VARDEN—Western Wayne said goodbye earlier this month to district mainstay, Ellen Faliskie, whose 30-year journey from teacher, to elementary school principal, to assistant superintendent enriched the lives of several generations of students and parents.
“I've been really blessed with people in life,” said Faliskie. “There's just so many good people here in the district to work with and work for. It's been a joy, that's for sure.”
In her time at Western Wayne, Faliskie saw the merger of the Lake and Hamlin schools into the new Evergreen Elementary and was integral in the implementation of the federal Reading First program.
Initiated with a $2 million grant in the early aughts, the Reading First program “...turned the district around in terms of academics,” said Faliskie.
She noted at the time the program was implemented, Western Wayne's reading scores ranked among the 35th-36th percentile.
By the time she left Evergreen to take the reins of the Assistant Superintendency in 2017, she noted scores across the district were in the 75th percentile.
One of the things she's most proud of seeing accomplished is working with teachers and administrators in “...raising those test scores from being at the bottom to being at the top in the area.”
Superintendent Dr. Matthew Barrett noted Faliskie also played a major role in initiating the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program, other mental health initiatives, and overhauls of the reading and mathematics programs at the elementary and secondary levels in the district.
Faliskie tendered her resignation via letter submitted to last month's Board of Director's meeting, naming June 30 as her final day with the district.
With heartfelt thanks to the Board, administration, staff, students and parents in the district, Faliskie's letter quoted A.A. Milne's, Winnie the Pooh, stating “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
A legacy of leadership 30 years long
Faliskie's adventures at Western Wayne began in 1989 when she was hired to teach full-time at the elementary level, having served the district previously as a long-term sub and summer Pre-Kindergarten instructor.
“I came into education a little later in life,” she noted, explaining that she had at first pursued a career in business.
Faliskie worked for Gertrude Hawk as a sales representative prior to her time in the district.
“I was an area manager,” said Faliskie. “I liked what I did. I just always found that I was spending time, you know, either volunteering for Brownie leaders or teaching...CCD classes, stuff like that.”
After a discussion with her grandmother—herself a former educator—Faliskie decided to pursue her passion in early childhood education.
“I just always liked the little ones,” she explained. “I think you see the most growth and the most innocence at that time. That's where you can teach a child to read. You can see it click.
“Their innocence doesn't find a flaw in anything you do. They're like sponges, they just absorb everything. They want to learn. They're curious and inquisitive and insightful into things.”
Faliskie remained a teacher for four years as she completed a Masters degree in educational leadership.
In 1993, she became the building supervisor of the Hamlin school, eventually taking on the school principalship.
“I moved from being a teacher so quickly to being an administrator, thinking that I could make a bigger change and difference in what happened on a daily basis for kids,” said Faliskie.
She retained her administrative role for over two decades, later bringing the Lake school under her wing and ultimately the two combined in Evergreen Elementary.
Faliskie noted, when she became Hamlin's principal in 1993 there was only one other woman principal in the entirety of the Northeastern Intermediate Unit (NEIU) 19.
Achieving and maintaining that leadership role for as long as she did was a point of pride for Faliskie because it allowed, “...little girls recognize that women can do leadership.”
“...they see women in a leadership role that they didn't 30 years ago...,” she added. “It gives them the opportunity for advancement...”
Ever on the lookout for a teachable moment, Faliskie said children “...can be anything that they want to be if they just believe in themselves...If you work hard and you want something, you can do it. But choose something that you love to do because it's never work.”
In February 2017, Faliskie was sworn into her current office as Western Wayne's Assistant Superintendent.
She noted this was the hardest move for her because, “I missed the kids.”
“I'm glad that the district office is connected to the high school,” she said, “because I could always walk over and see the kids.”
In her three decades on the job, Faliskie explained every minute of every day was about doing what was best for the students.
“Always remember why you're here,” said Faliskie. “It's for the kids. It's to make their lives better...Our previous superintendent, Lou Zefran, when he retired from here, he said, 'You'll be fine if you always remember kids come first.' And I've always tried to remember that.”
To those she leaves behind overseeing the district, Faliskie advised, “If you put the kids first, you'll always be ok. You can't fail if you're putting the kids first.”
Going forth, Faliskie is unsure what her next steps will be.
“I'd like to do some traveling,” she explained. “I've always dreamed of taking a trip to wine country California...I'm looking forward to that and just trying to figure it out. I guess it's all in God's plan.”
Myriad members of the Western Wayne community, students and faculty rallied at the June Board of Directors meeting earlier this month to laud Faliskie's accomplishments, thank her for the part she played in their lives and bid her well on the next stage of her life.
Faliskie received numerous hand-written letters, brightly decorated posters, flowers, gifts, tearful thanks and other tokens of appreciation from those assembled.
One student gave Faliskie a baby spider plant clipped from a mother plant Faliskie had given to her when she graduated Fifth Grade.
Recurring compliments from speakers that night noted Faliskie inspired her colleagues to forever seek what is right for students, “Not what is popular. Not What is easy. What is right,” as one grateful staff member noted.
The evening's accolades were capped with a standing ovation.
“I can't say much but I have to say thank you. It was such a joy and a pleasure to come here every day,” said Faliskie at the meeting. “And I know that I'm a better teacher and administrator, but most of all a better person for having known all of you. Thank you.”
The full meeting can be viewed from Dr. Amanda Johnson's YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtGcWAZqfp4), along with other meetings of the Western Wayne School Board of Directors.
In a latter interview, Western Wayne Superintendent Dr. Matthew Barrett stated, “Ellen was a tremendous asset for Western Wayne.”
Describing her as a “voice of reason” and one who always cared for the students, he added, “She taught me an awful lot about being an educator...She's one of the best that Western Wayne ever had.”