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Goodbye to Bennets Cheerleader

The departure of Bennet Middle School principal Kathy Ouellette to become district superintendent brings mixed feelings to Bennet's staff and students, and Ms. Ouellette. Included: A description of a school send-off to a principal.color>

The announcement to the faculty before school started that principal Kathleen Ouellette could leave Bennet Middle School early in the year for the superintendent's post proved true in October.

"We're very proud of Kathy," assistant principal Scott Gagnon, now interim principal, says. "As upset as the staff is, they are very happy for her. She will raise the bar for the district. She has brought her instructional expertise uptown. She will bring a calming effect, and then attack instruction."

The initial shock to the faculty came in late August, so by October, teachers were adjusting to the news and starting to look ahead. Students were informed shortly after Ms. Ouellette's appointment.

"The kids are relentless now, asking who the new principal will be," Mr. Gagnon says. "We reassure them, saying we are splitting duties, and their lives will not change."


Ms. Ouellette transformed the atmosphere of the school, bringing order and caring, according to Mr. Gagnon. "When Kathy first came, we used to get complaints from certain merchants on Main Street about kids banging on windows on the way home," he says. "Now, I can't remember the last time we had a complaint from the community.

"She changed it to a school; control was an issue, and legitimacy. The school became safe. She brought cohesiveness to the staff. Now we are tackling academics.

"She treats the kids like her own. In many ways, she is married to the job."

After several weeks of transitioning, Ms.Ouellette prepares herself to say goodbye to the faculty and students at Bennet, after almost six years as principal. In August, she described herself to a visitor as the "Bennet cheerleader."

Becoming a superintendent has been her career goal, and she sees it as a chance to directly impact more students. Still, Ms. Ouellette will miss rallying support for Bennet.

"I will miss the day-to-day contact with students, but I'll be visiting schools," she says. "I plan on having contact with students. I plan to be very visible."

For her last day in the school, she wants to shake the hand of every student, or at least every one in that day. Then she will read a message and play a song during the end-of-the-day announcements. For her, it is the best way to close her Bennet career.

For their goodbyes, every student at Bennet has written a message on a piece of colored paper. Each piece becomes a link on a giant chain from each grade, which Ms. Ouellette will take with her.


Ms. Ouellette already has relocated to central office on the day of the farewell, and arrives back at Bennet a little behind schedule for the farewell festivities. "Good luck, Ms Ouellette!" reads the message board near the front entrance.

Meanwhile, office staff members have been monitoring the weather because forecasts call for the dreaded wintry mix of snow, sleet, and freezing rain later in the day. "We're not closing early," Ms. Ouellette announces to the office. "I'm letting you know now."

Ceremonies begin with the sixth graders, who line up against the hallway walls, leaving the center free for Ms. Ouellette to pass. They hold their message chains. "It's important that I have the chance to shake hands with each of you before I go, because you have touched my life so much over the past several months," she says. They applaud when she arrives, and some are a little giggly and nervous, because few have gotten to know Ms. Ouellette well in just a few months. Some reach out for hugs, and applaud again when she leaves.


News that Ms. Ouellette is in the building travels fast, and while she is waiting in the office, two girls enter and gesture to her. "We really need to talk to you privately," one says. "We need a room."

"Problems!" adds one.

"Can I do something first?" Ms. Ouellette asks. She asks the secretary to write down the students' names, and to call them back to the office when she is done shaking hands.

Waiting in the office while the seventh graders prepare for their salute, Ms. Ouellette still is working on her final message to the school. "The hardest part will be at 2:40, when I give my final goodbye over the loudspeaker," she says. She also is conducting superintendent business at Bennet today. "Otherwise, I can't keep up."

The goodbyes get harder with each grade. "We'll miss you!" a seventh grade girl calls out. Many teachers wipe away tears.

Eighth grade is the hardest goodbye, because she's known these students the longest. The students link their chains together and teachers string them across the hall. "It's a difficult day for me," Ms. Ouellette says to the students. "I feel very close to this eighth grade class. You made me the principal that I am, and the educational leader I am today. Thank you for your confidence in me."

There almost were as many hugs as handshakes as she travels down the rows.

But Bennet's loss means new energy district-wide, Mr. Gagnon says, and Ms. Ouellette knows what she can and wants to do for kids and education. "She'll do it," he says, "She is relentless. Her vision will become reality."

Education World Goes Back to School

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending several days a month this school year with the Royal 7's, a seventh grade team at Bennet Middle School, a grade 6 to 8 school in Manchester, Connecticut. She is observing and participating in students' learning, and talking with staff about their strategies and perspectives on improving student performance. She is a graduate of W. Tresper Clarke Junior-Senior High School in Westbury, N.Y.

(Editor's Note: All students' names have been changed) 

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
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