There seem to be a lot of things that make Branford parent and school volunteer Mary Barnett worthy of receiving The Connecticut Association of Schools Distinguished Friends of Education Award. In her acceptance speech at the recent CAS banquet, Barnett talked to the audience about what it means to be a volunteer and why she’s been one for for the past six years:
“I want to know what teaching to the test means and if it’s a problem…
I want to know what’s working and what isn’t.
I want to participate in their world [her children] so I can see if it’s a place I like and believe in.
Otherwise, I need to work to change it.” [Read full speech in attached PDF]
Barnett offers so much and is so moving that her own son, Sam Jenkins, a student at wrote his mom a song to play after her speech. [Read song lyrics in attached PDF].
But Barnett is also funny.
She said she confessed to the audience: “My speech is about how my parents taught me to volunteer and I want to teach my kids to volunteer and this all very moving, but I have to tell you, I paid my son to play this [song]. I paid him a lot.”
Perhaps it’s all of the things about Barnett – her dynamic personality, her ideas and her visions – that have earned her this distinguished award, one of only two bestowed from thousands of applicants statewide. [The other award was given to Ed Mascolo/Nej Inc.].
, Principal at Sliney, said she nominated Barnett for the award not actually expecting her to win.
When Iwanicki-Smith heard that Barnett not only won but competed against thousands of nominations she said she was very proud. At the banquet, Iwanicki-Smith said “Mary really captivated the audience to the point that when she was done, people from other towns came up to our table and said, ‘Can you come to our school and be a motivational speaker?’”
Iwanicki-Smith added, “I think she touched people in a place where people almost felt… this lady is going to be famous some day. I was joking… she is our Gandhi of Sliney.”
Harnessing her arts background in theater and dance, Barnett often brings unique ideas to the table and helps to craft events and programming for Sliney students with this perspective in mind. Most recently she was one of the driving forces behind , a space and robotics assembly for students. She also brought The Little Theater of the Deaf to Sliney, WIS and as a joint PTA effort at the start of the school year.
“Mary is very much an ideas person,” commented Iwanicki-Smith. “She’s like, ‘I have six ideas… here’s what we can do. What do you think?’”
“My hope is that by highlighting it, we’ll get more people to join her,” said Iwanicki-Smith.
Barnett has been a Branford resident since 1997, and prior to that, spent about a decade living in Madison. When choosing where to raise her family, she said that Branford had to be the town. The “diversity” is why she and her husband, Dave Jenkins, also a school volunteer, chose Branford.
Since coming here and joining the Sliney and WIS PTAs, Barnett said, “I think all the schools in Branford are good but I really think they can be great. I am always looking to improve everything.”
Barnett said she tries to tackle issues in an out-of-the-box manner. For example, when it comes to the and the to have sound proofing added to the school, Barnett reflects, “What if that doesn’t happen? What’s the real problem over there?”
Barnett said, through talking with a teacher at WIS, she concluded that noise during passing time is a real issue. “How can we fix that if we can’t build walls or get a new school? What if we played classical music? What if we had parent monitors? I am just trying to think outside the box to solve problems in a practical way.”
Though this idea for WIS has not been pursued, Barnett said she comes up with ideas all the time and finds great pleasure that Iwanicki-Smith receives them. “What’s exciting is when you say an out-of-the-box idea to an administrator and they don’t go… ‘Oh, we can’t…' There’s an opening to discuss,” said Barnett.
Starting with Sliney and hoping to build out to other schools, Barnett said her goal is to better the town through the education system. “If the community feels drawn to the school and supported by the school then maybe the community will be more interested in supporting the school system, which ultimately I think makes Branford a better town and makes more people want to live here and less people saying, ‘Oh we have to move to Guilford.’ No you don’t; you can stay right here,” she said.
Attached is a list of the other Branford education volunteers nominated by various schools.