PITTSFIELD -- For the first time in her 37 years as an educator for Pittsfield Public Schools, Jean Bednarski had the flu this week.
"I couldn't believe it. This has never happened to me. I was out for four days," said the energetic principal of Stearns Elementary School. She has served in that role since 2003, when she replaced Terry Forrest.
In four months, Bednarski will face another first -- retirement.
If she's learned anything over the past nearly four decades in education, it's how to be resilient and to roll with the dynamics of working in a school. During her tenure, she taught high school business courses for 13 years, worked with special education students and their families for 14 years, and has been known to dress up like a Dr. Seuss book character to entertain the kids while promoting literacy. She's also endured two rounds of district layoffs, dramatic changes in curriculum and in district administration.
"I love it," Bednarski told The Eagle on Friday during an interview at Stearns. "I have the best school in the city, the best faculty and parents and students. But with the new administration, new evaluations, and changes, I thought it was time to retire and let someone new come in and start along with the new administration."
Bednarski was referring to a turnover of leadership in the Pittsfield school district, and new state mandates taking effect for educator evaluations and student assessment.
Bednarski said she notified Pittsfield interim Superintendent Gordon Noseworthy of her retirement plans back in December, and will publish her letter of resignation in the upcoming school newsletter. She will stay employed with the district through July 31, when her contract expires.
Noseworthy, who will be replaced next school year by newly named permanent superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless, said the district closed the application period for Bednarski's position on March 1. Noseworthy said a committee of district members and Stearns staff and parents will begin reviewing applications and conduct initial interviews this week.
"At the end of the month, we should have a good idea of who the next principal of Stearns Elementary will be," Noseworthy said.
Stearns Elementary School currently has 235 students in kindergarten through Grade 5.
Bednarski, who initially dreamed of becoming a parochial school principal, said she aspired to and took on her role as Stearns principal in hopes of "bringing all the factions together -- parents, teachers, students -- instead of being a classroom teacher."
She said her favorite example of accomplishing this at Stearns was in 2007, when the school dedicated its library to Pittsfield native, Stearns alumna and NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson.
"It showed children and families how they could go to school in a small city and still go far," Bednarski said.
The principal said she hopes her successor will bring new energy to the school and observe it before making changes. She hopes the practice of joint decision making and the departmentalization of staff continues, and that the school maintains its atmosphere of making parents feel welcome to contribute and volunteer, and supporting student enrichment.
Noseworthy said the job posting for the position sought a candidate with the minimum of having a master's degree and three years' experience in education administration. He said he'd also like to see candidates with proven success in improving outcomes of student achievement.
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