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Growing up in Guilford, Katharine "Kit" Bishop felt a pull toward the world of education early on. She says she always knew she was going to be a teacher, and 46 years ago she set out on a career path that has taken her to South Africa, China, and back home to Westbrook, where she has been the well-known principal of Daisy Ingraham Elementary School for the past 27 years.
Kit has helped shaped a myriad of Westbrook students into well-educated, well-adjusted adults and young adults. Inspired by her disabled brother and her parents, who were instrumental in starting the SARAH program in Guilford, Kit began her journey as an educator first by being a special education teacher. She worked in Durham and Guilford, as well as branching out to South Africa, where she taught at a boarding school for African high school girls. She taught there for two years and gave birth to her son while she and her husband of 48 years, Westbrook First Selectman Noel Bishop, were working in South Africa.
"When we got married, we knew we wanted to travel and live different places and help others," explains Kit, who met her husband while the two were in college, she at Southern, and he at Yale.
Kit has worked hard to infuse her passion for changing the lives of students into her role as principal by being part of the sister school arrangements with China's Shandong Province. Instrumental in fostering a relationship with the students and faculty in China for the past five years, she supports and applauds the continental exchange program between the two countries.
"We have had 4th and 5th graders go to China and we have hosted students here in our school and our community. The entire experience for the students as well as the teachers and the community has been a great learning opportunity, opening us up to a different environment that we all have learned from. I hope the program goes on after Bob and I retire," says Kit, who, like Westbrook High School Principal Bob Hale, announced her retirement in December.
"I guess it is kind of a bittersweet feeling," says Kit. "I don't feel like it is really happening right now. Being the principal of the Daisy Ingraham School has been the focal point of my career. It has been so satisfying seeing the children and the school grow so much over the years.
"The school has become not only my work place, but my social network, and my family, so I have mixed emotions about leaving, but I think it is time for me to branch out and see what else I can offer."
Kit has seen a lot of changes in the education system over the years, both from the point of view of Daisy Ingraham principal and also as the president of the Connecticut Association of Schools. Most recently she says the push for school safety is a huge change, as well as the special education environment.
Some areas of schooling of which she's most proud in Westbrook have been the extended-day kindergarten program, which Westbrook was one of the first schools to start, as well as the multi-age kindergarten classes, which were part of the curriculum for several years, and the introduction of Spanish at the kindergarten level, which began in Westbrook 20 years ago.
When asked to describe herself, Kit says she has a lot of common sense and that she is flexible, compassionate, and passionate about what she has worked to do all these years. Living what she calls a bit of an "open book life" in Westbrook, Kit says there isn't much that others don't know about her.
Once she retires she plans to keep on traveling with Noel, a pastime the two have enjoyed throughout their life together, visiting places such as Tanzania and Kenya on safari. She will also have more time to dedicate to her children, Dan and Kim, and her four granddaughters, who live in Maine and Virginia. She will also enjoy a little extra time in her garden, and trying out new dessert recipes, especially ones that require chocolate as the main ingredient.
Kit says she has been fortunate to work and live in Westbrook, in such an intimate town, where the schools are small and the Board of Education has always been supportive.
Her advice to others starting out in education is, "Give a lot of yourself and you will get a lot back."