Natick Principals and Staff Join Community Members for Elementary Parent Conference Workshops

IMG_0217Last night, Natick principals, staff and community members, in collaboration with SPARKindness, joined over 100 parents for a night of workshops in an Elementary Parent Conference Event. Like conferences provided for educators, the workshops were designed to assist parents in sharing research and best practices in key areas around supporting elementary-aged students.  Dr. Anna Nolin, Assistant Superintendent for the schools kicked off the event noting that events like this give the community a chance to learn and talk and share values:  “Conversation is relationship, and this conference gives us a chance to work together to build understanding and confidence in ourselves as parents and as collaborators.”  Workshop Topics Included:

  • “Why Play Matters Dr. Tracy Gleason, Professor of Psychology, Wellesley College (Johnson parent)
  • Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports and Collaborative Problem Solving”Kirk Downing (Principal, Brown School) and Karen Ghilani (Principal, Johnson School)
  • “The Home School Literacy Connection: Supporting Your Child’s Reading” –  MaryLynne Gyster (Literacy Specialist, Lilja) and Brenna Cunningham (Literacy Specialist, Johnson)
  • “Supporting Your Child in Writing”Ian Kelly (Principal, Ben Hem) and Kristin Stoetzel (Literacy Specialist, Ben Hem)
  • “Encouraging Your Child’s Self Esteem”Elise Molloy and Laura Loftus (Guidance, Lilja School)
  • “Mindfulness IS for Elementary Aged Children”Heather Smith (Principal, Lilja School)
  • “Making the Most of Parent Conferences”Matthew Joseph (Principal, Memorial School)

Presenters Included

Tracy Gleason, a Johnson Elementary parent, is a Professor of Psychology at Wellesley College. She is also the Psychological Director of the Wellesley College Child Study Center, and has a background in both developmental psychology and early childhood education. A graduate of Dartmouth College (AB) and the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota (PhD), she earned a license in Early Childhood Education in Minnesota during the course of her training. Her research is focused on young children’s relationships, particularly those with imaginary friends, and on moral development. She teaches courses at Wellesley in introductory psychology, developmental psychology, research methods, writing about psychology for the layperson, and a seminar on imagination.

Kristin Stoetzl, is currently the reading specialist and intervention coordinator for the Bennett-Hemenway School in Natick, MA. Prior to coming to Natick, Kristin taught in the Wellesley Public Schools for ten years. Kristin also taught for three years in the San Diego City Schools. Kristin has taught grades K, 1, and 2, as well as K-1, 1-2, and 4-5-6 multigrade classrooms.
Kristin holds a Master of Education in Literacy and Language from Framingham State College, a Master of Arts in Teaching from Tufts University, and a Bachelor of Arts in French and Government from Bowdoin College. She has presented on a variety of topics to teachers and parents districtwide as well as at conferences such as Literacy For All, Wayland Institute, and the Boston College New Teacher Academy.

Kristin Zides is the Literacy Specialist at Johnson Elementary School. This is her third year at Johnson School working with at risk students in grades K through 4 on their literacy development. Kristin also works closely with the classroom teachers, specialist staff, and Principal on creating an environment where students have the best learning experiences. Prior to her work in Natick, Kristin was a stay at home Mom to her 4 year old daughter. Before having her daughter, Kristin worked as a middle school classroom reading teacher in the Needham, Taunton, and Westwood Public Schools. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Salve Regina University and two Master’s Degrees in Curriculum and Development concentrated on Literacy and the other in Specialist Teacher of Reading from Lesley University. Some of her past educational experiences include in-house trainings with the staff at Johnson and lead presenter at the Massachusetts Reading Association Conference.

MaryLynne Gyster is the Literacy Specialist at Lilja Elementary School. At Lilja, she loves engaging with students in grades K through 4 and supporting them in their literacy development. She also enjoys collaborating with classroom teachers and students’ families to create optimal educational experiences for every child. Prior to her time at Lilja, MaryLynne was a classroom teacher in a variety of grade levels with the Dover Public Schools and the Braintree Public Schools. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a Master’s degree from Teachers College – Columbia University. MaryLynne is accredited with three teaching licenses: Literacy Specialist, Elementary Education, and Special Education – Mild/Moderate Disabilities. Some of her recent workshops in Natick include Effective Word Study Practices/Wilson Fundations and Close Reading in the Classroom.

Laura Loftus has been working as a school counselor for 17 years. She has been at Lilja Elementary School for the past 7 years. Prior to that she worked as a counselor at the Wilson Middle School in Natick and for the Stoughton Public Schools. She holds a BA in Human Development from Boston College and an MA in Counseling Psychology from Lesley University. She has also earned a certification as an adjustment counselor. Laura is a parent educator for Open Circle and “Living with your 10-15 Year old.” She serves as assistant to the principal and enjoys supporting students and families in their social, emotional and academic growth through their school years.

