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New London Adult Ed teacher named Educator of the Year

New London — Colleagues describe longtime New London Adult and Continuing Education teacher and administrator Denise Spellman as an innovator and a consummate professional with a dynamic personality and a boundless enthusiasm that students and staff respond to.

The Connecticut Association for Adult and Continuing Education agrees and has named her one of its three Educators of the Year.

Staff honored Spellman on Wednesday with a surprise drive-by celebration outside the Adult Ed building in the Shaw’s Cove office complex, a substitute for the in-person conference canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A line of vehicles adorned with banners, balloons and even a few stuffed animals drove by the building’s entrance, with participants honking horns and yelling congratulatory messages, mostly thank-you's. It was enough to bring Spellman to tears and, for a moment, she was at a loss for words.

“I don’t know what to say,” she told the crowd that had gathered outside their vehicles once the parade was completed. “Of all the days to wear my Johnny Cash T-shirt...”

Spellman, a mother of five, has been teaching math at New London Adult Ed for 26 years and increasingly has taken on more administrative duties. In January she was named interim director to replace retiring former director Maria Pukas. Adult Ed offers a host of free programs that include high school credit diplomas, English as a second language courses, enrichment and GED classes.

“I absolutely love it. This is where I need to be,” Spellman said with a broad smile. “It’s the best work family ever. These people are awesome. I don’t like things to be about me, so it's very hard to take right now.”

Co-workers Maureen Murphy and Maddy DePeter nominated Spellman for the honor, saying she has always been a visible figure throughout the building, is compassionate, trusted and well-respected by the students. Murphy said Wednesday’s surprise celebration was the least they could do after her years of hard work and mentorship of both students and staff members.

“We were trying to find a way in today’s world to congratulate her,” Murphy said.

Spellman, through the years, has developed curriculums for computer science classes, piloted a coding class and was one of the original instructors of the CT Adult Virtual High School and a member of the CT Adult Education’s Numeracy and Mathematics Advisory Group, assisting the state Department of Education in designing professional development activities.

In addition to designing programs to meet the diverse needs of students, Spellman provides a “safe educational environment where active learning is promoted and encouraged, and respect for others is required,” Murphy and DePeter wrote in the nomination letter.


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