Feature Article

Lasell Instilled a New Level of Rigor

Dr. Michael T. Conner '03

Dr. Michael T. Conner '03

He's been a classroom teacher, a literacy curriculum specialist, an assistant principal, a principal, an assistant superintendent of teaching, learning and leadership and now, chief academic officer for the Norwalk (CT) Public Schools. Pretty serious scholarship by any measure. And by Michael T. Conner's measure, it all began in Auburndale.

Even before Lasell's Education Department had evolved to serve the growing number of students it does today, Ed majors were empowered to head out into the world of teaching and administration with a solid foundation. The theoretical and research-based perspectives nurtured at Lasell have proven to be a vital part of academic preparation for many alumni, including 2014 Milken Educator Award-winner Anthony Petrelis '05 who teaches fifth grade in his hometown of Medford, MA (see Leaves, Fall 2014).

Conner, whose 2003 BA in Elementary Education (and minor in Humanities) set him on a professional trajectory that began that same year teaching in a fourth-grade public school classroom in New Haven, CT, has not stopped since.

After Lasell, Conner received an MS in Elementary Education from the University of Bridgeport, CT, a sixth-year degree in Educational Leadership from Southern CT State University and an Ed.D. from Cambridge (MA) College, where his dissertation topic was "Beyond Acting White: The Impact of Cuturally Relevant Pedagogy within a Culture of Accountability."

Fast forward to Conner's current leadership position as chief academic officer for the Norwalk Public Schools, a role in which he is tasked with developing, implementing and coordinating that town's Pre K-12 curricula and educational programs and services, including assessment and professional development.

Conner credits his Lasell degree with being the catalyst for his ongoing intellectual exploration and professional success. "Lasell provided a platform that led to my current research and work in the field, including around school improvement," he tells Leaves, "in a college campus atmosphere that made me feel like I was part of a family."

The Branford, CT native now lives in the town of in Milford with his wife, Viviana Conner (K-12 supervisor of World Languages for the Greenwich, CT Public Schools) and their infant son, Michael Terrell Conner, Jr.

What first attracted Conner to Lasell? "Its core mission around having students participate in clinical experiences connected to their career field," he says. "At Lasell, ‘Connected Learning' is not institutional jargon, rather a core element that is embedded in the academic programs that all students experience at some point during their four-year tenure."

Likewise, Conner gives high marks to the College's emphasis on students' connecting with faculty "on a deep level."

"My relationships with professors were personal, genuine and not artificial," he continues, "and I knew my teachers cared about my growth as a person, a thinker and an educator." Conner cites Humanities Professor Joseph Aieta and Associate Professor of English Stephanie Athey for "instilling a new level of rigor to my studies that was both challenging and invigorating."

The heady brew of high academic standards with a personal touch conspired to make this successful educator's experience as a Lasell student "one that I will cherish forever."

For more on Michael T. Conner '03 view this video in Leaves Extra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tC9-UQkawM

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