Tag Archives: Dr. Colleen Palmer

Schools Superintendent Announces Retirement

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Colleen Palmer has announced her retirement, effective August 1.

She has been an educator for 35 years, and a superintendent for 15. She was hired by Westport in 2016.

Dr. Colleen Palmer

Board of Education chair Mark Mathias thanked Dr. Palmer for “her many contributions to the Westport Public Schools.”

He added, “She has worked tirelessly on behalf of our students through a challenging time for our community. Her priority throughout has been the growth and success of each child. Her commitment to continual improvement will guide our work for years to come.

“We know that Dr. Palmer will continue her dedicated work on behalf of the Westport school community during her remaining time as superintendent and we wish her all the best for the future. We appreciate Dr. Palmer giving appropriate notice so that the board can assure that the work of the district proceeds without interruption.”

At Monday’s Board of Ed meeting, members will begin the search for a new superintendent.

Board Of Ed Offers Update On Coleytown Middle

Two months after mold forced the closing of Coleytown Middle School — sending 6th and 7th graders to Bedford Middle, and 8th graders to Staples High School — administrators, town officials and the Board of Education is working hard to find a temporary solution. The Board of Ed says:

Our school district is undergoing an unprecedented situation. Seven weeks ago we voted to move students out of Coleytown Middle School. The Board acted quickly to hire both the architect and industrial hygienist to provide 3rd-party evaluations of the condition of the building.

We are sending this communication to the community to let you know what actions are being taken by the Board to address this situation in both the short- and long-term.

Coleytown Middle School

Last Monday, we heard a report from KG+D Architects about their assessment of Coleytown Middle School. KG+D offered very preliminary cost estimates of 3 options to remediate or rebuild Coleytown Middle School, ranging from $25 to $70 million.  The report is available for viewing at: http://bit.ly/KGD-CMSReport-2018-11-05.

The Board of Education also authorized the creation of an ad hoc townwide committee to advise and make recommendations to the Board on the short- and long-term needs of our district’s educational and physical facilities. Our town has precedent for these committees and we are moving expeditiously to activate these. People willing to serve on this committee can send an email expressing their interest to Mark Mathias (mmathias@westportps.org).

Ultimately these decisions lie with the Board, but we are soliciting community input in order to inform our decision-making.

So, what’s happening next?

First, on Thursday (November 15, Bedford Middle School, 7:30 p.m.), an open meeting will be held. The public can hear from and ask questions of Kris Szabo, Dr. Adam Rosen and James D’Amico (Coleytown, Bedford and Staples principals) about progress at Bedford and Staples. District administrators and members of the Board of Education will also be present.

Second, no later than Monday, November 19, we will receive the report from the industrial hygienist on their review and recommendations on Coleytown Middle School.

Third, we are currently constituting the ad hoc townwide committee that will include stakeholders from our town. Dates for the ad hoc committee-related and community events include:

  • Tuesday, November 13 (Town Hall, 7:30 a.m.): The Finance and Facilities Committee has first on its agenda the “Formation and composition of a town-wide committee” that was authorized by the Board last Monday
  • Sunday, November 18 (Town Hall, 5 p.m.): Preview to the ad hoc committee by Dr. Colleen Palmer, superintendent of schools, the 2019-2020 academic year options
  • Monday, November 19 (Staples cafeteria, 7:30 p.m.): Dr. Palmer will present to and discuss with the Board of Education options for the 2019-2020 academic year
  • Tuesday, November 27 (Long Lots Elementary School auditorium, 7 p.m.): Evening open conversation and public feedback on the options presented
  • Wednesday, November 28 (Town Hall, 12:00 p.m.): Daytime open conversation and public feedback on the options presented
  • Thursday, November 29 (Town Hall): Ad hoc committee will meet to discuss the 2019-2020 academic year options and make a recommendation to present to the Board of Education
  • Monday, December 3 (Staples cafeteria, 7:30 pm): Ad hoc committee will present to the Board of Education their recommendation
  • Monday, December 10 (Staples cafeteria, 7:30 p.m.): The Board of Education will decide how to proceed for the 2019-2020 academic year.

