Kevin Regan leaves a legacy behind
June 5, 2017
The halls of Norman E. Day School are uniquely alive.
The looming lockers that seem so tall to a fourth-grader’s eye, the murals donning the walls, and the bustling classrooms are part and parcel of an elementary school, but the atmosphere of the school encapsulates even more. It is impossible to put a finger on exactly what it is until principal Kevin Regan races down the hall, forever going somewhere.
It seems that for him, that “somewhere” takes a straight and narrow path of fostering a better education at Day. In his own words, “Everything we do has a purpose, and the purpose is the students.”
After a remarkable 38-year-long career in the Westford school district, Norman E. Day School’s principal Kevin Regan will be retiring at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. His fulfilling career and lasting legacy stand as testaments to the effect of his dedication throughout the years.
Regan has been the only principal of Day since it was converted from North Middle School to a grades 3-5 elementary school in 1992. Previously, Regan worked as a physical education teacher in the district, principal of the former Cameron School, and an assistant principal at Robinson Elementary. He was transferred to Day to accommodate the growing student population and has served as its principal since.
For Regan, the idea of a career in education took root when he was a freshman at the Acton-Boxboro Regional High School. He and another student, both members of the football team, were asked by their coach to tutor a student from Sweden who had difficulty speaking English. By the time he graduated high school four years later, Regan had made up his mind to pursue a future in education.
From there, Regan graduated with a Bachelor of Science specializing in Physical Education from Springfield College in 1978. He continued on to earn a Master’s Degree from UMASS Lowell in Administration Planning and Policy, and a second Master’s Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) in Curriculum Instruction.
Regan has seen generations of students pass through the district over the past 40 years, including WA principal Jim Antonelli, and believes that although society has changed students are fundamentally the same. His approach to education therefore stays true to the idea of motivating each student.
For example, Regan has implemented the Response to Intervention (RTI) model that caters to individual students’ levels, best seen through the new Level Library at Day. Regan works with the school’s literary specialist to identify struggling students and help them, and a similar process is underway for math. By realizing that all students have different capabilities, Regan has been able to individualize education.
He cites the WPS slogan “shaping the future one child at a time” as something that he strives to accomplish. His own experience as a student has been that he responded better to teachers who appreciated and valued him, and so he tries to do the same as an educator. By listening and reacting to students’ needs, he is able to understand and fix their problems, and Regan believes this will lead him to the ultimate goal of creating the best possible education for his students.
“We really should be here for no other reason than [that] a child is in third grade for one year. A child is in fourth grade for one year, in fifth grade for one year. So make that experience as plentiful and as exciting and as stimulating as possible,” Regan said.
Day’s Assistant Principal Chris Sardella, who will be taking Regan’s place as principal in the 2017-2018 school year, attests to Regan’s ability to make individual connections with students.
“Because I think Mr. Regan respects them, the students, as individuals, that they in turn respect him. […] I think [it is] because he’s made those personal connections, that he knows the students’ strengths and weaknesses,” he said.
“Connection” seemed to have been the most prevalent term when it came to describing Regan. According to Sardella, Regan’s innate compassion shows itself in the way he tries to bond with every student, often learning the names of as many as he can. When former students come back to visit, Sardella has continually been impressed by the way Regan has made a longstanding impact on the community.
“He’s really an institution, and an amazing person. I was shocked when he said he was going to retire. He’s been here for so many years […] that’s just amazing to me, to have someone have that level of dedication and commitment to the Town of Westford and to the children of the Day School,” Sardella said.
Regan’s emphasis on connection extends to his interactions with faculty. According to Sardella, rather than enforce top-down administration, Regan has always made sure everyone had a say in how the school was run. He acknowledges that not only students but staff want to feel valued as people and adjusts his administration policies to reflect that.
Superintendent Everett Olsen seconds that belief, considering Regan to be more of a leader than a ‘boss’. He is an engaging, collaborative, and a sincere listener and does not discipline in a way that is condescending. To him, discipline is an opportunity to grow rather than a situation where one is made to feel lesser.
Olsen reflects on his own experiences to describe how Regan communicates with others,
“My father always had a saying that he used to remind me of every so often: He said, ‘Value everyone. When you talk with people, talk with them in a way that reflects that this could be the last conversation you ever had with them’. And that’s what Kevin also does,” he said.
For Regan personally, his legacy of connection, communication, and personal investment in his career is both a passion as well as an ongoing challenge. Getting to know every student personally and working with them has been his main goal, and despite the complexity of meeting every student’s needs he has not faltered. His lengthy career at WPS, he says, is a testament to his career satisfaction.
The Day School Math Club is partially an expression of his belief in challenge and risk-taking. Having been placed in an overly difficult math class himself, Regan grew to appreciate the importance of learning from extreme difficulty. He began the Math Club not solely for students who excel in math, but for all students who want to try their hands at a similar challenge.
Olsen appreciates Regan’s outstanding dedication, pointing out his fierce advocacy for students with disabilities, ELL students, and respect of race and religion. This tendency to give his all stems from his passion for his job as well as his depth of character; Olsen believes that in order to be a great educator one must first be a great individual. As for the characteristics that make him a fine principal, both Olsen and Sardella point to his honesty, thoroughness, humility, and passionate nature.
“[Passion] separates people who want to make a difference from people who are just looking for a job. If you were to ask Kevin what the job means to him, one of the first things he would say would be ‘it means I have an opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child. And that’s passion,” Olsen said.
The most obvious characteristic taken from spending time with Regan, though, is his sincerity. In a career where the best decision for one is often not the best decision for all, Regan never put himself first, says Olsen. Regan attends to problems with a keen and humble ear by taking his job seriously but not thinking as much of himself. It is this core quality of “being a real person” that allowed Regan to connect and make a difference at WPS.
“I enjoy real people. I don’t enjoy phonies and frauds […] there are some people in life who think they walk on water, and Kevin is not one of them,” Olsen said. “He’s solid wood. There is no veneer to the Kevin.”
Regan has not only had success as Day’s principal but also a day-to-day job he loves, and as he sets aside that life he is left with mixed feelings. Every experience seems to have a sense of finality as he goes through it for the last time.
“You think about, okay, this is going to be the last first day of school. It’s going to be the last […] Inventor’s Fair. I think about things like that, I try not to thrive on it, but I guess it just helps me appreciate the moment,” Regan said.
But Regan might not be quite done with education. He is considering going into a variety of fields post-retirement, including being an educational consultant, helping aspiring educators find jobs, supervising student teachers, or presenting leadership modules to groups. However, he is open to wherever life may take him.
“I have a feeling there’s something out there that I’m not even thinking of,” he said.
At the close of his career, Regan’s words for those moving into the adult world reflect these sentiments,
“Think beyond yourself. [Don’t] necessarily do things for your own gain, think about how you can be a contributor to the community, be it to the Westford community, the Massachusetts community, or the world. Sometimes the smallest ideas have led to some of the biggest changes, and some of the impacts have had such a significant influence on so many people.”