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A leader in early childhood education and the longtime principal of the Ann Arbor Preschool and Family Center is being remembered for her love of children and her dedication to giving every child an opportunity to learn.
Connie Knott Toigo died Dec. 30 following a battle against cancer, which had been diagnosed in September. A memorial service for her has been tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17 at Skyline High School, 2552 N. Maple, Ann Arbor. She was 47.
In a Jan. 4 letter to preschool parents, Ann Arbor Superintendent of Schools Todd Roberts said that Connie Toigo was dedicated to high-quality early childhood education for all children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
She was principal at The Ann Arbor Preschool and Family Center for 10 years, after working with Washtenaw County Head Start, as assistant director at the University of Michigan Hospital’s Child Care Center and as a consultant before joining The Ann Arbor Public Schools in 1998.
“She was a passionate advocate for children with disabilities and families with limited economic resources,” Roberts said in his letter. “Her commitment to issues of equity and social justice was without question. Her involvement in promoting early developmental opportunities as well as fundamental childhood health care was well regarded throughout the community.”
Roberts credited Toigo with the district’s approach to early childhood education.
“It was her vision and integrity that led efforts to build the present preschool facility and allowed for a coordinated expansion of preschool services to the entire community,” he said. “We will miss her greatly.”
During the fall months of Toigo’s illness, Michelle Pogliano has served as acting principal and Jim Podojil as assistant principal at the school. Roberts said they would continue in those roles.
According to information from her husband, John Toigo, Connie loved traveling and they had been to many places around the world including Brazil, Italy, France, Jordan and Egypt.
“She especially liked visiting other cultures,” he said in a statement, where together they chose “the ‘road less traveled’ over the well-worn tourist paths.” She also was also a “voracious reader” and enjoyed an active life filled with outdoor sports such as hiking, biking, cross-country, downhill, and water skiing, he said. The couple shared a home on Little Portage Lake in the Pinckney area, where both enjoyed gardening, an orchard and a vineyard.
She was born Constance Marie Knott in Pontiac and spent much of her childhood in and around Howell, where she graduated from high school. She earned her bachelor’s degree in child psychology and a master’s degree in child development from Eastern Michigan University before pursuing her career in education.
Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley, administrator for elementary education in the district, said Toigo would be missed as a “passionate advocate for children and families who did not have ‘voice’ or felt marginalized in our society.”
“Under her watchful eye, children with disabilities and children struggling due to the impact of poverty thrived,” Dickinson-Kelley added.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to a memorial scholarship set up in her honor: The Connie Knott Toigo Endowed Graduate Scholarship in Early Childhood and Special Education, c/o The Eastern Michigan University Foundation, 1349 S. Huron Street, Ypsilanti, MI, 48197, Attn: Kelly Simpson. The scholarship is designed to perpetuate her work with special needs and at-risk children and their families.
In addition to her husband of 20 years, she is survived by two stepchildren, John Vincent Toigo and Lisa Marie Toigo; a brother Mike Knott; sisters Cheryl Willacker, Patricia Turner and Vickie Britz; and many nieces and nephews.