The challenges our town has faced this academic year are substantial. Closing a school during the school year is not a decision that we take lightly. The situation has affected everyone in our schools, and is a test of our ability to handle disruption. Through years of building top teams of teachers, staff and administrators, we are confident in our teachers, staff and administrators.

It’s also clear that this year is different for everyone involved with our education system. This is not the year that anyone planned. Some people have been affected more than others. We have been and continue to work to address everyone’s needs.

Bedford Middle School

Most importantly, we have focused on the safety of our students, faculty and staff and our continuing efforts to provide the top notch education for which Westport is known.

More updates will be coming from Dr. Palmer and the Board of Education as we work through this together.

Finally, we appreciate the feedback we have received from the community. It is your support, varied perspectives and specific insights that help us make decisions that will affect us now and for years to come. Board members’ individual contact information can be found by clicking here. Alternatively, the entire Board can be reached by email at boe@westportps.org.  Videos of our public meetings can be viewed by clicking here.

Superintendent Offers Update On Coleytown Middle School

This afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Colleen Palmer emailed the families of all Westport students. The topic: the current and future status of Coleytown Middle School, closed earlier this fall due to mold. She wrote:

Fourteen days into our new school year, I made the decision to relocate our students and staff from CMS to another facility for what I believed to be approximately a month. As events unfolded, that decision not to return to the CMS facility expanded to the entire school year.

Now, the district and town will be faced with the next steps in either remediating this school or choosing to invest differently in the future of this district.

There is nothing more sacred to any community than its school district; the quality of the educational process reflects the values of its citizens. Westport has never wavered from its commitment to a world-class system, and any next steps should encompass this belief as its foundational value.

As we move through the next steps of clarifying the future direction, it is imperative that all stakeholders feel assured that any process will be inclusive of our community. We could never have the best outcome for our children’s education if we did not work together to determine that pathway.

Coleytown Middle School

Below I have listed some key information to bring everyone up to date:

What do we know right now and what are the decisions ahead?

·       The District has made a formal application for the right to install 6 modular classrooms at BMS and 2 at SHS through the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).  Working with our middle school administration, and James D’Amico and AJ Scheetz, they have determined that we can work through this year and provide science access for the 8th grade students without adding modular classrooms at SHS.

When we go before the ZBA, we only request for the permission to add modulars to SHS as a back-up for future needs, but we will not order the modulars for SHS now. We expect the request to the ZBA to be for a period of 3 years – again, this is permission to put modular classrooms there, we don’t need to have them for 3 years or we may never need them at SHS. It is a complicated and costly process to go to ZBA, and asking for possible needs of the future makes sense now.

·       The 6 BMS modular classrooms (assuming we get all the Town approvals ASAP) should be installed in January 2019. All town officials have been working in every way possible to assist our efforts, which has been so very helpful to move the approval process along.

·        A revised schedule of classes was put in place this week for our middle schools to ensure no teacher has only a few minutes between classes to get to another school to start teaching again and to better use the classroom space.

·       New lockers for CMS students will be installed next week at BMS.

·       The town attorney provided an opinion to us that we cannot seek to have a cover installed over any of our athletic fields at BMS given the various agreements that are in place with neighbors of the school property. We will not pursue the cover for the field based on this information. The new schedule at BMS limits PE classes to 6 at any given time, which can be accommodated with current gym/fitness space and the cafeteria for low-impact activities (non-lunch times.)

·       The architectural firm will provide a comprehensive update of the CMS facility at the BoE meeting on Monday, November 5, at 7:30 p.m. We expect that they will provide a complete update of what it would take to remediate the school, as well as the cost to build a new one. Given the extensive problems already identified with the preliminary engineering reports posted on the CMS website, we anticipate hearing that we will be out of the CMS facility through all of next year as well, no matter if the BoE/Town opt to repair the school or go another direction.

Bedford Middle School

What does it mean if we find out we cannot use the CMS facility for the 2019-20 school year?

·       We will need to plan to house our students next year with our 7 facilities and perhaps some modulars and/or rented space.

·       We have a RFP out to identify a realtor in the next week or so to assist with our search for real estate that we could rent.

·       There are a multitude of ways that we could house our district next year, and each approach will be vetted for feasibility/effectiveness. As we review various ideas for housing students, we will consider the ability to deliver the educational program in the space provided, transportation, disruption to students/family/ district, cost, and any other relevant factors that impact how we serve our students and families.