Elise Molloy has had the privilege of working as a school counselor and assistant to the principal at Lilja Elementary School for the past 10 years. Prior to employment at Lilja, Elise worked with inner city, at-risk youth in Houston, Texas, taught job readiness skills to adults who were homeless, was an outpatient therapist for children and families, and was also a guidance counselor at Wilson Middle School in Natick. Elise holds a Bachelor’s degree in History and Secondary Education from Providence College and a Masters in Social Work from Boston College. She is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and also holds certifications in Guidance, School Adjustment Counseling and Administration, and is also a parent educator and coach for Open Circle. She enjoys supporting children, families and staff in all areas of social, emotional, behavioral and academic growth and development.

Catherine White has served as the Literacy Specialist at Memorial Elementary School for the past three years. Prior to coming to Natick, she held the positions of Elementary Principal in the Attleboro Public Schools, Principal Coach at the middle school level, Literacy Coach in Elementary and taught English Language Arts at the Middle and High School levels. Prior to her role as a public school teacher, she served as the CEO of a large non profit including two private schools in Rhode Island serving students with profound disabilities and founded Pathways Strategic Teaching Center a school for children with Autism based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. Catherine holds a Masters of Science in Non-Profit Management from Springfield College and a Masters of Education with a concentration in Reading from Salem State University.

Ian Kelly presently serves as principal of the Bennett-Hemenway Elementary School. He has held this position for the past seven years. Prior to his tenure in Natick, he served in the Needham Public Schools as a teacher, Title I Director and Assistant Principal. Ian also taught 2nd grade in Boston, MA and Norfolk, VA. Ian is an active member of his professional community presenting at local, state and national conferences focusing on educational leadership, educator evaluation, and the effective implementation of instructional technology.  Ian holds a Masters of Education in School Administration from Cambridge College and is currently a doctoral student in the educational leadership program at the Boston College Lynch School of Education. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood/Elementary Education from Frostburg State University in Frostburg, MD.

Kirk Downing is the principal of Brown School in Natick. He can to Brown in 2010 after being the principal at Chickering Elementary in Dover, MA from 2007-2010. Prior to that he was a teacher and administrator in the Cherry Creek School District in Aurora, CO from 1994-2007. Currently, Kirk is the Vice President of the Massachusetts Elementary School Principal’s Association and is a Nationally certified principal mentor. Kirk brought Collaborative Problem Solving to Natick as he works toward certification in Collaborative Problem Solving through Thinkkids, Mass General Hospital.

Matthew Joseph is presently serving as principal of the Memorial Elementary School in Natick, this is his fourth year in Natick.As principal, Matt presented both at state and the national conferences on 21st century school design and creating strategies for enhancing educator evaluation strategies.  Matt is currently enrolled at Boston College in the Educational Leadership Doctoral Program.

Kelsi Hawkes is in her third year of teaching fourth grade at Memorial School in Natick.
She earned her special education license at Boston College in 2011 and began her teaching career shortly after.
This year, she holds the role of District Elementary Instructional Leader where she facilitates grade-level PLC monthly meetings. She also serves on the Memorial School Leadership Team.  This past fall, she taught a professional development course on the use of Evernote to collect evidence for evaluations.

Elke MacKenzie is in her 10th year as a teacher at Memorial. She has taught kindergarten and is currently teaching second grade. Originally from Northampton, MA she holds her BA and M.Ed. form UMass Amherst.
During her time at Memorial, has held the position of District Elementary Instructional Leader, facilitating district-wide, grade level PLC meetings.  Participates on the Memorial School Leadership Team and many district curriculum committees.  Served as the Natick Club Invention Assistant Director

Heather L. B. Smith is the Principal of the Lilja Elementary School, a Graduate Level Instructor at the Johns Hopkins University, and a Doctoral Student in Mind, Brain, and Teaching at the Johns Hopkins School of Education. Prior to coming to Natick, Heather worked in the Providence and Mansfield schools, teaching, learning, and leading in the role of Assistant Principal. Heather is currently a Board Member on the Wheaton College Center for Contemplative Studies where she’s had the opportunity to learn from mindfulness experts such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Sarah Lazar, and Hal Roth. Heather has presented at several conferences, including, but not limited to: Massachusetts CUE, Boston College’s New Teacher Academy, Brown University’s No Teacher Left Behind, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the New England Association on Literature for Young People. In her spare time, she enjoys the occasional book, fleeting moments of solitude, and spending time with her family (including her 16-year old Persian cat, Abby-the-Tabby)! She holds a B.A. from Wheaton College, an M.A.T. from Brown University, and an M.Ed. from Rhode Island College.

Karen Ghilani is the Principal of Johnson Elementary School where she has served in this role for the past five years. She has worked in the Natick Public Schools for over seventeen years in the classroom and as an administrator. Her leadership and learning style focus on the whole child and have influenced current school-wide practices in Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. Karen earned her teaching degree from Framingham State College and her Masters in Policy, Planning and Administration at Boston University’s School of Education.

Brenna Cunningham is a first grade teacher at Johnson Elementary School. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Bridgewater State University. She received her post baccalaureate teacher licensure program at Framingham State University where she became licensed to teach Elementary Education (grades 1-6). Brenna also holds a Master’s Degree in Education with a concentration in Literacy and Language, from Framingham State University. Most recently she is serving as an Educational Instructional Leader for the first grade teachers in Natick.


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