Junior School Head's Page

June 2017

Dear Parents,

As I sit here in my office on Conference Day, I am often greeted with, “Do you have a minute?” Parents want to share their tremendous gratitude for the hard work that the teachers have put into their child. I know you’ve heard me say many times that one of the things that sets the Junior School apart from other schools is that we KNOW our students and this is what I’ve heard from parent after parent. It’s a great relief to many that when they read the report card that the teachers paint a picture of their child. It has been an absolute pleasure to work alongside all of you as we continue your child's educational journey. The teachers, staff and I thank our lucky stars that we get to partner with parents who are so invested in the lives of children.

Like our students, I have learned many lessons this year. I have learned so much about perspective, strength and the power of listening when I just don’t know what to say. We have all been through a year in our lives together and we have shared so much. I cannot say it enough – we have incredible people working at the Junior School. People who support one another through laughter and tears, through ups and downs, through August and June.

Professionally, we have gained perspective by joining together with our new colleagues at Country Day School and we look forward to many more years of connection and growth. As a community of learners, we have grown as we took a deep look at assessments and how best to meet the needs of all of the learners at the Junior School. We have modeled to our students that as adults, we are lifelong learners who constantly strive to get better at our craft.

As we look ahead to the summer, we look forward to lazier days without schedules, alarm clocks and deadlines. I recently read an article about the need for children to be bored during the summer. This thought really hit home for me as I see our students rushing off to baseball games and swim lessons and it makes me think of summers when I was a child. My friends, Kristin Romeo and Jill Morrison, would come over to my house and hang out in my basement as another long summer day lay ahead of us. We would write down all kinds of different things to do with our day on little slips of paper and put them into my dad’s old hat. We would write things like “go to the pool,” “watch TV,” “ride our bikes to Friendly’s” or “play freeze tag.” We were Bored with a capital B! But you know what? We were coming up with our own things to do. We didn’t have an adult telling us what to do with every minute. This is such an important part of growing up. We learned to do things for ourselves. When we pulled a slip of paper out of the hat, we would do that activity. My favorite was always, “venture in the brook.” We would spend hours walking in the brook and doing our best to capture the small tadpoles that lived in it. I wish your children hours of boredom this summer, they will be better for it!

At this time of year, we unfortunately have to say goodbye to teachers whose lives change and bring them away from their home here at SSA. Tina Nussbaum-Wagler who has been the science teacher for kindergarten, first and second grade for the past two years will be moving with her family to New Hampshire as they start their next teaching adventure. Tina has been such a valuable part of our community and we will miss her greatly as well as her sons, Henry and Hans. Kaeleen Homrich, who has been Mr. McCarroll’s sabbatical replacement, will do her best to fill Tina’s shoes. Mrs. Homrich also taught first grade last year and has taught in Michigan and Colorado as well.

Many of you have noticed that chicks aren’t the only things growing in our PK classrooms. Mrs. Velotta and Mrs. Yeager are both expecting babies this summer! As the two teachers in the Voyagers (our 3 1/2 year old room) classroom, Mrs. Velotta and Mrs. Yeager will be on maternity leave to start the year. To keep our PK program running smoothly, each classroom (Navigators, Adventurers and Voyagers) will have a veteran teacher in it. Nick Hammon and a maternity substitute will be leading the Voyagers to be joined by Mrs. Yeager on her return, Shannon Sciulli and a maternity substitute will be leading the Adventurers to be joined by Mrs. Velotta on her return, and Alexis Randall will be joined by a new teacher, Colleen DeChancie, to lead the Navigators. Mrs. DeChancie will be joining us from Washington, D.C. where she has taught first grade at The Lowell School for the past four years. Before that, she taught kindergarten at The Ellis School (Pittsburgh, PA) and Curtis School (Los Angeles, CA). Originally from the South Hills, Mrs. DeChancie will be moving back to Pittsburgh with her family this summer. We look forward to welcoming her into our Junior School family.

We will also welcome Melissa Petitto as an assistant teacher in our first grade. Ms. Petitto graduated from Point Park University as well as the University of Pittsburgh. She has worked at the Cresent Early Childhood Center and the Falk Laboratory School. Claire Pilarksi, our current second grade assistant, will also be joining the first grade team as an assistant.

As I began, it has been a year of growth and learning for everyone at the Junior School. We look forward to a fun in the sun Field Day on Monday and a wonderful Moving-Up Day and fifth grade celebration on Tuesday.

We all wish you a safe and healthy summer of good books, popsicles and boredom.


Ellen McConnell

Ellen McConnellEllen McConnell has been head of the Junior School since 2012. Previously, she spent four years as assistant head of the Lower School at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans and six years as a kindergarten teacher and instructional technology specialist at Trinity School in Atlanta. She spent the first seven years of her career in New York City as a kindergarten teacher at The Marymount School and The Caedmon School, and as a technology coordinator at The Dalton School. A native of Cresskill, N.J., McConnell holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and history from Wellesley College and a Master of Arts degree in communications, computing and technology from Columbia University Teachers College.

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