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June 21, 2011

 

Filzen leaving ‘big shoes to fill’ in Groton

Retiring middle school principal has taught in the school district for more than 30 years

RetireBob Ellis/staff photographer
Groton Middle School principal Connie Filzen will retire in July.

By ANTHONY BORRELLI
Staff Reporter
aborrelli@cortlandstandardnews.net

GROTON — For Connie Filzen, filling in “a little while” turned into 12 years as principal of the Groton Middle School.
Now she is saying good-bye to her more than 30 years as a teacher and school administrator, without any regrets. Filzen is retiring and will not return to work this upcoming academic year.
On Monday, the Groton Board of Education and her colleagues lauded her professionalism, dedication in the workplace, as well as her compassion for her students and teachers she worked with.
“It’s emotional in that I’m not a person that likes to be in the limelight and just to hear such nice things people say — it goes right to the heart,” Filzen said. “I just decided that after 30-plus years in education, it was time to start a new chapter in my life.”
Her successor, Jeff Evener, is a familiar face in the school district. An alumnus, former student of Filzen’s and Groton’s village mayor, Evener said he is eager to return to the Groton school district.
Evener has worked in Auburn school district as a teacher and more recently as its director of curriculum.
In the fall of 1999, Filzen was asked to fill in for a departing principal. She had taught seventh-grade social studies courses before that.
During her years as an administrator, Filzen said, she worked to establish the middle school as its own entity within the school district, separating it from being “in name only” during the mid-1990s. She considers that as one of her best accomplishments during her career.
“We were a shell before,” she recalled. “Now there’s a foundation with a house called a middle school.”
Board President Michael Lockwood, a former student of Filzen’s, praised her as leaving a distinct impression on those she taught and establishing various programs that recognized student achievement. He said Filzen was also instrumental in bringing three U.S. naturalization ceremonies to the middle school over the years. Those ceremonies are traditionally held in the Tompkins County Courthouse.
For fellow teachers who worked with and under Filzen, seeing her leave was also bittersweet. Teacher Stephanie Hume said she knew Filzen first as a boss, then a mentor, and now as a friend.
“She was the glue that held this school together,” Hume said.
Filzen admitted she was speechless at the praise she received and the standing ovation that followed when she spoke Monday to the board and a small group of colleagues. She struggled to hold back tears.
“I think one of the things I’ve learned from this that I hope gets instilled in the kids is that you have to believe, and when you believe you can do anything you want to do,” she said.
Filzen recalled her own Latin teacher, who “was pretty hard on me,” and would likely be surprised today at seeing her retire as a principal. But that teacher left her with a life lesson that carried her through three decades in education.
“My father went to school to talk to the principal because of my Latin teacher,” she said. “But one of the things she did, in her own way, was instill in me that when you stick your mind to it, you can do it.”
Filzen said she looks forward to finding out what that next chapter will be for her in retirement, also “going from always being on the move, to stepping back a bit.”
Groton school board members joked to Evener that Filzner left him “big shoes to fill.” Evener said he is eager to get started.
“It’s going to be difficult, but as a former student of Connie’s, she made me live that vision she spoke of while I was here (as a student),” Evener said.
Superintendent of Schools James Abrams said he felt Evener was up for the task and admired that his former Auburn students still remember and think highly of him.

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