In 2007, about a week before my children started classes at their new school, , we had a few introductory play sessions on the school’s assorted playground areas. As the first day of school approached, this introduction to their new environment progressed into informal, self-guided tours of the building and practice runs of how to get from the bus, through the hallways, to their individual classrooms.
The first time we ventured off the playground and inside the front door of Ox Ridge, we were greeted by a man who warmly smiled at us and introduced himself as John Rechi, the school principal. I was immediately impressed by his gentle, kind disposition and, in turn, introduced myself as Andrea Cragin and, then, introduced each of my children by their first names.
To my amazement, John Rechi responded by telling my oldest son Charlie that his fourth grade teacher, Miss Conetta, was in her classroom right now and he should stop by and say hello. He then told my daughter, Abigail, her teacher, Mrs. Frawley was also in the building but was not currently in her classroom but should be back soon.
He finished up by apologizing to Sam saying that his Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Trifiatis, was at school earlier in the day but had already left and perhaps he could come meet her sometime tomorrow morning. To say I was immediately in awe of the man would be a gross understatement!
There were 512 students in Ox Ridge that year, yet John Rechi not only recognized my children’s names upon meeting them for the first time but also knew what grades they were in, what teacher they had, and whether or not the teacher was currently available to meet them.
Little did I know that day, that my admiration of John Rechi would continue to grow as I got to experience what a remarkable, wonderful, caring person he is. His dedication to education as well as his openness and compassion make him a wonderful role model and leader for students and teachers. I feel that my children have been incredibly lucky to have him be a part of their lives while they were in elementary school.
Much to the dismay of the nearly inconsolable parents, faculty, and staff at Ox Ridge, John Rechi has announced his intent to retire at the end of this school year.
To pay tribute to his long and illustrious career at Ox Ridge Elementary, the school is hosting an Open House at this Friday, June 9. My husband and I are attending and I plan on bringing tissues since I am sure the many tributes that will be given will bring tears from laughter and heartfelt sentiment. We will all certainly miss you John. Have a wonderful first summer of retirement and please come back and visit often!
P.S. Last year marked John’s 25th year as principal of Ox Ridge and I had the privilege to write an article commemorating his achievement. I interviewed a wide array of people who had the distinct pleasure of working with John and even one person who had the unique experience of being a student of his and then a teacher on his staff. I have included this 25th anniversary article below to once again share some of the wonderful attributes that make John Rechi such an outstanding individual.
John Rechi 25th Anniversary as Principal of Ox Ridge Elementary
It is 9:30 in the morning at Ox Ridge Elementary School, the announcements and Pledge of Allegiance have been said, and Principal John Rechi steps into a Kindergarten classroom, “Good morning everyone! How is everyone doing today?” “Good morning Mr. Rechi!” the children cheerfully reply. Mr. Rechi then wishes everyone to “Have a good day” and proceeds on to the next classroom full of students to greet them just as he has done almost every school day for the last 25 years.
Making the rounds every morning to greet each classroom of students and teachers is just one of the special efforts John Rechi has made over the past 25 years that help distinguish him as an uniquely outstanding school Principal. Mr. Rechi has even joked that it is common for some of the younger students to believe that greeting them each morning is the main part of his job and, on the rare mornings he is not available to visit them, they wonder what else he could possibly be doing.
Mr. Rechi’s hands-on approach to leading Ox Ridge doesn’t stop at visiting classrooms. He also has the amazing ability to remember every student’s name and not just those currently enrolled. Ox Ridge alums feel welcomed back when Mr. Rechi routinely greets them by name and inquires how they are doing. Ox Ridge secretary Mary Lay affirms that Mr. Rechi “is here for the students first and foremost. He knows each of them personally ... and their families too!”
While no one would disagree that John Rechi is fully dedicated to the education and care of the students at Ox Ridge, the faculty and staff also benefit from his openness, dedication, and compassion. Mrs. Diana Pritkin, who recently retired from Ox Ridge after working 39 years as secretary, remembers thinking Mr. Rechi looked young enough to be her son when he became Principal. She has known Mr. Rechi for 25 years and says, “I always found him to be a person that you could talk to. He is kind, compassionate and helpful. He is devoted to his family”.
Ox Ridge second grade teacher Stephanie Frawley also met John Rechi shortly after he became Principal when she interviewed with him for her first teaching job. Mrs. Frawley is impressed by how “John is an administrator who realizes that his staff members are people too, who have lives outside of school. He definitely helps with balancing everything out. It is also nice to be able to go to John for support or to get his thoughts on how to handle a problem; his door is always open.“
Having served as Principal for 25 years, John Rechi has had the opportunity to get to know people who are part of the Ox Ridge community at different stages of their lives. For instance, Toni-Ann Rongoe has the uncommon experience of having been both an Ox Ridge student and now a teacher. Toni-Ann (then Toni-Ann Connetta) was a second grader at Ox Ridge around the time John Rechi became Principal and has fond memories of “going to visit him in the office and getting a prize out of the huge, green frog he had.”
