CAS Names 2017 Assistant Principals of the Year
The Connecticut Association of Schools is pleased to announce
the winners of the 2017 Assistant Principal of the Year Awards. Congratulations to these outstanding administrators!
• Lori DiBlasi, Franklin & Wilcoxson Elementary Schools,
2017 Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year
• Ernie DiStasi, Seymour Middle School
2017 Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year
• Christopher Koch, Bunnell High School, Stratford
2017 High School Assistant Principal of the Year
Each year, applications are accepted for the Elementary, Middle, and High School Assistant Principal of the Year awards. The winners are chosen by the CAS Awards and Recognition Committee, a selection committee consisting of active and retired principals and assistant principals.
Lori DiBlasi, assistant principal of Franklin and Wilcoxson Elementary Schools in Stratford, has been named the 2017 CAS Elementary School Assistant Principal of the Year. She was nominated for the award by Franklin’s principal, Sherrod McNeill, himself a former Assistant Principal of the Year.
Though an assistant principal for only two-and-a-half years, Ms. DiBlasi’s efforts and influence have dramatically shaped the culture and climate of both the schools in which she works. Her positive impact can be seen in all areas of the schools’ operations and felt by all members of the school communities. Remarks McNeill, “As an instructional leader of Franklin and Wilcoxson Elementary Schools, Ms. DiBlasi lives her dream of making a difference in the lives of her students, parents and teachers.”
“I am so very honored and humbled to receive such a prestigious award and to be in the company of such passionate and accomplished previous recipients!,” said Ms. DiBlasi when notified that she was the winner. “This award is reflective of the successes of our entire learning community and I share it with my supervisors, administrative mentors and teams, colleagues, teaching staffs, and, the students and parents of Franklin and Wilcoxson schools. These communities of learners inspire me on a daily basis to strive to greater heights in our pursuit of lifelong learning.”
Since her appointment as assistant principal in 2014, Ms. DiBlasi has worked tirelessly to foster a climate which promotes academic rigor as well as social growth and development; she has dramatically increased community support for and involvement in school programs; and she, has worked with staff to develop data-driven instructional strategies that inspire students to higher levels of engagement and learning. What makes these accomplishments all the more impressive is the fact that she has achieved them in not one but two schools, one of which has a minority population of 77%. Remarks Katherine McNeil, assistant principal of nearby Stratford Academy, “Ms. DiBlasi provides administrative support to two elementary schools in Stratford, dividing her time between the two. Although this might be a challenging situation for some, Ms. DiBlasi embraces her dual role and enjoys the opportunity to impact a greater number of students.”
Ms. DiBlasi began her career in education as a school social worker. The boundless sensitivity, flexibility and compassion that distinguished her in that role have carried over expertly into her work as a school administrator. Her staff always appreciate her even-tempered leadership style and her ability to handle any situation with a level head. Observes McNeil, “Ms. DiBlasi’s background as a social worker has proven to be an invaluable resource. In her role as assistant principal, she is often called upon to provide steady composure and thoughtful decision making skills in highly stressful situations. With her calm demeanor, she is able to de-escalate volatile circumstances and provide the colleagues with whom she works the unwavering support and knowledge that is so necessary during these times.”
Says McNeill, “One of Ms. DiBlasi’s greatest strengths is her passion for collaboration and community building.” She applies herself as much to building relationships and fostering connections as to improving test scores and monitoring academic gains. The sincerity and caring she displays in her interactions make all members of the school community – students, parents, colleagues, community members alike – feel welcome and valued. “She impacts the lives of all she meets in a very positive way,” adds McNeil.
Ernie DiStasi, assistant principal of Seymour Middle School (SMS), has been named the 2017 CAS Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year. Incurably good-natured and upbeat, DiStasi’s love for his school and community is earnest and ever-present. He arrives at school each day with a smile on his face and gratitude in his heart, ready to roll up his sleeves and engage in any effort that will make SMS a better place to learn and work. His infectious enthusiasm and cheerful presence are renowned in the classrooms and corridors of SMS. Says eighth grader Matthew Batterton, “We all appreciate that Mr. DiStasi is very passionate about his job. Every student looks forward to his upbeat personality each day in the hallway, cafeteria or classroom.” Adds Superintendent Christine Syriac, “Everyone is excited to work with Ernie. He always presents to his students, staff and families as positive and upbeat. His warm smile, wonderful laugh and approachable manner ensure that SMS is always a welcoming place.”
A lifelong resident of Seymour and proud alumnus of the local school system, DiStasi is universally loved and respected, as evidenced by the fact that seven members of the SMS staff nominated him for the award. Notes Syriac, “Ernie knows so many people in the town and is looked up to as a “positive force” by everyone in the school and the larger community.”
Upon learning of his selection, DiStasi stated, “I am honored to have been selected by CAS for this award, and am truly grateful to my staff, the Seymour School District, and the greater Seymour community for supporting me throughout my career.”