·       There are plenty of rumors, but some of the approaches we are considering include renting space for the entire CMS school, renting space for part of CMS, moving grade 6 back to the elementary schools (in various configurations) with BMS holding all grade 7/8, renting space for preschool and kindergarten and using elementary for grades 1-6 with BMS 7/8.

As you can imagine, almost any way we can look at next year is being considered. While double sessions at BMS would be an option, there are numerous ways this would undermine the delivery of the educational program with a shortened day and there would be significant disruption to students and staff with the morning session from 7:00 a.m. to noon and the afternoon session from 12:40 p.m. to 5:40 p.m.

At this time, we do not have plans to house other students at SHS next year.  It is our goal to maintain SHS solely for 9-12, but we cannot guarantee at this time until the final plan for next year is completed.

Staples High School (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

·       We are in the midst of creating a budget for 2019-20, and I am responsible for a complete budget proposal to the BoE for 2019-20 in January 2019, about 9 weeks from now. Needing to build the budget for the Town approval process will put added pressure on the district to decide how we will structure ourselves next year as soon as possible.

We plan to bring forth the most promising proposals for next year in the next few weeks so the Board may weigh in on these as soon as possible. We will also create opportunities for families and staff to help give us feedback on options for next year as well before a decision is made by the BoE for 2019-2020.

Where are we going long-term, beyond 2019-2020?

·       Once the BoE/town officials have all the numbers of the cost of remediation, the decision needs to be made whether to repair or not. If the decision is made not to remediate, it would be appropriate that the district would contract to have all of its facilities assessed for future educational use in terms of the capacity of each school, educational use of the school, upgrades or repairs required, and other relevant facilities information on each structure.

We may not have an answer to any long-term direction of space usage right away if the district/town do not repair the school.  Most likely that would be require a period of months to determine, with opportunities for all parents and citizens to have a voice in the process.

What will be the process for inclusion of all stakeholders if the district/town determine CMS facility should not be remediated and other options should be considered?

·       The Board of Education and the administration have worked to be fully transparent in all decisions and work thus far as the district has grappled with the very unexpected closure of one of our middle schools in the midst of a school year. Key documents and reports have all been posted online, either at the CMS website or on the District website where all Board meetings agendas, minutes, and videos of meetings are maintained.

·       The Board of Education has made a public pledge to ensure an inclusive process with all stakeholders if the CMS facility is not remediated and next steps for the future of the District are on the table. Until that decision is made regarding the future of CMS, it has been premature to articulate a definitive planning approach for the future. If and when the decision would be made not to save CMS, the Board would act accordingly to invite the voices of all stakeholders.

What are the current conditions for our middle school students?

·       First and foremost, if you have any specific concerns regarding your own student, please contact the respective principal directly to discuss. Both Dr. Rosen and Ms. Szabo welcome hearing from parents to assist in any way. If it is just an issue related to a specific course, it is best to start the conversation at the teacher level.

However, if you have any concerns, let us know. Our team of professionals is eager to work with you to resolve any lingering issues from the shift in facilities this year. We take care of our students one child at a time, and will remain focused on concerns until they are resolved in the best interests of each child.

·       The instructional program remains of high quality to all students – teaching and learning are ongoing and our professionals are placing the needs of students as their top priority of their professional work.

·       Have there been some adjustments to space and time? Yes, but the integrity of the educational program continues.

·       Have there been some adjustments with clubs and activities? There have been a few adjustments, but not significant. Both Dr. Rosen and Ms. Szabo will participate in the update of our middle schools at the BoE meeting on November 5. They will personally speak to these issues and how they have creatively addressed some pressure points.

Superintendent’s Evening Statement

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Colleen Palmer sent this message tonight, to families of Westport students:

This morning, a student at Staples High School reported to administration that they had overheard some threatening statements by another student targeted at a staff member within the school.  We commend this student for the courage to come forward to share this critical information about our safety. Within minutes of this knowledge, a Staples administrator had the student of concern supervised in the main office, called the police, and called my office.

