Longtime borough educators to retire

Naugatuck High School Principal Jan Saam, right, leads the procession during graduation last year at the high school. Saam is retiring after this school year. –FILE PHOTO

NAUGATUCK — When the school year ends, Naugatuck Public Schools will lose a combined 77 years of education experience due to the retirement of two administrators.

Naugatuck High School Principal Jan Saam and Salem Elementary School Principal Jennifer Kruge both plan to retire this year, the Board of Education announced last week.

Kruge began her career in 1979 as a special education teacher in Naugatuck. She taught at Salem, Western Elementary School, Maple Hill Elementary School and Hillside Intermediate School.

She was appointed interim principal of Salem in March 1998 and officially became principal of the school in June 1998.

Kruge, 63, said she wanted to be a teacher ever since she was in elementary school, longing to teach whatever grade she was in at the time.

“I always felt it was such a wonderful profession. I always wanted to be part of it,” Kruge said.

Once she was older, she realized her calling was to teach special education students and she began volunteering at Southbury Training School, a residential facility in Southbury for adults with intellectual disabilities

“As I got older I became interested in working with children with special education needs,” Kruge said. “I decided to work with kids who needed extra support.”

Saam also got her start teaching special education. She began her career in 1981 as a special education teacher in Naugatuck. She transferred to teach fourth grade at Maple Hill in 1989.

In 1999, she was appointed coordinator of pupil services. In 2000, she was appointed assistant director of special services, and, in 2001, she was appointed the director of special services.

Saam was named associate principal of Naugatuck High in 2004. She has been the school’s principal since 2011.

Saam, 59, said she didn’t originally plan on a career in education until her high school guidance counselor pushed her toward being a teacher. Saam said her guidance counselor even helped her get into St. Joseph College, now the University of St. Joseph, in West Hartford.

“The rest is history. The good news is that she knew me better than I knew myself because it has been the best career choice I could have made,” Saam said.

Saam said it is the bond with students that keeps her coming back day after day.

“I have enjoyed, learned from, admired and adored every one of my students throughout the years. The bond between student and teacher is special and one I respect. It is so true that this is a profession that is all about relationships. I still keep in contact with many former students,” Saam said.

Saam said she never considered that she might one day be the high school principal when she began teaching.

“My career began at the elementary level and I never even considered going above fifth grade. Then, when I began working as an administrator in special services, I had several occasions to go to the high school and started to embrace that level. The more time I spent there, the more I began to enjoy students at that age level. When former Superintendent Robert Cronin said he wanted me to become the associate principal at the high school, I thought he was kidding,” Saam said.

Kruge said she still looks forward to going to school each morning.

“Every day when I get out of bed I am so grateful to have this position to go to,” Kruge said. “I always had joy in my heart and love for this profession. It always grew, never diminished.”

Although she lives in Milford now and lived in Southbury during most of her education career, Kruge said she never considered leaving the Naugatuck school district.

Salem Elementary School Principal Jennifer Kruge looks over books with students, from left, Alyssa Jones, Bailey Russell and Jonathan Ayala on Read Across America in 2014. Kruge is retiring after this school year. –FILE PHOTO

“I really fell in love with the district and the families in Naugatuck. I felt really strong this was a community that I wanted to serve. If you are happy to go to work, why would you change it,” Kruge said. “It is the best place for me to be. I can’t imagine any other place being as wonderful as Naugatuck.”

While there have been many good memories over her 38-year career, Kruge said the one that stands out to her was when all of Salem came together to participate in a “peace and unity mural” after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The mural was donated to the Naugatuck Red Cross, Kruge said.

“After such a tragedy, this opportunity to look at peace and love was incredible. That was a memory I will never forget,” Kruge said.

Although she has had many great memories over the years, Saam said the best have happened when she has interacted with students outside of the classroom setting. She pointed to taking special education students on an overnight trip to Camp Hemlocks and graduation night as two great memories.

“There are so many people too who have left an unforgettable mark on me both personally and professionally,” Saam said.

Saam thanked the administrative team that has helped her during her time as Naugatuck High principal, including Eileen Mezzo, Tom Pompei, Jim Leary, Brian Mariano and John Harris.

“Without these fine dedicated individuals, I wouldn’t have been able to do my job. I once heard that if you surround yourself with great people, you will appear great yourself. The credit for my success goes to the teachers, fellow administrators and central office staff that have worked alongside me over the many years,” Saam said.

Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said Kruge and Saam retiring at the same time is a huge loss for the district.

“Each one has her own gifts that they have been giving to Naugatuck and the students for years,” Locke said. “It is a huge loss and we will miss them tremendously.”

Locke said the district will begin the search for new principals shortly. She hopes to bring a candidate recommendation for each position before the board in April or May.