Scott Jeffrey: School Days

Like so many of his students, Essex Elementary School Principal Scott Jeffrey is eagerly awaiting the start of school on Thursday, Aug. 29.

Forget the classic Nat King Cole song about rolling out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer; those days are coming to an end. There's nowhere better to confirm this than Scott Jeffrey's office. Scott is starting his second year as principal of Essex Elementary School, and these days he's getting into his office at
6:30 in the morning. A white board sitting on an easel has a long list of tasks waiting to be done before Essex Elementary, like all schools in Regional District 4, welcomes back students on Thursday, Aug. 29. Teachers report back three days earlier, on Monday, Aug. 26.

Scott was hired at the beginning of August last year, when Joanne Beekley moved from principal of Essex Elementary to assistant superintendent of the district.

"I had only two weeks to start the school year," Scott says, adding that in-building staff like Assistant Principal Deborah O'Donnell as well as Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy and Beekley were enormously helpful in familiarizing him with both the school and the district.

His first year had some unexpected challenges, among them eight pregnant staff members for whom long-term substitutes had to be found.

"I found out about it one by one," he recalls as the teachers came into his office. "People said they were so sorry, but I said, 'What could be more wonderful than starting a family?'" he recalls.

Although there are many male instructors, the enduring depiction of an elementary school teacher remains a female. In fact, Scott reports that more than one parent told him of a child who had come home from school to report what appeared an unusual fact: the new principal was a boy.

Scott has taught upper grades, but says, for him, the elementary grades are special.

"Students come like sponges soaking everything up," he says. "You never know what to expect, but you know it depends on you."

In Clover, South Carolina, where he taught for 10 years before coming to Essex, Scott left as an assistant principal, but his education and his educational career started in Connecticut. He grew up in Barkhamsted, but was familiar with the shoreline area because a grandmother lived in Old Saybrook.

He went to Central Connecticut State University on a baseball scholarship, planning to become a physical education teacher. In college, he was a third baseman, but says he no longer plays ball even recreationally.

"I'm too old," he explains.

He refuses to commit publicly on one of the burning sports questions of a shoreline summer: Red Sox or Yankees.

"I'm just going to say I am neutral," he notes.

Over the years, he has earned two masters' degrees, in elementary education at the University of Hartford and in educational administration at the University of South Carolina.

Part of Scott's college scenario worked out well; he became a teacher after graduation, but not in the field he expected. He started as a science teacher for 7th- to 9th-grade students at Mooreland Hill School, a private school in Kensington. Since then, he's taught 4th, 5th, and 6th grades, but in his entire career of more than 20 years, Scott has never taught physical education.

His office at Essex Elementary has some familiar objects-a backpack on the floor and two 12-packs of Diet Coke, his afternoon pick-me-up, on a bookshelf. It also has something much more distinctive: examples of the pottery he makes. Scott took a one-semester elective pottery course in high school and he's been making pottery every since.

He describes himself as mostly self-taught, adding that in South Carolina he had his own studio and participated in regional art shows. It is for him a way to unwind.

"Everybody does something-bike, read. I go home and turn on the wheel," he says.

He showed a visitor several elegantly made and glazed ceramic pieces.

Like returning students, Scott is already eager as he thinks of the first day of school.

"It's hard to sleep, I'm so excited," he admits.

He will visit every classroom that first day and talk about expectations for the upcoming year. At the close of school, he will be outside bidding students goodbye as they board busses and greeting parents coming to pick up their children. One of the things that impresses him most about Essex is the degree of commitment by the community at large to education.

"People put great value in education; it is one of the top priorities here," Scott says.

Scott himself will not have one of the traditional first-day worries: what to wear. He wears a tie every day, except for specified dress-down days.

"It's respect," he explains.

With his given name, Scott Jeffrey, composed of two traditional first names, Scott says over the years he has learned to answer when people call him Jeff, as well as when they call him Scott.

"People calling me Jeff? It's happens all the time; it's been happening all my life," he says. "I'll answer to whatever, even 'Hey you.'"

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