Mrs. Rongoe also fondly remembers when John Rechi contacted her for an interview for her first job out of college, “I picked up the phone and the first thing he did was ask me if I remembered him—and of course I did! Who could forget Mr. Rechi! He is truly invested in every single child and teacher in the school. He is there to support us, make us all feel comfortable and welcome in school, and encourage us to be the best teacher that we can be. Not only is he an amazing administrator, but he is our friend, someone we all feel comfortable talking with about our lives, in and out of school.”
The Ox Ridge Faculty and staff are not the only ones who appreciate the fact that Principal Rechi is very approachable and his door is always open, the parents and students also feel comfortable coming Mr. Rechi with their problems and concerns or just to say hello.
Ox Ridge 3rd grade teacher Laura Coup has the truly unique experience of knowing John Rechi from the perspective of a parent, a Darien resident, a teaching intern, and a teacher. Two of Mrs. Coup’s children went to Ox Ridge almost 20 years ago. As a parent, Mrs. Coup “found John to be accessible and extremely supportive of his teachers, students and school.”
Mrs. Coup remembers approaching Mr. Rechi 18 years ago with the idea for an Ox Ridge Year Book. Mr. Rechi enthusiastically embraced the idea and asked how he could help make it happen.
The Ox Ridge Year Book tradition continues today. It was her first positive experiences as a parent at Ox Ridge that later influenced Mrs. Coup to consider a career change from finance into teaching. She went to Mr. Rechi to get his opinion and found him to be “incredibly supportive and positive.” After receiving her teaching degree, Mrs. Coup was thrilled when Mr. Rechi hired her as a teacher and to be back at “Ox Ridge where the atmosphere is like a family...the staff and administrators care about each and every person who enters the building.”
She was extremely pleased to discover that John Rechi is as wonderful with the teachers as he is with the students and parents.
“As a teacher I see John every day and his open door policy is for everyone... I can go into his office with a question about a student, how I should teach a particular lesson and even just to chat about the Mets and the Yankees… All I can say is that after 20 years of knowing John, I consider him my mentor, boss, and friend. I couldn't ask for a better person to work for and a more decent and caring friend”
Kim Wescott, the Chairperson of the Darien Board of Education, was also an Ox Ridge parent when her two sons attended the elementary school around 10 years ago. Mrs. Wescott credits Mr. Rechi as inspiring her to join the Board of Ed. "John Rechi has been a ‘go-to’ educational leader in Darien for many years. Thousands of Darien children have benefitted from his academic and administrative expertise. On a personal note, I am very grateful to Mr. Rechi for his encouragement of parent volunteers. I started volunteering at Ox Ridge School and found so much satisfaction in those experiences that I ran for the Board of Education."
Darien Schools Superintendent Steve Falcone also extols John Rechi’s leadership in the Darien education system. Mr. Falcone acknowledges, “I am struck by his commitment to building a spirit of community and collaboration at Ox Ridge and across the district. At Ox Ridge, every person has a voice—from the 1st grade student, to the teacher, to the parent, and to the visitor.
That spirit generates a sense of warmth and connectedness that reflect John's vision. That same commitment to connectedness is evident in his district leadership as his passion for what is best for Ox Ridge is only surpassed by what is best for all of the students in Darien. This past year, John visited DHS as part of professional growth project and the students' response to John's presence was both heartwarming and energizing. It was obvious that the tone that he set for those students when they were at Ox Ridge gave them the confidence necessary to be successful students and people. “
Rita Ferri is currently the Principal of Hindley Elementary School, however, she was working at Ox Ridge when John Rechi became Principal 25 years ago. When asked the question, what makes John Rechi such a great Principal, Ms. Ferri’s response seems to perfectly summarize his outstanding qualities: “When addressing the Ox Ridge community of parents, John Rechi stated his belief in that the children are our future, let them lead the way.
He stated those words 25 years ago when he entered Darien as the new principal of Ox Ridge School. Throughout the years, he has held to this conviction, keeping children the main focus throughout his daily performance as principal of Ox Ridge School for a quarter of the century!
Mr. Rechi possesses the qualities that are inherent in many strong leaders. He is highly visible, and well known for visiting each and every classroom on a daily basis circulating among the staff and children. This is not a trend, nor is he following a district’s initiative. This is what he does, providing direction, leadership and friendship during his tenure.
Over the years, Mr. Rechi has built strong alliances with his students and parents. He is a master in the art of public speaking. He can be direct and get his point across, as well, as being discreet and subtle when necessary. His understanding of people is remarkable.”
Thousands of Darien children over the past 25 years have had the privilege of knowing John Rechi as their first principal, where he continues to successfully impart the values summed up in the school’s Kid Code: “At Ox Ridge we are kind and accepting, honest and responsible, safe and peaceful, respectful to all.
Editor's note: See also: "" with photos from the open house event held in his honor at the Darien Nature Center.