From that point on, our Central Office administrative team, the Staples High School administrative team, the Westport Police Department, and our first selectman worked hand-in-hand to address the presenting issues throughout the day. As a precautionary measure, police officers were assigned to our high school. It was only several hours later that information emerged that prompted us to shift to our strategy to shelter in place and to dismiss early.

The events of today unfolded dynamically and rapidly. Since this is an ongoing police investigation, there is a need to collaborate with the Westport Police Department in sharing further information so as not to impede their work.

Dr. Colleen Palmer

I would expect that the events at Staples today impacted you in some way, stirring up many emotions. I can only imagine the level of worry that some of you experienced. The idea that we have to even think about the wave of violence that has hit our schools in these times is unfathomable.

Before Staples reopens for a regular day of school tomorrow, I will meet with its staff to debrief and to commend their exceptional service to our students today.  As caring professionals, they remained calm, implemented well-practiced safety protocols, and made every effort to assure our students were comforted and made to feel safe during the events of the day.

To support a conversation with your student regarding these matters, I again attach the helpful guide from the National Association of School Psychologists which provides useful strategies with this communication (see below).

Tomorrow, our professionals will work with our students in developmentally appropriate ways based upon their questions and needs. With our youngest learners, we expect to address individual needs as they emerge. At Staples, support staff will offer small group discussion opportunities, as well as individual support, if needed.

As a community committed to safeguarding its children, we are very fortunate that we were able to work together to keep our students safe and sound today.

Sincerely,
Colleen Palmer


TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT VIOLENCE:

TIPS FOR PARENTS AND TEACHERS

High profile acts of violence, particularly in schools, can confuse and frighten children who may feel in danger or worry that their friends or loved-ones are at risk. They will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react.

Parents and school personnel can help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears.

1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.

2. Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient; children and youth do not always talk about their feelings readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. Some children prefer writing, playing music, or doing an art project as an outlet. Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, looking at picture books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings.

3. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.

• Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be
balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.

• Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking
questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school.

They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.

• Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society.

Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.

4. Review safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk.

5. Observe children’s emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can also indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Seek
the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.

6. Limit television viewing of these events. Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children.

Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.

7. Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.

SUGGESTED POINTS TO EMPHASIZE WHEN TALKING WITH CHILDREN

• Schools are safe places. School staff works with parents and public safety providers (local police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep you safe.

• The school building is safe because … (cite specific school procedures).

• We all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.

• There is a difference between reporting, tattling or gossiping. You can provide important information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.

• Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and probability that it will affect you (our school community).

• Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your normal routine, and being with friends and family help make us feel better and keep
us from worrying about the event.

• Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. Adults (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders) work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others. It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.

• Stay away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has a gun. Access to guns is one of the leading risk factors for deadly violence.

• Violence is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.

NASP has additional information for parents and educators on school safety, violence prevention, children’s trauma reactions, and crisis response at http://www.nasponline.org.
©2016, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway #402, Bethesda, MD 20814

Watch Press Conference On Staples Incident Here

THANKS to the Town of Westport’s Facebook page for providing this video (livestreamed by Jonathan Kaner). It includes 1st selectman Jim Marpe, superintendent of schools Dr. Colleen Palmer, Staples High School principal James D’Amico, and Westport police chief Foti Koskinas. 

Westport Parent: Thank You, Dr. Palmer, Administrators, Teachers And Staff

In the wake of this afternoon’s lockdown at Staples High School, an “06880” reader — and Westport parent — writes:

To Dr. Palmer and all the teachers, staff and administrators of the Westport Public Schools, thank you for your dedication to my children and all of Westport’s students. You have enormous responsibilities and pressure. You are overworked, underpaid and underappreciated.

Thank you for looking out for my children’s emotional and physical safety as well as their education. In difficult situations and uncertain times you are faced with making quick and real time decisions with incomplete information, knowing you will be criticized by someone no matter what action you have taken. Nevertheless you continue to prioritize your students and greet them with confidence, dedication and optimism each day.

Listening intently to the student speakers at last June’s graduation were (from right) superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer, principal James D’Amico, and assistant principals Pat Micinilio, Rich Franzis and James Farnen.

Westport parents, we need to be supportive of educators, administrators and those within the school system. They prioritize our kids’ safety and we need to trust that they know best how to do that.

