The Board of Education on Monday honored Hazel Hobbs, a longtime New Canaan resident and educator who passed away June 20. Hobbs was a “dedicated, loyal and longtime volunteer at the New Canaan Public Schools, and a cherished member of this board,” Chair Katrina Parkhill said during the elected body’s regular meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. “She served on this Board of Education for multiple terms, including three years as chair. When she retired only a few years ago, we joined together to honor her for her exceptional contributions to our schools and our community over the years. Hazel was a devoted and passionate member of our community, and a leader in education serving both our community and many others around us.
Marysue Rucci recalled the day her second-grade teacher told the class to write a story based on the idea that they were just six inches tall. Sitting in beloved teacher Babs Myers’s classroom at Center School—located across Maple Street from New Canaan Library, razed following the 1982-83 school year to become a parking lot—Rucci took the assignment to heart. “I just remember writing and writing, and she let us go as long as we wanted,” she said. Her story “Six Inches Tall” ended up 16 pages long. Her career in fiction didn’t stop there.
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.
The modest, steady growth in enrollment that New Canaan Public Schools has seen in the past decade is expected to level out for a period, and possibly decline somewhat, according to new projections that district officials cited Monday night. Overall, the 4,182 students currently enrolled from kindergarten to 12th grade is projected to grow by just two students next academic year, to 4,184, according to Gary Kass, the public schools’ director of human resources. Longer-term projections from the New England School Development Council, a nonprofit organization based in Marlborough, Mass., call for a decrease of about 90 students overall over the next five years—mostly at the middle school level—and further declines over the subsequent five years, Kass said during a regular meeting of the Board of Education. “At Saxe Middle School, the demographer is projecting a very slight increase of three students for next year and at the high school a decrease of seven students,” Kass told board members during the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. “So what you can see from what our demographer is projecting is a period of amazingly stable enrollment, when you are talking about a difference year-over-year of under 10 students at each location.
Saying his wide knowledge, calm manner, diligence, conscientiousness and collegiality has served the kids, faculty and staff of New Canaan Public Schools well through some of the district’s largest capital projects in memory, officials on Monday night honored Director of Facilities Bob Willoughby, who will retire after this academic year. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi recalled that on being hired as New Canaan High School principal six years ago, he made an official visit to the town with his wife and daughters and “we jumped into the elevator to go meet the superintendent, Dr. David Abbey, and there was Bob in the elevator.”
“I always knew there wasn’t a problem you couldn’t solve or figure out, and I always looked to you for your experience and wisdom to do what’s right. It’s going to be hard to fill your shoes but you also taught all of us quite a bit, so we are better off than we would have been without you.”
The board presented Willoughby with a gift and he earned a long ovation from its members as well as about 20 people in attendance at the meeting. They included New Canaan’s highest elected official. First Selectman Rob Mallozzi, who has said he was so impressed with Willoughby’s role in the school district that he created a counterpart position for the town, called the facilities director “a real pleasure to work with.”
“We hit it off immediately and it’s one thing for me to hit it off immediately with him but honestly everyone I know in town has hit it off immediately with this gentleman, and I will miss you incredibly,” Mallozzi said.