GTECC Principal Wendy Crawford Prepares for a  Heartfelt Goodbye to 'Awesome Career'

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Pictured: Kindergarten students in Anita Bucci’s class at Grenloch Terrace Early Childhood Center give retiring principal Wendy Crawford a Valentine’s Day hug.

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP – For many teachers and administrators, the last day of the school year concludes with boisterous cheers, wild applause and cheerful celebration.  For Grenloch Terrace Early Childhood Center principal Wendy Crawford, that final day always closes with tears. 

“On the last day, we all stand outside and wave to the buses as the children pull away for the last time,” Crawford said, recounting a scene that has played out annually since she took the helm of the school on May 17, 1999.  “The children all have their faces pressed up against the glass, and they’re crying. I am crying, and the teachers are generally crying, as well. Because we get very attached to the children.  We are proud that they are moving on, but it’s hard to let them go.”

On March 31, 2018, Crawford will be letting go permanently as she retires from a position that she admittedly has poured her heart and soul into as the District’s first face of education. The environment that she has created and the learning that she has fostered has been a dream fulfilled.

“I always wanted to be in a career where I could have some sort of positive influence over others,” Crawford said. “When I was very young, I wanted to be a lawyer, a missionary or a teacher.  I didn’t have the money to be a lawyer. I was a bit of a homebody, so that ruled out missionary. So I became a teacher.  A teacher embraces all of those things. You get to advocate, which is what a lawyer does. You get to have a positive, encouraging influence, which is what a missionary does. And then you get to teach the skills, which is something I really love, especially in the area of reading.

I always wanted to be in a career where I could have some sort of positive influence over others.

“I have always been attracted to this age group and their eagerness to learn, wanting to set a positive first step so that children feel good about school and feel good about themselves and see themselves as learners,” she said.  “I’m a reading specialist at heart, so this is where the early literacy begins.  That was the dominating factor of me coming to this job, the opportunity to have that influence in early literacy.”

Almost two decades later, Crawford’s influence is visible in every corridor and classroom of the building that currently houses more than 260 kindergarteners and nearly 90 preschoolers.  Team-teaching and collaborative teaching is modeled in Grenloch Terrace, as Crawford recognized a need for interventions and supports and put forward proposals for improvements. 

The use of sign language as an effective multi-sensory strategy to improve literacy was ushered in when Crawford assumed leadership. Weekly technology classes for students to further develop the skills for a generation who were born into technology have been put in place.
Perhaps her biggest influence has been her brainstorm to create the spring bus tours, which help to ease the separation anxiety of child and parent alike. Students are given the opportunity to ride the bus, tour the building, meet their teacher and embrace kindergarten in a way that is inviting and welcoming.

“This is a caring and nurturing place, and we have worked together to build that sense of community with our parents,” Crawford said.

“In society, unfortunately, there is more and more pressure to achieve academically earlier and earlier. We work hard to make our education age-appropriate and to make our curriculum challenging and not frustrating.”

The caring and nurturing that has been the hallmark of Crawford’s kid-centric tenure was particularly crucial as the District expanded to full-day kindergarten at the start of the 2016-17 school year.  The expansion brought adjustments for staff, parents and students alike.

“We are proud of our full-day program, and the reaction from the community has been positive,” she said. “Going to a full-day platform offered many benefits.  It was not about putting more academic pressure on children.  It was about giving them more time to embrace what they were learning.  So in that sense, I think the change has been successful, and the staff and community alike has come to see the benefit of moving in that direction.”

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Crawford is equally proud of the school’s preschool program, which offers early interventions and services for eligible three- and four-year-old children. All along the way, Crawford has shared the successes with her extended family - the talented and dedicated GTECC teachers and staff.
“My staff does not work in opposition to the administration,” Crawford said. 

“They work together, and I have always appreciated that. Everyone is here by choice. These teachers have chosen early childhood, and they have the patience you need to excel at this level. They understand the range of abilities and maturation and development that you see in early childhood. When a problem comes up, I have people jumping up and volunteering to fix it before I ask. They really have been a great group to work with, and I will miss them tremendously. It’s hard to say goodbye to the staff and the children. That part of retiring has been challenging and probably why I stayed so long.
“Having this job has been a privilege, and it’s also been a heavy responsibility,” she added.

“I feel like my children are the most vulnerable. They come to you between the ages of three and seven.  I feel especially responsible for their safety and for their well-being. But I think I have had an awesome career.  My parents had tremendous respect for teachers, and they were very proud when I became a teacher. My mom was over the moon when I became a principal.  It was a well-respected career in my family and a very rewarding career for me. I have no regrets. Education is really where my heart is.”

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