Reunited: Center Schoolers Joanne LaVista and Marie Pinchbeck Back Together at First Presbyterian Nursery School


In 1980, Marie Pinchbeck was teaching kindergarten while Joanne LaVista was teaching sixth grade down the hall at Center School.

Joanne LaVista will be taking on the position as Director of First Presbyterian Nursery School this fall. Photo contributed by Abby Dunkin.

LaVista recalls her and Pinchbeck’s classrooms being close to each other and creating a partnership with the “veteran teacher” at the elementary school when she joined the Center School community in 1980, right out of college at the age of 22.

“Our classrooms were right near each other and right away we just started being good friends,” LaVista said. “What we set up was that my sixth graders would go to her kindergarten room once a week and read the library books and she would say, ‘I can never get through everyone’s library books. The kids feel bad when they have to turn their book in and they hadn’t read it in school.’ So we had this great partnership going and my sixth graders loved it. They loved going and some of them would sit under a tree or they’d find a place on the playground or a great little spot to just curl up with a little kindergartner and read their book to them.”

The New Canaan elementary school would close in 1983—to the chagrin of many—and who knew that Pinchbeck and LaVista would end up teaching together in 2015?

LaVista will join the New Canaan’s First Presbyterian Nursery School as its director this fall after working in various positions at West Elementary School that include Principal, Assistant Principal, and fourth grade teacher since 1999.

Before teaching at West she taught sixth grade at Saxe Middle School for five years and worked in the Fairfield Public School District as a technology resource teacher.

“[Joanne] has extensive experience not just in education, but specifically education in New Canaan,” First Presbyterian board member and parent Erin Gaudreau told the New Canaanite. “She worked at Center School. But, then she went on, and she was the Assistant Principal at West School for 13 years. [As] part of that role she oversaw the nursery school that resides at West School, so she actually already” has had experience with this age level.

Marie Pinchbeck at a Board of Ed event at Waveny House, June 10, 2014. Credit: Michael Dinan

Marie Pinchbeck at a Board of Ed event at Waveny House, June 10, 2014. Credit: Michael Dinan

Gaudreau is not the only one who is excited about LaVista joining the First Presbyterian Community—board member Abby Dunkin is, too.

“I am super excited about it,” Dunkin said. “Personally [and] professionally she is a great person and I thinks she going to be great for the school just because she knows and loves the community and knows a lot about preschool and what [nursery school] parents are looking for. She work great with teachers as well so we are really excited to have her.”

Some parents that send their children to First Presbyterian not only know LaVista as a their child’s school director, but also a former teacher of their own. “A number of the parents at First Presbyterian now had [LaVista as a teacher] at some capacity at some point in their lives growing up in New Canaan,” Gaudreau said.

One of the things that LaVista loves about her transition to First Presbyterian is that she will be teaching many of the children of parents that she taught at Center School, Saxe, and West. “So many of the families, because I’ve been in New Canaan for 34 years, many of the parents at First Presbyterian I had as students,” LaVista told the New Canaanite. “So I’m already sort of connected to those families and it’s just amazing for me to just see one of the moms [at First Presbyterian] who I had in fourth grade.”

LaVista is not the only teacher at the nursery school that has played a huge role in the New Canaan community. Pinchbeck, former Center School teacher, has worked at First Presbyterian for the past 12 years.


Pinchbeck is now the science teacher at First Presbyterian. Photo contributed by Abby Dunkin.

“Marie is great,” Dunkin said. “Marie is a legend in town. I had her as a kindergarten teacher [at Center School] and then so did my brothers. My older son, who is now in first grade, had her as a teacher at First Presbyterian and my second son now has her as a science teacher. I adore Marie, I think she is great and I know Marie and Joanne work really well together so I think it’ll be a great pairing.”

LaVista said she can’t wait to become part of the First Presbyterian team and have opportunity to work with Pinchbeck again.

“[This is] just one of those very lucky times when the stars line up in a fun way,” LaVista said. “I always knew that Marie and couple of other people that I knew from Center School that did go to First Presbyterian as teachers and I did think ‘Boy, that would be pretty cool’ but I never really imagined that Marie and I would be [together] 35 years later, colleagues again in such a wonderful way. So it really is very special.”

Pinchbeck has been working at First Presbyterian as the science teacher and also helps with three’s program.

“Right now her capacity is she comes in a few days a week and she is the science teacher,” Gaudreau told the New Canaanite. “So she takes the children to the Nature Center, she does lessons about animals and about the human body, [she runs] the science component of the curriculum. Her reputation is just unbelievable. People just rave about her.”

Although Pinchbeck and LaVista are playing different roles at First Presbyterian, they expect continue the same bond they had back at Center School many years ago.

“She’s been like a mentor for me all these years and now we are working together again,” LaVista said. “She’ll be helping with the three’s class and I’ll be the director so it’s kind of amazing that we are working together again. She has known me through all of the years. I have a daughter and she a daughter who are almost the same age and there are so many things through all the years that it is pretty special that we are working together again.”

Here’s a video of LaVista talking about her Center School experience from last summer:

One thought on “Reunited: Center Schoolers Joanne LaVista and Marie Pinchbeck Back Together at First Presbyterian Nursery School

  1. The kids at FPNS are so lucky! I was in Mrs. Pinchbeck’s first class at Center School (2nd grade) and still remember the fun field trips to the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation and Pinchbeck Nurseries. What a great teacher! And when my own kids were at West School, Mrs. LaVista was a welcoming presence in the office, dealing with kids (and parents) with ease. Glad that the “Center School” thread still shines in New Canaan’s tapestry. Good luck, and have fun!

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