By JEN CARDINES
Longtime Board of Education member Zaya A. Oshana, 87, died on Tuesday, April 4. For more than four decades, Oshana—the 16th Zaya in the family lineage—was a leader in town for Southington’s public schools.
Oshana served the educational community throughout his entire life. After graduating Central Connecticut State University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, he accepted a position at Lincoln Elementary School in New Britain. He continued his education at The University of Hartford where he earned both the sixth year degree and a second master’s degree in administration and supervision.
Oshana retired from Lincoln School after serving 33 years as a teacher and assistant principal. After his many years in the public school system, Oshana was then offered the opportunity to supervise student teachers at the University of New Haven where he spent 10 years.
His long list of credentials made him an experienced member of the BOE.
His 34 years of service on the board of education—first as a Republican and then as a Democrat—still stands as the third longest tenure in town history, eclipsed only by Urbin T. Kelley (43 years) and Walter A. Derynoski (39 years), both of whom have schools named after them.
“He was an educator, so he knew and understood process,” BOE Chair Brian Goralski said, “He supported teachers and was committed to helping kids learn.”
His son, Zaya G. Oshana Oshana, is a current Southington BOE member. Goralski said the Oshanas are a family that serve their community. “That legacy, [the younger] Zaya learned from his father.”
Aside from the education sector, Oshana was involved in multiple organizations, including but not limited to the Gridiron Club, The Kiwanis Club, The Elks Club, and the New Britain Education Association.
He served as a board member for the Margaret C. Griffin Child Development Center and was a past president of the DePaolo Junior High School PTA. However, the most prominent community service job he held was his elected position on the Southington BOE.
“The community owes him a debt of gratitude for his years of service,” said Goralski.
According to his peers and family, there were no politics involved for Oshana, there were only children and what was best for them. As a result of his lifetime of commitment, the Democratic Town Committee presented Oshana with the “Distinguished Democrat of the Year” award on Sept. 7, 2016. The ceremony was Oshana’s last public appearance.
The award was presented for his long commitment to Southington because whether it was work, civil service, or his free time, Oshana was always an outspoken champion for local students.
“He was very proud of receiving that recognition,” said Democratic Town Committee chair Bob Berkmoes. “He’s going to be missed.”
At the time, Oshana told the Observer, “I really didn’t do it for publicity. I used to tell people that they could call me ‘Harry.’ I really didn’t care…as long as they listened to my ideas.”
In an interview at the award ceremony, Oshana told The Observer that he was driven by what he could do to help the kids of Southington. How could he get them ready for college? If they don’t go to college, how could he help them in life?
To his students, he posed just two questions: “Where will you be in five years?” and “How will you get there?”
Oshana spent his entire work and service careers helping students achieve those goals.
“He was the type of guy that was extremely concerned with the students,” Berkmoes said after hearing the news of Oshana’s passing. “He wanted to make sure they got the best education.”