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Article Published September 9, 2020

Brian Bodner: By Way of Education

By Maria Caulfield/Zip06.com

After completing his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Pennsylvania and his master’s degree from Quinnipiac University, Brian Bodner went back to high school—well, that is, to teach students.

Armed with his M.A. in teaching from Quinnipiac in 1998, he embarked on a career in secondary education.

Today, Brian works at Madison’s Daniel Hand High School (DHHS), where he begins his eighth year as assistant principal.

Last June, he also completed a six-year term on the Connecticut Association of Schools Board of Directors; he was the only assistant principal in the state on this board during this time.

He started his professional career working as a social studies teacher at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, where he taught for a year.

“I loved teaching at McMahon, but left for the opportunity to teach at North Branford High School” (NBHS), he says.

He worked at NBHS for 11 years, during which time he helped students not just in academics but in sports as well.

“At NBHS, I was also the head coach of the boys track & field team (and) the boys and girls indoor track & field program’s first head coach...(I was also) an assistant football coach and an assistant softball coach for one year,” he explains.

In 2007, Brian was recognized as the district’s Teacher of the Year.

His work at NBHS was followed by three years as assistant principal at Coginchaug Regional High School in Durham. From there, he was hired to be the assistant principal at DHHS.

Even as he helped students in their learning, he furthered his own education and earned his sixth-year degree in educational leadership in 2009 from the University of Connecticut Administrative Preparation Program (UCAPP).

Looking back, Brian says that although he thoroughly enjoys his work as a teacher and administrator, education wasn’t his first career choice.

“My pathway into education was quite unexpected,” he says. “As I progressed through college, my plan had been to attend law school after graduating from UPENN, or to enter the business sector.”

He explains that as he contemplated delaying law school, his advisor recommended he explore a career in education. The advisor thought Brian would make a good high school or college teacher.

There were others who gave him the same advice.

“That spring and over the summer, I had another professor and a coach inquire about my future plans, who each separately inquired if I had ever considered going into education,” he says.

“Shortly thereafter, my father, who had retired from the Southern Connecticut Gas Company in the spring of 1995, took a job at Quinnipiac and informed me during the fall that I could do graduate work, tuition free, if I were to be accepted into a program. While he first mentioned it knowing I wanted to attend law school, I still had not taken the LSAT. When I learned that Quinnipiac had recently created a Master of Arts in Teaching program, I thought that I would give teaching a try, as several people whom I deeply respected had clearly believed that I could make a positive contribution to the field of education and the lives of young people,” he adds.

It’s a decision he never regretted.

A Rewarding Career

As DHHS assistant principal, Brian works closely with Principal Anthony (TJ) Salutari and co-Assistant Principal Melanie Whitcher, as well as teachers and students.

“I absolutely love to see students succeed and surpass their own expectations,” he says. “It was always what I enjoyed most as a teacher and coach…and is still what I cherish today as an administrator. Whether it is seeing someone develop into a strong writer, or a confident public speaker, or better yet, seeing a whole group experience success together as a team, or an ensemble—when someone exceeds their own expectations, it is life altering.”

He recalls a saying he learned from a college coach: Do better than your best.

“I believe that once someone realizes it’s possible, the sky is the limit,” he says.

It’s that same limitless potential he wants to give his children. With Joanna, his wife of 16 years, he has two daughters and a son, all of school age: Ella, Peyton, and Drew. All three go to Madison public schools.

For this school year, Brian has an additional short-term, yet crucial responsibility outside of DHHS: He is scheduled to fill in for Jeffrey Elementary School Principal Becky Frost until Julie Phelps, the interim principal, starts in October.

Reflecting on his work as a school administrator, he says, “Over the years, it has been extremely satisfying when someone shares with me that I, or one of my colleagues, have positively impacted their life. Whether directly or indirectly it is rewarding to know that I may have contributed to someone’s success, even if in my role as an administrator all that I did was simply help to create the conditions that enabled them to grow.

“It has also been rewarding through the years to assist teachers and former students in obtaining employment or advancement in their careers,” he continues. “Several teachers, whom have interned with me through the years have move on to become effective school administrators.”

He admits that his job sometimes entails working long hours and that “a very unpredictable schedule is perhaps the greatest challenge.”

He adds, “At any time, I may be called back to my office due to an array of issues. These issues are often challenging and complex, as many deal with interpersonal interactions. While everyone associates an assistant principal’s role with student discipline, the fact is that we also work with faculty, staff, and students to improve teaching and learning, while managing the day-to-day operations of a building.”

But Brian keeps the big picture in mind.

“In the end, the most satisfying part of being an educator involves building positive relationships with students, faculty, and staff. I am touched by the fact that I have former students who graduated high school more than 20 years ago who still keep in touch with me,” he says.

Lessons of a Pandemic

With COVID-19, the safety of students and staff has become a paramount concern for schools, including DHHS. In fact, DHHS and the school district have spent numerous hours preparing for reopening.

As part of its preparations, DHHS has implemented several safety measures and protocols.

For instance, the school district has provided faculty and staff with masks and, where requested, face shields. Face masks are required of all students and staff unless a medical/health exemption has been granted by the district.

Classroom desks are spaced apart six feet where feasible and desk shields have been purchased for every student and staff member. School hallways have markers six feet apart to ensure social distancing, and touchless hand sanitizing dispensers have been installed in every classroom and in hallways.

Tents have also been set up at the high school to allow students to eat outside during the lunch break and facilitate socially distancing.

As DHHS adjusts to the challenges brought by the pandemic, Brian sees how parents, teachers, and administrators have been working together for the best interest of students.

“The contact the high school administrative team has had with parents since the announcement that the district would be starting the school year in a hybrid model has been mostly about questions parents and students have about how we are planning to do things to maintain social distancing,” he says.

“In these interactions most people have been supportive of our efforts, recognizing how challenging it must be to reopen a large and vibrant school.”

He adds that any parent can always reach the administrative team either through email or by calling the high school.

For parents and students, a reopening FAQ is also available at madison.k12.ct.us/reopening.

“During these challenging times, now, more than ever, we need to listen to one another, take the time to better understand each other, practice civil discourse, demonstrate patience, and be role models for the children and young adults in our lives.”

He adds, “I believe the pandemic has reinforced that the people in our lives are most important. Material goods are just that, but people are irreplaceable.”

To nominate a Person of the Week, email m.caulfield@shorepublishing.com.