Sheltonite will be Stamford associate school superintendent

Shelton resident Susan Austin will leave the Monroe school district to become associate school superintendent of the Stamford public schools.

Austin now is principal of Stepney Elementary School in Monroe, where she has worked for 11 years. She has taught at all school levels, including college, during her career in education.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to lead an entire district of 16,500 children, as opposed to 500 children,” said Austin, adding that she will miss Monroe. “I’m hoping I can take the ‘Stepney way’ with me,” she said.

She said it was “bittersweet” to leave her position in Monroe.

“It’s been a privilege to serve this fine community, and it’s been like a family to me, being part of the whole administrative team and working with my teachers and children here,” Austin said of Monroe. “Our school mission here is ‘Reach for the stars and touch every heart,’ and that’s what I really see people doing here daily.”

Leadership abilities praised

Monroe School Supt. James Agostine praised Austin for her leadership at Stepney Elementary.

“Susan has been a great asset to Monroe and Stepney Elementary School these past 11 years,” Agostine said. “Her leadership, particularly in mathematics, will be missed. Her new position, associate superintendent of Stamford public schools, is a role she has aspired to for a few years, and I am sure she will make a positive impact there as well. We will miss her and we wish her the very best in her new role.”

According to Monroe Board of Education Chairman Darrell Trump said. “We’re losing one of our fabulous administrators. Congratulations — that’s wonderful to see you moving up; we hate to see you moving out.”

Role of volunteerism

Asked what strikes her about the time she spent working in Monroe, Austin said, “First and foremost is the volunteerism in this community, whether it is the seniors here or the parents. It makes such a difference.”

She said she’ll also miss having such a close relationship with students, which she said even as administrators Monroe principals are able to form.

“It’s very important for us to be in the classrooms,” Austin said.

School garden is ‘highlight’

“One of my highlights is the garden at Stepney school,” said Austin, adding, “I just found an article [about the garden] from when my fifth graders were first graders...It’s got a pond, a terrarium, perennials that represent each letter in the alphabet.”

“That’s my highlight … to be out in the garden with the kids, looking for worms, reading books, watering the plants,” she said. “I feel like Stepney School has been my garden as I look back on my career.”

Challenges of working in education

One of the challenges of being a principal and teacher is keeping children safe, according to Austin.

“The biggest challenge is always in keeping children safe, not only during the school day, when they’re in class, when they’re on the bus … but beyond the school day,” she said.

New dangers exist today that didn’t exist when Austin, who taught in New Canaan for 22 years before coming to Monroe, began her career.

The Internet is a powerful medium for students to communicate to or about each other, and new laws in Connecticut call on schools to play a role in curbing what is often broadly referred to as “cyber-bullying.”

The Internet also is a medium for “stranger danger,” the same thing students have long been warned to look out for in the three-dimensional world.

“It’s a huge responsibility for all of us in education,” Austin said. “They have to be safe, or else they can’t learn.”