For Amy Espinoza, there is something special about young children.
“I love the innocence of their age group, the enthusiasm they have about learning,” she says. “They look at their teachers like rock stars, and they have no fear when it comes to learning something new.”
Espinoza herself will be learning something, too, since this is her first year as a school principal, serving at the Dr. Charles E. Murphy Elementary School.
She never planned it this way. She always thought she would be shaping young minds in the classroom. “Being a principal – that was the furthest thing in my mind,” she said on a drizzly first day of school.
She greeted students – many of them wearing backpacks - as they exited buses, and she shook their hands and patted them on the head. Espinoza has two children of her own and she said she has taken lessons learned at home into the classroom.
“Having children, you know that each child is someone’s pride and joy,” she said. “And you treat them as such. You treat them as if they’re your own children.”
She started her career in 1989 in Prospect, teaching first-graders. Then, in 1992, she joined Norwich’s school system, teaching grades one, two and four.
Espinoza was literacy coach in Norwich for six years over the past decade. It was a position, she said, that provided her a broader perspective of the educational system, and that intrigued her. So she decided she wanted to make a move into administration. Last year she served as assistant principal at Norwich’s Wequonnoc Elementary School.
Now a principal, she is ready to make her own mark at the Murphy school and with its nearly 400 students.
Espinoza, who has a pleasant disposition and a ready smile, wants to come to know individual teachers and students. While learning 400 first names is a daunting task she said simply, “I’m going to try.”
Espinoza said she will work to instill a culture of respect, security and high educational expectations. Initially, she expects to spend a lot of time observing – seeing what’s right and what can be improved upon. She feels there are no major issues at the school but she will work to “accelerate” improvement to what already exists.
Being new to the job, she will be on a learning curve, along with the students. “Learning something new can be difficult but also rewarding,” she said. “It’s part of the fun.”
She considers it essential that parents become part of the learning process. She has noted a huge difference, she said, with students’ progression where parents have been actively involved in their children’s education compared to families with little or no parental guidance. “The first teachers the kids have are their parents,” she said.
Throughout her educational career, she has taken special joy when something just “clicks” in a child’s mind. She said it’s something you can see in their eyes. She added she has seen the same thing happen with teachers.
The state measures educational achievement through the Connecticut Mastery Tests, administered in grades three, four and five. A controversial issue is whether teachers should teach to the test or just plain teach. Espinoza said teachers should make students aware of how the tests are structured but pay primary attention to teaching.
“You don’t teach to the test, but you don’t let them get blindsided either,” she said.