EDITORIAL: Paraeducators recognized for excellence in student care

They may be called paraeducators or instructional assistants or related titles, but whatever the terminology used, the work these dedicated individuals do to support students and classroom activities is amazing. As school began, area districts — and even state officials — recognized the outstanding contributions of paraeducators, noting the remarkable and constant care they provide.

Don Askew, a longtime paraeducator at Maloney High School, was recently honored as the state’s paraeducator of the year for 2023. Record-Journal reporter Michael Gagne covered the event and wrote that Askew works with some of Maloney’s highest needs students; and was selected from among some 20,000 paraeducators across the state.

Gagne reported that “local and state officials described Askew as tirelessly dedicated to his students and school.” State Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker also lauded Askew’s work and thanked all paraeducators. She said paraeducators statewide are “critical players in our school ecosystem. Across all grades, all content areas in Connecticut, we find dedicated paraeducators who work tirelessly, as you heard of what Don has done, to help our students with different abilities — to help them thrive.” 

In addition to academic support, the boost given to help students thrive might be providing snacks or access to laundry facilities, taking a photo at graduation or tying a shoe.

In honoring Askew, Shellye Davis, executive vice president at the Connecticut AFL-CIO union, said that “paras have a different type of connection with their students.”

In Wallingford, R-J reporter Jessica Simms attended the school district’s award ceremony where Debra Remick, from Highland Elementary School, was chosen as paraeducator of the year.

Remick has worked in the Wallingford school district for 22 years and is currently a paraprofessional in a kindergarten classroom at Highland Elementary School.

“Mrs. Remick handles the stressful intricacies of managing a kindergarten classroom with composure and compassion without complaint or criticism,” said Superintendent of Schools Danielle Bellizzi.

The Cheshire Herald reported on the Cheshire school district’s announcement of Jodi Dutchyshyn as its paraeducator of the year.  Dutchyshyn is an instructional assistant at Doolittle School, working with 94 first-graders in five classrooms. She and other instructional assistants help manage and support students with behavorial and academic needs. 

“I always try to make the connection with a child. I want them to know they’re OK,” Dutchyshyn told The Herald, adding that “the needs of the kids always come first.”

An interesting, and related story in the Record-Journal, comes out of Southington where Susanne Vitcavage, assistant principal at Kennedy Middle School, was announced as the school’s new principal. One of her jobs earlier in her career was as an instructional associate at Nathan Hale Elementary School, in Meriden. In the R-J coverage, Vitcavage notes that skills she developed as an IA and in other roles along the way, have remained valuable as an administrator.    

These are a few of the stories about paraeducators found in recent news. There are a multitude of others that will never be told but that unfold in the lives of the children who benefit every day from the care of these dedicated classroom helpers. It’s great to see this recognition of their work.


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