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Robert Gilbert Passes the Baton

Robert Gilbert Passes the Baton

Christine Syriac Appointed as Interim Superintendent

Bob Gilbert
Bob Gilbert

After four years at the helm of the Woodbridge School District, School Supt. Robert Gilbert last week bid farewell to the district and to the community, but not without introducing Christine Syriac as interim superintendent.  The local Board of Education appointed Syriac to the position at a special meeting August 6, with a per diem salary of $800.

Syriac retired in 2017 as superintendent in Seymour, where she had served in that capacity for five years; prior to that she had served as a middle school principal and associate superintendent in Seymour.  Since retiring, she has held other interim stints in the area.

“She came out of retirement because she knew this was a difficult time in education and she thought it was important to contribute,” said School Board Chairman Lynn Piascyk.  “She is willing and capable,” to put in the time and energy that will be needed to lead the district through the fall.

The school board has decided to function as a search committee rather than appoint a separate committee.  The hope is that they will have a new superintendent in place by January 1, according to Ms Piascyk.  They will start the search in September, after the reopening of school.

Gilbert announced his retirement back in June, originally for the end of September.  But when his successor was hired, he asked to be released a month earlier.  He and Syriac overlapped by two weeks to facilitate the hand-off at a very volatile time in education.

“I have worked in Connecticut schools for the past 38 years with the best interests of students in mind,” Gilbert wrote in a letter to the Beecher School community.  “I continue to be passionate about the work that we do and I plan to continue my active involvement in educational leadership within the state.”

When he first arrived in the district, Gilbert started a systematic review of the district’s initiatives and came up with a strategic plan, which it had never had previously.  Part of that plan was to introduce a school-wide enrichment model that encourages students — even at the elementary level — to pursue independent study.

His tenure here also saw its share of crises, with two HVAC –related building failures that led to a broken pipe in the winter of 2017-18 and mold buildup during the following summer.  Then, during the summer of 2019, the district went to arbitration over its teacher contracts, with pressure from the town to keep the lid on salary increases.  The arbitrators, by and large, sided with the teachers.

Most recently, of course, Gilbert steered the district through the most challenging times, figuring out how to provide public education during a pandemic.  “The last 5 months were the hardest of my life,” he said to board members – all the while praising the level of collaboration between the leadership and the teachers.  “The challenges are enormous,” he said.

Woodbridge School Supt. Bob Gilbert and his predecessor, Dr. Guy Stella, exchange notes while attending a volunteer event at the Woodbridge Center in December 2016.

By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent

 

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