Two more Norwich principals announce retirements

Norwich — Four of the city’s seven public elementary schools will have new leaders next school year, as four principals have now announced plans to retire.

Marianne Nardonne, principal of the Samuel Huntington School, and Cheryl Vocatura, principal at Veterans’ Memorial School, announced early Monday they will retire at the end of June. Later Monday, John B. Stanton School Principal Christy Gilluly said she too will retire next January.

Two months ago, Uncas School Principal Janis Sawicki announced she will retire in June as well.

The new retirements also come a year after the school system hired two new middle school principals and named a new principal, Donna Funk, for the Thomas Mahan elementary school, meaning seven of the city’s nine public schools will have new principals by next January.

Superintendent Abby Dolliver said the turnover rate is a factor of the school system’s veteran staff. Nearly all principal departures over the past two years were people with decades of service to the Norwich school system.

Nardonne will leave Norwich after 44 years as a teacher and administrator, Vocatura 34 years, Sawicki 41 years and Gilluly 23 years in the Norwich school district.

“It’s their time,” Dolliver said. “The timing doesn’t hurt them. Why relearn everything when it’s time to retire?”

She added that new national and statewide school reform efforts, new stringent teacher evaluation requirements and data-driven computerized student tracking systems could be factors in their decisions. Norwich is one of 30 designated state Alliance Districts in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education reform plan. The John B. Stanton School is one of four Network Schools receiving funding for reforms.

The four retiring principals offered mixed comments on whether the reforms contributed to their decisions. But all said “It’s time to retire,” as they are in their 60s and want to spend time with grown children and grandchildren while traveling or pursuing hobbies.

Nardonne, 66, said the education reforms only partly factored into her decision, but said after 44 years, it’s time to retire. Nardonne said she entered Huntington School as a kindergarten student at age 4, and now will leave that school after 44 years working in the city school system.

“How many people can truly say they enjoyed coming to work every day?” Nardonne said.

“I’m ready,” said Gilluly, 64. “I’ve had opportunities that I never dreamed I would have. It’s time for me to have a personal live. I want to grow a perfect cherry tomato plant, be a docent in a museum and visit my grandchildren in California.”

Vocatura said she had planned to retire at her 35th anniversary of joining the Norwich school system, but that wouldn’t come until partway through the next school year. She felt it would be easier for a new principal and the school staff to start working together at the beginning of the school year.

Vocatura said she enjoyed working on the new Alliance District reforms this year. Veterans’ Memorial is one of the designated “focus schools” for the reforms. Some of the grant-funded changes, including a new literacy assistant, were implemented March 1, she said.

Sawicki, 62, said she was a little “ambivalent” about retiring this year.

“It was just the right time,” Sawicki said. “Things have changed a lot.”

The four principals have seen numerous changes in the Norwich school system and plenty of past education reforms during their careers. Sawicki said she started as an “EMR” teacher — for Educationally Mentally Retarded, a now-archaic term. She said she had no curriculum for her class. Her students arrived later in the day and went home earlier than other students, and there were no educational expectations.

Nardonne, who had held several different administrative positions over the years, was principal at the Greeneville Elementary School from 1995 to 2010, when school officials abruptly closed the beloved neighborhood school in a budget-cutting move. Students and staff held a parade and wore specially made Greeneville School T-shirts to mark the end of that era.

Dolliver said launching a new era in the Norwich school system will start with the naming of a large search committee to gather a pool of candidates for the four openings. The large committee will select finalists, who then would be interviewed by smaller school-based committees to see which candidates fit at each school.

“As a leader, building a new team is exciting and daunting at the same time,” Dolliver said. “It’s at a time of change. We’re sorry to see these people go, with their collective experience, but now is the time.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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