Person of the Week
Chris Brown Counts on Community to Help in Hero’s Quest
Chris Brown loves giving back to the community as a member of the library board and principal of Tuttle School where he’s always striving to be a superhero. (Photo courtesy of Chris Brown )
Chris Brown dons a superhero T-shirt under his dress shirt every day as principal of Tuttle School. As someone who has always loved superheroes and considers the teaching profession as “fairly heroic,” he is constantly looking for ways to be of service to his students.
“I’ll wear a Superman cape on the playground or a Batman mask in the hall—it lets you start a conversation with the kids in a positive way,” says Chris. “You ask them who their favorite superhero is and they usually will tell you why and it creates a conversation about the kind of traits we’re aiming for and what we want to put forward.”
While this is just Chris’s second year as a principal, he’s no stranger to East Haven Public School, having taught in the district for 21 years with posts at East Haven Academy, D.C. Moore, Momauguin, Melillo, and Tuttle. Chris had always wanted to be a teacher and after two decades in the classroom, he was ready to expand the impact of his experiences.
“It was a nice paradigm shift where the focus before was the students in my classroom, now the impact is on the larger group of students, as well as the paraprofessionals, educators, and staff,” says Chris. “I felt some of the moves I was making as a teacher could have a bigger impact. I loved being in the classroom, but with a more global view, I could reach even more—the 270 learners in my school—by making sure I’m in service of students, the school, and the community.”
Just as Chris was settling into his role as principal in the fall of 2019, “the road got bumpy” as COVID changed everything. From the beginning, Chris knew that Tuttle wanted to focus on social-emotional learning in order for kids to “put their feelings front and center.” He and his staff incorporated different programs and lessons in order to dovetail that with the academic learning.
For the remainder of the 2019-’20 school year with students learning remotely and now during the 2020-’21 school year with some students opting to learn remotely, Chris has made it a priority to give all students equal opportunities and continue to help families feel like part of the Tuttle community.
“Every time we were able to extend an opportunity to in-person learners, we were able to replicate it in some way for remote learners. There has been nothing we’ve exempted our remote learners from doing because everyone is” a Tuttle citizen, Chris says. “We became incredibly resourceful and very flexible.”
Chris and the staff at Tuttle not only made events like picture day accessible to remote students, but tried to find ways to connect with the families of their school’s students as well. Tuttle moved its Little Free Library outside where it could be easily accessed by all students and their families.
There was a weekly Read to Me session on Wednesday nights with different teachers reading a story and then discussing the theme and character. These sessions often saw siblings or parents join in on the story and conversation.
“There was no academic demand. It was just a way to connect our school to your house,” says Chris. “We tried to create programs that crossed the threshold of the door. Normally my door is always open, but now it’s more figurative and I’m always accessible.”
Chris also recently approached the Board of Education with a request for funding for a new playground at his school. As an avid hiker and camper, Chris has always enjoyed the outdoors and has seen the importance grow even more since COVID. He is hoping that the addition of a new playground will not only physically support his students, but the families in the community as well.
Chris notes the impact of having many honest conversations with parents over the past year as they have shared their respective struggles. Chris has experienced many of the struggles of balancing COVID and family firsthand as an educator, as a parent to four daughters—Megan, Jillian, Natalie, and Nicole—and as the husband of Lisa, a 3rd-grade teacher at Ferrara.
He has also been beyond impressed as parents have stepped into the role of educators in their children’s lives. He says he has always tried to do what he can to help a family whether it is a discussion, dropping off materials, or assisting them in finding resources.
One of the avenues that Chris has found to have helped students in the past year is the Hagaman Memorial Library, which has assisted students in getting their library cards, allowing them to access digital materials and pick up books.
Chris is no stranger to the library as he has always been an avid reader. Since he and his wife moved to East Haven nearly 20 years ago, he has visited the library several times a week to pick up books or gather materials to share with his class. Over the years, he got to know the staff members and was asked to serve on the board four years ago.
“The library is absolutely fantastic and I’ve been involved as a reader forever as I like to keep my shelf very full,” says Chris. “I love serving on the board because it’s the support for our town library, which is way more than a building of books. It’s very community-oriented and it reaches past the library walls.”
Chris, who has always enjoyed taking part in the programs offered by the library, likes to be involved in the planning of programs. While the calendar is not as robust as it was pre-COVID, he is still impressed with the efforts of the library staff to remain connected to the community over the past year.
Currently the library board is focused on the upcoming Great Give, which will take place online on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 4 and 5. Over the past years of involvement, the library has raised $15,000 in donations from patrons and organizations. The library also recently received a large donation from the estate of Edna Camarota.
As a member of the board, Chris attends a monthly meeting, as well as sub-committee meetings. Currently the board is meeting via Zoom and he looks forward to being able to get back together with members in person.
“We have a nice, diverse group that lasts us talk through different issues from different perspectives to make sure we do what’s right for the common good of everyone in the community,” says Chris. “It’s a nice little family.”
Chris notes that many of the things he enjoys—his involvement in the library board, his career, and the community of East Haven—have the feeling of a family as the common thread. He has seen the library board come together to support the library, the teachers and staff come together to support its students, and the community come together to support each other.
He is grateful that the support extends to the administration, as well, noting that Town Hall is supportive of the library and the board and that the Board of Education and administration is supportive of him in his role of principal at Tuttle.
“When you have the proper supports behind you, you feel those changes you make and the ripples that go out really impact the community,” says Chris. “The amount of time we put into our profession as educators has gone up and it’s needed more of our energy, but the bottom line is I love what I do. I love seeing the kids, I love supporting our teachers. Doing this version has required more of us, but we’re making it work.
“I like to live every day bringing energy and enthusiasm to the things I do and the people around me—my family, my school, and my community—support me, allowing me to do that,” adds Chris. “They let me be the superhero I try to be every day
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .