This June brings not only the end of the school year for Academy360 Lower School Principal Gina Catania, but the start of a whole new adventure.
After 33 years as an educator with TCI and Academy360, Gina is retiring and leaving behind the hallways of our Verona campus for the green fields of her Virginia farm.
Gina has made an impact on the lives of thousands of students and families as they made their journey through our Lower School, onto high school and beyond. Her dedication to quality education, strengthening our students abilities and creating positive life experiences has been a hallmark of her career.
Gina began her tenure in special education in 1989 as a classroom teacher at The Children’s Institute (now Academy360 Lower School, a program of Spectrum360) and has since held various roles including Curriculum Coordinator, Supervisor of Instruction, and Assistant Principal, becoming principal in 2011.
“Working for TCI/Spectrum360 for 33 years has been an incredible, life changing journey,” says Gina. “Saying goodbye to the staff, district representatives, students, and their families is bittersweet.”
Though difficult to leave her Academy360 life behind, Gina takes away a lifetime of memories with her.
“I have so many [memories], but my happiest ones were when I was creating programs that made a positive impact on the families. Some of them included visiting the nursing home when I started the Adopt-A-Grandparent program, camping overnight for a week with the students at Camp Glen Gray when I became the first Boy Scout leader, and running our May Market when I initiated the TREP$ program to TCI. Another fond memory was when I was taking a walk in Verona Park and ran into four of my former students. I had them as children at 9 and 10 years old and there they were, as 25-30 year old adults, still friends together and still had fond memories of me. We finished the walk together and reminisced about the past.”
[See more photos from Principal Catania’s career in the photo gallery below]
In her 33 years, Gina has seen many changes in her ever-evolving field.
“I think the future of special education will continue to have new trends, and old trends may come full circle. I always believed that in addition to academics, developing and nurturing each student’s level of independence and happiness is critical. This is accomplished by honing in on our students’ interests, which vary as they mature. It is the role of special educators to tap into their students’ interests as springboards for developing curriculum, programs and daily lessons.”
Being principal at Spectrum360 has been a joyous experience, Gina says. She sees life at Academy360 as more than a job, but as a family. The relationship with parents is critical to the school and students success, she feels, and she leaves behind a message for them:
“I have always valued your support and open communication. Getting to know each and every one of you has been one of the highlights of my career. From a distance now, I will continue to watch your children grow up and become adults. From a distance now, I will continue to be your champion and advocate. I am in awe with how you advocate for your children and look forward to hearing about all of their future successes.”
For Gina herself, the future is exciting. She is hard at work setting up the 13-acre horse farm she and her husband have purchased in Virginia near the Outer Banks. They plan to board horses, raise chickens, goats and possibly even alpacas! She took up gardening on the property during the pandemic and looks forward to growing crops, including hay for the animals.
“I am looking forward to living on my farm in Virginia with my farm animals! I am also planning my son’s wedding and a wonderful trip to Hawaii with an amazing friend I met 33 years ago! She was my Teacher Assistant at TCI my first year as a Teacher. I always tell our employees that working at our school will not only provide amazing experiences with the special needs population, but it will also bring friendships that last a lifetime.”
We thank Gina for her years of service and wish her the very best in this exciting new life chapter ahead! We will miss you!