Outgoing Region One super reflects on teaching tenure

Superintendent Lisa Carter is retiring at the end of this month after 21 years as an educator and administrator with the Region One school district.

Debra A. Aleksinas

Outgoing Region One super reflects on teaching tenure

NORFOLK — When Lisa Carter joined the Region One school district in 2002 as a social studies teacher at Housatonic Valley Regional High School (HVRHS,) following her work with the U.S. State Department where she helped write the curriculum for teaching Foreign Service Officers how to speak Mandarin Chinese, she envisioned retiring in that role.

She never imagined her teaching position would serve as a steppingstone toward a 21-year career in education, capped by her appointment as superintendent, with responsibility for leading and managing seven schools and seven boards of education, as well as one regional school board, during one of the most tumultuous times in the history of American education.

In an interview in late May at The Hub in Norfolk, her hometown, Carter reflected on her tenure with the Region One school district, from which she is stepping down at the end of June.

“I’ve done a lot of things, but this has been the most rewarding career that I’ve had in my life. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to learn from so many people, and for me to have impact on the lives of so many people, and to send our students out into the world with big dreams and aspirations, along with the confidence to achieve those dreams,” said Carter.

Prior to becoming superintendent of the Region One school district — which includes, in addition to the regional high school, six elementary schools: Lee H. Kellogg, Cornwall Consolidated, Kent Center, North Canaan Elementary, Salisbury Central and Sharon Center— she held the position of assistant superintendent from 2017 to 2020.

Carter, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mandarin Chinese and a minor in Business from Georgetown University, a master’s in business administration from the University of Southern California and a second Master’s in Educational Leadership from Central Connecticut State University, served as Salisbury Central School Principal from 2011 to 2017, after teaching social studies at HVRHS for nine years, from 2002 to 2011.

The China Connection

Carter, who has two sons, was born in Georgia in 1956. “I lived there for 10 days. My father was in the service and was sent to France for 18 months. Today, at age 91, he still feels bad for missing the first 18 months of my life,” she explained.

She and two younger brothers grew up Pittsburgh, and she eventually went off to college at Georgetown University, where she majored in Chinese and minored in business. Carter spent her junior year in Taiwan. “This was before you could go to Mainland China. It helped me with the fluency of the language,” she recalled.

After graduation, she landed a job with the U.S. State Department. By that time, she noted, Mainland China opened up and people were being assigned there. Carter worked with a team that created curriculum used to train diplomats looking to relocate to Bejing.

“I had always thought I wanted to be in the diplomatic corps,” she explained. So she attended a diplomatic language learning center in Arlington, Va., in preparation for her service exam. “I really wanted to go to Mainland China, which had been closed off to the rest of the world, and wanted to be one of the first people to see what it was like.”

Carter recalled the disappointment of finding out that it was “highly unlikely” that she would be posted in China as a junior member of the Corps, as it was a “plum assignment” reserved for longer tenured staff.

The then 23-year-old received another disappointment upon learning that a job as an office assistant with Dravo Corporation, where she was to assist with opening their office in Beijing, fell through when they did not get the contract.

For the next five years, Carter worked closely with the engineering teams on Union Oil Company in California. “The development was so rapid,” she recalled. “The Chinese people are so friendly and so loving and it was really great to get to know them and see them come alive and open themselves up to industrialization. And I got one of my dreams.”

After meeting her future husband, she moved to New York City, got married and had two sons, now ages 27 and 30. She was hired by real estate maven Barbara Corcoran, selling co-ops and condos. Referring to her new boss, “she was a pistol,” noted Carter. “I liked the people in the business, but I did not like the business.”

The family relocated from the Big Apple to Norfolk, where they had a “big circle of friends.”

“I always wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t think the kids would like me. I was pretty serious as a young woman and didn’t have a lot of confidence and belief in myself.”

Prompted by teachers at the high school, she applied to Salisbury Central and HVRHS as a substitute teacher, hoping to get hired as a history teacher. She obtained her teacher certification and a year later was hired full time when a position opened up at the high school.

‘The ideal leader’ during a volatile period

While at the high school, Carter opened the relationship with the Shandong Experimental School in Jinan, China, and introduced the Civic Life Project, a program that teaches civics through the production of short documentary films.

“I loved teaching there, and I had great colleagues,” she noted. “We were always keeping track of current events and helping kids see the connections between what came before and what’s happening now.”

In many ways, Carter’s background shaped her success as a teacher and administrator.

HVRHS Principal Ian Strever put it this way: “Lisa’s experience prior to becoming a teacher brought a worldly and innovative thinker to Region One. Her creative and flexible problem solving made her the ideal leader during what has been one of the most volatile periods in American education shepherding us through a pandemic, massive societal change, and a wave of legislation that has redefined the purpose of school.”

In 2020, Carter had settled into her role as assistant superintendent, when the superintendent’s job opened up.

“They chose me and believed in me in a very difficult time, supported by every single board member and a 50-person transition team,” Carter recalled. The group met weekly and was tasked with “making decisions on how to open up the schools when very few schools were doing that. As stressful as that was, it was so much better for the students than to be at home and on the computer.”

From nurses to bus drivers, paralegals and teachers, town and state health and education officials, as well as the Litchfield County superintendents’ group, “everyone leaned in and every person touched my life and I touched theirs in a really meaningful collaboration.”

Patricia Mechare, chair of the Region One Board and the Lee H. Kellogg Board of Education, praised Carter’s leadership and flexibility during that tumultuous time. She described Carter as a “wonderful partner to all our schools and a very effective superintendent.”

As for what comes next for Carter, she is looking forward to the next chapter in her career as Assistant Executive Director with EdAdvance in Litchfield, which is a full-time position, “but will not demand as much of my time.”

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