After 34 years and 3 months working in New Britain, HALS Principal Elaine Zottola tearfully called it quits Monday.
Among the many things Zottola has done, founding and becoming the first principal of HALS, is at the top.
Zottola said that former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Doris Kurtz “felt strongly we needed a school in the community to keep middle school families from going to Hartford schools”
“We needed to keep our best and brightest,” said Zottola. “She told me to come up with something.”
HALS was started about 10 years ago. It started as a satellite program at Pulaski Middle School.
“Parents were clamoring for more,” said Zottola. “We moved to Mary Immaculate Academy as a satellite program.”
Kids went to home school and were bussed to MIA and then at the end were bussed back to schools. When St. Francis of Assissi School became available, HALS was made into a gifted and talented school at that location.
“We’ve been here ever since and it has been a wonderful space,” said Zottola. “This is about all we have left as a gifted and talented program.”
There are 60 students per grade level at HALS.
“One of the heartbreaks of my career is we are not servicing all the gifted and talented students,” Zottola. “Unless you nurture the wonderful minds they will never reach their potential.”
She said kids are like pieces of coal that can be turned into diamonds if polished properly.
Zottola began in New Britain in the full time disabilities program at the high school. She was previously principal at Klingberg School.
“I always came back with the goal to serve the New Britain schools,” said Zottola. “I’m a graduate of New Britain schools and because they gave so much to me, I wanted to give back.”
She then served as coordinator of special education and started the pre-school education program.
Some other things Zottola has done includes establishing the first self contained learning disabilities program at New Britain High School; establishing the self contained language impaired program for elementary level students; launching the first pre-school special education program at Gaffney School; creating the Society of Young Scholars Honor Society (SOYS) for NBHS grades 9 and 10; creating and established the Scholastic Academy Program; establishing the National Junior Honor Society Program for all Middle Schools; establishing the National Art Honor Society and the Tri-M Honor society for Middle Schools; implementing the Johns Hopkins Scholar Program for the middle schools; facilitating the restoration of the yearly musical at NBHS; restoring the All-City Elementary Honors Music Program; implementing the Honors Band and Guitar middle school program; co-developing -developer and managing directors of various Multicultural Arts Interdistrict grants with Farmington, Plainville, Simsbury, Bloomfield and Hartford; expanding talented program at NBHS to include world drumming, handbells, steel pan, gospel choir, ballroom dance, water color and metal sculpture; Facilitating arts partnerships with Concora, Connecticut Virtuosi, Albano Ballet, Hartford Ballet, Ballet Hispanico, Hartford and New Britain Symphonies; and Established Les Prix des Beaux Arts awards for visual and performing arts students.
“I’ve never had a job I didn’t like,” she said. “I think that is part of being successful in a career. It’s important to take on a job as if it is your favorite job in the whole world.”
She said being at HALS has been the best time.
“It is wonderfully rewarding,” said Zottola. “If I waited until I got tired of this job they would be wheeling me in from the senior center. I had to make a choice and quite honestly I don’t want to break in another superintendent.”
Leona Clerkin, will be taking over as HALS principal.
“She is the perfect person for this job,” Zottola said.
The students at HALS have good memories of Zottola and know she will be missed.
“I love her and am going to miss her,” said Matthew Lewicki.
“I got close to her because she is the best principal ever,” said Jonathan Bravo.
“I’m just lucky I was never on her bad side,” added Mack Crawford.
“I could put the fear of God into them,” Zottola smiled.
Zottola promises she will still be around and students will see her.
“Now with more time I am going to try to get more support for the high school fine arts programs,” said Zottola.
But, that is not her only goal for retirement.
“My goal is to run for the board of education,” she said. “I want to continue to contribute to the school district and the community. You can look forward to seeing more of me. So far, it’s been a wonderful ride.”