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Out of retirement

Award-winning educator joins Hebrew High School

By Cindy Mindell

Dr. Richard Nabel

WEST HARTFORD – High-school commencement ceremonies are often a source of inspiration – but usually for the students embarking on the next stage in their lives. At the Hebrew High School of New England (HHNE) graduation in June, it was a retired public-school principal who was moved to make a life change.
“I was not looking for a return to full-time work, but hearing the kids talk about these teachers who had shaped their lives, I was blown away,” says West Hartford resident
Dr. Richard Nabel. “I sat in that gym listening to the kids give their feelings from the heart about what the school and teachers meant to them and I said, ‘What a wonderful place to work; this is something special that I never experienced in 40 years of education.’”
The lifelong educator and award-winning school principal was in the midst of an interview process at HHNE when he came to the ceremony to get a feel for the school. In September, Nabel joined the HHNE faculty as head of general studies.
A New Haven native, Nabel earned a BA in English from Franklin & Marshall in 1968. He holds both a law degree and a doctorate in education, a dual path he began simultaneously that same year, as a teacher by day and a night student at UConn School of Law.
“Each year I taught, I got more and more enamored with education and less so with law school,” he says. Nabel finished his Master’s degree in education at the University of Hartford in the summers during law school, and earned administration credits in the summers afterward, completing both a law degree with a specialty in school law, and certification for education administration.
He was offered an assistant principalship in Granby and the principalship of Hamden High School a year later; at age 31, he was the youngest school principal in the state. In 1991, while serving as principal of Naugatuck High School, Nabel was the only administrator among a group of eight Connecticut educators selected by a statewide committee to receive the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.
He began pursuing a PhD in education in the mid-‘90s while working, completing the coursework at UConn and then again in the Nova Southeastern University extern program, where he earned the degree in 2002.
After two more principalships — Nathan Hale-Ray High School in East Haddam and Brookfield High School — Nabel retired from public-school service in 2008. Since then, he has served on the Quinnipiac University faculty, supervising teacher-interns in the six-year diploma program in educational leadership.
For the last three years, he has been program administrator of Global Partnership Schools in Hartford, an after-school tutoring program designed in response to No Child Left Behind to help schools meet the state’s mandated Adequate Yearly Progress.
That student-focused approach is what Nabel presented to the HHNE interview committee. “The student has to be the one that everything revolves around,” he says. “I am supportive of teachers and administrators and parents, but the student – though he or she may not always be right – is always first.”
A member of The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford with wife Doris, Nabel says that there is much for him to learn at the Orthodox school, where many of the general-studies teachers he supervises are not Jewish. He has already hired two instructors this year. “I look for people really devoted to kids who impress me not only with knowledge of the subject matter, but also show a love of learning that they want to impart,” he says. “The faculty is incredible: some have been with the school for several years and almost all are part-time, but you see them at the school all day long.”

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