New London — Jaye Wilson is a product of the New London public school system and has spent the last 36 years here as a teacher and administrator for legions of children.
She said she will miss them when she retires as principal of Winthrop STEM Elementary Magnet School.
The Board of Education Thursday voted 5-1 to name Michelle Han, currently the dean of Winthrop, as Wilson's successor. Board member Jason Catala voted against Han's appointment and member Sylvia Potter was absent.
Han was one of three applicants for the job, including two who were in-district.
Catala objected to the search process, stating that it "boggled his mind" that only three people applied for a $100,000-plus salaried position.
"I have to say that I find it extremely hard to believe that only three people applied for that job. That is a false statement, and something is not right. I would like to get some answers," he said. "I think the board should vote it down and go back and search."
Wilson, Winthrop's principal since 2008, said on Tuesday that retirement was not a decision she entered into lightly.
"My intention was always to get this building open and then retire shortly after that, but once we moved into this building and it was up and running, I said one more year, but as the year went on I felt the building could take care of itself," Wilson said. She said she started to contemplate doing something different.
Wilson started her career in 1977 as a reading resource teacher at the former Edgerton School, before transferring to Jennings Elementary School, where she spent 19 years teaching multiple grades.
In 1995, she became dean of Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and in 2001 became assistant interim principal. Shortly after that she was named principal. After five years, Wilson began to consider retirement. But a friend convinced her to try working at an elementary school.
Wilson said the fit was a perfect match.
As a teacher and then a principal, Wilson said she has always been an advocate for the children. But she admitted that she was restrained in how much she could say.
"Sometimes, as an agent of the district I need to choose my words very carefully, but as a private citizen I'll be able to advocate for the students without being careful of offending anyone or anyone misunderstanding what my intentions are," she said.
Wilson is leaving the school before it has earned an official magnet designation by the state, and at a time when the district is embarking on its path to an all-magnet school district.
She said new initiatives at the school, which include the establishment of an Extended Learning Time program have launched the school into a better place.
It is because of partnerships and resources around the New London and afar that Wilson predicts Winthrop will become a "state of the art" school.
"I think that going the way of magnet schools will be the telling point for a district like New London. We're a small district with big-city problems. We have no money, we have staffing turnovers, and we have students who come to us needing tons of intervention," she said.
"But because we're a small enough district, by going magnet we should be able to put that all together and really put New London on the map, not only as a magnet district but as a district that shines with diversity and also pushes our students to the point where they excel at everything."
She said she's seen the district turn a corner, "take a dive and come back up."
"It just amazes me, I see myself when I look at many of the students," she said. "If someone didn't take an interest in me, if someone didn't see what I could do, I could be any one of these students at any point in time and that always grabs at me. They really can be all that they can be no matter where they start."