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Longtime East Lyme elementary school principal retires

East Lyme — Students coming back to Flanders Elementary School this fall will have a new face greeting them, as longtime Principal Linda Anania announced earlier this year that she would be retiring.

After a 43-year career in education, more than a decade of which was spent at Flanders, Anania’s last day is June 30. Taking her place will be Danielle Schoman, whom the Board of Education unanimously appointed to the position at a meeting Wednesday.

“Leaving the children is the hardest part for me,” Anania said by phone Thursday. “It really tugs at my heart. I’m remembering all their smiles and laughter, and I appreciate all those experiences. That’s what it is about. I will forever say that. ... I cared about every single person at the school — students, staff and parents — and I hope they feel the same and that they care about everyone, too.”

Having been out of school and away from her students since March, Anania said it’s been difficult not having the in-person goodbyes she always expected as part of her retirement, but she said she and staff have made efforts to keep up interaction with their students through Zoom sessions, as well as a parade they held through town.

“She’s been an outstanding administrator and has done such a wonderful job building a wonderful school with such excellent staff,” Newton said. “She so cares for kids and has made kids feel welcomed and appreciated over the years, and I speak as a father, as well as a superintendent. My daughter was there for a year before being redistricted to Lillie B. Haynes (Elementary School).”

Besides cultivating a supportive and positive school community, Anania said she has made the cornerstone of her tenure to not only know her students and staff, but also their families, creating an open and transparent atmosphere. “It’s about partnering with everybody,” she said. “And this year, more than any other year, we’ve relied on each other for support. We’ve become stronger because of this. This year topped all my years.”

Before starting in her position at Flanders, Anania taught for 28 years in Stonington, where she lives, before becoming a team leader at Mystic Middle School, now known as Stonington Middle School. It was in that role, Anania said she realized she wanted to focus her efforts as an educator working within school administration.

“I wanted to have more of an impact," she said. "I cared about kids, I wanted to help children and their families." She later became assistant principal at East Lyme Middle School in 2005 before later transferring to Flanders.

With retirement, Anania said she hopes to “start working on a better version of myself,” as well as tend to her health and take care of her elderly parents.

Anania "was wonderful and warm and always had a smile on her face,” Newton said. “We are truly going to miss her. She has been in education for over 40 years, and I think the time is right for her. And she has left a firm foundation.”

Newton said by phone this week that Schoman met the criteria the district was looking for in its next principal — personality traits that embodied “somebody who was approachable, somebody who had some elementary experiences, someone who understood elementary curriculum and someone who was not going to immediately start changing things, but rather embrace the things we are doing." He said Schoman also demonstrated herself “phenomenally well” throughout the interviewing process and showed superb communication skills.

He added that Schoman's experience as a former fourth grade teacher at the school for six years made her “an excellent fit” for the position.

Schoman had begun her teaching career at Flanders in 2008, and said, “I absolutely loved my time at Flanders and it was a really difficult decision to leave because it’s a great staff, a great community. I loved my students so much, and I still communicate with my parents of those students to this day.”

In 2014, Schoman accepted a third grade teaching position at Waterford’s Quaker Hill Elementary School where she also was a teacher-assistant principal, then moved to her current position as principal at Sayles School in Sprague.

“When this position (at Flanders) opened, I knew I had to apply to it,” Schoman said. “It has been exciting to discuss how I’ve evolved and changed over time and how Flanders has also changed. But the bones of Flanders has stayed the same and that they’ve continued to grow and thrive.”

Schoman said the school’s “child-centered approach,” which makes up the "bones" of the school, is something she has been excited to come back to, as “the staff there are so dedicated to doing what’s best for kids and is constantly striving to do better.”

During her first year, Schoman said her focus will be to get to know the Flanders community before finding areas where the school can improve. "I want to get back and rebuild relationships, reconnect and reform new relationships," she said. "It will be about getting to know the parents and students. That's the number one priority."

She added that she expects to bring influences from Anania’s tenure into her new position. “(Anania) was the principal when I was there, and she has been wonderful through this transition," Schoman said. "I’ve learned so much from her. She’s been an amazing leader and a lot of what I’ve learned in my career is from her. It will be big shoes to fill.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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