By Janice Llanes Fabry
As Carver Center’s first Chief Learning Officer, Leanne Tormey is committed to helping shift the longtime program-focused organization into a more client-focused learning center. “We believe that learning is the most powerful lever to pull,” said Tormey, the former Superintendent of Schools of Stonington, Connecticut.
“Being the first person in a role is a gift,” she added, “because it allows you to craft the position and tailor it to the organization’s immediate needs and to capture the spirit of what we hope to become.”
From the minute Tormey stepped into the new role in June, she felt she’d come to the right place. “Everything happening here was in some way connected to experiences I'd had or ones I’d wanted to explore. Carver is explicitly saying, ‘We want to evolve and build a vision.’”
The lifelong educator’s preoccupation with learning was ignited early on. “I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “In elementary school, I was fascinated by the way my teachers taught, whether it was how they presented information or how, at times, they broke the class into groups. Early on, I knew what worked for me as a learner and what didn’t. School became a learning lab for me that helped me make sense of my world.”
She cut her professional teeth as an elementary and middle school teacher over 25 years ago. “I ultimately fell in love with middle school. It was an amazing opportunity to work with young people who wanted to figure out who they wanted to be when they grew up, much like myself,” she quipped.
Her professional trajectory took her from teacher to dean of students to principal and director of curriculum. “I always wanted to remain a teacher,” said Tormey, who accepted administrative roles as long as they involved teaching. “As a director of curriculum, I felt I was teaching teachers how to develop and craft curriculum and testing it in the classroom. My scope of influence increased.”
While earning a doctorate in Educational Leadership, she initiated a strategic plan in Stonington designed to increase student achievement by incorporating every aspect of the education process, from academics to community partnerships.
“It really opened my eyes to working with systems and organizational structures. I introduced equity audits that not only looked at test scores, graduation rates, and college acceptances, but analyzed how the data played out for different segments of the population,” explained Tormey.
Tormey went on to serve as the National Chief Academic Officer of Family Urban Schools of Excellence and as the Director of Educator Development at LEARN, Southeast Connecticut’s regional education service center. Before landing at Carver, she established The Advantage to help children and their families navigate the educational landscape.
Currently, she is instrumental in spearheading the Carver Learning Continuum, which reflects the Center’s commitment to excellent programming for all stages of life. In addition to empowering families through programs that meet their nutritional, emotional, and social service needs, Carver is endorsing the view that we are lifelong learners and focusing on five developmental learning benchmarks: infants and toddlers, school-aged children, tweens and teens, adults, and seniors.
As a result, planning for a far-reaching needs assessment is underway that incorporates feedback from Carver families as well as the Port Chester community-at-large. “We must engage in collaborative inquiry and embrace our membership in the larger global community,” noted Tormey.
All programming will be guided by research and, subsequently, exemplary facilitators that will design appropriate learning experiences for each stage of development.
“In keeping with our commitment to honor client voice, there will be a continuous feedback loop. We have to take the time to embrace feedback, so the work that follows responds to the community's wants and needs,” said Tormey. “At this point in the assessment process, Carver is developing the tools through which we will gather this feedback. We seek rich, deep information.”
There’s already a plethora of new and exciting programming in motion, such as a partnership agreement with 5 Steps to Five to increase support for growing families and lay the groundwork for infants and toddlers so they’re better prepared for school.
Along with the afterschool programs and the mindfulness lessons already being provided to Port Chester elementary school children, there are initiatives for learning events that will bring children from across the school district together. For tweens and teens, a Maker Space is in the works. For adults, resume development workshops and stress management offerings are being explored. In addition, intergenerational learning forums for seniors are in motion.
“I’m learning and teaching every day here,” said Tormey. “My goal is that through this work, I might be a steward for the mission of Carver, and part of a team that collectively builds and actualizes a new vision for a community learning center.”
Leanne Tormey, Carver Center’s Chief Learning Officer