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SAND Elementary Mourns Teacher's Death With Mobile Memorials

JODIE MOZDZER

February 28, 2009

Small memorials to Jeffrey E. Parks made their way through the hallways of SAND Elementary School in Hartford this week.

Students from grades K-6 hung pictures of the beloved teacher around their necks or wore T-shirts tagged with messages about Parks, who died unexpectedly last weekend.

Parks, 53, of Hartford, taught sixth-grade writing, but he was respected and admired by all the students, Principal Carol Wright said.

"He had a special knack with his students," Wright said. "I'm just so in awe of the number of parents whose children didn't even have him that have turned out for support."

Parks was remembered for quirky qualities like his tendency to be the first one on the dance floor during school dances and his ability to motivate students.

"He was willing to be laughed at, willing to expose a side of him that kids may not have regularly seen, to encourage participation and involvement," said co-worker Kevin Geissler, who teaches sixth-grade math.

Parks was the first one to arrive each day, sometimes as early as 6:30 a.m, and he had every parent's number stored in his phone, SAND employees said. SAND stands for South Arsenal Neighborhood Development.

"He was very strict, and he was very consistent," colleague Kim Gazdzicki said. "Students would say he was the meanest man in the world, but they adored him."

Parks started teaching full time at SAND five years ago and had previously been a longtime substitute teacher for the district.

Colleagues said he was working on his master's degree in education at Central Connecticut State University. He had also worked as the director of the Hartford AmeriCorps program and as the district executive for the Capitol District of the Connecticut Rivers Council of the Boy Scouts.

Wright said Parks was connected to the business community, which often led to partnerships and donations to the school. For example, this year, Parks helped secure the donation of dictionaries and the school's first smart-board, an interactive white board.

A memorial service for Parks will be at 9 a.m. today at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church on Main Street.

Parks is survived by his wife, Mora Parks; his son, Jamaa Parks; his stepson, Kwam Martin of North Carolina; and many grandchildren, siblings and extended family members.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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