New Canaan’s longtime Board of Education chair during her final meeting last week expressed gratitude to the district’s administration, fellow school board members, municipal officials and the wider community while also calling for an end to partisanship.
Katrina Parkhill, a school board member for nearly seven years and its chair for the past four—encompassing the entire COVID-19 pandemic—said she had three messages after reflecting on her time on the elected body, starting with “stay the course.”
“I believe that the foundation of our school system’s success is predicated on how we, and so many before us, work together to lead our district forward, maintain a culture of mutual trust and respect, and put students at the center of everything we do,” Parkhill said a final Board meeting for herself and fellow BOE member Bob Naughton, held Nov. 6 in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School (the eve of Election Day).
“These are qualities that have defined New Canaan Public Schools for years and we should never take them for granted,” she continued. “As we continue to move through this challenging and transformative period in education and in our nation, we must continue to lean into these qualities and nurture and respect how we got here. Most of our policies and Board practices have been in place for a long time, and they have served us well. So I encourage the new Board members to take time to learn, observe, ask questions, take pause when considering changes and stay focused on finding practical solutions in response to real issues that need to be solved on behalf of our students.”
Parkhill said her second message had to do with “partisan politics.”
“I see that politics divide school communities and hurt the students we are trying to help,” she said. “They invite divisiveness that can have a chilling effect on civic engagement and volunteerism. New Canaan is full of brilliant, engaged, well-meaning people, and as a community, we must do better in order to attract these future civic leaders and the town officials to lend their time and talents. I would also add that it would be wise for the town and local political organizations to formalize separation of overlapping Board of Ed and political group representation for the betterment of our community and the function of our boards.”
Her final message was “one of gratitude,” Parkhill said.
“Simply put, we have excellent schools consistently ranked among the top in the state and nation,” she said. “Our schools are excellent because our town believes they are the greatest priority for our citizens. I’d like to thank Kevin Moynihan, Todd Lavieri and Steve Karl for their counsel, their partnership, and leadership. Our schools are excellent because we hire the very best teachers, leaders, faculty, and staff.”
Parkhill also specifically thanked Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi, saying she was grateful “for your partnership, your steady leadership, for always being a thoughtful and responsive listener, and for how we problem-solved together through some extraordinary times.”
“You are a strong and compassionate leader and words cannot adequately capture your commitment and dedication to our schools and our children,” she said. “Thank you to our leadership cabinet. You are the best team in the business. You help make all of us and everyone who is part of this system better. Thank you to our teachers and staff for all you do every day to help our kids reach their full potential. You have made me proud to serve and represent our schools. Our schools are excellent because our parents are engaged and supportive. Thank you to all the parents and especially our volunteers, whose incredible efforts significantly enhance the academic experience, the athletics and the arts. And lastly, our schools are excellent because our Board of Education has a long and rich history of a high functioning partnership with our administration, teachers and families. To my Board of Ed colleagues, thank you. I am grateful for the ways we have worked together these past few years through some big moments. We learned together. We listened to each other. We found common ground to build consensus around key issues.”
Before signing off “with thanks and a full heart,” Parkhill also addressed the not-yet-decided new Board of Ed members, saying that after the election they’ll be sworn in and “at that moment, your campaigns become history and you take an oath to serve every single student of New Canaan Public Schools.”
“Your views and your votes become your own,” Parkhill said. “And when the party politics of the election end tomorrow, our school board should function as a group of elected representatives—as the New Canaan Board of Education—to govern our schools. And now, perhaps more than ever, we all must be unified in this work. Our students are watching. So in closing, my message to the community is of appreciation for your interest, your support, your outreach. Please continue to hold the Board of Education to a high standard of excellence. The Board of Ed should lead our school district forward with a steadfast focus on children, a will to listen, learn and build consensus as often as possible, and actively listen to all stakeholders on behalf of every individual student in our school community. That is our duty.”
She received a standing ovation following the remarks. Praised as a student-first-focused collaborator who showed extraordinary leadership during an especially difficult stretch for the district, including through the pandemic, Parkhill won a seat during the general election in 2017 and then, after falling short at the Republican Caucus in 2021, was elected during a special Board of Ed meeting that fall to fill a two-year term following the resignation of Carl Gardiner, who moved out-of-state.
