A chat with Ledyard's superintendent

Cathy Patterson talks about challenges
of the job

When Cathy Patterson took over as superintendent of Ledyard Public Schools on January 1, she became the first woman to lead the district. Her appointment followed a decade as assistant superintendent and a 26-year career with Ledyard Schools, including time as the principal of Gallup Hill School, director of special services, an assistant principal and a teacher at Ledyard Middle School.

Patterson grew up in Waterford but jokes that "now I graduate from Ledyard High School every year."

We sat down with Patterson in September to learn more about how she approaches the job.

Q: What drew you to education as a career?

A: I was an elementary education undergraduate and both my parents had wanted to be teachers and neither became a teacher. And I was the firstborn. And I was the female. And so in those days, you know, females predominantly went into nursing or teachers. But I was very encouraged to go into teaching. It was almost a mandate.

But I worked parks and rec when I was a teenager and I loved kids. So here I was looking at nursing and teaching, but teaching-my love. From the beginning. And then I went into special services. And what I loved about special services was all the research they had, about dyslexia, brain research, how the brain works. How does metacognition help special education students and regular education students?

Metacognition is simply thinking about one's thinking, and when teachers make that deliberate, then kids have better recall.

I found education research fascinating. I almost went into school psychology because I liked the research piece. It would have either been school psychology or teaching.

So that's my problem, I've had about 12 or 14 jobs here and I love them all. I think I'm just very content and enthusiastic about the field. And I'm not just saying that because you're tape recording it.

Q: What has been your favorite part of working with Ledyard schools?

A: Oh god, just about every part of it. Teaching and learning is my craft. It's what I do. It's my passion outside of my family. And I love it.

I love the research of it. Not everybody loves research based practices; I happen to. It's been my hobby and my job for a lot of years now. So I said to the teachers on opening day, we always hone our craft over time and our craft changes because research changes. We know more now about how children's brains work, about how they retain information and recall information. And so we have to change our craft based on that just like doctors change their craft based on the research. Hopefully surgeons aren't using the same craft they did 20 years ago, and we wouldn't want our teachers to either, right?

So my favorite part is the teaching and learning part.

Q: What's an average day like for you as superintendent?

A: Really busy. It starts really early and it ends really late and it never stops. It's 7 days a week, it's 24 hours a day. It's all encompassing.

We receive emails on weekends and calls on weekends and we take them all. We try to get back to people as soon as we can. More night meetings than when I was the assistant superintendent.

One of the things I wanted to do as superintendent was remain an instructional leader. I didn't want to be taken away by the hot water heaters and the boilers and all of those things that can take superintendents away from being an instructional leader.

I do those things too. But I don't want them to take me way from instructional leadership.

In every administrative job, you become disciplined. In every administrative job, managerial things try to take you away from your teaching and learning focus. It requires discipline to remember why you're here and why the board hired you to do the job. And they hired me to be an instructional leader.

Q: What has been the most challenging part of being superintendent so far?

A: Implementation of the teacher and administrator evaluations. It is challenging in and of itself. We are having to implement 100 percent evaluation of teachers and administrators. Last year we implemented one-third. So the challenge for new superintendents-and for experienced superintendents-is the entire thing is going to be rolled out this year.

It went really well (last year) with the one-third. But we had to make significant changes, still. The common core of teaching changes the (evaluation) rubric it's still new to administrators. So we'll see how it goes. We'll make modifications if we need to. Every district is going to make modifications. The state is going to make modifications.

There are not enough administrators for the amount of time it takes to evaluate staff members. Our teachers are aware of the situation. The teachers have been extraordinarily supportive.



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