Photo by Mary-Jo Shultis
Chaz Zezulka has been at the forefront of the fight for public education in his hometown of Groton, Connecticut, for more than 25 years. Whether as a teacher, a board of education member, or a campaign chair for state senators and representatives, Zezulka’s dedication speaks volumes on how much he values the public education system and its educators.
“Public education is the foundation of our democracy; it shapes who we are as a nation,” he says.
Zezulka was able to express these values on the national level when he was awarded the 1990 Connecticut Teacher of the Year Award and was a recipient of the National Educator Award by the Milken Family Foundation in 1992. He seized the opportunity, inviting others to celebrate the joy of learning—but prepare for the battles they have to face.
“The public's perceptions, our changing demographics, the anti-tax movements, No Child Left Behind, demands for standardization and customization, and a host of other issues impact us,” he says.
Zezulka has a long history of working in the political scene as well. He has worked on campaigns for former Connecticut senator Don Schoolcraft and former state representative Lenny Winkler.
“I support vocally candidates who support public education,” Zezulka said. “My trips around the country have brought me in contact with some of the highest political personalities in our country, and I have had the opportunity to share my views of support for public education with them.”
Zezulka is serving his fourth 4-year term on the Groton Board of Education and is currently the vice chairperson. He is also a former town councilor. He uses these forums to emphasize the importance of education.
“We must not lose sight of the fact that education is our salvation, and ignorance is the bane of our existence.”
I taught science and English for 41.5 years, mostly at the same junior high school, and I designed a curriculum for a study skills program. I got hooked on the NEA during my first year of teaching as the faculty representative. Over the next 40 years, I served as local president, vice president, and then president of the Arizona Education Association four times.
What advice do you have for new retirees? You don’t need to worry about what you’re going to do with your time. There are so many opportunities out there, and you can just decide what you’ll take part in. Don’t say yes to things immediately—if you agree to every project, they’ll dominate your time more than school duties did.
Lynda Wolfe Smith
I served in the Atlanta Public School system for nearly 30 years teaching economics and social studies. I was elected president of the Atlanta Association of Educators in 2000, where I served for five years.
How are you spending your time in retirement? It’s important to me to continue to serve the public education system and stay active. Having taught a citizenship course, I think it’s important to be not just a citizen but also one who is actively involved in helping others. So I started my own business, Beyond the Green Card, to advise immigrants and new citizens on acclimating to living and working in the United States. I also started composing my memoirs, which I hope to publish in the upcoming year.