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Groton's next superintendent has a familiar face

Groton — In her education career, Susan Austin has taught a myriad of grade levels, from preschool to high school and higher education, and served as principal and assistant superintendent.

Now, she said she is taking on a new role: leading the Groton school district.

The Groton Board of Education voted Monday to appoint Austin, the Groton school district’s assistant superintendent since 2014, as the new superintendent starting Jan. 1, when current Superintendent Michael Graner retires.

“I’m really committed to this district and to the families and children and our teachers and administrators, so I’m really looking forward to this next chapter,” Austin said.

Board Chair Kim Shepardson Watson said the board received more applicants than expected, particularly given the pandemic and the mid-year start date, and whittled down a pool of 18 applicants to five. There were many good candidates, but Austin continued to shine above them.

Shepardson Watson said that while Austin has a history with the district and will be able to hit the ground running more so than anyone else, it’s really Austin’s heart, her commitment and vision for educating all students, and her expertise around curriculum and moving people forward that made her stand out.

Austin will be taking the helm in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so she said a major goal will be to keep the district’s school communities safe and healthy and help students continue learning.

The district is also in the middle of the Groton 2020 plan. The equity-driven plan calls for one consolidated middle school, which opened in September adjacent to Fitch High School, and two new intradistrict magnet elementary schools that are slated to open next year. Groton will shift to five intradistrict magnet elementary schools next year. Austin said she couldn’t be more proud of the plan, and she’s committed to continuing that work.

Graner said he is delighted that Austin was chosen as the next superintendent and called her an “enormous asset to the district.”

“She is extremely knowledgeable, hardworking, and she’s really been on the ground floor of the Groton 2020 plan and knows it extremely well,” Graner said.

In her tenure as assistant superintendent, Austin said she is most proud of her work with faculty, staff and administrators to improve curriculum, instruction and assessments. She said by bringing together teams of teachers, along with administrators who assisted her as instructional leaders, they revamped and improved the curriculum from prekindergarten through 12th grade.

She spearheaded mental health summits and worked, along with Graner, to obtain grants to fund programs, including a math workshop and a writing workshop with Columbia University’s Teachers College, among other initiatives, Shepardson Watson said.

Austin will become the first female superintendent to lead the district in about 30 years.

“I think it’s time and I’m certainly proud of that,” she said. She said it’s time that there are more women leading school districts, and pointed out that while, industrywide, women make up a high percentage of teachers, the majority of superintendents are men.

Though Austin has held many positions over her 40-year education career, she said she is a “teacher at heart.” She was a teacher for 18 years in New Canaan Public Schools and about another four years in leadership and administration. She then was a principal in Monroe Public Schools for more than a decade and next became associate superintendent of Stamford Public Schools. Over her career, she also has taught in higher education.

She joined the Groton school district as assistant superintendent in 2014, after her brother in Ledyard called her to tell her about the opening and encouraged her to apply, since it was a perfect match for her and would bring her closer to home. She did, and “the rest is history,” she said.

Austin, who is a graduate of Ledyard High School, said she relates to the military community in Groton and the nature of the challenges and successes facing military children, because she herself is a submariner’s daughter who went to 10 schools in 12 years.

She said she wants to stand at the helm as the school district continues its progress to help students grow academically and to support their social-emotional learning.

“I believe in the commitment that this district and this community puts forth in caring for their children and the commitment for educating them and making sure that all kids have opportunity,” Austin said. “I embrace our work in diversity, equity and inclusion and look forward to making sure that continues to grow with us, and I just feel like this is a fantastic place to be.

“It’s not only a beautiful area — nestled between the Thames River and the Mystic River — but I just feel like we’re doing the right thing for kids, and that’s what matters most in education,” she added.

k.drelich@theday.com

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