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After 22 years as Old Saybrook Middle School Principal, Michael Rafferty will retire from his post in June, but his enthusiasm for his work and his love for kids hasn't waned.
"My job has never been a job; it's been my life. There never was a time when I wasn't going to be a teacher," says Michael. "My career has been terrific.
"I think I have a passion for kids and how they grow. I moved to middle school from high school because I loved to see kids learn and develop," says Michael.
He describes this as the year of 45s: his 45th year as an educator, his 45th year of marriage to wife Lawrene (they met at church at age 10), her 45th year as a neonatal nurse, and of his (well, one shy) 44th trip to Disney World.
Even at the end of last month's Disney trip, he was thinking of his kids. On the Sunday before school started again, he came into the office so he could make what he called "good-guy" calls. What are those? One of the calls he made, for example, was to a new student to see how he was adjusting to the school.
"I do come here on weekends. Lawrene always let me do this because it was important to me," he says.
And while his dedication to the students is measured in many ways, one example is his work on report cards.
"I read, sign, and write a personal note to every kid on their report card," he says.
When asked about his own and his middle school's long list of accolades, another leader might have accepted some credit for the successes. Michael, though, adamantly declines personal credit, instead crediting the school's staff members "who are committed to the kids and dedicated to their learning."
It's that type of leadership style that likely led a staff focus group recently to say the school's next leader should be just like Michael Rafferty.
"I would hope that if you ask our staff, they would say that we're a family," says Michael, who places a high premium on family as a priority. "I never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn't do."
Just last week Michael learned that Old Saybrook Middle School has for an unprecedented fourth time won the School Spotlight Award from the New England League of Middle Schools. The Spotlight Award, given for a three-year period, has been held by the school continuously since its first year win in 2003.
The school also was recognized as a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education in 1997-'98 and as the Connecticut Middle School of the Year twice, first in 1996-'97 and then again in 2005-'06.
Michael also seems a natural born leader, rising to top leadership posts in most organizations in which he participates. He's been president and treasurer of the Connecticut Association of Schools and served on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Association of Middle School Principals. Currently, he also is the Connecticut state liaison to the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
He's also an educator of educators. He taught undergraduates at Central Connecticut State University, graduates at the University of New Haven, and post-graduates at Sacred Heart University. What advice does he give them to help them be successful?
"I tell my graduate class, 'If you're going to be an educator, you need three things: a love of children, to be bright enough in your content area, and to have a sense of humor.'"
In 1999, Michael was one of only four state educators awarded a $25,000 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.
But speaking of what he values, he always returns to family and the importance of family values. He speaks with pride that his family always ate dinner together.
"That's the best time to listen to your kids," says Michael.
As Michael considers his next steps, he says he plans to continue to work with kids and in education in some form. And the honey-do list, he says, is getting very long.
"Next year I will come back to the school, but this time, it will be as a grandparent," says Michael.