School board hires new principal for Algonquin

Waterbury resident Rima McGeehan has been hired as the new principal at Algonquin School in Prospect. McGeehan is expected to start the job in early August. –RA ARCHIVE

PROSPECT — After wading through a pool of nearly three dozen candidates, Region 16 school officials chose Rima McGeehan as the next principal of Algonquin School in Prospect.

“The quality of the candidates was very strong and we’re happy [McGeehan] accepted the position,” Interim Superintendent of Schools Tim James said.

McGeehan was chosen out of 35 candidates for the principal position at the prekindergarten through third grade school. A selection team, comprised of parents, elementary school teachers, and Board of Education members, screened the applications and whittled the group down to seven semifinalists. The team interviewed the semifinalists then selected three finalists to be interviewed by the board, which made the final decision.

“Rima’s approach, how she wanted to approach everything impressed us,” school board Chair Priscilla Cretella said.

For McGeehan, this will not be the first time her education career has brought her to Prospect. She got her start student teaching in Prospect about 20 years ago, she said. McGeehan said she was thrilled to learn she had been selected for the job.

“I was so excited,” McGeehan said. “I was not looking for a job anywhere else than Prospect. It’s very exciting.”

McGeehan has been the principal at the Kent Center School, a prekindergarten through eighth grade-school in Kent, since 2008. McGeehan submitted her letter of resignation to the Kent Board of Education earlier this week. She is expected to finish out the month in Kent and begin her job at Algonquin in early August.

“I’m very sad to see Rima go,” said Paul Cortese, interim Kent school board chair. “I will remember her for having a young perspective on things. She was well suited for the position and she had the respect of the staff at varying levels of age.”

McGeehan is credited with overseeing two new initiatives during her tenure at the Kent school — the implementation of Response to Intervention assessment of students and the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, which was a new program geared at improving student behavior in the school by rewarding positive behavior.

McGeehan said she was happy in Kent. But the long commute, about two hours a day for the Waterbury resident, was getting to be too long for the 41-year-old mother of two young children, she said.

Aside from the chance to take a job in a community just a short drive from her home and one she’s familiar with, McGeehan said the principal job at Algonquin intrigued her because she saw a lot of similarities between the way things are done at Algonquin and Region 16 and in Kent.

More so, the job attracted her because she likes the community, McGeehan said.

“I really like the community of Prospect. The things that they value are the same type of things that I value,” said McGeehan, pointing to the annual parade first graders at Algonquin participate in to commemorate Memorial Day as an example of the shared values.

McGeehan graduated from Assumption College in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in social rehabilitation. After graduating from Assumption, she earned a master of arts degree in elementary education in 1994 from the University of Bridgeport and became a fourth-grade teacher at Gainfield Elementary School in Southbury in 1995.

She earned a 6th Year degree in reading in 2000 from Central Connecticut State University and became a reading consultant at Gainfield Elementary School in 2004.

In 2008, McGeehan earned a doctoral degree in instructional leadership from Western Connecticut State University and took the principal position in Kent.

A prepared release issued by the district stated McGeehan possesses a strong understanding of technology and the role it can play toward enhancing instruction. Specifically she has worked with staff to integrate the use of iPad technology into classroom instruction, the release said.

James added McGeehan has a lot of knowledge in instruction she can bring to the district to help enhance curriculum.

Both James and Cretella spoke highly of McGeehan’s plans to work towards unifying the staff at Community and Algonquin schools prior to the opening of a new elementary school in Prospect.

As of now the plan is McGeehan will be the principal of the new school on New Haven Road when it opens in August 2014.

“Her experience and her vision for the new school is probably what did it,” said Cretella about what made McGeehan stand out.

McGeehan said opening a new school is an exciting time. She said the combining of Community and Algonquin schools will bring together an experienced staff, but one that is new to working together.

McGeehan said there are a variety of ways to help unify the staff and envisions hosting activities outside of the classroom setting, such as picnics, to help the staff get to know each other and her better.

The big thing for her, McGeehan said, is she has an open-door policy for students, staff, and parents to talk about what they value. She said she has no plans to implement any changes until she knows what the staff values.

Building a community within a school was an attribute that stood out when James talked with references about McGeehan, he said.

James said the references described her as a strong communicator, who connected with parents and created a great sense of community at the Kent Center School.

“We’re hoping and expecting that will continue here,” James said.

Algonquin School has been without a permanent principal since February when former Principal Lynn Patterson was placed on leave pending the outcome of a personnel investigation.  The investigation concluded in March and Patterson remained on leave until her retirement June 30.

Andrea Einhorn, the district’s curriculum director and assistant director of special education, was named interim principal at Algonquin initially. In mid-March, the school board appointed Kristin Bernier, assistant principal at Long River Middle School, as interim principal

Bernier, who was also a finalist for the principal position, will resume her duties as assistant principal at Long River once McGeehan starts at Algonquin.

According to the district’s contract with administrators, the principal at Algonquin earns a salary of $114,037.

The Board of Education is planning to hold a reception to welcome McGeehan July 30 from 6 to 7:15 p.m. Further details on the reception will be released before the reception, according to school officials.

The Republican American contributed to this article.