East Lyme Middle School principal honored as 'Outstanding First-Year Principal'

East Lyme Middle School Principal Jason Bitgood was presented with the Connecticut Association of Schools' William Cieslukowski Outstanding First-Year Middle School Principal Award by Donna Schilke, the association's assistant executive director. A celebration was held the Monday morning, May 7, 2018, at the middle school. (Kimberly Drelich/The Day)
East Lyme Middle School Principal Jason Bitgood was presented with the Connecticut Association of Schools' William Cieslukowski Outstanding First-Year Middle School Principal Award by Donna Schilke, the association's assistant executive director. A celebration was held the Monday morning, May 7, 2018, at the middle school. (Kimberly Drelich/The Day)

East Lyme — East Lyme Middle School Principal Jason Bitgood said he looks forward to going to work every single day.

He said not a day goes by when a student doesn't come up to him in the hallway and say, "Mr. Bitgood, how is your day going?"

"Where does that happen?" Bitgood asked. "It happens at East Lyme Middle School."

Bitgood, 56, thanked faculty, students, and administrators, as he accepted the Connecticut Association of Schools' William Cieslukowski Outstanding First-Year Middle School Principal Award for 2018-19 during a celebration Monday in the middle school cafeteria.

Monday's celebration also served to recognize that East Lyme Middle School was renewed as a Spotlight School by the New England League of Middle Schools, one of about 30 schools across New England to earn that honor, said Superintendent Jeffrey Newton.

While presenting the principal award, Donna Schilke, the Connecticut Association of Schools' assistant executive director, said CAS loved Bitgood's academic leadership and vision, but what really caught the association's eye was his character as a person.

Citing the nomination from Newton, Schilke said Bitgood plays up the strengths of his staff, understands the 810 students at the middle school, builds connections based on trust, transparency and honesty, and remains humble through it all.

"He always remembers the most important thing: that it’s about the students, and whatever is best for them is the way Jason is going to go," Schilke said.

Bitgood joined East Lyme Public Schools in 1996 as an elementary school teacher at Niantic Center School.

He then became a math teacher at East Lyme Middle School and later districtwide math coordinator. He served a year as assistant principal at East Lyme High School and six years as assistant principal at East Lyme Middle School, before starting this year as the middle school's principal.

Bitgood said he tries to remain as visible as possible, spending time in classrooms and meeting children.

He said the teachers at the middle school, who create engaging lessons for students every day, should be very proud of the Spotlight School renewal.

Bitgood said the renewal required a rigorous review process that included participation from students, parents, teachers and administrators. The award recognizes schools that implement best middle school practices and are student-centered. He added that credit is also owed to work by the previous administration.

He further praised parents and the "unbelievable children" at the middle school.

"They come skipping to school every day with a smile on their face and are ready to learn," Bitgood said.

Brad Allen, who is in his third year of teaching at East Lyme Middle School, said Bitgood was very supportive to him as a new teacher. He said Bitgood visits classrooms and asks teachers how he can support them, before they even have to ask.

East Lyme Middle School Teacher Kathleen Kuvalanka first got to know Bitgood when he was her children's teacher.

“I think the most impressive thing is his humility,” she said. “He’s an incredibly smart man and a great classroom teacher, and I think for most of us the respect started there and just grew. He knows what it’s like to be in the trenches, and he’s supportive of his staff and his kids.”

k.drelich@theday.com 

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