MONROE, CT — Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza and fellow educators greeted children getting out of cars in the student drop-off area and stepping off buses outside Stepney Elementary School on the first day of school Thursday morning.
Children hugged their parents and posed for photos, before teachers made sure they knew where they were going.
Overseeing all the activity was Interim Principal Debra Kovachi, who recently came out of retirement to lead Stepney into its new year, until a permanent replacement can be found for Bruce Lazar, following his retirement.
Kovachi had been principal of Monroe Elementary School for 17 years, before retiring in 2019.
“The first day of school always brings excitement and jitters,” she said. “I was up at 4 a.m. It’s a pleasure to be in a position to be able to help.”
“We’re very grateful to have Deb here,” said Sheila Casinelli, the English language arts coordinator for K-5.
“We’re so lucky to have someone with Deb’s experience getting the year started at Stepney,” Kobza said. “Deb has a long track record of success in Monroe public schools.”
Kobza said the principal position has already been posted, attracting a lot of interest with 20 to 25 candidates submitting resumes so far.
He said Lazar, who had worked for the school system for 29 years and was Stepney’s principal for the last eight, will be missed.
“Bruce made a concerted effort his whole career to really get to know his students and support his staff,” Kobza said. “He was always out greeting the kids in the morning, playing with them at recess, talking to them at lunch and waving goodbye to them in the afternoon. He leaves really big shoes to fill for the next principal.”
Kovachi said she and the entire staff at Stepney wish Lazar well in his retirement.
The number one goal
Kobza, who had been at Masuk High School earlier in the day, will makes sure he greets students at every school in the district between Thursday and Friday.
“It’s so exciting to see so many kids at all of our schools, so far,” he said, “especially the high school.”
When Monroe’s schools had the hybrid learning model amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Kobza said less than 50 percent of Masuk’s students were in school at any one time.
“Our number one goal is to get kids in 100 percent and keep kids in 100 percent, no matter what we have to do,” he said.
Among the educators waiting for buses at Stepney was Patti Suto, a reading specialist who has been at Stepney for 34 years. She was a ball of energy, greeting children as they stepped off their buses and making sure they knew where to go.
“How are you?” she asked a boy as he walked along the sidewalk. “I missed you.” Then Suto stopped to greet two girls. “What happened?” she asked. “You two look like teenagers.”
“Oh my God, this is the best,” Suto said of the first day of school. “And I love to drive to school, watching everybody on the bus stops — the hugs and the kisses. You see younger kids hugging their older siblings tight, sad they’re not going with them after being together all summer. It’s just a slice of life. It’s great.”