Principal of Year takes learning to heart

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Donning red paper hearts, Warwick Neck Elementary School students showered love and admiration onto their principal, Patti Cousineau, who was awarded with the Rhode Island Association of School Principal’s (RIASP) Elementary Principal of the Year Award on Monday.

A visibly emotional Cousineau accepted the award bestowed upon her by Don Rebello, president of the association.

He told students who had assembled in the all-purpose room, remaining quiet until Cousineau entered to the surprise, that their principal was one of many who had been nominated. He said after a selection team visited, the decision was she is the “number one best elementary school principal.”

The students yelled their agreement, waving red paper hearts.

After the presentations that included remarks from fifth graders Taylor Tatarian and Reeve Rapson as well as fifth grade teacher Jennifer Maini, who said Cousineau and teacher assistant Leslie Baxter saved her life (they got her to the hospital before a serious infection set in), Cousineau had a special request of the kids as she accepted the honor.

“I think that if you remember anything from today, besides those beautiful red hearts, and all these people who you have no idea who they are, all I want you to remember is that it's okay to make mistakes,” she said. “Because that's how we learn.”

She asked if the students could recite her favorite quote of the day – a morning tradition after the Pledge of Allegiance. A student recited it perfectly, “Everybody makes mistakes, that’s why pencils have erasers.”

“I think people need to come with erasers too,” Cousineau said. “Because we're not going to get it right on the first time or the second time or even the third time.”

“Or even the fourth time!” a student added.

“Maybe not,” said Cousineau. “But the really good thing is that we have each other to help out and you learn from your friends. And all of my friends are all of these teachers sitting in all of these chairs, because I treat them like my school family.”

Cousineau emphasized the importance of students taking something from each school day, and that she doesn’t want them to ever respond to the question “What happened at school today?” with the common response, “Nothing.”

She asked the students if they knew how long she had been working as an educator. Was it more than 10 years? 20 years? More than 30?

“It's not more than 100, but thank you,” she said, drawing laughs. “I've been doing this for more than 30 years. And every day I wake up and I think, I don't know if I can do another 30, but I certainly think I can do it for a little while longer. When I go home at night, I work, again. I'm on my computer for a very long time trying to get things just right.”

Director of Elementary Education for Warwick Public Schools Lynn Dambruch spoke about Cousineau’s work ethic and positive mindset in her statements.

“An inspiration quote by Gandhi, 'Be the change that you want to see in the world,' epitomizes Patti Cousineau as a person and a leader,” she said. “As you all know, she is a doer. Mrs. Cousineau does not just talk about new ideas and better ways to do things. She rolls up her sleeves and makes change happen.”

Dambruch spoke about going on a walkthrough of the school and seeing inspirational scenes throughout the building.

“The first thing that impressed me was the positive, respectful and welcoming culture that I encountered in every classroom,” she said. “I also saw happy students engaged in learning activities. Whether they were involved in station rotation activities, working on Chromebooks, discussing ideas with peers or working in teacher-led small groups, students were motivated to learn.”

“It became clear that Mrs. Cousineau and her staff truly believe that every student is successful and reach their full potential,” Dambruch said.

Mayor Joseph Solomon asked students how many of them are future leaders. Hands went up and Solomon assured them that’s what they can be thanks to the dedication of Cousineau and those who believe in them.

School Committee Chair Karen Bachus called it a “very happy day” for Warwick and especially for Warwick Neck School and in presenting Cousineau with a proclamation Rep. Joseph Solomon praised her dedication. Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur related how he met with Cousineau after being elected and his surprise when she remembered his son as a student more than 20 years earlier.

The RIASP principal of the year awards go to school principals “who place student learning at the center, set high expectations for student development, oversee standards-based teaching and learning, utilize data in making decisions and engage the community in the shared responsibility for student achievement.”

Cousineau asked for forgiveness from her teachers when she ended the happy ceremony on an even happier note for the students in attendance.

“There's no homework tonight,” she said with a smile as students erupted into joyful cheers.

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