Many Wilton families may remember Lauren Feltz from her years as a teacher at Driscoll School, when it was a separate school from Miller. It’s where she started her career, teaching 1st and 2nd grades there for 13 years, before moving on to be an assistant principal in Berlin, CT and then principal in Middlebury, CT.

So it’s no surprise that parent reaction was very positive when superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith announced Feltz will be returning to Wilton, replacing Middlebrook School‘s outgoing principal Maria Coleman, who was promoted to oversee human resources for the district. Feltz is also thrilled to be returning to the place where she got her start.

“I’m over the moon,” she says. “While I’ve been very, very lucky and pleased and fortunate with the professional opportunities I’ve had in other districts, I have never stopped being really invested in the health of the Wilton district. My sister is a Wilton resident, and my nephew is a student in Wilton, and it feels like coming home. It feels like such a good fit.”

GOOD Morning Wilton got the opportunity to talk to Feltz, who has already begun her work in the district with the administrative teams at Middlebrook and within the Central Office. She’s excited about the new challenges of working with an older population of students as well as coming back to a district that has evolved as well.

GMW:  You’re coming back to a changed district—there’s new superintendent, there have been changes in educational approach, even a philosophical change globally about teaching.

Lauren Feltz:  Change can be scary and hard. We want to be reasoned and philosophically guided when we’re facing change. But change and cross-pollination is also really good for a school system and for specific schools. When changes come they can breathe new life. It doesn’t mean you’re altering your course or losing your through-line of truly what you’re philosophically guided by. It gives you an opportunity to look at what’s already strong in your system with fresh eyes. It is true that a lot of the who is in the roles [in Wilton] has changed but the needs and values of the Wilton community, and the strengths of the Wilton schools individually and as a whole hasn’t changed.

GMW:  What do you see as those strengths in Wilton schools?

LF:  Wilton’s children are advantaged in so many ways, in that they have parents who value education, and who provide wonderfully enriching experiences for children before they ever walk into their first formal school experience. They have a rich bank of experiences and vocabulary to draw on. Starting with our very youngest learners, Wilton is a district that zeroes in on the individual child and makes sure that children feel known, acknowledged and valued. There is an articulation straight up through the system, that they keep the focus on the child.

I love hearing the folks at Middlebrook School talking about the social and emotional needs of the child being right up there as one of the primary needs that we fill. You can’t ask children to be meaningful risk takers and invested in their learning unless they feel supported and valued and safe.

GMW:  The team at Middlebrook is very highly regarded…people feel very strongly and positively about it. How do you approach coming into something that’s already successful but also wanting to put your own imprint on it?

LF:  Schools evolve naturally through transitions. There is no call at Middlebrook to bring in someone with the focus of being a change agent. It’s about, again, having a fresh set of eyes, I can step back and help the Middlebrook educators look at the program and say, ‘What is it that we’re really great at, and what makes us great at that, and how can we take those strengths and leverage them in areas where we might feel we’re not quite as great yet?’

I think it’s a wonderful opportunity, the fact that they had such a strong, focused and philosophically-guided leader in Maria [Coleman]. And she is not leaving the school; she is staying in the Wilton family and will of course be a resource to draw on. She has a strong staff and the fact that they were a large administrative team will make sure that the culture, the expectations and comfort level of students and parents and staff can be honored as we make decisions, and informed decision making. I am just coming out of job where I was the sole administrator at the site, and it can be hard. There’s a much richer sounding board when you have a set-up like Middlebrook.

GMW:  And it frees you up—when you’re required to do so many things as a single administrator, this set up at MB likely frees you up to do other things.

LF:  It allows us to use the members of the leadership team to make sure we have individual administrators within focus areas, so they can really work deeply and think flexibly about some specific instructional areas or age groups. But it also allows us to constantly be cross-checking and making sure that our decision-making is aligned and that there’s a shared understanding.

GMW:  The Middlebrook age group is a different one than you’ve every worked with in the past, teaching 1st and 2nd grades, and then as an elementary school principal.

LF:  It is, I’m growing! [laughs] That is the part that is really, truly exciting. I have a deep bag of tricks working with early elementary students. I’ve spent a lot of time with my 4th and 5th grade students in the last few years, as both of those schools went up to 5th grade. And what learners need and what good teaching looks like is universal. An adult learner taking on a new challenge needs the same thing that a 2nd grader needs in terms of polishing up reading skills.

It’s really exciting the power and ownership that older children can take of their learning program. It’s thrilling to think about the scope of what student- and teacher-driven projects can become at the middle school, it’s very exciting to me!

GMW:  The middle school age group especially is digitally and social-media driven. With Dr. Smith coming in Wilton went from being a district where no one was allowed to have a device out during the day, to technology being so woven in the fabric of the education approach, with Twitter (#WiltonWayCT) and iPads, etc., and the usage and presence of technology growing exponentially. What’s your take on that?

LF:  We need to be equipping our children to understand, to gather information, to make smart decisions and to be ready to contribute to society. Responsible and effective use of technology is absolutely part of that learning experience. Part of technology policy evolving has to do with society’s comfort level and trust. We need children to be reasoning consumers about what they see, whether they’re researching online or participating in social media. It’s a really powerful tool to move the group. We see it have a huge impact on lives and political structures around the world.

It’s about teaching kids to make sure that the decisions they make online are aligned with the five core beliefs at Middlebrook. To make sure they understand that nothing that happens online really ever goes away. And that if we are making decisions in our face-to-face interactions that are grounded in making sure we’re treating others the way we want to be treated and respect and responsibility, then we have the same expectations for their virtual communication.

Technology devices are a powerful tool, and powerful tools get used often; but they don’t get used always. There’s a time and a place to say, ‘This is a lesson where we’re not going to be using our devices.’ Teachers should be empowered to make it very overt to make it clear to kids when we are and when we aren’t using those resources.

GMW:  Is there anything else you want Wilton’s families to know about you?

LF:  I’m just delighted. I was a learner in the Wilton school system. As a teacher starting out, you have a tremendous amount to learn, and you really craft the beliefs that guide you as a teacher. Wilton gave me that training. I was so fortunate to start my career surrounded by the stellar talent within the Wilton teaching population. It is such a gift to, on some level give back to Wilton.

Clearly, I’m still going to be a Wilton learner and I’m still going to be gaining a lot with my interaction with the district. But the first role of an administrator is to remove stumbling blocks that can trip up students and teachers as they do their important work. If there’s some way that I can be supportive and freeing the path so that teachers and students can really take their learning to realize their fullest vision, that’s an awesome opportunity. I’m delighted to take it on.