CAS Announces 2019 Assistant Principals of the Year

The Connecticut Association of Schools is pleased to announce the winners of the 2019 Assistant Principal of the Year Awards. Congratulations to these outstanding administrators!

  2019 Elementary School Assistant Principal of the Year

  2019 Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year

  2019 High School Assistant Principal of the Year


Eric Conrad, assistant principal of Chapel Street School in Stratford, has been named the 2019 CAS Elementary School Assistant Principal of the Year. He was nominated by Dr. Carla Armistead, principal of Chapel Street and 2017 Elementary Principal of the Year, who describes him as an “outstanding, industrious, passionate administrator who makes students the core of everything he does.” Says parent Beth Kassay: “If I were asked to identify all of the qualities that I would want in my child’s assistant principal, I would point to Mr. Conrad. He embodies every one of them.”

This recognition is truly humbling,” said Conrad upon learning of his award. “I am honored to have the opportunity to represent the field of education and highlight the good work that occurs in our schools every day.”

Now in his 5th year as assistant principal at Chapel Street, Conrad is always industriously engaged in efforts to promote student success, support staff in the classroom and strengthen ties between home and school. District colleague Sherrod McNeill, principal of Franklin Elementary School and himself a former assistant principal of the year, calls Conrad “the epitome of humility” and praises his “passion and drive to always be a better administrator.” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Linda Gejda states, “We feel confident in Eric’s abilities and he, in turns, makes others feel confident in their own. Eric is student-focused, has a well-developed skill set and is always one step ahead when it comes to meeting the needs of kids.”

A firm believer that building positive relationships with parents has a powerful impact on student and school success, Conrad is always pursuing and promoting programs that cultivate and strengthen home-to-school partnerships. He created a Family Liaison Council to give parents a voice in the day-to-day operation of the school; he instituted Family Curriculum Nights to build parent capacity to promote the educational process at home; and he established Family Fun Nights, community building events without the academic focus. His weekly eblasts are a welcome and effective tool for keeping parents informed and connected. “We are looking to raise the bar for the children AND adults within our community,” says Conrad. “After all, our families deserve the best that we can give them.”

Conrad has an ever-present approachability that makes staff and students feel comfortable seeking his advice and guidance. During the school day, he sets aside paperwork and clerical tasks to make himself available to students and staff members in need of a friendly ear. Robin Celentano, 6th grade teacher, remarks, “Eric has an innate ability to attract staff, children and colleagues to him. They want to spend time with him. He is as approachable as it gets.” Adds Kassay, “Kids actually want to spend time with Mr. Conrad. Any time you walk by his office, there are always kids in there talking and having a wonderful time.”

A hard-working, visible and positive leader, Conrad juggles a myriad of roles at Chapel Street and manages them all with ease and equanimity. In addition to handling student discipline and teacher evaluation, he is also building test coordinator and was, until just recently, manager of the Title I budget. Social worker Terri Czizmadia says, “Eric wears many hats and there is nothing he would not do to make this place better. He takes care of everyone and somehow manages never to get flustered.”

Despite the ever-expanding responsibilities he shoulders in his building, Conrad somehow finds time to serve on numerous district committees including the Safety and Security Executive Board (co-chair), Data and Assessment Committee, Professional Development Committee and Aspiring Administrators Committee. He also manages to serve as an adjunct professor in the School of Education at Quinnipiac University. Jokes Celentano, “Eric never ceases to amaze me. I am constantly asking him, ‘What is it that you are NOT involved in?’”

Conrad, along with fellow elementary assistant principals of the year from throughout the country, will be honored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) at its 2019 Pre-K-8 Principals Conference in Spokane, WA, on July 10-12, 2019.


Dina Marks, assistant principal of Shelton Intermediate School (SIS), has been named the 2019 CAS Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year. Nominated for the award by Principal Kenneth Saranich, Marks is, at all times, energetically engaged in efforts to move the school forward. Says Saranich, “It is such a gift to have an assistant principal whom you can ask to perform any task, undertake any project or launch any initiative and you know it will be met with success. She keeps getting better and better; and the building gets better and better along with her.” Superintendent Christopher Clouet praises Marks’s ability to “balance the complexities of the work of today’s assistant principal.” “Dina is a resourceful and skillful problem-solver and a good strategic planner,” says Clouet. “She has it all – the technical skills, the knowledge of curriculum and instruction, and, most importantly, a deep love for kids.”

Reacting to the news of her award, Marks stated, “I am excited and honored to have been selected as the 2019 Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year. I am proud to represent Shelton Intermediate School and our educational community, and this award recognizes the dedication of all of our educators. It reflects the great work that happens every day in Shelton schools and in schools all over Connecticut.”

A lifelong Shelton resident with a vested interest in her town, Marks has proudly served the Shelton Public Schools and community for her entire professional career. Now in her ninth year as assistant principal of SIS, Marks tackles her ever-increasing responsibilities with the same passion and energizing leadership which she brought to the position upon her appointment in 2009. Her personal mission is to make SIS the most positive place it can be and she is always looking for ways to create a welcoming and cheerful school environment. Visit SIS on any given Friday and you will see her mission brought to life. Her weekly “High-five Fridays” tradition, a huge hit among the student body, buoys kids’ spirits and fills the hallways with an aura of celebration and joyfulness.

“SIS is my extended family, and I lead our school as I do my family, with compassion and caring,” says Marks. And the positive effects of her warmth and goodwill are felt throughout the entire school community. Language Arts teacher Kristen Nigretti, remarks, “Dina leads from a place of kindness. We feel genuinely loved here. Everything she does comes from a genuine, sincere place in her heart.” Adds SIS parent Lisbeth Condo, “Mrs. Marks can be firm and authoritative and students know she expects good behavior. But she is also soft and human.”

