STONINGTON — Two major players currently behind the scenes in the town’s middle school consolidation process will become familiar faces this year to students, parents and teachers.
Meghan Breen and Art Howe are the new deans at Mystic Middle School and Pawcatuck Middle School, respectively, for the 2018-19 school year. Their roles are a one-year, interim position before the schools consolidate in 2019-20 to become Stonington Middle School.
Breen, 31, of Montville, just finished her ninth year in the classroom and completed her certification to be an administrator last fall. She has taught third grade at West Broad Street School for five years and first grade at Woodstock (Conn.) Elementary for four years.
Art Howe, 44, of Voluntown, has been teaching business and finance at the high school level for 18 years. He taught for 15 years in Stonington and three years in Griswold. For three years, he has also been the fine and applied arts interdisciplinary coordinator at the high school, in charge of physical education, music, health, business and art.
Breen said she was ready to move into the role as dean after taking part in many leadership activities in the elementary school over the last two years.
“I was ready to make a difference in education on a bigger level than the 20 to 40 kids that are in my class each year,” she said. “I had done some internship work at Pawcatuck Middle School last fall with Tim Smith and really enjoyed the age group, so I was ready to expand more in that area.”
Howe said applying to be dean made sense in his progression as an educator.
“I had done a lot of work this past spring with Neal Curlin, the assistant principal at the high school, when I had a student teacher in my classroom,” he said. “So when this position came available, it was the next logical step in my career. It’s a chance to affect 400 or 500 kids at a time.”
In the dean’s position, Howe said he could help the student body with morale and relationships and set the tone or the “rapport” of the building.
“All of those things that go on in the building whether it be teacher-to-student, student-to-teacher, student-to-student, teacher-to-teacher,” he said.
Breen said much of their work with tbe middle schools and the district’s administrators was looking at how to merge the two middle schools smoothly and provide consistency to students and teachers during the transition.
“We’re here to help in that in the process to make the environments more cohesive,” she said.
The two schools had slightly different schedules, philosophies and policies, which will be flowed together this year, said Howe.
The transition will affect teachers too, he said.
“It’s about teacher expectations as well and what is expected of the teachers and being able to communicate that clearly so that it will be a seamless transition the following year,” said Howe.
Both deans bring useful perspectives to the job. Breen has worked with children who are heading toward middle school, whereas Howe has taught students who have transitioned from there into high school.
“So we kind of have those bookends of we can see outside of just this place where we are,” said Breen. “Also, Art taught business, which is math, and I taught language arts, so our academic activities are complementary.”
They said they will be in touch constantly during the school year.
“For the things we’re deemed in charge of, we need to be on the same page at both schools all the time,” Howe said. “Even though it’s ‘dean of students,” it’s not just the students. It’s much more than that, and we’re still in the works of developing a flow chart of responsibilities.”
The transition toward consolidation can be a positive experience for everyone, Howe said.
“It’s a great opportunity for these kids to meet more kids, to be involved in different things, to see diversity, to see all kinds of different opportunities. They need to embrace it,” he said.
Breen said she wanted the community to know that everyone’s input was important.
“I would want them to know it’s a team effort in terms of teachers working together and students working together and that their voice and perspective matters,” she said. “As we transition and move forward, I want them to know that everyone is being listened to and asked for thoughts and ideas.”
The changes are also designed to improve the quality of middle school education in Stonington, said Howe.
“Most of the decisions are not driven because of the consolidation, they’re driven because of educational reasons for the students, for the betterment of the community and the educational process, not just because we’re consolidating to one school,” he said. “It gives us a year to look at the change that way.”
“It’s about how to make the best experience for the kids so that they’re constantly growing and making progress socially, academically and in all aspects,” she said.