Send-off for WCSU Superintendent Steven John doubles as a fundraiser

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BRATTLEBORO — Teachers and students of Windham Central Supervisory Union wore pirate hats at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden on Friday night – not to celebrate Halloween early, but rather to celebrate one local figure and to support a good cause.

In honor of WCSU Superintendent Steven John, Campaign for Kids hosted a fundraiser to support after-school and summer programs for kids. The event's proceeds went toward Expanded Learning's, Learning After School (L'AFTER) program, but the event also celebrated John who is retiring as superintendant of WCSU.

John is often remembered for his school appearances on Talk Like a Pirate Day as well as for his involvement in establishing the first after-school programs at Leland and Gray Union High School and securing the federal funding to bring L'AFTER into the elementary schools. A combination of the two made for a fun philanthropic event.

"The highlight is always working with the parents and kids and teachers; it's a personable business, it's about people," said John. "The relationships are really important and I do think people should take more time and spend more care building those relationships and trust, confidence, good humor and tolerance. That's really what brings joy to the work for me."

On Friday night several colleagues spoke about some of their memories of John, and a reoccurring theme showed that he was proficient when it came to accomplishing important task, but also never hesitated to engage in some fun. Thara Fuller, director of L'AFTER, said she felt it was appropriate to hold an event that honored John for his work and also supported after-school and summer programs for kids that John has supported year after year.

Expanded Learning has programs at Leland and Gray and six different elementary schools, and according to Fuller, this year the program needs to raise 40 percent of its operating costs in order to continue to provide services for children, before and after school and during the summer in Windham Central. Fundraisers like the one held Friday night help further the goals of Expanded Learning, which is to provide kids with a safe environment where they can learn and laugh.

"There is also a positive impact on our communities when we invest in expanded learning opportunities for our young people," said Fuller in a press release. "We are keeping kids safe and developing skills that will prepare them to be productive citizens of the 21st century: for example problem-solving, creativity, teamwork, responsibility and empathy."

On Friday, attendees enjoyed a potluck style meal, stories of John shared among one another, and musical entertainment from John and a few members of Leland and Gray's a cappella group, the Rebel Clefs. Others admired the collection of ties that hung inside the venue. These ties of all sorts of patterns and designs were at one time owned by John, but he decided to donate them to the event, and attendees purchased them and the funds went towards Expanding Learning.

A microphone sat to the side of the room where people went up one by one, telling fun memories of their time along side John. Marlboro School Board member Dan MacArthur described John as someone who wears many "hats," particularly during town meeting.

"He's moderator one minute then he's the superintendent the next, especially when discussing the school budget or answering how something is going to interface with one thing or another," said MacArthur.

Another attendee, John Doty, noted that John always worked with the "highest quality and highest caliber." Doty mentioned that his daughter is 40 years old and still remembers the times John came into her classroom.

"Children are always going to remember the guy showing up with a tin can on his head for Johnny Appleseed Day; always going to remember the pirate and Abraham Lincoln showing up in the classroom," said Doty. "Those things stick with kids."

While there are big shoes (Converse in particular) to fill, William Anton, former principal of Dover School, will become the new superintendent of WCSU this upcoming school year. Anton noted a few lessons he's learned from his interactions with John that he hopes to keep after he steps into the position.

"Democracy, patience, not getting lost in the details of the adults and focusing on the students," Anton said, mentioning a few ways John has inspired him for this position. "He's been really helpful in helping me be laser focused on the needs of students and everything else comes with that, so I always have that voice in the back of my mind when I'm thinking about decisions, ideas or systems – how's it going to impact the students? – and that comes directly from Dr. John."

For more information about the Expanded Learning Programs, contact Thara Fuller at 802-365-9510 ext. 118 or tfuller@windhamcentral.org

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275


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