Gail Healy retires after 39 years in Franklin County

  • Gail Healy Contributed Photo

  • Gail Healy, Four Corners School principal, weaves students names into her rap song as she heaps praise on her students during an emotional assembly in 2008, the year she left the school and took a job with Pioneer Valley Regional School District. Recorder File Photo/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/17/2018 7:39:42 PM

NORTHFIELD — Gail Healy will be leaving her job as assistant superintendent of Pioneer Valley Regional School District on Sept. 7, ending a 39-year education career in Franklin County that she described as “morally, ethically and, I think, educationally pretty successful.”

Healy has been assistant superintendent for Pioneer since 2008. Her longest tenure, however, was as principal of Four Corners Elementary School in Greenfield from 1994 until the school closed in 2008.

“It was an unbelievably amazing experience,” Healy said of her time at Four Corners. “People aren’t able to say this often, but within that time period what happened is, between retirements, people transferring or getting other jobs, I hired an entire faculty of teachers and paraprofessionals to work with students. As that team grew, we all had the same philosophy and fundamental knowledge of teaching. We had high expectations for ourselves. We worked as a team and we created a school that was certainly renowned by the state.”

Four Corners was literally a model school for the “responsive classroom,” a teaching style based on teachers and administrators demonstrating responsibility and social engagement for the students to imitate, she said. Under Healy’s leadership, Four Corners regularly played host to visiting teachers from other districts and states to observe the staff’s expertise.

“I still run into people (former students) who comment on the experiences they had at Four Corners and on how much they learned,” Healy said. “Because as I get older, they get older, too.”

Four Corners was also one of three training sites in western Massachusetts for “Reading Recovery,” an intensive one-on-one remedial program for first-graders who had difficulty reading. After 26 weeks of the program, the student would be at a normal level for his or her class. The goal of the program was that its students would be self-sustaining and would require no future intervention, she said. Four Corners’ program was so successful that Healy was invited to speak at a national conference with Reading Recovery founder Irene Fountas.

“That was a highlight,” Healy said. “You don’t get to do that very often in education.”

First job: Leyden

Healy began her career in Franklin County, immediately after earning her bachelor’s degree in education and psychology from Springfield College. She interviewed for positions in New Hampshire, Vermont, Texas, Louisiana and Massachusetts, then took a job as one of three teachers at Leyden Elementary School. She worked directly with the school’s teaching principal, Pearl Rhodes, who had been a one-room schoolhouse teacher “forever,” Healy said. Leyden’s current school is named after her.

The building then was half its current size. The three teachers ate lunch with their students, and there were no programs for art, music or physical education. Healy taught second-, third- and fourth-grade students.

Healy also ran summer recreation programs in Northfield and Erving to make ends meet on a teacher’s salary.

“That’s the biggest thing people will tell you: ‘Oh, you have summers off because you’re a teacher,’” Healy said. “Well, I never had the summers off. And by the time I became an administrator, I worked the whole summer anyway.”

After two years working at Leyden Elementary School, Healy decided she wanted to be a principal.

“(Rhodes) would give the reins to me. She let me do everything,” Healy said. “And then I said, ‘Think of the things you could do in a small school like this as the principal.’ … I think what I must have thought then, was, I could work with all the students in the school and all the teachers, instead of just those who are in my classroom and those families.”

While still teaching in Leyden, Healy began a graduate program at Westfield State College. In that time, she worked as a teacher and, as part of her master’s program, she took an administrative internship in Greenfield’s Federal Street School. In 1985, she earned her master’s degree in elementary education, then took her first full-time administrative position in 1987 as principal of Hawlemont School in Charlemont.

“College prepares you, but college doesn’t prepare you for everything that is expected of you as a principal,” Healy said. “It’s on-the-job training. As you go through situations and work through them and work with people, that’s your training. … (The internship, required for a master’s degree) is very important. And I imagine some people decide at that point, ‘This isn’t for me.’ Or, ‘This is my life’s calling.’”

In 1992, Healy became principal of both Green River and North Parish elementary schools in Greenfield, a shared position. After two years of dividing her time between the two schools, Greenfield School Superintendent Joseph Ruscio moved Healy to the principal’s job at Four Corners.

“I had every intention at the time of spending the rest of my working days at Four Corners,” Healy said. “And I think a lot of the people I worked with felt the same. But life happens, and so we take a different path. I don’t regret it at all.”

To Pioneer

In 2008, Greenfield went through a budget crisis, and Four Corners was closed. At the same time, Pioneer Valley Regional School District was advertising for an assistant superintendent.

“I love working with people and families,” Healy said. “I think that’s what I miss most in this job, being right down in there with students and families and a group of teachers. But that’s the nature of the job. It’s different.”

Since 2007, Healy has also worked as an adjunct professor at American International College in Springfield, supervising teachers who are working on master’s or doctorate degrees in middle and elementary school administration. Although this year, she said, as the demands of her position in Pioneer expanded, she could not do as much work at the college as she would have liked. She hopes to continue that work even after leaving her job at Pioneer.

“I was thinking about retiring, but my job here was cut,” Healy said. “I’m, in essence, retiring a year early. … I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll do something, that’s for sure. Over the last couple years, when I’ve thought of something I can do when I retire — I have a list in a drawer somewhere. I haven’t looked at it in a very long time. But I’ll do something, because that’s who I am.”




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

© 2019 Greenfield Recorder
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy