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John Prins, From Parent Activist to BOE Member

Meet the 12-year Board of Education member recently nominated to the Branford Education Hall of Fame.

Longtime member was recently nominated and selected by the community to be inducted to the 2012 . The induction dinner for the seven worthy individuals selected will be held at  in Branford on Thursday, April 26, at 7 p.m.; event details to come. 

Prins, who was raised in Middletown, has been a Branford resident for more than 25 years. In addition to volunteering the last 12 years of weeknights to sit on the Board of Education, Prins can often be found playing the piano at various town events, most recently at held at the . He shares that he also plays in the orchestra pit for the performing arts spring musical ( will open later this month).

Prins is currently the Director of Human Resources at Clifford Beers Clinic in New Haven - one of the nation's oldest community-based children's mental health clinics. He is also on the board of directors for CT Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and is a member of the Branford Musical Arts Society.

Though active in Branford’s education system in a formal capacity today (he’s to another six-year term on the BOE) Prins first got involved in the school system as an active parent when his two grown children (25 years old and 29 years old) were younger, he said.

“As a parent I knew I needed to be involved in my children’s education,” he commented, “and that blossomed into a more active role.”

Coming from the background of a vocal parent, Prins said he encourages all parents to attend meetings and get involved. “I think there is a very strong role to be parent-leaders and understand what it means to partner in their children’s education,” he said.

Of parents aspiring to sit on the BOE, Prins cautions: “Be extremely aware that you don’t become a board member with a single issue that you are going to solve. Once you become a Board of Ed member, you need to extend your perspective and view to address the needs of all the children; it’s not just about your kid anymore even though that’s important.”

Joining the BOE in 1995, Prins said his hopes were to bring fresh ideas and thoughts to the table – “I am a big fan of trying things that may sort of challenge the status quo.”

During the past decade and a half of service, he said he’s challenged the status quo in many ways, particularly focusing on more arts education across the school system.

Get to know more about Prins below and in case you missed it, check out last week’s features on 2012 Hall of Fame inductees  and .

Branford Patch: Who was the most influential educator in your life and tell readers one anecdote about him or her?
John Prins:
Mr. Hughes, my 9th-grade physics teacher in Middletown High School was so real and respectful of his students.  He brought the subject to life with examples of all the things around us that represent how all-pervasive physics is. One day in particular, when discussing acoustics and sound waves, he set up his stereo, cranked the volume as high as it could go and played a recording of a plane taking off and of a lion roaring in the jungle.  It brought teachers from all corners of the building who thought we were being over run by wild animals.

Branford Patch: In your opinion, what has been a challenge about educating others?
John Prins:
It is always puzzling how many students, young and old, expect and want their teacher to tell them what they need to know.  My personal preference – and my preference as a learner – is to have someone facilitate my own learning by helping me understand the value of the information so I want to seek it out myself. For that reason, probably tied for my most influential educator is the amazing cello teacher/cellist who coached my piano trio and my son's string quartet.  

Branford Patch: Do you consider yourself a natural educator or is it something you trained yourself to do?
John Prins:
Since I feel so strongly that education is more about facilitating learning and since I am a professional facilitator, I'd say it's more natural than taught.  That's not to say I don't take every opportunity to refine that skill.

Branford Patch: What’s your favorite childhood book?
John Prins:
de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince.  And Dr. Seuss’s The Butter Battle Book.

Branford Patch: Name one thing you like best about Branford’s education system?
John Prins:
There are exemplars at every level of the district who have chosen to make something happen whether it's part of the formal curriculum or not - in the arts, or Model Congress, or physics, or athletics.  Teacher-leaders applying their passion to make a difference for the whole child.  It is a hallmark of the excellence of our district that so many of our educators develop in children a level of autonomy around something they can take with them throughout their lives.  Even more importantly, they empower older students to be leaders of the younger students who in turn become independent learners and achievers.  Pretty hard to top that!

In addition to honoring inductees through this column in the coming weeks, Patch would like to recognize those being inducted posthumously: , teacher and principal at the former Harbor Street School; Nancy Knowlton, education activist; and Edward Hippolitus, teacher and Career Education Coordinator.

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