Michael F. Audette ’74
Whenever Mike Audette opens the door and walks into a classroom -- as he has done for thousands of days in his career as an educator -- he enters with an unassailable belief in the power and possibility of change.
Being a teacher means to hope. And Mike has taken that spirit to a remarkable level, inspiring not only the children in his classrooms who face seemingly insurmountable challenges to learn, but also the teachers and administrators with whom he has collaborated, and education policy makers at civic, state and federal levels.
Perhaps the first indication of Mike’s determination was that this scholar-athlete -- a runner -- chose a college perched on a daunting hill. Beyond his academic work, he was drawn to opportunities for community service, which in turn led him to Worcester’s Canterbury Street School where he worked as a special education aide after graduation. Over the next 20 years, he earned advance degrees in education, and worked at schools both blessed with affluence and struggling with poverty.
In 1998, Mike arrived as principal at the Clara T. O‘Connell Elementary School in Bristol, Connecticut. He found a seriously underperforming school, considered the worst in the district. The majority of children were living in poverty. Teachers were burned out. Parents had no connection to the school or to their children‘s success. The after-school program was in shambles. That O’Connell Elementary had landed on the federal No Child Left Behind “in need of improvement” list for three consecutive years was a surprise to no one.
Mike was determined not only to improve scores, but improve lives as well. He targeted reading with laser-sharp focus. He hired additional reading support staff members. Children had a second instructional reading period each day. He brought in Columbia University’s Reading and Writing Project to help O’Connell teachers develop their professional skills.
A new Family Resource Room became a bustling center for parenting courses and assistance. Enrollment in the revamped after school program -- with a host of extracurricular and cultural activities -- increased 400%. Mike worked with the business community, found grant money, and brought the aging school building alive with technology.
Under Mike’s leadership, O'Connell Elementary became the first school in Connecticut and one of the few in the nation to be removed from the "in need of improvement" list. The worst school in the district is now a national model for success. The New York Times trumpeted the turnaround with a story headlined “The Little School That Could.”
For following in the footsteps of Jesuit-trained educators who for centuries built schools where they were most needed; for his unwavering advocacy for children, families, and teachers; for building up God’s presence in our world by fighting for change, the College of the Holy Cross presents to Michael F. Audette Class of 1974 the Sanctae Crucis Award.