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Sitting in her light blue office at Head O’ Meadow Elementary School on June 25, retiring Principal Barbara Gasparine was one day away from retirement.
When Ms Gasparine was first hired to work in the Newtown Public Schools district in 2007, then-Superintendent of Schools Evan Pitkoff said, “It is my belief that Barbara is the best match to help the Sandy Hook Elementary School on its path of excellence and continuous improvement,” as reported in The Newtown Bee.
After serving for three years at Sandy Hook School, she would eventually be chosen as principal at Head O’ Meadow.
Ms Gasparine served as a language arts consultant and as the lead teacher at Jerome Harrison School in North Branford before she came to Newtown. When she learned about an open assistant principal position, she applied. She remembers a 15 minute-long conversation with then Sandy Hook School Principal Donna Pagé. By the time she had returned to North Branford after that interview, a representative of the Newtown Public Schools had already called her to schedule a follow-up interview. She ended up being hired by the Board of Education at an August 15 meeting. Coincidentally, that same night, the school board hired Director of Facilities Gino Faiella.
She remembers being warned that she had “some really big shoes to fill,” as Cathy Mazzariello had been serving as the assistant principal at Sandy Hook School. Within a few weeks, the same secretary that had warned her told Ms Gasparine that she was a perfect fit for the school.
“I just felt so welcome there,” said Ms Gasparine.
Working with Ms Pagé, Ms Gasparine said, was a “huge benefit.” She said she learned a lot by working with such an excellent school leader. Ms Pagé, Ms Gasparine continued, had high expectations for students and staff.
Ms Gasparine spent three years at Sandy Hook School. When Head O’ Meadow Principal Bill Bircher retired, she served as the interim principal there before being chosen by the school board at a July 2010 meeting as the school’s new principal. At the time, Ms Gasparine said being chosen as principal at Head O’ Meadow was “a dream come true,” as reported in The Newtown Bee. That July, she was eager for when students would report for the first day of the 2010-11 school year.
One of the first things Ms Gasparine remembers doing as principal at Head O’ Meadow was holding a meeting with school faculty and staff. Everyone sat “responsive classroom style,” she said, explaining they sat in a circle and shared information about themselves. Ms Gasparine said she knew the faculty and staff had loved and respected Mr Bircher. There was a “great foundation” at the school already. She also feels now, reflecting on her time at Head O’ Meadow, that her measure of success is the relationships she has built with the faculty and staff. Ms Gasparine said she worked hard to build respect and trust. She made herself available to talk when anyone approached her, she said.
“Open communication,” Ms Gasparine shared, “is key.”
One of the first efforts Ms Gasparine remembers supporting is an endeavor to “build bridges” with parents. She worked with the school’s PTA, mostly with parent Julia Conlin. That effort led to the creation of a Dad’s Club and to the school earning the National PTA School of Excellence for the 2015-17 school years. The school also earned the distinction for the 2017-19 school years.
Some of the things Ms Gasparine said she is most proud of from her time at Head O’ Meadow include the creation of the school song and motto, “There’s no place like HOM.” The biggest challenge was navigating how to lead her school community following 12/14.
Ms Gasparine said she is proud of her school’s staff and how much they care about their students. The things she has witnessed teachers do and the amount of effort the staff puts in, she said, is “unique to the field of education.”
In one of her last messages to her school’s faculty and staff, Ms Gasparine thanked them for their support for her as principal over the last eight years. Without them, Ms Gasparine said, she could not have done her job. Ms Gasparine said she will never forget a single member of her faculty and staff. The school team collectively made Head O’ Meadow great, she added.
The Head O’ Meadow students, she reflected, have been the most hardworking, sweet, and “best students in the world.”
At her final annual fourth grade luncheon, Ms Gasparine said she and lead teacher Carol Danenberg asked students about their experiences at the school. The students responded, sharing that Head O’ Meadow is a place where they can make friends easily “and where children are kind.” Ms Gasparine said she shared a look with Ms Danenberg after that. For Ms Gasparine, hearing the students articulate that sentiment was the best gift she could have been given before retiring.
When the recent Ben’s Bells mural was installed at Head O’ Meadow Elementary School in May, Ms Gasparine said she felt that it was her final mark on the school.
She is looking forward to a “new chapter” filled with endless possibilities and opportunities, but, most importantly, Ms Gasparine said she is excited to move to Maryland to be closer to her family — son John, daughter-in-law Jen, granddaughter Mila, and one grandchild in the making, who Ms Gasparine is lovingly calling “Peanut.”
As the school dismissed for the final day of the 2017-18 school year, students shared many hugs with Ms Gasparine. She also said she “made her rounds” at the school to hug staff and faculty. Fond farewells were shared along with smiles.
Current Sandy Hook School Assistant Principal Tim Napolitano was chosen by the Board of Education in May to serve as principal at Head O’ Meadow starting July 1.