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'An Inspiring Journey' Comes to an End at TC

Connie Coulianos steps down as Director and Master Teacher at TC's Hollingworth Preschool after more than two decades of service to start a school of her own in Manhattan.
When Connie Coulianos first arrived at Teachers College as a doctoral student in the 1980s, she had no intention of teaching preschool. But as it turns out, there was an opening at TC’s Hollingworth Preschool and she needed to supplement her income, so she applied and was hired as an assistant teacher.

It was a love affair from the start. She has stayed for 23 years, teaching a generation of precocious three-, four- and five-year-olds at the progressive preschool. On June 30, however, Coulianos will say goodbye to the young children and her colleagues for the last time when she steps down as Director and Master Teacher to start a school of her own in Manhattan: The Speyer Legacy School.

“You can’t capture the magic of Hollingworth on paper; it’s too alive and ever-changing,” Coulianos says. “Teaching at Hollingworth has given me a window on a world that is always new. I have learned there is an openness and an inquiry in children that is unique to them.”

Coulianos’ story is an unlikely one because her passion when she arrived at TC was music. She had earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Samford University in Alabama and had followed that up with a master’s degree in vocal performance from Indiana University. She came to TC to pursue a doctorate in vocal pedagogy.

And then came the Hollingworth Preschool. She was completely captivated by the children—their youth, innocence, and engagement with the world of ideas, so much so that soon enough she switched to the Early Childhood Education Program. She earned a master’s degree in early childhood education in 1990.

Coulianos would go on to become one of the most accomplished early childhood educators in the country. She was featured as one of the top preschool teachers in the nation by Scholastic magazine, and in 2006 was selected by Nick Jr. Family Magazine as one of America’s 11 most inspiring preschool teachers. In 2007, she garnered yet another honor: Manhattan Media’s Outstanding Preschool Teacher designation. And she even collaborated with TC alumna Alice Wilder on scripts for the popular children’s television show “Blue’s Clues” where Wilder was a producer.

 “Connie’s passion for her work shines through all she has accomplished at Hollingworth,” says Lisa Wright, Director of the Hollingworth Center, of which the preschool is part of. “She has enriched us in countless ways and is leaving an inspiring legacy.”

Despite not pursuing that career in music, Coulianos’ love of music has never gone away. Instead, it’s made its way into the Hollingworth Preschool, where there is hardly a gathering of the children where there isn’t a sing-along. “There is an element of performance in teaching,” she says. “Everyone is writing the script as they go along.’

She also has sought to empower the children to believe in themselves and their ideas. “Talking to children on a person-to-person basis and having a tremendous amount of respect for their ability to communicate draws out their ideas,” Coulianos says. “And it’s fun to hear what they have to say”

Next up for Coulianos is The Speyer Legacy School, which will open its door in September. Initially, the school will enroll students in kindergarten, first and second grades, but will add classes through the eighth grade in future years. The school is designed to be small and intimate with a faculty-to-student ratio of about one to three.

Coulianos will serve as head of the school, and the many lessons she learned over more than two decades at the Hollingworth Preschool will certainly be on display at Speyer Legacy, she says.

“I am grateful for the incredible privilege to work at TC,” Coulianos says. “I am captivated by young children and every day spent in the company of these precious preschoolers and seeing the world through their eyes has been a fascinating journey.”

Published Thursday, Jul. 9, 2009