For 42 years, Rusty Hurd has been instrumental in bringing many beloved and cherished traditions to the Wilton School District, as an art teacher, a club advisor, and as one of the district instructional leaders in the fine and performing arts.
In the bookends of her final year at Wilton High School, Hurd recently unveiled the 2017 yearbook, which is one among many of her great contributions to Wilton High. She played a pivotal role in heading the yearbook as a club advisor since the early 90’s, and has also spearheaded the beloved senior tradition of the senior picnic (where the yearbooks are handed out) and the “last bell.”
Graduating senior Alida Schefers, a co-editor of the yearbook committee for the past two years, became quite close with Hurd.
“I have had the pleasure of Mrs. Hurd being my art teacher for two semesters and yearbook advisor for these past four years. I joined the yearbook freshman year at her suggestion and it has become an invaluable part of my high school experience. As the yearbook advisor, Mrs. Hurd is always encouraging, pragmatic, and knowledgeable, bringing her many years of experience to guide us through our work to create such a big and beautiful book every year.”
Hurd has an uncanny ability to create traditions and a classroom atmosphere which focus on the students and their success. When asked what she will miss most about the high school she knows the answer without a moment’s pause.
“The kids. I’m going to miss the kids. All the other stuff is secondary to me. Being around kids–that’s what keeps you young. Everyday is a new experience and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Her focus on making the students successful does not go unnoticed. The way she has developed and helped direct talent has led to numerous students awards and recognitions, but one in particular stands out. Last year, WHS Class of 2016 graduate Lauren Wyman was awarded with the Gold Key Award and the American Vision Award, from the National Scholastic Art competition under Hurd’s guidance.
This recognition granted Hurd a gold insignia and the pride of seeing one of her students receive such high honor. No Wilton High School student had been awarded the gold before and Hurd speaks of this moment with nothing but a proud, yet humble glow.
“I think the best thing is working with so many talented kids and helping develop [their skills]. I’ve got a bunch of students that are out there doing art, and working and doing it as an occupation–their success is my success.”
Hurd’s legacy will remain as the way she emphasized the importance of the arts. Spearheading the Language and Arts Festival, Hurd was able to expand the arts outside of the confines of a classroom, and bring it to students who may otherwise not necessarily step into the arts throughout their journey in high school.
“We bring in artists, and performers and all that to say that there are many facets to the arts. It’s not just strictly whatever happens in the classroom–it goes beyond the classroom, and it goes to the wider community, it goes to the wider school because teachers can bring their classes to the performances. I think the arts festival is a really great example of the whole Wilton High School community coming together and doing something really good,” she says.
The arts, Hurd claims, should always be treated as just as an effective and important aspect of education. She hopes to see the district develop a S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) program, explaining that art and design are an essential in the fast pace of the modern world.
“Design is all around us–that chair over there, the lights, anything, somebody has to design it. You go work at Apple, you need an art portfolio, not necessarily an engineering degree, an art portfolio.”
With a number of integral people in the fine and performing arts retiring these past two years (Frank “Chip” Gawle, Betsey DeGroff and Marty Meade), Hurd hope the legacy they leave behind is simply maintaining an emphasis on the arts.
“The idea of the importance of the arts, the creative aspects of them, I’m hoping that is an enduring legacy. One never knows,” she says.
And what advice does Hurd have for the new group of educators entering the fine and performing arts department at Wilton High School?
“This is not a 9 to 5 job, nor an 8 to 3 job. There are a lot of things that happen after school hours. There is a lot of work that has to go on in addition to teaching a class. You have to buy into the idea, that especially in the arts, we have to fight continuously to keep us in a positive position.”
Photography teacher Susanne Brandt summed up sentiments on behalf of the entire Wilton High School community on Hurd’s retirement. “We here at Wilton High School wish [her] continued success and happiness in the next part of life’s journey. [She] will be missed but not forgotten as [she] has truly left a lasting impression and legacy on this school system.”
Indeed, since 1973, Hurd contributed greatly to Wilton Public Schools at every grade level. She developed talent, spearheaded festivals, advised many clubs, and brought together communities through art, but most importantly, each and every day she provided a space for students to let their creativity shine.