We have to be OK not knowing everything and letting the people we entrust our kids to do what they need to do. Information that is ours to know will follow if/when appropriate. It’s not easy, we all have mamma bear and papa bear instincts. But we are only hindering efforts and jeopardizing the safety of the one’s we are trying to protect by demanding information and criticizing action taken and information shared.

To Dr. Palmer, administrators, teachers and staff you have my support and trust. Thank you for prioritizing my children and keeping them safe. You are appreciated and respected for all that you do.

Thanks for writing this. And I’d add my own thanks, to the Westport Police Department. They were superb today as well.

Superintendent Reveals Cut List

With the state budget in tatters — and towns now on the hook for things like teacher pensions — superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer presented a $977,000 cut list to the Board of Education last night.

Board members listened to and considered each of the “mitigation strategies” offered. No action was taken.

The Board of Education determines the exact list of reductions. The next step after that is the Board of Finance.

The biggest suggested change ($170,000) comes from health insurance, as a result of reduced staff.

In addition, $100,000 comes from the cafeteria fund reimbursement for operating expenses, and $98,141 from deferring the hiring of the director of secondary education for one year. Other large cuts include a middle school literacy coach and curriculum resources ($66,000) each; not funding an “innovation fund” ($50,000).

Palmer has identified 39 items overall for deferral or elimination. They include personnel like a part-time psychologist, paraprofessionals, 2 Staples grade level assistants, and secretarial help in the district. Also listed: the Staples athletic budget, maintenance, and supply items like Long Lots bathroom renovation, Kings Highway art stools, and Staples library and computer chairs.

To view all the recommended changes to the proposed education budget, click here.

Colleen Palmer: A Chat With Westport’s New School Superintendent

Not much gets by Colleen Palmer.

“I noticed the Westport Public Schools website has very few photos of students,” the town’s new superintendent of schools said last week, at the end of her 1st week on the job.

She knows there are privacy issues involved. But, she said, if students are the primary focus of the district — and she is emphatic that they are — they should be a visible focus online too.

It was a whirlwind week for the incoming education leader. She’d just finished 5 successful years in Weston; before that, she was superintendent in Monroe. Palmer also served as a high school prinicipal at Nonnewaug, Hamden and Simsbury.

Dr. Colleen Palmer.

Dr. Colleen Palmer.

She was not looking to leave Weston. She’d invested a lot of time and energy there; the schools are excellent, and she was deeply rooted in the community.

Yet when Westport’s search firm tapped her on the shoulder, she turned around.

Palmer knew this town, from working many years with then-superintendent Elliott Landon. The closer she looked at Westport — learning about initiatives like the 2025 Lens and collaboration with Teachers College — the more excited she became.

The opportunities and challenges here — in a district larger and more diverse than Weston — offered “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Palmer says. “I realized if I didn’t apply, I would always regret it.”

Westport Public SchoolsAfter her appointment this winter — she was the only finalist — Palmer did her homework. She read documents and reports. She made phone calls. As the budget process unfolded, she watched every Board of Education, Board of Finance and RTM meeting she could.

Now, she’s got a nice Town Hall office. But she’s not spending too much time there.

“I’m visiting every school, and meeting every person I can,” she says. “I’m getting to know the facilities, and what goes on behind the scenes. I’m trying to listen and learn.”

Her initial impressions?

“Westport is a very authentic place. Everyone is focused on what’s right for students. They’re passionate, dedicated and inspiring.”

Educators “want to share what they’re doing,” she adds. “There’s a can-do attitude, and a lot of collaborative problem-solving.” One immediate example: addressing space issues at Kings Highway Elementary School.

That’s wonderful. But, I wonder, don’t all teachers and administrators focus on kids?

“There are great educators everywhere,” Palmer counters. “What I see here is such a high level of performance, throughout the entire district.”

In that context, she says, “I tell people: ‘dream big.’ My job is to remove barriers. We’re all looking for better ideas, and better ways to do things.”

Colleen Palmer's Town Hall office has a great view. But she is getting out and around, meeting as many Westporters administrators, teachers and residents as she can.

Colleen Palmer’s Town Hall office has a great view. But she is getting out and around, meeting as many Westporters administrators, teachers and residents as she can.

