As fiscal year resets, superintendent reflects on first year leading Darien schools
It was almost a year ago to the day that The Darien Times published a Q and A with Darien’s then new schools superintendent Dr. Alan Addley.
Addley, an 11-year leader of the Granby School District, took the helm of the Darien School District in July 2019. Addley was named Connecticut’s 2019 Superintendent of the Year by the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.
In 2017, Addley received the UConn Neag Alumni Distinguished Superintendent of the Year. Addley replaced interim Schools Superintendent Elliot Landon. Landon temporarily replaced the previous full time Schools Superintendent Dan Brenner, who left two years ago to take the reins at the United Nations School.
Addley began his year by taking the bus to Tokeneke with kindergartners on the first day of school.
Being Darien’s school superintendent is never an easy job. The district is high performing, demanding and successful in academics, athletics and the arts. But it is fair to say with the hit of COVID-19, Addley’s first year in Darien was more trying than any of his predecessors.
Between having to rapidly come up with an eLearning program, having to revisit the schools’ budget in order to meet the town’s economic challenges due to the pandemic, and create a meaningful year-end experience for transitioning students, Addley, the district and the Board of Ed had a very quick “getting to know you” experience during the 2019-20 school year. Among his other efforts, Addley also created an online “TV show” recreating the classic “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” into Dr. Addley’s Neighborhood, to keep the younger Darien students engaged and connected. The show included visits from puppets “Lucky” the leprechaun and “Blue” the wave, after Darien’s mascot.
Addley’s next challenge is, along with district administration, staff, the Board of Ed and more, to create a workable plan for Darien students to return to school in the fall within the state’s guidelines.
A native of Northern Ireland, Addley started his career as a professional soccer player and mathematics teacher. He has 35 years of administrative and teaching experience in private and public schools in the United States and Ireland.
The Darien Times spoke with Addley this week, reflecting on the past year.
So you finished a year in Darien — and it was quite a unique one. Would you say it flew by or did it seem like five years?
In some ways the year passed very quickly. I think that is probably a combination of being very busy and getting older! Somehow, the years seem to pass more quickly as we age, no matter what we are doing! There is no doubt though that the last few months of eLearning were particularly challenging and that time passed more slowly during that time period without the staff and students being at school.
Was this the most challenging year as a school administrator?
It is fair to say 2019-2020 was an unprecedented year characterized by significant challenges. The school year was abruptly and unexpectedly disrupted with the COVID-19 health crisis. The Superintendency is always challenging and simultaneously rewarding…but, in truth, perhaps this one more than most!
Do you think COVID-19 actually made you be able to develop a closeness and bonds with the school community, staff and board almost quicker given the depth of the work you all had to undertake?
Developing trusting and caring relationships with constituents is critical to the success of the work, perhaps most importantly in times of challenge. As with our own families, these experiences serve to bring us together and make us stronger. The work this year has required us to work closely and collaboratively on a variety of matters. Those experiences will serve us well in the future.
At times during the budget discussion you seemed very emotional. What moved you so much about those discussions?
Making decisions in the best interest of ALL students has been a long standing decision-making practice of the Darien Board of Education and school system. It is important that we continue that practice and that we protect the educational investments made by the community over many years. I tend to be passionate on issues involving principle, student safety and educational programs for students.
At any time during this year have you regretted coming to Darien?
Absolutely not! It is never dull here and there is always important work to be done; that is the nature of the Superintendency. I have been privileged to work with a tremendous student body, talented staff, dedicated Board of Education, and a most supportive parent community.
What do you look forward most to next year?
Mostly, a safe return to school. School classrooms, hallways and athletic fields have been eerily quiet the past three months without the sounds of students, teachers and coaches. We all miss seeing the students and staff.
What do you think was your biggest achievement this year?
District accomplishments and progress are only possible with the efforts of the entire school community (BOE, administrators, teachers, staff, and parents) working collaboratively. Together, we have addressed some significant challenges while simultaneously trying always to create the conditions for student success.
What is your message to the Darien community after this year?
This is a very special community with an exceptional school system. Thank you to everyone for your warm welcome to the District and town and for your participation and support during my first year as Superintendent of Schools.
Are you going to have a second season of Dr. Addley's Neighborhood?
Hopefully, we will all be in school and there will be no need for a second season, but I expect Lucky and Blue might make appearances along the way in the same or other venues!