Stonington’s new Assistant Superintendent is paving the way for a new age of education

New+Assistant+Superintendent+Mary+Anne+Butler
New Assistant Superintendent Mary Anne Butler

New Assistant Superintendent Mary Anne Butler

New Assistant Superintendent Mary Anne Butler

Story by Abby Wang and Jessica Weber

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Stonington Public Schools recently appointed Mary Anne Butler as the new Assistant Superintendent for the district.

Butler grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts and attended a private Catholic high school, where she met her husband. She matriculated with a biology major and chemistry minor at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana.

As the daughter of a public educator, Butler never thought she would go into education. Her father was a principal who always had “too many jobs,” as Butler describes. She planned to work in medical technology after obtaining her undergraduate degree.

Yet as a person whom a professor once described as “too outgoing to be in a lab,” she gravitated towards education with her first job: a teacher aide for Head Start, a government program that services low-income families, particularly young children.

“I realized that I liked being around kids,” Butler said; she would return to school for her teaching certificate and eventually spend ten years as a classroom teacher at both the middle and high school levels.

She later spent five years working as a science consultant for the Connecticut State Department of Education before becoming the Assistant Superintendent in Groton and Windsor, respectively.

Yet Butler and her husband could not resist the beauty of the Noank shore, which would ultimately bring her to Stonington. “We permanently relocated there a little over a year ago. When [Stonington Assistant Superintendent] opened up, it was the perfect fit,” Butler recounted.

In her short time in Stonington, Butler has already begun to make an impact. Before she even considered working in the district she was watching Stonington Public Schools progress towards a new age of learning; she was at the State Department when the Seal of Biliteracy was first proposed.

Butler supports a curriculum that reflects experiential, student-centered learning and has spoken with Stonington High School’s Principal Mr. Friese about a program that could possibly be implemented in the near future. The program resembles SHS classes labeled “Special Topics,” but with a new edge.

“There are 70 curricula, all Common Core based, that developed from a collaborative with school teachers in California,” Butler explained. “They are part of the college prep path, but they are contextualized in cool things like film, creating games for social justice.”

With the district, especially the high school, making a push in stabilizing students in career fields, these courses from the University of California could give high schoolers in Stonington a leg up after graduation. They also coincide with the statewide “Senior Project” incentive, which encourages students to get out into the real world.

Butler has experience in implementing innovative curricula; while at Somers High School, she taught the first Forensics class in Connecticut.

This unprecedented classroom approach garnered national attention. “CBS Nightly News wanted to come and interview my [students]. I said, ‘Come out at the end of the year when we do a huge crime scene,’” Butler remembered, laughing.

Butler realized, however, that there is a drastic difference between the state in which the program arose and the state in which she wants to implement it.

“There’s California, and then there’s Connecticut, and we don’t like to change things; we tend to not be very forward-thinking,” she explained.

But Butler knows that she is not the only forward-thinker in Stonington. She describes Superintendent Dr. Van Riley as a “Why Not?” kind of guy, and attests to his support of her ideas.

“We don’t ever want to hear, ‘Well, we’ve always done it that way,’” said Butler.

She herself has never done things in just one way, as evidenced by her colorful career background. Butler has a law degree and practiced family law in Chicago. “There was business in divorce law… I had two little kids and I wanted to work for myself. If I had to do it all again, I’d choose environmental or educational law—but I still have my license,” she slyly added.

She has a continuing involvement with the Bureau of Education and Research, an organization based in Seattle that conducts workshops to teach teachers. Just recently, she finished a project with Random House writing a teacher’s guide on Minecraft: The Island by Max Brooks. “It’s fun to work in your pajamas once in a while,” Butler noted.

The most important lesson to take away from her numerous and varied career endeavors? “Don’t let anybody put you in boxes,” she emphasized.

Butler’s outside-the-box thinking is sure to guide Stonington Public Schools in a new direction. “What I want for this district is for every other district in Connecticut to look at us and say, ‘Look at what they’re doing, they’ve got things we don’t have going on.’”

For someone who never believed they would end up in education, Butler has made an incredible impact in the field. When asked about her goals for Stonington, Butler explains, “[There is] nothing broken about this district, so it’s all where can we go from here”

In the recent district development plan, there were only two aspects: standards-based curriculum development and student-centered learning, both of which Butler feels strongly about. Although she is involved in the construction and implementation of district-wide incentives, Butler also realizes that the decisions she makes affect students directly.

“The decisions paperwork and the policies we develop that there’s real people on the end of that,” Butler said

It is for this reason that Butler makes herself visible within whatever district she works.

“I like to be close to the kids. I like to be close to the teachers, and the work, because I still consider myself a teacher,” Butler explained. “It’s more than just books. When you remember your favorite teachers it’s not usually [about] mitosis and meiosis,” Butler explained, “It’s something about relationship and belonging and how they recognized you as a person. ”

And just how, exactly, does Butler feel about her new position?

“I think it’s a fit.”

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