It seemed like a dream, but Andrew Skarzynski finally found a way to gradually move his family to the quiet countryside of Vermont, by accepting the role as Rutland Intermediate School’s new principal.
“We have to focus on nurturing environments where students are comfortable taking risks,” Skarzynski said of the future of education. “And that they know they have a caring adult who is there for them every single day. ... If a child doesn’t feel safe, if a child doesn’t feel secure, connected to someone, their availability to learn is severely compromised.”
His new job is just under three hours away from West Hartford, Connecticut, where his family still lives and his wife serves as a high school science teacher. The couple began planning for the next phase of their lives — once the nest was empty — and their long-anticipated move to the Green Mountain State.
Once the kids are out, though, the plan is to relocate the entire Skarzynski clan northward.
“We love the state of Vermont, some of our best family memories are from up there vacationing, skiing, visiting,” Skarzynski said. “We said why not — let’s see if we can make the transition up here. It happened a lot sooner than we thought it would.”
Skarzynski previously served as a principal in the northwestern corner of Connecticut for two years, after more than a decade at the Capital Region Education Council, where he served as an assistant principal, a principal, a consultant and even helped open a school.
“My biggest worry in education is that we are sitting on the cusp of a tsunami of mental health challenges coming our way,” Skarzynski said of the educational current. “And those are all born out of a really challenging mix of life circumstances, of our current culture in terms of where we are and how we communicate with each other, the coarseness with which we talk to each other and the impact of social media, just pulling our attention away from conversations. ... We forget that people are impacted by this.”
In the age of the smartphone, Skarzynski said limiting screen time was crucial for parents to instill, substituting interactive stimuli — indoors and outside — even just to sit down and have conversation and connection.
“It changes the way kids interact with each other,” Skarzynski said of social media. “I do think there are benefits to technology. ... We need to make sure we are focusing on engagement. ... It’s a balancing act.”
Starting with the Skarzynski administration, all entrances to the RIS and RMS will flow through Keefe Gymnasium during normal school hours for school safety reasons, and visitors will need a photo ID, a visitor’s badge and an appointment if contact with students is required.
A new fifth-grade teacher, several para-educators, a special-education teacher and a professional to work in the therapy room at RIS are all plans in the works, along with the establishment of a relationship and community-building block at the beginning of every day, when classrooms, teachers and students can work on connecting with one another before they begin their studies.
“Rather than kids rushing off into class ... the first 45 minutes of the day will be specific, purposeful time around building community in the classrooms and working with resiliency training,” Skarzynski said. “How are we helping kids adjust and adapt to the things they might be going through?”
Growing up, Skarzynski got his educational feet wet as a swim coach, and spent time as a case manager in social services after he graduated from the University of Connecticut.
Skarzynski then received his master’s degree from the University of St. Joseph, before receiving his school administrative and superintendency licensing through Central Connecticut State University.
He began his classroom career as an English and language arts and social studies teacher for seventh- and eighth-graders before moving on to administration, and Skarzynski said he found himself quite at home in his new city from the get-go.
“Rutland’s community resembles a lot of the communities I’ve served,” Skarzynski said. “Smaller, tight-knit community ... the profile of the district really fit the profile of where I’m most comfortable working.”
After a panel discussion and a written introduction to the families and staff of Rutland City Public Schools, Skarzynski said he spent an entire day in the district alongside Superintendent Adam Taylor and Assistant Superintendent Rob Bliss, who gave him the grand tour of the building and officially introduced him to the glory of Hand-Carved by Ernie on Center Street.
“It was one of the more grueling interviews I’ve ever been on, but it was fantastic the whole time,” Skarzynski said. “They’re such supportive, caring, engaged, committed people.”
Skarzynski said, “(We) understand that kids aren’t perfect, and they make bad choices, which all children do. There (has to be) an adult there who still says, “I love you. I care for you. I’m here for you. I may not like what you did, but I’m still here for you.”