MONROE, CT — Suzanne Giampaolo was hired as a special education teacher when she first met band director, Jack Ceccolini, in the Masuk High School cafeteria during Convocation in 1987. What followed were social outings with mutual friends before the couple fell in love and got married in 1991.
Now, three decades and two grown children later, Assistant Superintendent Jack Ceccolini and special education teacher Suzanne Ceccolini will both retire together on June 30, following a pair of 36 year careers in education.
“It’s a gift,” Suzanne said during an interview at Fawn Hollow Elementary School last Wednesday.
“We’re fortunate to be able to do this,” Jack added.
The couple lives in Southbury and has two grown sons, John, 27, and Joe, 23. Both live in Massachusetts, so they plan to see their children more when they retire. John is a science teacher and Joe is a chemical engineer.
The Ceccolinis will also travel more, though they will always be available to the people of Monroe Public Schools if needed.
“This is really a second family for us,” Jack said.
“We know teachers and colleagues from all of the schools,” Suzanne said.
“Our colleagues are our friends,” Jack said. “That’s for sure.”
Suzanne said she will miss the day-to-day interactions, adding the children are always the highlight of the day.
“That’s absolutely true,” Jack agreed.
“I’m really happy for Jack and Susie on their upcoming retirement,” said Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza. “It is truly well deserved. Combined, they have over 70 years of service to the district. I can never repay either of them for the help and kindness they have shown.”
Striking the right chord
Jack Ceccolini had a passion for music, while growing up in Branford and performed with garage bands. He pursued a performance music major at Western Connecticut State University.
“I taught lessons to pay for my tuition and found out that’s what I was really good at,” he recalled.
Ceccolini added education to his studies and graduated with a double major.
Though he ended up pursuing a career in education, Ceccolini continues to perform. He has been playing guitar for the band The Common Chords, which is made up of faculty from the school district.
He taught at Chalk Hill for two years, then left to become assistant principal of Rochambeau Middle School in Southbury.
“I had gone back for the Sixth-Year degree in educational leadership,” Ceccolini said. “I wanted to put it to use. We didn’t have administrative openings in the district, so I applied outside. It worked out well. That experience got me ready for Fawn Hollow.”
In January of 2000, Ceccolini came back to the Monroe school district, accepting the principal job at Fawn Hollow Elementary School.
“You want to have that opportunity to have a bigger impact,” he said of becoming an administrator. “You hope you can do some good things for kids.”
Ceccolini later became principal of Jockey Hollow Middle School in 2005, leading the school for 15 years.
“I love the elementary school, but I felt more comfortable at the secondary level,” he said. “All of my previous experience was at middle school and high school.”
In January of 2020, Joseph Kobza was appointed acting superintendent of schools, vacating his role of assistant superintendent.
Ceccolini said he wasn’t seeking the position, but offered to help Kobza any way he could with the transition. But it grew from there. He was appointed acting assistant superintendent. Both of them were later chosen for the new roles in November of that year.
“I owe Jack a tremendous amount of gratitude,” Kobza said. “When I became superintendent he volunteered his time to come up to Central Office and helped out when I needed it most, while doubling as the Jockey Hollow principal for six months. Jack and I have worked many long hours over the last two years.”
“I’ve enjoyed it very much,” Ceccolini said. “Joe has done a great job as superintendent under difficult circumstances no one has dealt with before and it’s just been a great opportunity for me to continue to grow as a leader and an educator.”
He was referring to the COVID-19 outbreak when educators had to close the schools and come up with remote learning curriculum, then equip the schools for a hybrid model with half of the students going in person and half learning online for different parts of the week.
“There’s really nothing to compare with what the last two years have been,” Ceccolini said.
A Monroe native
“Suzie was a product of the Monroe Public Schools and has given selflessly to help students with special needs her whole career,” Kobza said.
Suzanne Ceccolini is the daughter of John Giampaolo, who was a longtime, well-respected athletic director at Masuk.
“I grew up in Monroe and was a product of the Monroe school system — Monroe Elementary School, Chalk Hill and Masuk,” she said.
When she was in fifth grade, Suzanne’s friend suffered traumatic brain damage from an accident. “His needs became greater,” she recalled. “He was no longer able to be independent in a general classroom, so as a classmate I helped him after class.”
“I knew I wanted to enter into a helping profession,” she said. “I wanted to be a nurse at first.”
But Suzanne is from a family of teachers. Her father taught physical education and her mother, Shirley, was a diving and swimming coach.
“My brother and sister are teachers too,” Suzanne said. “My brother, John, is a physical education teacher in Shelton and my sister, Juli, is a gymnastics teacher in Oxford.”
Suzanne earned an undergraduate degree in special education and pre-k through 12 and a Master’s degree in special education, specializing in the intellectually disabled, from Southern Connecticut State University.
Suzanne’s first job was as a special education teacher at Boys Village in Milford from 1986 to ’87. It’s now Boys and Girls Village.
Then she came back to Monroe, teaching at Monroe Elementary School where her former principal, Patrick Walsh and third grade teacher Mary Ellenbast still worked.
“I called her Mrs. Ellenbast and she kept saying, ‘call me Mary!'” Suzanne recalled with a laugh.
Suzanne was part of the districtwide adjusted curriculum program for preschool to fifth grade. The program eventually moved to Fawn Hollow Elementary School where there was more space.
“When Chalk Hill became a grade five and six building, I was transferred to the Chalk Hill building in 1998,” she said.
There she worked at the Pre-Vocational Learning Center, where staff prepared students with special needs for the workforce and high school.
“We did a lot of community interactions,” Suzanne said. “It was great. I loved it. When that group of children went to Masuk, I stayed at Chalk Hill and became a team teacher following an inclusionary model. I worked in a general education classroom supporting special education students.”
She was a sixth grade teacher when Chalk Hill closed, but went to Fawn Hollow instead of Jockey Hollow, because her husband, Jack, was the principal of the middle school.
Suzanne thought of how her field has changed since she started.
“The difference in my career is the population of children,” she said. “Their needs and how we support them has changed over the last 35 years. We continue to support their social and emotional well-being and our ultimate goal with special education is to make them as independent as possible and contributing members to society.”
“I always focus on abilities and not their disabilities,” she added. “Their smallest improvement is my greatest joy.”