Palmer looks forward to building on the strong foundation that already exists. She is particularly excited by the “Guiding Principles” initiative, fostering emotional intelligence.

“We have to look at the whole child,” Palmer says. “Success is not bound by academics alone. There’s also the quality of life as they go through the school system, and the tools they have for life.”

She hopes that Guiding Principles values like “kindness with sincerity” will be part of the entire district culture, for adults as well as students.

Using 2 of her favorite phrases — “Failure is not an option” and “Hope is not a strategy” — Palmer calls herself “tenacious and realistic.” She cites a major achievement in Weston — getting a waiver from the state, in order to do holistic rather than formulaic scoring for teacher evaluations — as an example of her ability to do what’s right for students and staff, unencumbered by rigid thinking.

She is not anti-data. But, Palmer says, “we have to be smart. My job as superintendent is to be effective, efficient and coherent. Any goals we set need realistic timelines. And then we have to all hold ourselves accountable.”

Though she calls a superintendent’s job “24/7,” Westport’s new leader has a life beyond school. Three years ago, driving across the Saugatuck River, she saw scullers on the water.

She took lessons at the Saugatuck Rowing Club, and fell in love with the sport. Now, at dawn, she rows a single.

“There is nothing more beautiful than the flat Saugatuck River, as the sun comes up,” Palmer says. “It’s so peaceful and serene. It’s where I do great thinking.”

Palmer — a swimmer — recently joined the Westport Weston Family YMCA too.

She loves cultural events, travel, and her 3 sons and 5 grandchildren. She just built a lakeside house in Vermont. It’s her “grandchild trap.”

The new superintendent — who prefers “Colleen” to “Dr. Palmer” — replaces a man who served a mind-boggling 17 years, in a very difficult public position.

How long will she be here?

“I love my work. I thrive on it,” she says. “I have a healthy balance in my life. This job has long hours, but I take care of myself.

“I have no exit plan in mind. I look forward to a long tenure here.”

BREAKING NEWS — Board Of Ed Names 1 Superintendent Finalist

The Board of Education has narrowed “a very strong field of superintendent candidates” to one finalist — and she does not come from very far away. Dr. Colleen Palmer is currently Weston’s Superintendent of Schools. Last month, she was named Superintendent of the Year by the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

In a press release this morning, the board says:

As is a common practice in superintendent searches, the Board of Education announces the finalist in order to plan a site visit with the selected candidate.  At the site visit, members of the board and other school officials will meet in small groups with selected school officials, staff and parents in Weston.  The appointment of Dr. Palmer also will be subject to a third party independent background check and the finalization of contract terms.  The Board is confident in its selection and fully expects the rest of the process to go smoothly.

Dr. Colleen Palmer

Dr. Colleen Palmer

Since July 2008, Dr. Palmer has been a superintendent in two Fairfield County communities:  first in Monroe and then in Weston.  Dr. Palmer also is an experienced high school principal, having served in that role at Nonnewaug, Hamden and Simsbury High Schools.  In addition, Dr. Palmer served as Deputy Executive Director of the Capital Regional Education Council.  Her extensive career in education began in the classroom as a high school math teacher.

Dr. Palmer has a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Connecticut.  She also received a certificate in executive leadership from UConn and a master’s degree in K-12 counseling from Southern Connecticut State University. Her undergraduate degree in mathematics education is from the University of Connecticut.

To help conduct the search for a new superintendent, the Board hired Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, a national educational search firm.  Three HYA consultants, John Chambers, Deborah Raizes and Gary Richards, met with members of the staff and community to develop the criteria that guided the search.  National advertising and recruitment were conducted.  Applications were received from a broad range of states, including California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Utah.  The Board conducted interviews with four semifinalists, narrowed the field, and then interviewed finalists before deciding upon Dr. Palmer.

Dr. Palmer is a visionary academic leader who will bring an unwavering focus to our mission of reaching the potential of each child. We are thrilled that she wants to bring her tremendous skill set and experience to Westport.

We anticipate making the official appointment in January.  Thank you for all of your engagement and support during the superintendent search.

Dr. Palmer would replace Dr. Elliott Landon. The long-serving superintendent will retire at the end of the current school year.