history, she makes it," Kolek said. "Ms. Cantrell has taught several generations of families that have attended South School."

The second longest-serving educator to retire from the district this year is Roseanne Forte-Sanford, a high school teacher who joined New Canaan Public Schools 34 years ago.

The two other retiring teachers from the high school are Leslie Miles, who's worked in New Canaan for 16 years, and Sydnye Cohen, who was with the district for one year.

Cohen and Forte-Sanford were not present Monday night.

The other two retirees are West acting Principal Joanne LaVista and longtime East Principal Alexandra "Bunny" Potts.

When describing LaVista's 13 years of work in New Canaan, Kolek thanked her for "stepping in and up" and taking the role of acting principal in October, when then-Principal Jill Correnty became assistant superintendent of curriculum of instruction.

Kolek also praised Potts for her 25 years of hard work in the district as well as for her "warmth, wisdom and humor."

Each teacher and principal received an engraved dedication plaque in the shape of a star.

Board of Education Chairman Hazel Hobbs took to the podium after Kolek to briefly thank the outgoing superintendent for her own contributions to New Canaan Public Schools, including the expansion of the district's visual and performing arts and the foreign language program in the elementary schools.

"The care and direction she's provided to the system has been outstanding," Hobbs said.

Hobbs also noted that Kolek works around the clock. "There is no time that you can call Mary when she isn't working, from what I can find," she said.

The three retiring teachers at Saxe are Lynn Hohl, who's been in the district for 21 years; Stephanie Moore, who's worked here for 20 years; and Ann Clay, who Kolek called "an institution at Saxe" and who also joined the district 20 years ago.

The three retiring teachers at East are Anne Mullin, who's been teaching in New Canaan for 27 years; Debra Cassens, who's been with the district for 14 years, and Mary Ellen Lyons, who joined the system 12 years ago.

"Although it's difficult to say goodbye," Kolek said, "we know that their influence is going to carry out with us."

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson