By Lindsay Carey
Fifty-three new staff members, including new Supt. of Schools Tim Connellan, were recognized at a convocation ceremony Monday morning that kicked off school for educators.
The opening of school staff meeting in the auditorium of Southington High School included impassioned speeches, music, videos and awards to rev up teachers and administrators for the start of the school year.
Assistant Superintendent Karen Smith led the convocation introducing different speakers representing board members, elected officials, educational programs, the teachers union and award recipients.
Along with the new staff this year, Smith also announced that there have been 100 new students enrolled in the school district.
Town Manager Gary Brumback described this school year as a “new dawn,” because of all the new teachers that would be joining the Southington community of educators.
“What we represent together is community and our responsibility,” said Brumback. “The greatest treasure we have in this community is our young people. Parents give you the greatest gift that they’ve ever delivered and that is their child to develop mold and educate.”
Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski also expressed his appreciation for the staff that makes up the Southington school system on behalf of the board.
“Our kids are great because of you,” said Goralski, to the auditorium filled with teachers.
The auditorium filled with laughter and hoots as STEPS shared a video featuring teachers, principals and students dancing along in classrooms and around the schools to the pop song, “Happy” by Pharell, to promote their initiative for positive role models.
As the meeting proceeded, Smith singled out Deborah Bender, the Southington Public School’s 2014-15 Paraprofessional of the Year, announcing that she is a semifinalist in the statewide competition.
Bender has worekd as a paraprofessional at Thalberg School since 2005, working with students in kindergarten through second grade. She is trained in Early Reading Intervention, Read Live and some software programs.
“The service she provides is nothing short of outstanding,” said Smith. “Deb pushes students to reach their personal best potential.”
Smith also awarded the Southington Teacher of the Year award to SHS Literacy Specialist Jennifer Paul.
Paul has been involved in teaching in Southington for the last 12 years between elementary, middle school and high school. Before teaching in Southington, Paul taught in Bethany for three years.
“She is an advocate and an inspiration for teaching and learning no matter what she’s doing,” said Smith, as she presented the award.
Paul was also recognized for her work in her current role as literacy specialist at SHS, where she formed the SHS Book Club program with the assistance of her students. She was able to help students collaborate and get excited about reading by having them select material that matched their lives and interests.
After accepting her award, Paul shared sentimental and humorous personal experiences as a teacher including providing note cards of alternative words for swearing and encouraging a young McDonald’s employee to seek the higher education she desired.
Paul also addressed her fellow educators regarding the new school year.
“Don’t underestimate your power as a teacher to influence each of your student’s lives,” said Paul. “They will look up to you. They may even want to be just like you when they grow up. Convince them of two things. Convince them that you believe in them and convince them that that belief means that anything is possible.”