The school district on Monday night honored a well-known and widely respected New Canaan woman who has dedicated her life to education and left an indelible mark on this town and others nearby.
Hazel Hobbs is retiring from the New Canaan Board of Education after 12 years, capping a career launched here a half-century ago, as a teacher at Center School, and that has included two principal positions of elementary schools in Greenwich and founding Pear Tree Point School in Darien.
In recognizing Hobbs during a regular Board of Ed meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi called her “one of the most knowledgeable, committed, insightful and caring educators that I have ever had the honor to know.”
“Hazel leaves a powerful and lasting legacy, and everyone associated with the New Canaan Public Schools will continue from her service for years to come,” he said during the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School.
Hobbs’s husband, Mike, sons Ian and Scott, daughter-in-law Diane and grandchildren Charlie, Jack, Elllie, Faith and Holden attended the meeting, which followed a reception. (Daughter-in-law Lisa had to attend a different board meeting.)
Though “determined, resolute, and persistent when needed,” Luizzi said, “what truly sets Hazel apart” is “the size of her heart.”
“Hazel truly loves our work, she values each and every child, respects the hard work of our teachers and administrators, and she brings a gracious dignity to all that she does. All of us serve with pride knowing that Hazel is in our corner. In the 12 years that Hazel has been on the Board of Education, she has had a positive impact on thousands of children. Hazel, it has been a highlight of my career and the greatest of honors to serve as your superintendent, and I will never forget the many lessons I learned from you through the years. From all of us in the New Canaan Public Schools, thank you for championing our children, our teachers, our schools, and our profession.”
Luizzi presented Hobbs with a gift, as well as her nameplate from the school board, and presented her with a framed proclamation that he read aloud on behalf of First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, declaring Tuesday, March 19, 2019 “Hazel Hobbs Day.”
Vivian Birdsall, a STEM teacher in the district, presented a vase to Hobbs on behalf of the New Canaan Education that was etched with the words “a friend to teachers.”
“From 410 hearts, thank you,” Birdsall said.
Soft-spoken and sunny, Hobbs in brief remarks talked mostly about others—recalling how Luizzi had impressed her in interviewing for the district’s top job, thanking Board of Ed Vice Chair Dionna Carlson for giving her rides to and from meetings in recent months as New Canaan roads have been dug up during the natural gas installation, and telling other Board members that she has appreciative individual stories about each of them.
“I am absolutely at a loss,” Hobbs said.
“Thank you for all the kind words and warm wishes,” she said. “I would just like to say what a privilege and pleasure it has been to serve on the Board.”
Those in attendance—including several town officials, such as Town Councilmen Tom Butterworth, John Engel, Steve Karl and Penny Young, and Board of Finance member Maria Weingarten—gave her a standing ovation.
Carlson read aloud a letter from Mary-Ellen McDonald, a longtime New Canaan district educator who also had worked at Center School educator. McDonald noted that Hobbs had been a founding board member of the First Presbyterian Nursery School in 1969.
“The following year, she arrived at Center School with her eldest son, Mike Jr., who was starting kindergarten,” McDonald wrote. “This would be the start of a 13-year career at the school. The following year, Mike Jr. was in my first grade class and Hazel volunteered to be my writing aide, helping every week as the children learned to compose stories and reports. Soon she was PTC President, creating a film documenting the curriculum that was being developed at Center School. Then, since everyone was so amazed by her intelligence, teaching abilities and incredible work ethic, she was offered a position as a second grade teacher. After several successful years in that role, she became the Center School writing coordinator. Hazel was an essential member of the Center School team in so many capacities until the school’s closing in 1983.”
In addition, McDonald said, Hobbs throughout her career “always found time for extensive volunteer work, often serving on boards of organizations that help children, families and communities”
“Hazel was instrumental in the founding of the Stepping Stones Children’s Museum and was a long time board member, ensuring the continuation and expansion of the original ideas she helped formulate.”
Adding up all of Hobbs’s “incredible accomplishments” still doesn’t tell the story of the “incredible woman, educator, volunteer, wife, mother and friend that she is,” McDonald wrote.
Hazel devotes herself wholeheartedly, body, mind and soul, to her endeavors. She spends an inordinate amount of time researching and preparing for every project to be sure that she will deliver the best possible result. Hazel truly cares about the work she does and, more importantly, cares about those she serves. She always has a positive suggestion to offer and words of encouragement.”
Several current Board of Ed members echoed that sentiment.
Her voice breaking at times, Carlson, whose Board chairmanship followed Hobbs’s own, thanked Hobbs not only for her “tireless commitment to education and the children of New Canaan,” but also “for serving as a role model and mentor to me personally.”
“I still remember that first time Hazel asked to meet for coffee before I ran for the Board of Education,” Carlson recalled. “She and I didn’t really know each other back then and I could tell by her line of questioning that she was making sure that I was going to be a board member who had the best interests of the students, faculty and staff of NCPS always at heart before giving me the Hobbs ‘seal of approval.’ And for those who have spent enough time in this community, this is indeed high praise.”
Carlson listed some of the Board of Ed’s achievements under Hobbs’s leadership, including creation of a Communications Committee “because she saw the necessity for the Board keeping parents and the community more regularly informed about what was happening” and establishment of agenda planning meetings for all members of the Executive Board.
“Hazel, I can’t thank you enough for your leadership and mentorship to me over the past five years and to the Board of Education for the past 12 years,” she said. “I am truly going to miss having you on the Board, but I know Mike and your entire family will enjoy spending more time with you. And, I have your phone number memorized for those times I’ll need your advise and counsel. Enjoy this next phase.”
(The Board voted unanimously to appoint Julie Reeves to serve the unexpired balance of Hobbs’s term.)
Carlson presented Hobbs with a card and the additional gift of a box of chocolates in personalized shapes for the career educator, such as a school bus, apple and pair of scissors.
Board of Ed Secretary Jennifer Richardson described Hobbs as a sensible voice on the Board who stands for what she believes in and always has the district’s kids at heart.
Hobbs is “such a pillar on our Board and in our community,” Richardson said.
Richardson and Board member Sheri West also noted that they were recruited to serve on the Board by Hobbs.
“You are the reason I am sitting here,” West said.
West called Hobbs “a powerful role model for me.”
Board member Penny Rashin said that when she thinks of Hobbs she thinks “immediately” about her passion for education.
“I have never met anyone who is so dedicated, so determined, some on the Town Council may say relentless,” Rashin said, noting that Hobbs’s priority is always to give kids “the best education we can give them.”