Person of the Week
Kathy Niejadlik: Teaching the Next Generation and Loving it
As director of Circle Nursery School in North Madison, Kathy Niejadlik enjoys the combination of administrative and early childhood development responsibilities that come with the job. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Kathy Niejadlik is proud of her children—all 50 of them.
No, they are not really her own brood. But as director of Circle Nursery School in North Madison, she feels proud of the 50 young children at the school as if they are her own.
Kathy admits that when she meets a student years after leaving Circle Nursery School, a feeling of fulfillment wells up in her, “like you would be proud of your own child.”
While Kathy has dozens of Circle Nursery students, she also has her own two daughters with Jim, her husband of 28 years: Julie, 25, a law student at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, who expects to graduate in May next year; and Emily, 18, a senior at Daniel Hand High School. Emily was a student of Circle Nursery School when she was about five years old.
The Niejadliks have lived in Madison for 26 years.
The students at Circle Nursery range from two to five years old, with most enrolled in the three- and four-year old programs. Of the 50 students, 15 students are in each of these programs.
The school also offers a program for five-year-old students who fall in a group fondly called by the staff as the “Ber Babies” because they are born in the months from September to December. Families sometimes prefer to enroll these children in preschool rather than kindergarten.
Kathy began teaching part time at Circle Nursery School in 2007 when Emily was enrolled there.
“I did many things. I helped out. I’m not sure exactly what year Madison went to full-day kindergarten, so I did, at some point, work with the after-kindergarten program. And I worked in the threes’ classroom. I was assistant teacher in the threes.”
Almost concurrent with her start at Circle Nursery, Kathy became accredited as a jazzercise instructor, teaching classes three to four times a week in Killingworth. But it’s at Circle Nursery School that she rose the ranks in her career as an educator and administrator.
In 2011, Kathy was promoted to co-director with Donna Perry, a teacher at the school who has since left. While Perry handled the curriculum and education side of the job, Kathy handled the administrative tasks. A clothing and textiles major in college, Kathy gained her administrative and customer relations skills in her years working in retail management and she believes those skills helped her with the co-directorship responsibilities.
“I feel like those administrative skills carried over to what I did on that part, the administrative part of being a director here. And so when Sylvia [Stillwell], the director before, said ‘Two people could do this job and make it great,’ I think she saw that I could do the administrative part and that Donna really had the curriculum part down, and together, that we were a good fit. And so, in 2011, when Donna and I took over as co-directors, I started taking classes, college-level classes in early childhood education and administration.”
In total, she completed seven college-level classes.
Those classes came in handy.
Circle Nursery School is not only licensed in the State of Connecticut but also accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), a professional membership organization that promotes higher standards for learning for children from birth to eight. As such, Kathy knew she needed to beef up her skillset.
“I kind of knew that at some point, (Donna and I) were going to part ways, and I wanted to feel comfortable doing the job myself. And, with NAEYC and their educational requirements, I needed to have some of these college courses to back me up, since my bachelor’s [degree] is not in early childhood,” Kathy explains.
When Donna left in 2017 and Kathy took over the role of directorship, she had the necessary tools and knowledge to take on the job.
All are Welcome
Kathy points out that while Circle Nursery School is affiliated with the North Madison Congregational Church, it makes sure to welcome all families regardless of religion.
“We’re an outreach program of the North Madison Congregational Church,” Kathy explains. “However, our preschool is nondenominational. So, we don’t talk about religion.
“Now that being said, we celebrate everything. We celebrate every holiday, and most holidays have Christian backgrounds [like] St. Patrick’s Day, St. Valentine’s Day. We try to cover for diversity. We try to cover everything,” Kathy adds.
She also notes that the school has had students who were Catholic and Jewish, among others.
On occasion though, the school does work with the church to host special events outside school hours. One of them is the annual pancake breakfast with Santa on Saturday, Dec. 14, from 8 to 11 a.m. at the North Madison Congregational Church on 1271 Durham Road. Tickets cost $8 for adults and $5 for children, and includes pancakes, sausage, orange juice, and coffee. Guests are advised to bring their cameras for pictures with Santa.
Working at Circle Nursery School was the ideal job for Kathy even as she cared for her two daughters. As she worked herself up the ranks, she realized, “it was the perfect job.”
“I love it... learning from the kids. It’s keeping me young,” she says with a laugh.
She also says that the children give her life lessons that can be learned only at a school.
She echoes a maxim written by Robert Fulghum in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, a book that resonates with Kathy. Fulghum writes, “Speed and efficiency do not always increase the quality of life.”
While she and the staff are always aware of schedules and time commitments, the young children remind them of the important things in life and the need to slow things down.
“The children are great because they teach you to sit back and stop, and take a breath,” she says. “They look at things with wonder [like] a caterpillar on the playground. They’ll stop and they’ll study it and they’ll talk about it.
“So, I think one of the best things that the kids teach me is to take a breath. Take a minute, and let’s look at that caterpillar. And let’s slow down. Because I think we’re all moving so fast,” she says. “It’s a good lesson that only a little child who has not a care in the world can teach you.”
Kathy reflects, “A lot of the things that the kids do regularly, when you sit down as an adult and you do them, you feel rejuvenated...It kind of brings you back down to earth about what’s important in life.”
For more information about the annual breakfast with Santa, contact email@example.com.
For more information about Circle Nursery School, visit www.northmadisoncc.org/circle-nursery-school.
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