by Michael TorelliHerald Staff
To Amy O’Brien, there’s some beneficial aspects of working for the town in which you live, such as the convenience of being able to attend numerous events.
So, when O’Brien moved from Ansonia to Cheshire approximately five years ago, she began to feel disconnected from the Ansonia School District, where she worked as principal of Mead School. When the opening for principal at Doolittle School became available earlier this year, O’Brien pursued and was ultimately hired for the job.
“I did really miss that when I moved to Cheshire, so the timing here was perfect,” she said. “ … Being a principal, there’s a lot of evening events and there’s a lot of things you want to be at your school (for) before and after school hours, so being so close makes that a lot easier and more conducive.”
O’Brien replaces former principal Russ Hinckley, who announced earlier this year that he would be stepping down as administrator to pursue a special education teaching position within the District.
O’Brien moved from Ansonia to Cheshire to be closer to family. She is a native of Ansonia, a product of their school system, and a longtime educator in the district. But, while she may be a newcomer to Cheshire, O’Brien has already invested herself in the community. She has watched as her nephews have gone through the school system, stating that she has been “continually impressed” by everything the Cheshire School District offers to its students, residents, and staff, including keeping lines of communication open and providing professional development opportunities.
O’Brien has also closely followed issues surrounding Doolittle, including parents’ claims of bullying and mean-spirited behavior of students and staff throughout the District following the suicide of 11-year-old sixth-grade student Anjelita Estrada late last year.
As the new principal, O’Brien intends to build relationships with teachers, students, and parents. She hopes to hear about the school’s strengths and work on issues.
“My plan is really to work hard at being a good listener, really build those relationships and get to know them and let them get to know me,” she said.
O’Brien reflected that teachers and parents want the best for their students and children. She plans to ensure that everyone works together to accomplish that.
“Living here, I was aware of everything that happened,” O’Brien said. “I do think the communication lines are open, and I hope to (keep them) open.”
O’Brien is also eager for the start of the school year so she can meet Doolittle students. She looks forward to getting to know all of them, promising that there will be a mix of academic and social-emotional learning, along with a lot of fun at Doolittle.
“I am definitely a student-first person,” she said.
O’Brien was officially hired at the Board’s July 2 meeting. Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan said O’Brien’s educational background — she was named Ansonia’s Teacher of the Year in 2003 — and emphasis on building a positive culture helped her to stand out among other candidates.
“She really demonstrated and stood above the other candidates in her ability to unify and the strategies that she would employ … but it starts with listening,” Solan said.
Board members spoke in support of O’Brien’s appointment.
“I have to say, I am extremely pleased,” reflected Board member Cathy Hellreich. “I think Amy is just what we need at Doolittle School at this point in time. She’s a breath of fresh air and very open. She was very willing to share about herself and her hopes and dreams about Doolittle.”
Board Chair Kathryn Hallen said she served on one of the committees that interviewed applicants vying for the position.
“There were a lot of good people we spoke to, but Amy really stood head and shoulders above the other candidates,” she said. “Confidence, personality, warmth, intelligence — it was the entire package.”
Doolittle families are invited to a Meet & Greet with O’Brien on Tuesday, Aug. 6, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the school library.