It is 9:30 a.m. at Ox Ridge Elementary School; the morning announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance have been recited, and Principal John Rechi steps into a kindergarten classroom.

"Good morning everyone! How is everyone doing today?"

"Good morning Mr. Rechi!" the children reply.

Rechi then wishes everyone a good day and proceeds on to the next classroom full of students to greet them, just as he has done almost every school day for the last 25 years.

Making the rounds every morning to greet each classroom of students and teachers is just one of the special efforts Rechi has made at Ox Ridge that help distinguish him as an uniquely outstanding school principal. Rechi has even joked that it is common for some of the younger students to believe that greeting them each morning is the main part of his job and, on the rare mornings he is not available to visit them, they wonder what else he could possibly be doing. Rechi's hands-on approach to leading Ox Ridge doesn't stop at visiting classrooms; he also has the ability to remember every student's name, and not just those currently enrolled. Ox Ridge alums feel welcomed back when he routinely greets them by name and asks how they are doing. Ox Ridge secretary Mary Lay affirms that Rechi "is here for the students first and foremost. He knows each of them personally ... and their families, too."

While no one would disagree that Rechi is fully dedicated to the education and care of the students at Ox Ridge, the faculty and staff also benefit from his openness, dedication, and compassion. Ox Ridge second grade teacher Stephanie Frawley met Rechi at the interview for her first teaching job shortly after he became principal. Frawley is impressed by how "John is an administrator who realizes that his staff members are people too, who have lives outside of school. He definitely helps with balancing everything out," she said. "It is also nice to be able to go to John for support or to get his thoughts on how to handle a problem; his door is always open."

Toni-Ann Rongoe has the experience of having been both an Ox Ridge student and a teacher. Rongoe was an Ox Ridge second-grader around the time Rechi became principal, and has fond memories of "going to visit him in the office and getting a prize out of the huge, green frog he had." Rongoe also fondly remembers when Rechi contacted her for an interview for her first job out of college. "I picked up the phone and the first thing he did was ask me if I remembered him -- and of course I did. Who could forget Mr. Rechi. He is truly invested in every single child and teacher in the school. He is there to support us, make us all feel comfortable and welcome in school, and encourage us to be the best teacher that we can be," she said. "Not only is he an amazing administrator, but he is our friend, someone we all feel comfortable talking with about our lives, in and out of school."

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The Ox Ridge faculty and staff are not the only ones who appreciate that Rechi is very approachable and his door is always open; the parents and students also feel comfortable coming to him with their problems and concerns or just to say hello. Ox Ridge third grade teacher Laura Coupe has the unique experience of knowing Rechi from the perspective of a parent, a teaching intern, and a teacher. Two of Coupe's children attended Ox Ridge almost 20 years ago.

As a parent, Coupe "found John to be accessible and extremely supportive of his teachers, students and school."

Coupe remembers approaching him 18 years ago with the idea for an Ox Ridge yearbook. Rechi enthusiastically embraced the idea and asked how he could help make it happen, and the yearbook tradition continues today," she said.

It was her first positive experiences as an Ox Ridge parent that later influenced Coupe to consider a career change from finance into teaching. She went to Rechi to get his opinion and found him to be "incredibly supportive and positive."

After receiving her teaching degree, Coupe was thrilled when Rechi hired her to be a teacher back at "Ox Ridge, where the atmosphere is like a family ... the staff and administrators care about each and every person who enters the building," she said.

Kim Westcott, chairman of the Darien Board of Education, was also an Ox Ridge parent when her two sons attended the elementary school around 10 years ago. Westcott credits Rechi with inspiring her to join the Board of Ed.

"John Rechi has been a `go-to' educational leader in Darien for many years. Thousands of Darien children have benefitted from his academic and administrative expertise," she said. "On a personal note, I am very grateful to Mr. Rechi for his encouragement of parent volunteers. I started volunteering at Ox Ridge School and found so much satisfaction in those experiences that I ran for the Board of Education."

Darien Schools Superintendent Steve Falcone also extolls John Rechi's leadership in the Darien education system.

"I am struck by his commitment to building a spirit of community and collaboration at Ox Ridge and across the district. At Ox Ridge, every person has a voice -- from the 1st grade student, to the teacher, to the parent, and to the visitor," he said. "That spirit generates a sense of warmth and connectedness that reflect John's vision. That same commitment to connectedness is evident in his district leadership, as his passion for what is best for Ox Ridge is only surpassed by what is best for all of the students in Darien. This past year, John visited DHS as part of professional growth project and the students' response to John's presence was both heartwarming and energizing. It was obvious that the tone that he set for those students when they were at Ox Ridge gave them the confidence necessary to be successful students and people."

Prior to becoming principal of Hindley Elementary School, Rita Ferri had the opportunity to work with Rechi at Ox Ridge as a teacher as well as assistant principal.

"Mr. Rechi has kept children the main focus throughout his daily performance as principal of Ox Ridge School for a quarter of the century," she said. "He possesses the qualities that are inherent in many strong leaders. He is highly visible, and well known for visiting each and every classroom on a daily basis circulating among the staff and children. This is not a trend, nor is he following a district's initiative. This is what he does, providing direction, leadership and friendship during his tenure."

Thousands of Darien children during the past 25 years have had the privilege of knowing Rechi as their first principal, where he continues to successfully impart the values summed by the school's Kid's Code: "At Ox Ridge we are kind and accepting, honest and responsible, safe and peaceful, respectful to all."