It’s hard to believe that I have been in the U.S. and at MSGH for 25 years. After all, when I landed at Logan Airport, I was certain that I would be returning home to Ireland in a year to open my own school. Carol Kuszik, MSGH administrator at the time, and Julie Breen, the MSGH teacher with whom I had done my Montessori training in Dublin, came to the airport to bring me to Hartford.  I was 29 then and a fairly seasoned traveler; however, it was my first time living outside Ireland.  I’m sure when Carol saw me she was alarmed and thought, “I’ve hired a child,” as I always looked young for my age.

I arrived at the end of August, just before school started, and inherited a classroom that had been run by the same teacher, Ellen Basche, for at least 10 years. I also inherited her assistant, Yolanda Canzanella, who had also been in the classroom for the same amount of time. Mrs. Canz, as everyone called her, must have been very nervous taking on a new teacher after having worked with a veteran for many years. The classroom was already set up with many materials gathered over a lifetime of teaching. They were unfamiliar to me, so my first year was difficult as I attempted to make the classroom my own. The school was my life, and I spent long hours late into the evening making materials and working in my classroom.

I was so lucky. Carol, her sister-in-law, Pat, who was the MSGH Administrative Assistant/Bookkeeper at the time, Teresa Reynolds, a Primary assistant, and Maryanne Brennan, an Aftercare Supervisor, became my American family; they took care of me and made me their own.

When I look back at MSGH at that time, I realize how much we have evolved.  Then we were located in the Temple Beth Israel on Farmington Avenue with four Primary classes and two After-Care rooms: the Sunshine room, run by Sybil Reno, and the Rainbow room, run by Maryann Brennan.  The teachers were Jill Oneglia, who still subs for us regularly, Julie Breen, Pat Spiegel, Bernadette Roncallo and me.

Carol and Pat ran the show. They did everything; although one of the children, when asked which Mrs. Kuszik he was referring to, said “the Mrs. Kuszik who works.” That was Pat, as she was always at her desk. Carol was up and about more, supporting teachers, meeting with parents, and attending meetings of local organizations.  We were a family, with Carol as the wise counselor and Pat as the cheerleading pragmatist.  I can’t emphasize how much the school was and still is a product of those two wonderful people.  MSGH was welcoming, warm and human.  I remember big events: an annual art auction, wine tastings, and whole-school (absolutely everyone) outings to the beach and to pick pumpkins. Staff came and went, always moving on as a result of life changes: a baby, a relocation etc., but a core of us remained steady and continued on.

In 1991, after 21 years in the Temple, (4 for me), we learned that the Temple needed our space and we had one year to find a new location.  Knowing what I know now, Carol and Pat must have been frantic; one year is not a lot of time to relocate a school.  It came down to the wire, and we found the Smith School on St. James Street in West Hartford.  While we were at Smith, Bernadette, another Irish woman, started an Elementary classroom in 1993 with ten pioneering families; we were growing. The Board of Trustees was getting more active and trying to professionalize, Carol became busier with board work and had to be away from the school as much as she was present, and Teresa moved into Administration.  We had signed a lease for 5 years, but in 1994 after only 4, West Hartford wanted the space to create a magnet school, and we were on the move again.  We found ASD and barely made it in for the start of school.  At the time, I had been serving as the Board’s teacher liaison, so I was much more aware of the process. 

The ASD years have been a time of enormous change and evolution for MSGH.  A personal change came for me when, as I planned to leave MSGH to go back to college, Carol convinced me to stay on as Program Coordinator. She had little time to spend in the classrooms and AMI had strongly advised the need for an AMI-trained person to oversee programming. Then in 1998, Carol retired. I was very worried for the school and wondered how we would maintain the unique nature of MSGH without her presence. I was also losing a friend; Carol was moving to Florida.

A nationwide search left us with one candidate who “felt” like us; however, she was not available for a year.  It was then that I took over as Interim Head of School with Pat firmly by my side; we made it work. 

In 1999, Julia Rinaldi El Abd arrived at MSGH like a wonderful whirlwind. She was tiny, vivacious, a ball of energy, and she took on the school as her own.  I count myself very lucky; I had the opportunity to work with two very different personalities in the Head of School position.  Carol: wise, comforting and inspirational.  And Julia:  an ambitious woman with a “can-do” attitude and an amazing head for business. They were both wonderful mentors.
Julia stayed with us for 5 years, and in that time our Elementary program grew and expanded. We added an Upper
Elementary classroom with Mary McHale as the teacher. We had become veterans at rolling-with-the-punches, which came in handy with ASD since they moved us around every year. We were in 3 separate buildings on the campus for several years! We started our first All Day program in the little brown building opposite the entrance to Boatner with Orla Black as the teacher. She and her children co-habited with a skunk for a period during that time (ask her about it).

In 2003, Pat retired. I thought I was losing another friend, but she stayed close and often returns to give us the benefit of her substantial sewing skills. 

We finally all came under the same roof the last year of Julia’s tenure and we have remained in the same space since.  The rest of the story most of you know.

For those of you who don’t, I became Head of School when Julia left; we became accredited by the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS), a goal of Julia’s; our enrollment increased from 125 to 189 when we opened our Toddler classrooms, all three in quick succession; Teresa Reynolds fulfilled a long-time dream to return to the classroom as a teacher, and we converted one Toddler and one Primary into All Day classrooms. Our Elementary enrollment has grown to 45 students. Our Administration has expanded to include a Director of
Advancement, Carol’s long-time dream, and a Director of Communications and Marketing. Orla Black and Mary McHale replaced me as Director of Programs and Director of Admissions respectively.  Sheila Caselas took on the work of Pat and then Julia as Director of Finance.  Our Board has professionalized beyond Carol’s dreams, and we have created an Advisory Council on which Carol sits alongside past Board presidents and other wise friends of MSGH. We have a new updated look and even a new logo, just the third in our 47-year history.

I always said I would never do it, become Head of School that is, but here I am. I usually say “for my sins” when someone asks me about my evolution to this role, but it is really for my love of MSGH, its people, the children and their families, and the work we do together for the child.  My husband knows that if we ever win the Lottery, the school will get first dibs on a dream site that will allow us to look like who we are at heart.

And that brings me to today, where I am holding my breath that we are on the cusp of making a reality the hopes and dreams of everyone who has lived in and loved MSGH throughout its history.  We have come from a small place to a slightly bigger place, and I hope that we have hugged and held safe the nature of MSGH in the process. I also hope we can bring who we have always been to a new place that we can finally call home.

For 25 years, and through all we’ve done, I have loved this school and what it stands for: the child—first, last and always.