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As the new assistant superintendent of Guilford Public Schools (GPS), Annine Crystal started the new school year by sharing with the town’s teachers a bit of her own story: how reading books with her dad as a very young child inspired her to learn. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Before starting her 10th year with Guilford Public Schools (GPS) in her brand-new role as assistant superintendent, Annine Crystal spent nine years working among the district’s elementary schools as a literacy coach. That might explain why, at this year’s back-to-school convocation, she was particularly happy to share a story about her own childhood as a way to help district teachers embrace this year’s educational theme: learning one another’s stories.
Annine officially began her job as GPS assistant superintendent in July, following the retirement of Anne Keene, who was known for reading a children’s book to help set the theme for educators at convocation time.
“I didn’t do a book reading, but I told a story,” says Annine. “The theme this year was about story, and the importance of understanding and knowing people’s stories, and that we are all more than one single story.”
For Annine, the idea ties into “the importance of knowing and understanding the people that you talk to and work with, and the students you work with.”
So Annine shared a little piece of one of her stories from her childhood that had a big influence on her as an adult.
“My father was very influential in my upbringing. He was a physician and he was an avid reader and studier. He started reading to me, and with me, when I was about four years old. So the story I told was about that experience of reading things that were very difficult and over my head, but that whole experience of sitting with him and working through something that was challenging,” says Annine.
“Learning new words, understanding new ideas, looking things up in this huge dictionary that we had in my den; those are all very lasting memories for me,” she continues. “And I’ve applied a lot of that thinking to the work I’ve done in my own classroom when I was a teacher, and with teachers and students. Because it’s important for students to take on challenges. We shouldn’t be afraid of challenges, and we should be supporting kids as they take on those challenges.”
‘The Place Where I Should Be’
As assistant superintendent, Annine oversees the district’s curriculum, assessment and instruction. She first joined GPS upon completing 20 years in administration with Shelton Public Schools. She was serving as Shelton’s K-12 language arts supervisor when she learned of an opportunity to join GPS as a K-4 literary coach. The timing was right, she says.
“I had started a doctorate in teachers’ college, and for a long time, I had wanted to go back to get my doctoral degree. Shelton was having some budget restructuring, and although I was assured my job was to stay, it seemed like a good time to look for a position allowing a little more flexibility and go back to school to my doctorate,” says Annine.
She applied for the GPS position was offered the job.
Annine admits there was bit of angst in making her decision.
“I had 20 years in as an administrator. Do that I give that up to come to Guilford? For me, it’s about the position, and the people who I’m working with and what I’m doing, because I’m very passionate about education. I felt like it was the right move, and it would be a good experience for me to come here. It was also an opportunity to learn differently and be in a district with a different perspective and different demographic,” says Annine. “So I decided to come, and it was probably the best decision I ever made.”
Annine joined GPS and also went back to school for her Ed.D., which she completed in 2014.
With her doctorate in hand, “I started thinking, ‘Do I leave Guilford and go find something else?’” Annine recalls. “But I just couldn’t leave. I felt like this was the place where I should be, and was meant to be, even with the doctorate. I was learning so much here, and was able to work in such a collaborative environment with teachers and administrators to improve student learning.”
For her part, Annine works directly with school faculty to help each professional educator meet the district’s curriculum, assessment, and academic instruction goals for students.
“As a coach, I worked directly with teachers and curriculum. In this position, it’s a broader, district wide focus as opposed to the elementary and literacy focus which I had before,” she says. “We have a fabulous faculty—excellent teachers that work very hard and care about the students in front of them. They do everything they possibly can to make those experiences inspiring and challenging for kids.”
The Year Ahead
Among district academic practices this year is a focus on “the science of reading” in the town’s elementary schools—thinking about what happens in the brain, how kids really learn to read, and how that impacts very early literacy learning at the elementary level, Annine explains.
“We also have high leverage practices that are always an overarching focus in this district,” she adds. “We have three of them: effective feedback academically, productive talk, and writing to learn. So we always look at those three from lots of angles with professional development.”
The district’s professional development also focuses on nine principles of learning.
“For me, it’s really about making sure that every student gets effective instruction that meets their needs,” says Annine. “And there are ways of doing that with a class of 25 students where students can get individualized focus and attention.”
As someone who loves to be in the classroom, Annine has found ways to continue that connection.
“I actually teach as an adjunct in the evening at [a] University of St. Joseph [Connecticut satellite location]. That’s my connection to still teaching—and I go into classrooms a lot here,” she says.
Annine and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Freeman have regular times on their calendars to go into the school buildings and visit classrooms, she notes.
“We sit with kids, and talk with kids, which is really fun. I miss seeing kids every day.”
Annine’s own kids—twin girls—are on their own now. One is a first-year teacher in inner-city Philadelphia. The other is on her post-university educational path to become a social worker and currently works in Boston with a non-profit specializing in mentoring disadvantaged kids.
With their children grown, recently, Annine and her husband, Stuart, moved from their former hometown of Orange to their new home in Guilford.
“I’ve always loved it here, from the whole time I’ve been working here, and I’ve become familiar with the community and the people,” says Annine. “It’s just such a friendly, lovely place to live. It’s a very warm, welcoming community.”
She also loves working for GPS, and is thrilled to be taking on her new role with the district.
“It’s very exciting for me,” says Annine. “I’m looking forward to continuing the amazing growth and progress that the kids in Guilford have made, and expanding that, and doing even more with that.”
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