One of Marks’s proudest accomplishments is the creation of the Shelton Innovation School (SIS2) which she,
Saranich, and a team of teachers built from the ground up. Now in its second year, SIS2 provides flexible scheduling, innovative instructional practices and personalized learning opportunities that address the diverse learning styles of students in the digital age. The “school within a school” places an emphasis on preparing students to be thinkers, communicators and collaborators and focuses not on what students know but on what they can do with the knowledge they have gained.

Despite having transitioned into administration almost ten years ago, Marks has never stopped being a teacher and she relishes the time she spends in classrooms. Whenever a faculty member needs classroom coverage, Marks is always the first to volunteer. And, she plays a critical role in supporting new teachers at SIS. Thanks to her individual efforts and influence, staff morale and retention among new teachers are at their highest levels.

Dina Marks is a warm, sincere and caring school leader with a strong work ethic and a transparent love for and devotion to her profession. In the words of Shelton High School Headmaster Dr. Beth Smith, “There is no better face for the assistant principalship than Dina Marks. She is humble and she is authentic. It’s never about Dina. It’s about the work. It’s about the kids.”


Dana Paredes, assistant principal of West Haven High School, has been named the 2019 High School Assistant Principal of the Year. Paredes was selected for her unsparing personal and professional investment in her school and her single-minded drive to ensure success for every child in her care. In the words of WHHS parent Christine El-Bakri, “There is nothing too big or too small that Dana won’t do to help children.” Adds fellow assistant principal Trish Robles, “She is a firm believer that if it is good for our kids, then it should be done.”

When informed that she was the winner, Parades remarked, “I am so honored to have been selected for this award. I have met so many incredible administrators across the state, so to have been selected among them is truly incredible. I am so proud to be able to share this award with the West Haven community. Without the strength and dedication of the entire school, and the community as a whole, I could never have achieved this.”

A lifelong resident of West Haven and proud alumna of the local school system, Paredes’ love for her school and community is deeply maternal and ever-present. Her compassion and dedication helped bolster the West Haven community as it struggled with the tragic illness and, ultimately, death of its beloved principal, Pamela Gardner. And, since Gardner’s passing on October 25, 2018, Paredes has had an active role in helping the community heal. Says Superintendent Neil Cavallaro: “For the past fifteen months, Dana has been doing the most difficult job anyone could possibly do. And she has handled it with an impressive balance of grace, skill, respectfulness and fortitude.” Betsy Bruneau, social studies teacher, adds, “Dana’s job was delicate and difficult. But she steered the ship, brought and held the community together both before and after Pam’s passing.” And, affirms former mayor, Ed O’Brien, “Dana is a mother to all our children. She stepped up when the community needed her.”

During her nine years as (WHHS) assistant principal, Paredes has distinguished herself as a courageous and innovative leader and a passionate advocate for her students. She has united her staff in a shared vision “to do whatever it takes for kids to be successful.” “When children feel supported, the possibilities are endless,” says Paredes.

Paredes has spearheaded a number of creative programs and pathways to help her students flourish. The P.A.C.E. program, perhaps her proudest accomplishment to date, provides small group instruction and individualized instruction for students who did not succeed in their freshmen year. She also introduced online learning into the district and created the after-school “Blended Learning Program” that allows students to take online courses for credit recovery or enrichment. “Dana is one of the most innovative administrators we have ever had,” says Bruneau. “She engages students and teachers to find creative solutions to address weaknesses.” Parent Cebi Waterfield affirms, “Dana always finds non-traditional methods of helping students succeed.”

Ask any member of the WHHS community about Paredes and the first word to come to mind is “dedicated.” “A Westie through and through, Dana bleeds blue and white. This building is her life,” says Robles. Liam Leapley, lead teacher of the PACE Program, asserts unequivocally, “There is no one who outworks Dana.” And, remarks school counselor Holly Benedetti, “Dana’s example encourages all of us to work harder and give more to kids.”

Paredes’ all-in devotion to her school extends with equal measure to the community. She founded the wildly successful Westies on Wheels (WOW) and has helped more than a thousand families since the program’s inception four years ago. Every August, WOW teams go into the city’s poorest neighborhoods on decorated school buses and hand out back packs, school supplies and school information – all at no cost. And Paredes and her volunteers fundraise tirelessly through out the year to make WOW happen.

Paredes also established the “Westie Closet,” a classroom in the lower level of the school which provides free clothes and hygiene items, as well as access to a washing machine, to any student in need. The positive impact of this initiative can be seen in the nearly 10% reduction in chronic absenteeism among low-income students.

All who work with Paredes marvel at her tireless efforts to bring about positive outcomes for the more than 1,500 students who enter WHHS each day. In the words of English teacher Chrystal Fanelli, “I fee like the Assistant Principal of the Year Award was created for Dana. I can’t imagine anyone having the same level of dedication to students, to staff and to the community.”

Paredes 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. Paredes, 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.


Assistant Principal of the Year Award Program Background and Procedures
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, and High School Assistant Principal of the Year. Nominees must submit a written application which is evaluated by a selection committee consisting of active and retired principals and assistant principals. Site visits are conducted at the schools of the two highest rated candidates at each level (elementary, middle and high). Winners are then chosen based upon the outcome of the site visit as well as the quality of the written application. The three individuals selected for recognition are honored by CAS at an awards dinner in the fall. Additionally, the elementary school winner and either the middle school or high school winner, but not both, are recognized at the national level by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, respectively (NASSP).