Familiar principal takes reins at Hop Brook

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Evelyn Gobstein, principal of the now-closed Central Avenue Elementary School, has been transferred to principal at Hop Brook Elementary. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Evelyn Gobstein picked up the phone Thursday at Hop Brook Elementary School and paused.

On her second day, the school’s new principal had caught herself in the act of saying “Central Avenue Elementary School,” the building she headed for the past six years before the school board in the spring voted to close it.

Far from losing her job, the former Central Avenue principal was transferred to Hop Brook, the Board of Education announced this week.

“I’m excited,” Gobstein said. “We’re all at a new point, a new chapter.”

Gobstein replaces Brian Hendrickson, who left the elementary school earlier this month to become principal at City Hill Middle School. The middle school’s former principal, Christine Blanchard, retired after the school year ended in June.

“The superintendent and board are confident in Mrs. Gobstein’s ability to lead Hop Brook Elementary following upon the excellent work of Mr. Brian Hendrickson who recently assumed leadership of City Hill Middle School. Mrs. Gobstein is an experienced administrator who is thoroughly familiar with the school district’s elementary curriculum and academic initiatives. She will work closely with faculty, staff, and parents to ensure continuous improvements in learning outcomes for all students,” a release issued by the school district stated.

The school board did not have to interview for the Hop Brook principal because of a provision in the administrators’ union contract that any administrator whose position is eliminated must be offered a vacant position, Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson said.

Gobstein, 56, lives in Middlebury, where she grew up. She has a master’s degree in education administration and supervision from Seton Hall University in New Jersey and a sixth-year certification in reading education from Central Connecticut State University.

She was a teacher in the Region 15 school system and an assistant principal in Branford before coming to the borough in 1989 as principal of Cross Street Elementary School. She was a reading consultant at Hop Brook when it was an intermediate school before becoming principal at Central Avenue.

She will make nearly $120,000 next year, the same amount she would have made as principal of Central Avenue under the union contract.

Hop Brook enrolled 344 students at last count, while Central Avenue enrolled 236. About 20 students and two teachers from Central Avenue are moving to Hop Brook with Gobstein, the principal said.

Gobstein said she did not think the increased enrollment would be a challenge, noting she presided over the same number of students at Cross Street and when she started at Central Avenue.

Over the past several years while Gobstein was principal, Central Avenue failed to meet federal standards under the No Child Left Behind act more times than any other borough school. Scores released Thursday indicate that about 15 percent more students achieved proficiency levels this year in third-grade math and fourth-grade reading at Central Avenue.

Hop Brook improved enough under Hendrickson that it is almost off the federal “needs improvement” list.

Tindall-Gibson and Gobstein both said many factors were behind Central Avenue’s scores, including the socioeconomic conditions of its students. Gobstein said she will continue many of the same initiatives Hendrickson had in place to improve scores and implement the nationwide Common Core curriculum.

“You do the best by whoever is with you,” Gobstein said.