Elementary school of the year Danbury principal retires after 38 years as educator
Hamlet Hub. Robin Provey. June 10, 2017.

Before becoming principal at Danbury’s brand new magnet elementary school in 2006, Dr. Helena Nitowski had a vision of what it would be like.

“I saw the kids getting off the bus and running into the school because they can’t wait to be there,” Nitowski said. “I thought, if we can do that, we can do anything. I wanted to make these little people feel they can do anything.”

For the past 12 years, that’s just what she’s done at the Western Connecticut Academy of International Studies. Prior to AIS, Nitowski was the principal of Mill Ridge Intermediate School. Now, after 38 years as an educator, Nitowski is retiring. The grandmother of five with one on the way is looking forward to spending more time with her family. She does, however, plan to find her retirement niche somewhere in education.

The school, fondly known as AIS, has a mission of developing socially responsible global citizens who use technology to access the world. By focusing on being a part of the larger community, students learn about environmental awareness by food composting in their cafeteria, tending to a community garden, bonding with local organizations and recycling.

“Everything we do is focused on developing that in children. It’s included in international/global studies, behavior and environmental literacy pieces. Being a responsible global citizen sounds so lofty, but the kids get it,” she said, adding that some of her fifth-grade students are currently petitioning their Parent-Teacher Organization for a water bottle refill station to cut down on plastic water bottles.

In 2014, the K-5 school was selected by the Connecticut Association of Schools as “Elementary School of the Year” from a number of Connecticut elementary schools. AIS “clearly distinguished itself as a consummate elementary school,” according to the non-profit organization.

The AIS magnet school, located on Danbury’s Westside, is open to all Danbury students as well as students from area towns through a lottery system. With a theme of International and Global Studies, the school’s more than 400 students in kindergarten through fifth grade are also taught a foreign language.

As for her retirement, tonight members of the educational community will come together to celebrate Nitowski’s career, while on Monday night, more than alumni students had gathered at the school to say goodbye.

“Some of the former students are in college and they came back,” Nitowski said. “Sometimes you ask yourself ‘What is the stuff that really counts?’ That’s what really counts. It’s the fact that the kids want to come back -- that as a school we made a difference.”

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