At Berlin Back to School Convocation, a lesson from the heart

Published on Monday, 27 August 2018 21:22
Written by Charles Paullin


BERLIN - Superintendent of Schools Brian Benigni shared the story of a student who was singled out in front of the class for a Valentine’s Day assignment.

When two paper hearts were left unclaimed because no name was written on them, the teacher called a student to her desk and asked the student to choose which heart cutout was theirs.

After the student pointed to one of the hearts, the teacher said in front of the class, “No it isn’t. …it’s the one with the jagged edges, because you don’t know how to cut.”

The student knew it wasn’t his, but reluctantly took it and returned to his desk, still remembering the “unkind act,” Benigni said. That student was Benigni.

“Each day, each week, each term we will have numerous opportunities to craft experiences that will create desired end results. Or, as the story highlighted, we can choose not to,” said Benigni during the 2018 Back to School Convocation inside the Berlin High School auditorium Monday morning. “I challenge each of you to carefully consider your choices and the potential consequences. Our continued efforts together will be an adventure. It is meant to be an enjoyable one.”

Held two days before the first day of the school year, the ceremony introduced new teachers, staff and recognized honors given out to teachers.

New to the district this year is Assistant Superintendent Erin McGurk, who came from the same position with the Ellington School District. McGurk shared a few words about the book “What Could School Be?” by Ted Dintersmith.

“He knows, as we all do, that despite what you might hear on the news amazing things happen in classrooms all over this country, every day,” she said. “He believes, as I do, that we can identify and build the conditions that allow the types of innovative practices to grow and spread.”

She introduced the 15 new teachers at Berlin High School, seven new teachers at McGee Middle School, seven new teachers at Griswold Elementary School, and 15 teachers at Willard Elementary School and three staff members at the Board of Education central office. Fourteen of those teachers were hired in the 2017-18 school year.

Among honors given out was the recognition of the 2019 Berlin Teacher of the Year, Katie Wasilewski, a kindergarten teacher from Hubbard Elementary school. The honor is given to the teacher for the upcoming school year ahead, which this year ends in 2019.

“It’s always in my heart, how many students have social and behavioral problems, difficult home situations and daily exposure to negativity,” said Wasilewski.

She promoted social-emotional learning, and practicing random acts of kindness to foster a comfortable environment for students to enjoy learning. Showing a video discussing how students can be kind, compassionate citizens, Wasilewski also shared the balance of respecting extroverted and introverted kids. She has two kids, with one falling under each of the two categories.

“I make sure I teach in a way that addresses everyone’s specific needs, makes every student feel cared for, challenged and appreciated.”

Also honored was Eric Horton of Hubbard Elementary School, the 2019 Paraprofessional of the Year.

“Being a para can certainly have its challenges. I have always found it helpful to remember that it is always important to build positive relationships with the students that we work with, in order for them to reach their highest potential,” said Horton. “Witnessing the growth and development in our students makes overcoming these challenges worthwhile.”

The number of teachers and administrators who received tenure was 16. They were recognized alongside the 10 teachers who have 20 years of service, five teachers who have 25 years of service, one teacher who has 30 years of service and one teacher who has 35 years of service with the Berlin.

Closing out the ceremony, before Benigni’s comments, was a video talking about the kindness, compassion, communicating, collaboration, designing, problem solving made by faculty and staff.

The first day of classes is Wednesday.

Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or

Posted in New Britain Herald, Berlin on Monday, 27 August 2018 21:22. Updated: Monday, 27 August 2018 21:25.