(NORTH SALEM, N.Y.) --Creative, supportive, fun and eccentric. These are three of the many words students and fellow administrators in the North Salem School District used to describe Dr. Michael Hibbard,the assistant superintendent for instruction and human resources, in a word cloud presented to him at a recent retirement dinner. After nearly 40 years in education, the last 10 of which were in North Salem, Hibbard is stepping down. However, the man best known for his jaunty bow ties and large straw hats is ready for his new adventure in retirement. “I’m not a count-downer or a kind of fade-outer. I will do a lot more fishing, hiking, cooking and traveling together with my wife. We are currently training for a medium-strenuous National Geographic trek through the Tetons[national park]. I always write things and I will probably be involved somehow in [consulting] opportunities to help other people to do their thing,” he said. Born in 1943 in Kansas City, Mo., Hibbard was the first generation off the farm in his family. Hibbard attended the University of Kansas where he received a bachelor’s degree in science. He got his master’s degree in science at Purdue, and a Ph.D. in science at Cornell University. “I did my bachelor’s and master’s not knowing exactly how I wanted to use science--or what kind of career path I wanted to take. So at Cornell I was leaning towards becoming an educator and going into public education,” Hibbard said. After graduation, he was hired by the Greenwich Public School System where he taught science at the elementary school and later became lead teacher of life science at Greenwich High School. He also served as Dean of Students at Greenwich High. After that, Hibbard moved on to become the principal of Pomperaug High School in Middlebury/Southbury, Conn., and was assistant superintendent in Ridgefield before coming to North Salem. It was here that he felt he made some of his greatest strides. “I wanted to have impact on education and on students. The reason I like the job as assistant superintendent for curriculum is I did a lot of direct training and worked with teachers. So I was a teacher of teachers. So therefore, I had a lot more impact on a lot more students,” Hibbard explained. One of Hibbard’s biggest accomplishments at North Salem was the creation and implementation of the district’s mission, “ To engage students to continuously learn, question, define and solve problems through critical and creative thinking,” which he began in 2009. It was important, he said, for him to focus on critical thinking skills for students and encourage them to flex them like a muscle as they moved into adulthood. “We started to build a thinking framework, before the mission, to help students understand the bigger picture and we started thinking about thinking,” he said, adding “That set the foundation for us to define specifically a worthy, lofty goal.” The school’s mission was recently validated during a recent visit by the Tri-State Consortium, which works with high-performing school districts to come up with creative solutions to guide and instruct students. Thomas Scarice, Superintendent of Schools in Madison, Conn. reflected on this year’s visit in April telling North Salem News, “I’ve been in education for more than 20 years, and this district is in rarified air. The depth of ownership and believing in doing what’s right is really uncommon. It’s almost one-of-a kind—from the administrators all the way down to the students.” Over the years, Hibbard has experienced many changes and challenges. He cited state-imposed regulations as being among the most difficult to navigate. “The students who are graduating this year have been through three different state math programs. Very radically different. Teachers feel frustrated in wanting to do the best job they can, only to see things change again,” he said. Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Freeston was instrumental in bringing Hibbard to North Salem in 2007, having worked with him in the Ridgefield School District. Hibbard said when he came to North Salem,he told the Board of Education it would take 10 years to work with the school’s curriculum and “do it in a way that would make it sustainable and have sticking power.” He feels he accomplished what he set out to do during his 10 year tenure. “It has really been a pleasure working with this board of ed,” he said. “This is a model of how a board of ed should be,” Hibbard said. The self-described fisherman, hunterman, canoeist, sailor, camper, Eagle Scout, gardener, cook, martial artist and lover of opera and classical music, reflected on his past 10 years in North Salem. “I think I’ve enabled a lot of teachers and students to become change agents. I am not the change agent. I realized it was time to step back,” Hibbard said.
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