When Bob Buckley arrived in Westport 13 years ago, just three elementary schools served the town’s younger students.
Not long after he took the helm at , a fourth school - - was opened to alleviate overcrowding.
But still Westport’s schools were bursting at the seams. King's Highway, then a kindergarten through fourth grade school, had some 700 students on its rolls. And so Buckley was put in charge of the creation of a new, fifth establishment which was to be.
As he contemplates leaving Saugatuck in the summer, after nine years as its first principal, he remembers the hard work involved its creation.
Buckley spent a year dividing his time between King's Highway and the new school, which was to be housed in the historic red-brick building at 170 Riverside Avenue. The edifice had opened in 1937 as Staples High School and had also served as Bedford Junior High and Bedford Middle School.
"We closed down this facility for a year, gutted the building inside and redesigned it as an elementary school,’’ said Buckley. "It looks nothing – on the inside – like it did when it was Bedford Middle School.’’
"Opening day was very exciting,’’ he said.
Part of the fun for Buckley was showing the new facility to families: grandparents who had been educated in the building when it was Staples, parents who had attended when it was Bedford, and youngsters who were about to go there in its newest incarnation.
At the beginning of July, in Saugatuck Elementary’s history opens, as Julie Droller, who currently serves as a principal in Ridgefield, takes charge.
For Buckley, a vastly different vocation awaits. After he finishes school business in Westport, he will head to join his wife in Nova Scotia, Canada, where they have a home, to take on conservation projects.
"It is a huge change,’’ said Buckley, a New York native. "It’s going to be an adventure.’’
The move north of the border rounds out a 39-year teaching career that has taken him across New England.
After studying at Providence College, Rhode Island and Queens College, New York, he began teaching language arts in Brooklyn in 1972. After four years, he headed to Massachusetts and spent the next 14 years teaching there, finishing his time as principal of a public school.
Buckley then spent a seven-year stint as a principal in Vermont before moving to Westport to take the King’s Highway job in 1998.
He says he’ll miss the day-to-day energy of a bustling elementary school.
"The reason I’ve always stayed at building-level administration is it’s a great pleasure to come to a school with children each day and encounter them and the work in the classrooms and just in the comings and goings of kids being together in a building,’’ said Buckley. "It’s rather fun. "
"I’ll certainly miss the faculty and staff here at Saugatuck,’’ he said. "It’s an outstanding group of educators and it’s an outstanding group of staff that works with the kids here.''
He added, "It’s a great, family place to be.’’