School: Newtown Public Schools
School District: Newtown Public Schools
City, State: Newtown, Connecticut
About the Nominee: "We were seen as a sleepy little town; and that's most assuredly not the case. The most complicated thing in the world is our reaction to the shootings." -Dan Cruson, Town Historian, Newtown CT Dr. Joseph Erardi's nominator, who wishes to remain anonymous, once told their spouse that they wanted to be in Newtown because "their family was there and the schools in Connecticut are just better." They never believed that seven years later, they'd be terrified by that statement. In December of 2012, a horror beyond imagination befell the little hamlet of Sandy Hook. Residents lost friends, educators and mentors. Dr. Erardi's nominator questioned even having Christmas. How could they go on, much less expect their children to go back to school? An infinite number of questions came to mind with one overwhelming theme: how will the students handle this?
According to his nominator, no amount of education or experience can prepare anyone for this scenario. No educator can teach the same way, with the same passion and energy. Look beyond the foremost concern of healing and to the inevitable and necessary question: what's next for students, their teachers and their school? They try to continue on. Just imagine trying to go back to the occupation you love that is the very same one that traumatized you. That’s why recognizing a LifeChanger in this district couldn’t have more meaning, yet be more difficult.
The nominator states that every single educator, administrator and school employee at Sandy Hook Elementary is a LifeChanger, and it is impossible to single one out. The reasons cannot be measured.
Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, several new questions have come up. For instance, how has Newtown recovered? Who is inspiring the staff? Who is mentoring these administrators and reassuring the teachers? They all needed an “environment” that would allow them to continue to be the amazing educators they are. The simple fact that the teachers came back to continue to teach is a testament to their professionalism, dedication and unquestionable love of the children.
To address this and answer those questions, this nominator looked to one person. Dr. Erardi.
Dr. Erardi works with compassion, honesty and sensitivity geared towards students' learning, all while reassuring a wounded community that the schools in Newtown are among the best and safest for a child to learn in. He goes above and beyond as an educator and administrative leader, whether it’s taking time to sit down with a parent to discuss the math program and its changes, or returning a phone call to a parent from his home after an evening out with his family. He truly supports and loves this community and its education.
How is this life changing? One might say, "that's what they're supposed to do," but what happened in 2012 changes the dynamic significantly. Parents are no longer calling asking questions about their children's education; they are worried on a whole new level. Worried about anxiety in their child from a slamming door during class, or making sure the chairs in the classroom above don't create loud noises when moving around. Worried about their child needing coordination with counselors in school during the school day because they couldn't sleep at night. Worried about making sure the favorite comfort dog is in the school that day. Not to forget making sure the teaching staff has the equipment and safe environment they need. The examples are countless and far more in depth and meaningful.
Having a leader to navigate all of this is a significant challenge, especially when coupled with budgetary hearings, PTA meetings, town politics, etc. Further, Dr. Erardi has been the voice and face of the new Sandy Hook Elementary School. The facility is beautiful and nothing short of amazing in its function and form as a learning space. With one remaining class of students from the original, the students are going into a nurturing environment where they will most assuredly grow, learn and change into whatever they dream.
Dr. Erardi has remained steadfast and sure in his efforts to help navigate the change and, most significantly, the healing in the lives of this community. He goes well beyond what any educator would expect in their day-to-day.