Present and past school board members, and Luizzi, offered words of gratitude to both Parkhill and Naughton.
Luizzi told Naugton that his “contributions to the Board and to our schools will be missed, and your deep knowledge of technology’s use as an instructional assessment and data and analysis tool have really been an incredible boon for our district, for our Board.”
“As we moved to full-scale online learning back in 2020 and beyond, it was your insight, feedback, suggestions, experience that really helped us to think through some things that many districts missed,” Luizzi said. “Thinking about the kids at home, thinking about the cyber security and the work that we’re doing, you really sort of drove us to make sure that we crossed all those T’s, dotted all those I’s and did it in the right ways. You never hesitated to share your wisdom, your experience and knowledge, as a professional, as a community member and as a father of multiple NCPS graduates, and that experience has really also helped us to make the best informed decision on behalf of our kids. On behalf of the students, faculty, staff, and the administration, I wanted to say thank you for stepping forward. Thank you for your service on the Board and for all that you’ve done to help New Canaan Public Schools be the very, very best that they could be. Thank you, Bob.”
In describing Parkhill, Luizzi said that the longtime chair “has served with courage, wisdom, dignity and compassion during what have been the most tumultuous and challenging times that any of us could have imagined.”
“Katrina’s service as chair began in November of 2019, and we all know what happened next,” Luizzi said.
He continued: “Navigating the challenges of the pandemic and everything that that brought was extraordinarily difficult. And as superintendent, speaking for all of us here in the cabinet and principals and beyond, we can’t imagine anyone being a better partner, colleague, leader and friend than you, Ms. Parkhill. Katrina, your support, commitment, your instincts and your wisdom have been invaluable over the past four years. But even more importantly, your dignity, class, grace and compassion, even when faced with unimaginable challenges, has instilled confidence throughout our district and pride in all of our hearts. I’ve learned more from you than I can ever put into words or could ever have imagined possible. And it’s a privilege to say, on behalf of the students, faculty, staff, the administrators, and from the bottom of my heart, we want to say thank you. You’ve taught us much, you’ve made us better, and the contributions you’ve made to our school district are long lasting, for sure. Thank you, Katrina.”
Parkhill opened her farewell remarks by saying she was “deeply honored and privileged to have served this community as part of the Board of Education for the past six-and-a-half years and as its chair for most of the past four years.”
“I clearly had no idea what the future would hold when I agreed to this role,” she continued. “But that said, I have no regrets. I could not have imagined a more fulfilling opportunity where I would learn, grow and be challenged, all while serving a community I love. We have been through a lot, but we accomplished more. I end my term with a deep sense of gratitude, pride and admiration. I have worked alongside the very best in education. And I leave with an intricate understanding and an appreciation for all that makes a school system in a town like ours a great place to live and work.”
Others who thanked the outgoing Board of Ed members during the meeting included the current members who have served the longest alongside Parkhill—Penny Rashin and Brendan Hayes—as well as two former school board members, Jenn Richardson and Sheri West, as follows:
Rashin: “Katrina, I just wanted to say you’ve been on the Board for six-and-a-half years. You’ve been helping the district out for more than 10, with your leadership at West beforehand. And in my experience, you’ve always put the best interests of New Canaan’s kids at the forefront of all the decision making that you’ve made and that you’ve led the Board through. And you’ve realized that it’s important to collaborate and to work with everyone and that great schools really come when you have this amazing partnership that we’ve been able to have in New Canaan between the community and the town bodies and the parents and the teachers and the administration. And I actually really liked the way we’ve brought students into our decision-making when it’s appropriate, as well. And you helped lead us through COVID, which was sort of crazy. Nobody wants to go back there. But at the same time, what I was really proud of in this district is that I’ve always said that if we don’t move forward as a Board every year, if we don’t look to see what the best practices are and where we want to be in five years or 10 years, then we’re going to find out that we’re far behind. And so even through all the COVID with all of its challenges, we were able to implement some very important policies. And a lot of that was due to your leadership. And most importantly, we got the new school start times done and we got a lot of community input. And they are, I think, a really important mental health initiative to help all of our students be as healthy as they can. In addition, we’ve done the Innovation Initiative, the Dome recently, and that’s about to open. And we’re not quite finishing it up before you leave, but we just are about to dot the I and cross the T on the Portrait of the Graduate work, which is important to do. So I think your leadership and all of that has been great. Mostly, I’ve really appreciated how you listen respectfully to everyone, how you answer every single email that is written to the Board of Ed—and I don’t have to do that, I really like that—and I just wanted to, if people didn’t know it, I think that the respect that Katrina has garnered was really shown at the convocation this year when she was given a standing ovation by the teachers and the administration there and that kind of respect, I think, is one of the reasons that we’ve been labeled best districts to teach in Connecticut. That’s one of the key things for keeping teachers who want to come here. And so thank you for everything you’ve done. You leave an amazing legacy and everyone owes you an incredible debt.”
