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Wonderful Women of NPS: Susan Lessard

Wonderful Women of NPS: Susan Lessard
Jena Pucillo

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Wonderful Women of NPS thumbnail, featuring Susan Lessard

 

WONDERFUL WOMEN OF NPS

An interview with Susan Lessard, Principal of John B. Stanton Elementary School

The 2022 Women’s History Month theme, Providing Healing, Promoting Hope, is both a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic and also a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history. 


This year, the NWHA encourages groups throughout the country to use the theme to recognize and honor women in their own communities, organizations, or agencies. We are excited to shine the spotlight on women in the Norwich Public School District who emulate that message.

 

PRINCIPAL LESSARD AT A GLANCE

Susan Lessard joined Norwich Public Schools in 2017 and is the current Principal at John B. Stanton Elementary school. Susan’s career in education started after having served in the military. She joined the Army National Guard after high school. After Bootcamp and AIT, she earned an undergrad degree in Finance before eventually pursuing her Masters in Education. 

Her love for coaching sports to kids of all ages led her to teaching. After teaching third grade for seven years, she took some time to homeschool her own children. She then spent many years as an education consultant in Brooklyn and the Bronx, NY. While there she coached teachers in classroom management and instructional practices. Before coming to Norwich, she was a Reading and Math Specialist and Assistant Principal in the Cheshire school system. 

“I learned a lot if you put all my experiences together. Being an educator, being a teacher, being a mom. I would say the military really made a huge difference in my life and really made me appreciate things. It gave me a focus. It made me realize that I could do any challenge that came at me.”

 

READY TO WELCOME THE NEXT CHALLENGE

Susan is consistently setting new goals for herself, whether it’s here at Staton or in her personal life. After having her daughter, she decided to pick up running again and set a goal that in one year’s time she would complete a 50 mile race. From there, she decided on her next goal– to run a 100 miler! The challenges continued when she set forth on a new experience she had never attempted before.

“From there, I did some adventure racing. These were 24 or 30 hour races where you're in the middle of nowhere– running, mountain biking, paddling down rivers. One of the greatest challenges about the adventure races is that it’s not just about physical endurance. It’s a mental challenge. You need to be aware of your surroundings, there are maps that you need to follow to find your way, and you also work together with a team to make it to the end.”

Susan’s experiences outside of education certainly translate to her role as a leader at Stanton school. She is always looking forward to the next challenge and doing so alongside her trusted team.

“It's a super challenging job. And I think that's why I love it so much. There's always something to do. I can't ever imagine going home saying ‘wow, it was a boring day today.’ There's always something new here. When I think of being a principal, what that really means to me is supporting kids, staff and families.”

 

DEVELOPING TRUSTED RELATIONSHIPS

To Susan, the most important part of successful leadership is creating a strong sense of trust with one another. Having trust in her team to make sound decisions for the health and wellness of their students, and the larger Stanton school community, is essential. Susan empowers her team through their individual strengths and encourages daily teamwork to create a true sense of community at Stanton school. 

“The staff at Stanton take care of each other. When a person needs help with a student or personal matter, there's always someone else ready to help out– no matter what. And I think that the kids pick up on how we treat each other as adults here. With respect and love. You have kids saying hello to everybody, and it's because the staff here model how students should interact with one another. I absolutely believe that they pick up on that when they are walking through the hallways. That's one of the great things about Stanton Elementary.” 

She knows that every staff member will do what’s right for the students, and there is never a shortage of someone jumping in to support. 

“Staff take it upon themselves to make sure students know that this is OUR school. For teachers, it's never “my kids.” It's “our kids.” Because if we see a kid struggling in the hallway, they're our kid, even if they're not in our class.”

Susan looks no further than her Administrative Assistant, Sonia for a trusted relationship. “I always tell new people I meet, ‘Hi! I'm the Principal, but here's my administrative assistant. She really runs the school!’ Every important piece of information goes through her and she really does it all. She's the centerpiece of the school and an essential part of our team.”

 

ALWAYS LOOKING OUT FOR ONE ANOTHER

The past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has placed an unprecedented amount of stress and uncertainty on both staff and students. Susan speaks on how the Stanton community prioritizes their health and wellness and how they remain a united team through difficult times.

“In 2020, we had the whole summer to get ready for something new that would be challenging. What we got this year is much different. There's not one educator who will say that we were completely prepared for what this year would look like. Because of that, I have to really make sure that my staff is taking care of themselves and that we're taking care of each other. There’s people out there who will say ‘thank you so much for what you do for these teachers.’ I don't think they realize how challenging it can be. We’re dealing with kids who are having a crisis at home. They're dealing with trauma. I don't think that people really understand that. In order to make those students feel their health and well being is prioritized, we need to be doing the same for ourselves.”

With the national shortage for substitute teachers, prioritizing health and selfcare can sometimes feel like a burden for teachers. Knowing there is already a shortage of help available can make educators feel guilty for taking necessary time off from work. Susan does her best to alleviate that worry.

“Teachers will email me and say ‘I am so sorry. My kids are sick and I have to call out today.’ Please know your family comes first, don't feel guilty that you're not here. We will always figure it out. You worry about your family today and we will figure it out.”

While Susan checks in with her teachers regularly on how she can help in times of need, she also knows teachers are already looking out for one another. They ask how they can support one another, and when a colleague is struggling, she will often get a heads-up from another concerned teacher in an effort to support each other from all angles. The school psychologist, counselors and social workers are an amazing mental health team that are always supporting both the staff and students at Stanton. Having that kind of relationship with your coworkers is invaluable and a key part of success at Stanton.

“You're going to be brought up by the people in this building. They are going to make you strive to be not only a better person, but a better teacher, and a better relationship maker. It's going to happen when you walk into this building and you work here long enough. You're going to see how much they care about kids. I always want to be around people that are going to challenge me to be better. And I walk into a place like that every single day. I feel like the luckiest principal in the world to work with this staff.”

 

WOMEN INSPIRING WOMEN

Behind every woman is another that has inspired her to reach her full potential. When asked “Who is a woman that inspires you?” Susan’s answer was her mother and daughter.

“So many women have positively influenced me throughout my lifetime and in all aspects of my experiences beginning with my Mom. She taught and modeled for me how to be a good human. My daughter has also taught me so much about life and I am definitely a better, more grounded person because of her.”