When the buses pulled up at Beecher Road School for the first day of school on Monday, August 29, summer came to an end and things returned to normal in Woodbridge. It’s a new normal, though, given the fact that Robert Gilbert greeted students for the first time in his role as the new Woodbridge school superintendent.
Some of the students already had met the incoming superintendent, as he had ventured out to meet with the community at the summer concerts and at informal meet-and-greet events at the school. Gilbert took over the helm of the district this July, after the retirement of long-time superintendent Dr. Guy Stella. Gilbert’s primary focus in the upcoming months will be to get to know all the different stakeholders and to establish “good, trusting relationships,” he said in an interview before the start of school. Those stakeholders include not only staff and administration, but students, parents and the community at large, in particular the Board of Education and town officials. He plans to primarily “listen and learn how we do business here.” He was very appreciative that he and Dr. Stella overlapped for a week, to facilitate a smooth transition.
Gilbert comes to Woodbridge from Granby, where he served as director of teaching for the K-12 district, and before that he served 19 years as principal of Kelly Lane Elementary School, which during his tenure was named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.
He started his career in education as a music teacher, and counts playing the piano and the organ still as one of his passions. His wife Eileen also is a freelance musician. They have three adult daughters.
In addition to the superintendent, the district also is welcoming four new teachers this year, two of whom are already familiar with the Beecher community. Nicole Chick, formerly a first grade teacher, moved to take on a kindergarten class after the retirement of Adrienne Coleman. Kim Kline Franklin, formerly a substitute teacher, joined the sixth grade team after the retirement of Joe Holowienko. New to the school are physical education teacher Meaghan Cleveland and technology teacher Larissa Crocco. Cleveland previously taught in North Haven, Crocco in Hamden.
Enrollment as of August 22 was 772, very similar to the beginning of the last school year, Principal Gina Prisco reported at the Board of Education meeting. However, families were still moving into the district and signing their children up. So far administrators have met class size guidelines in all but one third-grade classroom, where they are over by one student (20 students instead of the recommended 19).
Prisco said the school invited new families to a tour of the school, where they also got to meet the administrators. Twenty-five families took advantage of the invitation. Separate from the tour, Kindergarten students and their parents together had a chance to take a bus ride a week ahead of the first day of school. Prisco said on the first day of school, the youngest students are being separated from their parents when they get to meet their classroom teacher while their parents will meet with the principal. The kindergarten students then go home after an hour or so, but stay a little longer with each passing day. By the end of the first week, they will spend a full day in school.
“Generally this works really well,” she said.
Educationally, the focus this year will be on three areas, Prisco told the Board of Education, namely the writing process; in math, continuing implementing the Investigations math program; and continuing work on the safe school climate.
As for the superintendent, in a letter to the parents, he pledged to do as much learning as he can in the months to come. He will hold “Listen and Learn” sessions for parents, which will “provide me a opportunity to hear about the great things going on as well as your hopes and dreams for our students and school.”
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent