Gawle retires after 35 years at Wilton High School

After 35 years at Wilton High School, band director and fine and performing arts instructional leader Frank “Chip” Gawle will be retiring at the end of the month.

Gawle graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut in 1981. That same year, he got a job as Wilton High School’s band director — the first of three positions he held at the school.

After earning his master’s degree in music education from Western Connecticut State University, Gawle said he “did some things with the master schedule and with the clubs and activities” at the high school “that got the attention of the administration.”

“Dave Clune and Betty Quinn took me out for lunch and said, ‘Hey, you might want to consider getting your sixth year because we think you would be a good administrator,’ so I did that, which took me about five years,” said Gawle, who lives in Stamford.

Not long after earning his sixth year, Gawle said, a dean of students position opened up.

“I applied for it, got it,” he said. “I went 14 years as a band director and then in 1995, I became dean of students.”

In 1998, Gawle became the high school’s associate principal, he said, and was “in line to go for the principal position at some point.

“It was revealed to me by my work that I really missed the kids and that I didn’t want to go forward in administration,” said Gawle, “and I was lucky enough to come back to my old position [as band director] in 2000” — the position he has held ever since.

“I’ve been blessed to do many things in the district and work with so many great people,” he said.

Although his Wilton Public Schools contract expires June 30, Gawle said, he will “stay on in a consultancy capacity to help transition the new band director,” who is relocating from Illinois this summer.

Gawle said he is going to “work really hard to make the transition as easy as possible.”

“The program is so big with a lot of tradition, and there was a feeling of urgency in terms of making a seamless transition,” he said, “so I’m really pleased and honored that the Board of Education, superintendent and the high school administration were able to allow and facilitate the transition.”

Gawle said the students have already met the new band director and “the transition feels good right now.”

“I’m really glad they let me stay on for the transition, which is going to make the kids feel better about it,” he said.

“I love them and they love me too, and they are happy that I’ll be around and not just walk off into the sunset.”

Retirements plans

Although he looks forward to having more leisure to play his trumpet, go fishing, play golf, and visit friends and family more often during his retirement, Gawle said, he doesn’t plan to stop teaching entirely.

“I’m definitely going to be teaching in the foreseeable future, just not 80 or 90 hours a week,” said Gawle. “I love kids and I want to teach as much as I can.”

Gawle said there is one thing he is not going to miss about working at Wilton High School — the schedule.

“I have no idea what it’s like to sleep later than 5 o’clock. I haven’t done it in so long, I don’t even remember,” said Gawle, adding that the thousands of late nights, weekends and holidays that he’s worked over the years have also take a toll on him.

“I’m getting old enough now that it’s taking more out of me than I can give, and that’s really why I’m going to slow down,” he said.

Students and teachers

Gawle said he is going to miss the students and his colleagues once he leaves Wilton High School.

“Teaching kids in a high school is something that simultaneously makes you younger and older at the same time,” he said. “You get a lot of incredible energy from their youthful hopefulness.”

Gawle said the thing he loves most about Wilton is that its residents “understand how important it is to have a good education.”

“I’ve given more to Wilton of my time and my efforts than I did in my own towns, and it’s because I really recognize how passionate people of this town are about their schools and about making sure they give their kids everything that their socioeconomic status allows,” he said.

“That’s really what makes this town great, and it’s been such a pleasure and a blessing to be a part of a committed administration and faculty that has teamed up with the parents over my whole four-decade career to help shape the good people that the parents already give us.”

Gawle said Wilton youth are smart, committed, kind individuals who “want to learn” and “have hope.”

“We are all trying to make good people out of those kids — that’s what we’re doing here — and that’s why teachers in this school go so far out of their way to help kids,” he said.

“These kids are so sweet and nice and they’re very appreciative — and they know how important it is for them to be serious about their learning, so when you show that to a teacher, all a teacher wants to do is keep giving, and that’s what the teachers in this town have done.”

Gawle said the vast majority of his colleagues are “givers” who love the students like their own children — a rapport that he said is “very special.”

“If I’ve been successful here, it’s more because I’ve taken all of the great attributes of the people that I’ve worked with and admire,” said Gawle.

“I believe in strong character, civic responsibility, a moral compass and a strong work ethic, and the great band presidents, great citizens of Wilton, my administrative colleagues, all these supportive parents have helped me become a better person.”

Because of that, Gawle, said, “it’s been a pleasure to give back whatever I could to this town.”

Recognition ceremony

Gawle was named a finalist for the 2016 Grammy Foundation Music Educator Award , which recognizes educators “who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools.”

Because of his contributions and accomplishments, Gawle will be the first person inducted into the newly-established Wilton Public Schools Hall of Fame. A recognition ceremony will be held for him in the Clune Center auditorium on Thursday, June 16, at 7 p.m.