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Gray Awarded CT Distinguished Principal Award
Race Brook School Holds Special Ceremony to Surprise Their Leader
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent
Mike Gray, principal at Race Brook School, has always been well-liked by parents and staff during his seven years leading the school. But on April 2, it was clear that his respect was well-deserved as he was recognized as the Connecticut Association of Schools’ 2014 National Distinguished Principal for the state of Connecticut.
As a National Distinguished Principal, Gray will travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in a two-day recognition event and ceremony. He may also receive requests to represent the National Association of Elementary School Principals on national committees and he may be asked to speak at engagements at the state level.
It is an honor that the whole Orange community is celebrating. As Superintendent of Schools Lynn McMullin says, “Mike represents what everyone in Orange treasures.” Being a solid elementary school leader is about more than test scores, according to McMullin. “For me personally, education isn’t only about the curriculum and instruction, it’s about the relationships of the staff to the children and their families. Mike’s award isn’t about how smart he is or how good his school’s achievement scores are or how long he’s been in education; it’s about the quality of person he is as measured by his school’s culture and respect for him,” she says. “He makes me exceptionally proud! Especially, since all of our principals recognize how life-changing is their time with kids, staff, and families.”
Gray was nominated by the PTA at Race Brook School in January and was quickly notified that he was one of two finalists. He was responsible for submitting a portfolio outlining his accomplishments. On March 27, the CAS selection committee met with the superintendent, and separate panels of central office staff, board of education members, teachers, students, parents and colleagues at Race Brook. The interviews were followed by a tour of the school, with its hallways lined with bulletin boards featuring student accolades to Mr. Gray.
“Mike’s PTA nominated him for the award and was instrumental in supporting him through the process. They made a book of letters from parents and arranged for refreshments,” McMullin says. When it was announced that Gray had won, teachers quickly pulled together a surprise assembly to congratulate him. “Everyone is so proud,” McMullin says.
Not easy to take off guard in his own school, Gray was visibly humbled to come into the gym for the surprise assembly, believing that he was taking care of an issue involving rowdy sixth grade students. They were rowdy, all right, along with the rest of the school’s student body and staff, as Gray entered the gym and walked the red (paper) carpet. The cheers could be heard from outside the building when it was announced that Gray won.
Race Brook’s music teacher Marie Olden said, “Here at Race Brook School, the teachers, staff, parents and community already know that Mr. Gray is the best principal in the world, not just in Connecticut. The students here have never been more proud, the staff is honored and privileged to work here at Race Brook and we are just so happy that you are principal of the year!” Gray was crowned King of the Day, donning a gold crown and red sash, as students in grades one through six read poems and shared memories of the impression that Gray made on them.
The humble leader was quick to extend the credit to his staff and students at the assembly, “Last Thursday was one of the best days I’ve ever had,” he said referring to the day that the CAS team visited the school. “I went home and told my wife that I’ve been doing this for 19 years and that was the best day in 19 years. It’s because of all of you. I thank my staff. You guys are amazing and I can’t do any of this without you. This is not a Mr. Gray award, boys and girls, this is a whole Race Brook School award. I couldn’t be in a better school and you are all a part of what makes this school so great.”
Jeff Cap, a member of the Orange Board of Education was on a committee of six board of education members who were interviewed by CAS representatives on March 27. Cap, a parent of a Peck Place School student, says, “Mike truly cares about the children. He has attended Cub Scout Pack 922’s Blue & Gold banquet three years in a row. He comes to see the boys advance to the next scouting rank from Race Brook School, as well as from Peck Place and Turkey Hill schools. Without hesitation, he attends this event on a Sunday afternoon to support the scouts. It’s an honor to have him as a special guest each year!”
RBS PTA co-president Jeannette Young says the nomination and recognition process was a positive reinforcement of what Race Brook parents already knew, “We’re just so lucky to have him. This was a unifying event for our school, whether he won or not, so much good has come out of this and now he knows how much we appreciate him. This process has shown us all what an impact he has made on our families.”
The PTA compiled a bound book of over 75 letters from parents, present and past from RBS and neighboring schools and presented it to the interview committee and also to Gray. One letter, from Peck Place parent Jill LaPlante, said, “I am writing this letter in support of Mr. Gray, a principal I’ve never met. I am the parent of a Peck Place student who had the honor and privilege of attending Race Brook School for three weeks in January during the unexpected closure of Peck. It became clear to me very quickly that Mr. Gray is an exceptional leader who has created a caring and welcoming community. I have always heard positive comments about Mr. Gray throughout the community from friends and teachers in the Race Brook district, but did not have a personal story until now.
“From day one, our Peck kids were welcomed with open arms by Mr. Gray and his staff and students. The Race Brook teachers and paraprofessionals went out of their way to ensure that the kids felt welcome and that learning was taking place. Mr. Gray visited my son’s new class often and supported his staff through the challenges of having an extra 200 students for three weeks. I could not have asked for a more positive experience!”
