Cathy O’Hara appointed as new Chester Schools Superintendent, effective July 1

O’Hara has a 19-year history with the district in various roles and a vision of multi-disciplinary instruction, integrating an array of skills

| 22 May 2022 | 07:42

    Incoming Chester Schools Superintendent Cathy O’Hara has a 19-year history with the district. O’Hara has served as an academic support specialist, classroom teacher with experience in Pre-K, middle and high school, and special education. Her leadership roles include district STEM coordinator, elementary school principal and, most recently, assistant superintendent of schools.

    She received her Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and Management from Clarkson University and a Master of Education degree from St. Michael’s College.

    Her engineering background led the district to name her STEM coordinator to provide students with real world applications, solving problems in science, technology, engineering and math.

    “Instead of just learning from a text book, education should be “meaningful to students and allow them to see how learning applies to real-world problems or careers,” O’Hara said.

    O’Hara stresses the value of reaching out to all stakeholders for input and feedback and using that feedback to improve. As principal, she was proud of her success in building a collaborative team with staff, teachers and parents during Covid.

    “How do we engage our students remotely and in person despite the challenges and constraints of the pandemic?” she asked.

    One strategy she mentioned was providing children with their own bin of manipulatives for math, since they couldn’t share materials during Covid.

    Another pandemic adaptation was a collaborative lesson by art teacher Emily Daunicht and music teacher Brandon Sparkman. Students researched and built 3D models of New York State birds, used a touch board to program the sounds of the birds, and wrote information texts about each. They learned about different types of microphones and recorded the texts they had written. When touched on different parts, the models would make a sound or provide information about the bird in interactive displays students created.

    Student teams also built robotic Ferris wheels, an opportunity for students to apply skills in research, math and precise measurements and critical thinking. Teams worked collaboratively and brainstormed about how to build and improve their designs, devising their own solutions.

    O’Hara recognizes the importance of being proactive with technology to prepare for “the ever-changing careers and job skills required of students,” she said. “We can provide opportunities that balance preparing students for those technological advancements, coupled with the soft skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity, and add the interpersonal skills: honesty, trust, empathy and kindness. We need to insure we educate the whole learner.”

    O’Hara says she has four main goals for the district:

    1. Ensure a welcoming and affirming environment for all students, staff, parents and community members, with integrity, mutual respect and kindness.

    2. Provide students with innovative, engaging learning experiences reflective of authentic, real-world applications.

    3. Foster learning opportunities that promote critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication.

    4. Ensure continuous improvement in students’ learning through collaborative partnerships with all stakeholders.