Center School welcomes back former teacher as principal

By Lauri Voter- Staff Writer
Willington - posted Fri., Sep. 9, 2011
Willington's Center School started on Sept. 6 under the leadership of its new principal, Phil Stevens. Photos by Lauri Voter.
Willington's Center School started on Sept. 6 under the leadership of its new principal, Phil Stevens. Photos by Lauri Voter.

Phil Stevens said that he “jumped right in” on his first day of school. On Aug. 19, Stevens vacated his position as assistant principal at Tolland Intermediate School to begin his new role as principal at Willington’s Center School on Aug. 22.

Stevens is no stranger to Center School, where he began his career as a physical education teacher – a role he filled for eight years. He then served as an assistant principal in Tolland, where he spent a total of three years, before returning to Willington this year.
Stevens said that the tasks of being an assistant principal, versus being a principal, “depend on who you work with.”

In Tolland, Stevens said he was treated as a “co-principal,” rather than as an assistant principal. He credits Tolland Principal Jim Dineen with sharing a variety of tasks with him that included teacher observations, curriculum matters and student discipline. Stevens said that he enjoyed working in Tolland because he had “the opportunity to do what a principal does.”

In and of themselves, Stevens’ administrative and teaching experience - combined with a double-major undergraduate degree from Eastern Connecticut State University, a master’s degree from Kent State University, topped off by the sixth-year degree he obtained from the University of Connecticut - seem to emphasize why Stevens was selected as Center School’s newest principal.

This Tolland native-turned-Willington-resident also has particular interest in ensuring Center School’s success. Given that he lives and works in Willington, that his children will be educated in Willington and that his wife, Kristen, is a literacy coach at the school, Center School is a sort of “family affair” for Stevens.

In fact, when Stevens first started teaching at Center School, he was his mother’s colleague. She was a first-grade teacher at Center School until retiring approximately three years ago. This year, when Center School was in need of a long-term substitute teacher, he called his mother in an “official,” yet all-in-good-fun capacity, to inquire if she would like the job. Stevens laughed as he said that his mother rejected his offer.

Stevens said that he sees Willington now as Tolland used to be, before it grew, becoming a “big district” when compared to Willington.

“Willington is the only district I would leave Tolland for,” said Stevens. “I wasn’t looking for a job, but the opportunity at Willington opened up.”

This year, Stevens said that he does not want to “rock the boat” by implementing changes right away, intending rather to conduct a needs assessment. “I want to make sure I know what’s changed in three years, since I’ve been gone,” he said.

However, Stevens has already implemented a series of coffee hours. These open house-type events will be held on an alternating a.m. /p.m. schedule for parents, teachers and community members to spark open discussion and to make people aware that Center School is a substantial institution with significant technological resources. The initial coffee hour will occur on Sept. 29 from 9 to 10 a.m.

According to Stevens, Center School students can expect to enjoy coming to school and will find that learning can be fun. On the first day of classes, Stevens assembled the students in the gym and read them a story. Stevens described it as a community event – the type of event he hopes to make common at Center School.

“We’re going to have fun while we’re here,” said Stevens, who plans to be very visible to both students and their parents.

Stevens said that because monies and resources are tight these days, his job is to be as creative as possible to help Center School keep pace.

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