By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — Bristol Elementary School will say goodbye to its team of top administrators come June, when Co-principals Anne Driscoll and Jill Mackler retire following their respective 10- and four-year stints at the school.
Both women have left their mark on the school they’ve teamed up to lead, Driscoll with her passion for literacy and Mackler with her expertise in “responsive classroom” training, an approach to elementary school education that emphasizes the well-rounded social, emotional and academic growth of students.
Though Mackler and Driscoll will both be stepping down in June, the two administrators came to their decisions to leave the elementary school at separate times, and for very different reasons.
Driscoll said that she is ending her tenure at the elementary school in large part because of health problems. Driscoll, who has multiple sclerosis, was finding that her work was taking a toll on her health, and so last April she told the staff at the elementary school at that this year would be her last.
“It was important to me that I would be the best that I could be as a principal,” said Driscoll, “and if I felt that I couldn’t do that, it wasn’t fair to the staff or the school or the town.”
Driscoll said that leaving the school would make for a tough good-bye, come June. After being hired in 1972, Driscoll spent her entire teaching career in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union, working as a teacher and literacy specialist at Monkton Central School and at Robinson Elementary School in Starksboro before coming to Bristol.
At Bristol Elementary, Driscoll served as an assistant and then associate principal alongside former principal Terrance Evarts before Evarts’ 2004 retirement. She credited Evarts with teaching her a great deal about being an administrator, and said that the elementary school’s strong, collaborative staff made working at the school such a pleasure.
“I don’t look forward to the last day,” she said, “but I plan on having as much fun between now and June as I can, and to really enjoy my time here at school.”
Mackler, who came to Bristol Elementary as a co-principal four years ago, said that her decision to retire was prompted by a sense, after 37 years as an educator, that it was time for her to try her hand at something different. Retiring, she said, feels less like leaving Bristol Elementary and more like leaving behind a long career as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and her work on education at the state level.
Like Driscoll, Mackler said that it will be hard to leave Bristol Elementary, in large part because Bristol is “a really good school” with what she called an extraordinary staff. She remembers walking into the elementary school for the first time to visit a granddaughter several years ago and thinking, while walking down the hallway, “Now this feels like home.”
“It has been exciting and fun to work here,” Mackler said.
Both women have high hopes for the school in the years to come. Mackler said that she hopes whomever follows in their footsteps brings a fresh perspective on technology to the school.
“We have wonderful people here who have taken the leadership role on that, and I think it would be great for the school if whoever the new principal is, is able to do it as well as talk it,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a powerful direction for education in a lot of ways, so long as we don’t lose sight of children.”
The duo is also confident that the changes that they’ve made over the years, particularly in instituting “responsive classroom” training and literacy initiatives, will stick around for years to come. The literacy, math and responsive classroom steering committees instituted a few years ago, which place decision-making power in the hands of committee members, will stick around. Driscoll said she hopes that reassures teachers concerned about “losing what we have.”
The departing co-principals agreed, however, that schools will face tough choices in the years to come.
“I’m worried because of the economy and the stresses that will be placed on the school financially and emotionally,” said Driscoll. “That will be one of the biggest challenges for the new administration: how to juggle the economy and the needs of the school and keep at the center of that what’s best for kids.”
Finances aside, they both expressed a hope for a future administrator who builds strong relationships with every member of the Bristol Elementary community — a community, said Driscoll, that is like “a second family for children.”
“It will be most important for me that the new administration treats the staff and the community and the families with respect, because by doing so, they will build the trust that will be needed to move forward with the school,” said Driscoll.
“Absolutely,” chimed in Mackler.
ANeSU Superintendent Evelyn Howard met with members of the Bristol Elementary staff in October to discuss the transition to a new principal, and discussions about the search has kicked off this fall among members of the school board, as well.
Howard said that it’s too early to know what sort of a “model” school administration would look like, and that decisions about whether or not to appoint co-principals are being “held in reserve.”
When announcements about the job opening begin to go out this week, the job will be billed as a “principalship,” but Howard said that the school board realizes the number of responsibilities that would rest on just one principal’s shoulder.
“There’s sort of an acknowledgement that it’s a pretty big job,” Howard said. “And in order to keep a focus on improving instruction, the board probably will be considering what they want for administrative support.”