A grandmother also wrote, “I have been a resident of Orange, CT for almost 40 years and my children went through Race Brook School many years ago. My granddaughter now attends Race Brook and I have had the wonderful opportunity to visit the school on a variety of occasions. When I would drive her to school in the morning Mr. Gray would be outside greeting buses with a smile on his face while becoming familiar with each child and parent or in this case grandparent that was passing through the doors of the school. I never remember a principal being so visible on the school grounds. I have also attended many functions at the school and been impressed with how he interacts with the children and is able to maintain order in a variety of situations.”
“He is very warm and caring and makes the children proud to be attending their school. At school activities his presence is always entertaining and his personality fills the room with his professional yet inviting manner. He is definitely a special principal and we are very fortunate to have him at our school. He sets high standards for instruction, student achievement, character, and climate for the students, families and staff in our community and is very deserving of this prestigious award,” signed: Janet Perreault.
BREATHE, BALANCE, BELIEVE Vinyasa Yoga for the Family, Mondays @ 5:15- 6:15 pm, Saturdays 9:00- 10:00 am, in the Parish hall, Church of the Good Shepherd 680 Racebrook Road, designed to help children and adults strengthen both physically and mentally, participants practice at their own level, teacher is certified and member RYT. Please bring a yoga mat and blocks if you have them.
Nicotine Anonymous Meetings, Mondays, 6:30 – 7:30pm, Trinity Lutheran Church, 21 Robert Treat Parkway, Milford, open to all, no dues or fees, only requirement is the desire to be free of nicotine. For more information, call Bridges, 203-878-6365.
Zumba Gold Classes at Congregation Or Shalom, Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 7 p.m., Congregation Or Shalom, 205 Old Grassy Hill Road, simple and easy routines to follow, designed for people of all ages and no experience is needed. If interested, call Robin at 203.314.8176 or temple office at 203.799.2341.
Clean Energy Task Force of Orange meets on the third Tuesday of every month at HPCC, 525 Orange Center Road, conference room, 8 o'clock. The public is invited.
Orange Arts & Culture Council meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month, 7:30pm, HPCC, 525 Orange Center Road, check chalk board for meeting room. The public is invited.
Orange Recycling Committee meets every 3rd Wednesday except for January, July & August, 7pm, HPCC conference room, 525 Orange Center Road, public is invited to attend. For more information, email Orangerecycles@gmail.com.
Elm City Kennel Club General Meetings, third Wednesday of each month, except during July and August, 7:30pm, Paws’N Effect, 36 Corporate Ridge Drive (off Sherman Avenue), Hamden. For more information, contact New Member Coordinators Gary Wilson, at 203-996-2245 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Maureen Anderson, at 203-430-5229 (email@example.com). Next meeting Wednesday, April 16, 2014. Refreshments will be served. Our April meeting will include a program on AKC Dog Shows 101.
Blood Pressure Clinic presented by Gentiva & Maplewood of Orange, 1st Thursday of every month, Maplewood of Orange (formerly Laurel Estates), 245 Indian River Road, 1:30-2:30pm in the Community Room. No appointment necessary.
The Rotary Club of Orange meets every Friday, 12:15pm at the Racebrook Country Club, 246 Derby Avenue; prospective new members may contact Diane Eger at 203-530-4526 or visit www.orangectrotary.org for information about the club.
Orange Historical Society Academy Antique & Gift Shop Museum, open Saturdays, 10:00am-3:00pm. For information call 203-795-3106.
Bridgeport Art League 80th Annual Jurried Art Show, Milford Public Library, 57 New Haven Avenue during regular library hours, April 2-April 29, 2014, Artists from Milford, Trumbull, Shelton, Stratford, Bridgeport, Monroe and New Haven County represented in all mediums. Reception Saturday, April 12, 2014, 11:00am–1:00pm, Awards presentation at 12 p.m, Light refreshments served – all are welcome to attend.
Aqua Zumba, Milford Parks and Recreation, beginning on Monday, April 7, 2014 and Wednesday, April 9, 2014, McCann Natatorium, 34 Park Circle, led by Renay, Pre-register at www.ci.milford.ct.us or call Renay 203-522-2616 firstname.lastname@example.org, 8-week class, 7:30-8:30pm, Mondays or Wednesday's $56R/61NR for 8 classes or Monday and Friday’s $112R/$122NR for 16 classes.
New NAMI Support Group Meeting, every first Monday of the month, meetings begin promptly at 6:00 p.m. and end promptly at 7:30pm, BRIDGES, a community support system, 949 Bridgeport Avenue, Milford, conference room on the second floor, next meeting Monday, May 5, 2014. They are free of charge and facilitator led.