Hayes: “I’d like to thank both you, Katrina, and you, Bob, for your time on the Board and your service to our community. Being a Board member is not easy. It requires a lot of time, energy, dedication to learning about the schools and what we do, and trying to make them better. And trying to avoid doing things that can make them worse, which is obviously tough at some points. To Katrina in particular, thank you for many years of collaboration, dedication to our community. You led us, as Bryan said, during the most difficult time we’ve had as a Board and frankly, many of us have had as individuals. Your dedication during that time in particular—generally, but particularly during that time—was just unending day and night, just completely dedicated to making sure everything that we’re doing was the best we possibly could do for the kids. I’d say most people in our community don’t really see all that. They see us at these meetings, but they don’t see in particular what the chairman has to do. Again for four years, work with Bryan, the administration and the other leaders in your schools to make them better. From a Board perspective, you’ve done a great job remaining calm, remaining centered, as Penny said, focusing on the kids. And making sure that we as a Board are moving forward productively, positively, even when we’ve disagreed. You’ve really done it with grace. Just an unbelievable commitment to our students. And you’ve done a good job, too, at focusing on our goals, pushing back when others in the community are pushing toward us, trying to get in between us as Board members, which is tough to do at times, and you’ve done a really good job with it, so I appreciate your almost seven years, and we’ll miss you.”
Richardson: “First off, thank you to Bryan and your team for all you do for our children and community and thank you to the board. Katrina, when we asked you many years ago if you would consider running for the Board of Ed, we are all so lucky that you said ‘yes.’ In partnership with the Board, Bryan and his team, you have navigated a very difficult environment and yet accomplished so many great things and have also left our schools on such solid ground. When I first came onto the Board of Ed, Hazel Hobbs was chair. For those of you who do not know her, she’s sadly no longer with us, but she was a champion for our children, for education, a longstanding Board of Ed member and chair. She would help us all get up to speed when we were the new Board of Ed members, passing down all her tips and wisdom. One was to always make sure you do all your Christmas shopping before December because of all the budget meetings that you have and negotiations. I always thought that was a good one. She encouraged all of us to treat our role on the Board of Ed with the utmost respect because we are representing our town and community, to treat all with kindness and uphold all the Board’s longstanding traditions. Another piece of advice was that once the executive board was established, she encouraged all of us to leave politics at the door. Katrina, you have always done this and so much more. You have faced many challenges, and you have always led with deep integrity and passion. You listen to all sides, and you always do what you think is in the best interest of our children and schools. You are positive in all situations and kind to everyone. I am so proud that I was able to serve this town with you for a portion of your term and to call you a dear friend. Thank you for all you have personally sacrificed to serve this community so well.”
West: “So I stand here also with gratitude so much for our administration and our excellent teaching staff. And I wanted to add on to the gift of words for Katrina, who is truly such an exemplary and impactful leader. And as Katrina departs, and as we have a transition with some new Board members, I think it’s important to define what truly made Katrina so impactful. I think it’s important that we recognize her bipartisan and inclusive leadership, her commitment to serve not for a personal agenda, but in support of our world-class educational system, her collaboration and behind-the-scenes work in consensus building, her care to always center students in the decision-making, and her consistent and vocal support of our excellent administration and teaching staff. And Katrina, I just want to say on a personal note, thank you for leading by example. My son, our students, are watching. Thank you for advocating on behalf of our collective interests and making our students’ success your priority. And in a time when the success of our school district hinges not only on academic excellence, but also on fostering an environment of respect, collaboration, and belonging, we all have so much to learn from you. Thank you.”