DiStasi’s tenure at SMS has been distinguished by his efforts to connect students and adults both inside and outside of school. In 2014, DiStasi launched the Bound for Success Program, a mentor program for students on the cusp of success, which he considers to be the proudest accomplishment of his educational career. The program pairs an elementary or middle school student with a community member who serves as a role model and adviser. Mentees and mentors meet weekly and develop bonds that benefit both parties. Explains 7th grade mathematics teacher Allison Acquavella, “Ideally, the mentors and mentees stay together through high school and are bound together to achieve successful outcomes as a product of their relationship both within the classroom and outside of the classroom.” Under DiStasi’s leadership, the program has flourished, with more than twenty mentors currently working with at-risk students in the district.
Thanks to this and other programs initiated by DiStasi to promote student-staff connectedness, SMS’s end-of-the-year climate survey showed that more than 93% of students felt comfortable going to an adult when facing a problem, which was a significant increase from the previous survey.
Assistant principal at SMS since 2012, DiStasi juggles a myriad of roles and brings a high degree of professionalism and energizing leadership to each and every one. While skillfully managing the tasks of student discipline, teacher evaluation, and staff development, he still finds time to implement new programs, review and revise existing curricula, advance technology and strengthen the bond between the school and community. He also manages to serve as an adjunct professor in the School of Education at the University of Bridgeport.
Christopher Koch, assistant principal of Bunnell High School (BHS) in Stratford, has been named the 2017 High School Assistant Principal of the Year Award. Nominated for the award by BHS Principal Dr. Nancy Dowling, Koch was chosen by the selection committee for his unwavering commitment to educational excellence and his relentless drive to do what is best for children and their families. Says Dr. Dowling, “Through his ‘whatever it takes’ attitude, Mr. Koch works long hours; never leaves until the job is done; and enjoys spending countless hours attending extra-curricular events so that students and families are assured of his commitment to them, their education, their development, and their success.”
When notified of his selection, Koch remarked, “It is truly an honor to be selected as Connecticut’s 2017 High School Assistant Principal of the Year and I am excited at the opportunity to represent our state going forward. I am so fortunate to wake up each day, knowing that I get to do something that I love and that, in some small way, I have the opportunity to impact the lives of others. For more than two decades, I have worked with some of the finest educators the world has to offer and have tried to learn something from each and every one of them. Their passion never ceases to amaze me and I am honored to represent them.”
Leading an urban school where 37% of students receive free or reduced-price lunch and 49% are minorities, Koch has helped to boost the academic achievement of a diverse and challenging student body while at the same time enhancing the social and cultural climate of the school. He has been the driving force behind a number of successful initiatives designed to provide students with critical academic and social-emotional supports. He conceived and implemented the “Adult Mentor Asset Program” where staff, school board and community members volunteer to work with students in need of support beyond that which is provided during regular school hours. Koch was also instrumental in implementing the Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program through which National Honor Society members serve as tutors and advisers to struggling students. The Peer Mediation Program, which Koch helped to revitalize, promotes the use of restorative practices in lieu of punitive discipline measures. These intervention efforts have produced many positive outcomes including increased graduation and attendance rates and greater opportunities for productive interactions between students and adults.
A gifted collaborator and mentor, Koch is passionate about shaping the professional growth and development of new leaders. In addition to mentoring several staff members as they pursued administrative degrees, he was hand-picked to oversee the mentorship of four new district administrators. Says English teacher Heather Lewsey, “Mr. Koch has supported me as I ventured into an administrative program. He has served as a role model and mentor as I continue my personal academic growth. I was fortunate to shadow him for a school day and truly feel he goes above and beyond his job description to support students and staff.”
All who work with Koch marvel at his selfless dedication to his school and community and his tireless efforts to bring about positive outcomes for the more than 1,000 students who enter BHS each day. Eleventh grader Rohan Etoria appreciates that Koch is personally and professionally invested in the success and achievement of every one of his students. “Mr. Koch is known for his generosity towards every student in this school. He is one of the most outstanding people I know. He goes out of his way to help each student and makes sure they’re on the right path throughout the school year. I appreciate how loving and caring my assistant principal is and how, out of all staff members. he can be the one to approach for anything.”
Koch has been selected by CAS to represent Connecticut in the National Assistant Principal of the Year Program sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Koch, along with assistant principals from each of the other fifty states, as well as the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity Associations, will compete for the national honor.
The State Assistant Principal of the Year Program
In this new era of shared leadership, the assistant principal’s role has become multi-dimensional. No longer does the assistant principal only deal with student discipline and attendance. Today’s assistant principal is often responsible for curriculum and instruction, staff evaluation, community partnerships, public relations, technology, student activities, and many other crucial areas of operation.
The Assistant Principal of the Year Program, sponsored annually by the Connecticut Association of Schools, was established in 1990 to bring recognition to the assistant principalship and to spotlight the critical role that assistant principals play in the education of our youth. The program recognizes outstanding school assistant principals who have succeeded in providing high quality learning opportunities for students. These administrators have demonstrated excellent leadership, commitment to staff and students, service to their communities, and contributions to the overall profession of educational leadership.
Each year nominations are solicited for an Elementary, Middle Level, and High School Assistant Principal of the Year. The winners are chosen by a selection committee consisting of active and retired principals and assistant principals.
State assistant principals of the year must demonstrate success in the areas of collaborative leadership; personal excellence; curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and personalization.
All applicants must have served as an assistant principal at one or more middle level or high schools for three or more consecutive school years.