Elementary school bids farewell to educator Carol Gans
HUDSON–Wednesday, February 16 was declared Carol Gans Day at a surprise assembly at John L. Edwards (JLE) Elementary School. Faculty and staff, including the incoming Principal Steven Spicer, wore shirts that said “Fans of Gans.” Singer songwriter John Farrell composed a song for the occasion, and a number of tears were shed by the occasion’s honoree, departing Ms. Gans, the current principal, who devoted the past 40 years of her life to elementary education in Hudson.
What does a principal do? “Teachers teach. The principal does everything else,” Mr. Spicer said. In December the school board chose him as Ms. Gans’ successor. Since he left his position as co-principal of Hudson High School in early January, he has been Ms. Gans’ full-time pupil, learning as much as he can about her management of the school.
Mr. Farrell, a close friend of Ms. Gans, wrote in the lyrics of his song: “You are the one who’s always there/ The work you do is never done/ You always listen and you always care.”
Ms. Gans, who admits to working an 80 hour week, says the job involves daily crisis management, troubleshooting, paperwork, putting out the school newsletter, oversight of curriculum, and special programs, like this year’s new reading program, and implementation of new course standards that conform to national standards, such as those that come with the district’s Race to the Top award.
Although the district has two years to meet the new standards, JLE has to start now so that when current students enter third grade they’ll be ready. The principal must also periodically redefine the basics, addressing subjects like when kids should learn to count to 100 or learn to subtract, and when and what intervention is required for academically at-risk students.
While a student in the 1960s at the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts, Ms. Gans came into contact with innovative thinking on educational reform. She planned to be a high school English teacher, but a stint as a VISTA volunteer in rural Virginia, where she set up youth tutoring youth programs for students got her interested in elementary education.
“There was an awakening in the field at the time,” she said in a recent interview.
As a teacher at the old Claverack Elementary School, she made maple syrup with students, tapping the school’s maple trees, and held sleepovers at the school during which students and adults read all night long and cooked pancakes the next morning to eat with their maple syrup. Each class had its own garden.
She taught kindergarten, first, third and fifth grades, became an assistant principal then principal at Claverack Elementary. It was closed in the mid-1990s and she moved on to JLE, which became an elementary school.
“This is the best primary school in the county. Consolidation allowed us to really focus on primary education and on little kids,” she said.
During the course of Ms. Gans’ tenure in Hudson, education has changed dramatically. Critical thinking is now an important component of any lessen plan.
“Kids have to know how to learn. We give them the skill sets to learn and provide more authentic texts. If you give kids challenging material, you can keep them engaged,” she said.
Ms. Gans loves the diversity of the population and the age group of students who “are intrinsically motivated to learn” and “can show great growth.” But she regrets the emphasis on testing, which has become increasingly more prominent during the course of her career.
“There are many ways of measuring a kid’s success other than standardized tests. We want to take kids as far as they can go. We used to measure kids’ progress against themselves, comparing a student’s most recent test score with their past scores. We don’t do that that anymore and, unfortunately, test scores have become the measure of a kid’s success,” she said.
During her tenure Ms. Gans identified needs in her community that she strove to remedy. The Evenstart program, which helps parents who may lack literacy skills prepare their pre-school children to be ready to learn when they enter school. The program, now part of the Family Literacy program, was her idea. She found grants to fund it and reached out to other organizations and volunteers to make it work. The program, one of her favorites, has suffered from recent funding cuts, but thanks largely to her determination it remains alive today. She plans to continue her involvement with fund raising for the program after her retirement.
Other programs Ms. Gans brought to the school or supported include: John Farrell’s Bridges of Peace and Hope; Beyond Paper and Pencil, which brought arts activities sponsored by the Opera House into the school; Books for Africa; Junior Achievement, Responsive Classroom, a program that promotes good manners and mutual caring in classrooms; and Toys for Tots. When the New York University Dental School team arrived in Hudson to provide dental care to students on a day when all the schools were closed because of a snow day, she opened the school and helped bring kids in to see them.
“She is respected for her vision and her energetic pursuit of strategies to realize it. She works 24/7 for the children,” said reading teacher Beth Hawes, who has worked with Ms. Gans for 19 years.
“Her love for the kids and their families is evident in everything she does. Whatever the barriers, she’s been able to remove them. She’s been behind us 100% of the way for the whole 11 years we’ve been doing this,” said Sophia Becker who heads the Hudson Family Literacy Program.
“Boy, does she care about this school,” said PTA President Karen Krager. “My children were so lucky to have had her as their principal. What a great way to start their academic careers!”
Kindergarten teacher LuAnn Fredereksen said of Ms. Gans who mentored her when she first came to the district, “She is one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. She puts children first and is a great role model for so many people.”
Laurie Cordato and Diana Kipp announced at the assembly that the school’s book room, a project of Ms. Gans that provides books in diverse subjects sorted to match grade and reading levels, will be renamed the Carol Gans Book Room.
“What will Ms. Gans do when she retires?” students were asked before the program. The result was a power point presentation of student art depicting the principal whose face was often superimposed into the art, engaged in exciting activities that included journeys to Antarctica, Australia, and Africa, kayaking, becoming an Egyptologist, hunting alligators and more relaxing pastimes like reading, sleeping watching TV and looking out the window.
Ms. Gans confirmed that she plans to travel to the places students mentioned, including Australia, where she taught in the outback as a young teacher on an educational exchange, and Africa, where she forged a sister city relationship between Hudson and Pasilla, Uganda when she visited there in 2005. But first, she plans “to chill out” for a while and enjoy life close to home where volunteer work, reading and study may occupy her time.
“I want to keep learning,” she said. “There is so much that I still want to do.”
Mr. Spicer presented her with a ceremonial key to emphasize the fact that she will always be welcome at JLE.
“I know I’m leaving the school in good hands,” said Ms. Gans of her successor. To students, teachers and staff in an emotional farewell, she said,” You’ve been my family and my life.”