WALLINGFORD — Highland Elementary School Principal Victoria Reed is retiring at the end of the month, leaving a legacy of pride in the school she helmed for 20 years.
Reed recalled the 50th birthday of the school in 2008, when the building housed grades K-5.
“That was an awesome day,” she said Wednesday while sitting outside, near a tree with a 50th anniversary marker stone at its base.
“Each grade level took a decade and performed” using the town’s bandshell stage, she said. “We had retirees, former principals come back, and they were in the audience, and then we had a special reception for them.”
Fourth- and fifth-grade students made a colorful mosaic art piece of the school mascot — a tiger — that was permanently installed in the cafeteria.
Literacy projects and events were a staple of her time as principal.
“I'll miss doing our reading programs and our curriculum nights,” she said. “Of course we couldn't do those things, when the parents come in at night with their children, because of COVID, but I'll miss some of those there. They’re a little bit of work, but they're fun, and parents and students enjoy them, so I'll miss that.”
Reed has been principal of the pre-K-2 school since 2001 and was the school district’s administrator of the year in 2013. Her last day is slated for June 30.
The Board of Education appointed Emily Banach, Rock Hill Elementary School’s social worker, as the new Highland principal in April.
Arguably the biggest change to Wallingford schools came 10 years ago, when the district created separate elementary schools for grades K-2 and grades 3-5.
Reed oversaw the transition of Highland from a K-5 school to a sister school partnership, with Mary G. Fritz Elementary School — then called Yalesville Elementary School — taking on grades 3-5.
She worked closely with Kent Hurlburt, who was Yalesville’s principal, as students, staff and PTOs merged with the theme “Two Schools, One Community.”
“There were some tears at the end,” she said, “of teachers that had to leave that were teaching grades 3, 4 and 5, and then I'm sure there were tears for the teachers at the other school coming here.”
Since the transition, Reed has focused on making Highland an early learning building.
“I added on pre-K,” she said. “First it was part time, and now I have two full-time classes. We're in (a nationally) accredited program here, and we're family.”Active in professional groups
Reed grew up in in Goshen, New York, and earned her undergraduate degree at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. She earned a master's degree from SUNY New Paltz and another master's degree from Teachers College, Columbia University.
She taught first and second grade in Newburgh, New York, before becoming assistant principal at Mary Morrisson Elementary School in Groton, where Naval Submarine Base New London is located.
“At the time, 98 percent of the students were Navy dependents,” she said, “so we had a lot of transitions.”
Students came from all over, she said, transferring from Department of Defense schools wherever there is a submarine base, like Reykjavik, Iceland, Kings Bay, Georgia, Bremerton, Washington and Kittery, Maine.
“It was a very good experience,” she said.
Reed is active in associations for education professionals, serving on the board of directors of the Connecticut Association of Schools, a state association for schools and principals.
Through that group, she became active with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), and earlier this year concluded a three-year term on its board of directors, representing all of the principals in New England.
“Participation in both of those associations has provided a wealth of opportunities for me to meet lots of well-known educators in the field, to get to know principals in other states,” she said.
Reed visited Washington, D.C., many times with NAESP’s Connecticut group
“(We) would go and we'd set up appointments with the Connecticut congressional delegation,” she said. “We just did a virtual one in March, because no one's allowed at the Capitol right now. That has been a joy, to be down there and to let people know the needs of principals, the issues in education, funding and the usual.”
In 2018, Reed participated in an NAESP international conference in South Africa.
“I took a little vacation and went on safari,” she said, “but I also got to visit the public schools, and then I visited the American International School. It was the most amazing experience. It was a long flight, but it was well worth it.”
In July, Reed plans to attend the NAESP conference in Chicago for the 100th anniversary of the association’s founding.Respect, kindness
Reed is one of two minority administrators in Wallingford, along with Sashi Govin, director of Wallingford Adult Education.
She said she hopes the district works to increase diversity among staff across the board.
“I'm sure they're going to be working hard to bring in more diverse candidates, as far as in the teaching staff and non-certified staff as well,” she said, “and I know that personnel is working hard to do that.”
Reed lives in Southington, and said she is looking forward to doing home improvement projects in her retirement.
“I don't know what the future holds,” she said. “I'm not taking anything off the table, but I haven't made any firm decisions.”
School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo, who is also departing Wallingford at the end of the month, said this week that Reed is “an exceptional professional with passion for her students, families, and staff.”
“Vickie has worked so hard to create a culture characterized by respect and kindness,” Menzo said. “I will always remember her incredibly moving Veteran’s Day ceremonies. Each year, I looked forward to being a part of this event.”
Reed will also be remembered for Highland’s annual reading programs.
“She took so much pride in developing a theme with which students would connect,” he said.
On a personal note, he said, “Vickie has the most contagious laugh that everyone will miss.”
“I wish her all the best in retirement,” he said. “I hope that she remains involved in education in the state and nationally. She has so much more to offer students, families, and staff.”
Reed is among several long-time Wallingford schools employees to retire this year, including Highland’s speech-language pathologist, Patricia Gormley, who has been with the district since 1987.
A going-away party is planned for Friday morning for Reed and Gormley, called “Donut Miss Us Too Much” with refreshments provided by Neil’s Donuts.
More than 300 students and 60 staff members participated in a countdown over the last 20 days of school, and decorated Reed’s office with posters, signs, souvenirs, crafts and trinkets.
“Her office is completely stuffed with tokens of appreciation and it is a sight to see,” said Liza Kennedy, a second-grade teacher at Highland.