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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 10, 2010

Rizzo feels welcomed as Lynnwood’s new principal and is raring to go

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Alicia Rizzo wanted to be an elementary school teacher since she was 7 years old.

As a second-grader in Colonie public schools, she recalls, “During free time, I played teaching.”

Now, starting July 1, she’ll be the principal of Lynnwood Elementary, one of Guilderland’s five elementary schools. She’ll earn $95,000 for a 12-month work year.

On Tuesday, she stood with retiring principal, James Dillon, to accept a statewide award for Lynnwood for educating the whole child. Rather than focusing just on test scores, the whole-child approach focuses on students’ being safe, healthy, supported, engaged, and challenged.

That’s an approach that Rizzo feels passionate about. “What attracted me to Guilderland,” she said, “was the spirit of collaboration.”

Superintendent John McGuire said Rizzo was selected from a pool of over 100 applicants.

Rizzo said she felt welcomed from her very first interview for the post.  She was also impressed when she visited Lynnwood Elementary School.

“There is such a feeling of community,” she said. She described the school’s faculty room: “The PTA redid it so it’s a beautiful place. That makes such a statement on how the community feels about its teachers.”

Rizzo started her own teaching career with the Albany City School district after graduating from The College of Saint Rose. She worked there for 16 years, starting as a kindergarten teacher.

“I loved it,” she said.

Rizzo recalls her first school break, over Christmas, going with her fiancé, now her husband, Dennis Rizzo, to see Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Kindergarten Cop. “I teared up; I was so homesick for my kids,” she said. “I couldn’t wait to get back.”

Rizzo became a literacy coordinator and worked with Irene Fountas at Lesley University in Boston. “I provided coaching to teachers in my building,” she said.

Guilderland, she said, uses Fountas’s benchmarks in its reading program.

Rizzo describes her work with literacy as “teaching kids to learn how to learn.” She went on, “Kids learn differently. You have to create an environment so they’re always in the mode of learning new things.”

She also worked with teachers in developing problem-solving strategies.

Rizzo went on to work with the Questar III Board of Cooperative Educational Services as a school improvement specialist. She worked in different schools, providing support for shared decision-making, literacy, and needs assessment. She did “imbedded staff development,” where she would spend several days a week all year at a school district.

The Hoosick Valley School District liked her work so much that she was hired there, full-time, as the director of instruction and academic services. In her two years at Hoosick Valley, Rizzo has worked on staff development, provided support for principals working towards new initiatives, and has had conversations with families, she said.

Although she likes her work there, she regretted getting further away from the classroom, and further away from the kids.

“I love working with teachers,” she said, “and, as a principal, I’ll get closer with the kids. This is an opportunity to do both,” Rizzo said of being Lynnwood’s principal.

She will continue too live in Wynantskill with her husband, a software director, and their three children, a son and two daughters — Nolan, 16, a junior at La Salle Institute in Troy; Kennedy, 14, who will be a ninth-grader at Emma Willard School in Troy; and Piper, 4, a kindergartner in the Wynantskill school district, which only goes through eighth grade.

Rizzo is up for the challenge of being Lynnwood’s principal. “If I can manage three children, grad school with a 4.0 average, and a full-time job, I can manage anything,” she said with a laugh.

She has both a master’s degree in reading from the University at Albany, and a cetificate of advanced study in educational leadership from The College of Saint Rose, which she finished in December.

“Mothers can do anything,” said Rizzo.

She went on, “I’m passionate about education. I come from a service-oriented family.” Her father worked for the state and her mother for the county; Rizzo is the oldest of their three daughters. “I’m passionate about kids and instructional leadership,” she said.

Although she said it feels “bittersweet” to leave her job at Hoosick Falls, “I’m very excited to be part of the Lynnwood community.”

Tuesday night, after the Guilderland School Board unanimously approved her appointment, back at home, Rizzo took out one of the token gifts she had been given, and said to her husband, “I think I should sleep in my Lynnwood T-shirt.”

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