CAS Announces 2019 Principals of the Year

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

  2019 Elementary School Principal of the Year

  2019 Middle School Principal of the Year

  2019 High School Principal of the Year


Alicia Sweet Dawe
Alicia Sweet Dawe, principal of West Vine Street School (WVSS) in Pawcatuck, CT, has been named the 2019 Elementary School Principal of the Year. Until last month, Alicia was splitting her time between two buildings, industriously juggling the responsibilities of leading both West Vine and West Broad Street Schools. The consolidation of the two schools on March 25, 2019, has not slowed her down and she continues to channel boundless energy and innovation to the halls of the new West Vine Street School or, as she calls it, the “64,000 square foot dream school.” Comments Ann-Marie Houle, WVSS parent and teacher at Stonington High School, “Day in and day out, Alicia wears many hats and tackles them all effortlessly and with grace. She takes it upon herself to make sure that each student is challenged inside the classroom. The children leave everyday better than when they entered.”

Adds Assistant Principal Kathryn Irvine, “It is my honor every day to work beside Alicia to lead our school to be a model of excellence where staff and students love to learn, feel valued and empowered, and work together to promote a climate of high expectations and inclusion for all.”

In addition to doing double-duty serving as principal of two schools, Alicia somehow managed to oversee the construction of the new building. She worked side-by-side with the architects, investment managers and construction company, having a hand in every facet of the project from design and layout to colors and furniture. And she sought the input of her staff in every decision. “While the project took an immense amount of time and attention, more than I could have ever imagined, I would not have wanted it any other way,” said Alicia. “All of these experiences have brought new, untraditional learning opportunities that have furthered my understanding, appreciation and education as an administrator for the benefit of my students, community and staff.”

Upon learning the news of her award, Alicia stated, “I am extremely honored and humbled to receive this award. It represents the unwavering teamwork among my students, staff, and families to provide the very best outcomes and learning environment for all of our students. I am thrilled to bring this award home to them as it shines a spotlight on the incredible work of this amazing community.”

Alicia was nominated for the award by Stonington Superintendent Dr. Van Riley who hired her in 2013 to lead the two Pawcatuck schools. He recalls, “Alicia hit the ground running with her high energy, focus on successful achievement for every single student, and commitment to making her schools the very best.” And, thanks to her collaborative and mission-driven leadership and her laser-like focus on student and school data, the results of her efforts were immediate. In 2014, West Broad Street School was recognized by the Connecticut State Department of Education as a “School of Distinction” for highest performing subgroup in academic achievement.

Since her appointment as principal six years ago, Alicia has spearheaded a number of programs that have helped WVSS/WBSS become inclusive school communities that promote academic rigor as well as spur social growth and development. The after-school STEM clubs for grade 3 and 4 students encourage curiosity and inquiry-based learning; the Summer Academy jumpstarts learning for students prior to a new school year; the Unified® sports, arts and social clubs help students with special needs learn skills and at the same time develop meaningful relationships with their regular education peers; and, the student-led VOICE program connects Stonington High School students with fourth graders through leadership activities and communication forums.

Alicia also started the Family and Community Collaborative (FCC), a series of monthly workshops on “hot topics” of interest to parents and families. The program has led to a dramatic increase in community support for and involvement in school activities. Says Irvine, “Alicia exudes a passion for making parents feel welcome at school and values her relationships with our families.”


Gordon Beinstein
Gordon Beinstein, principal of Western Middle School in Greenwich, has been named the 2019 CAS Middle School Principal of the Year. Nominated for the award by his assistant principal, Suzanne Coyne, Gordon faces the challenges of leading an ethnically and socio-economically diverse middle school with fortitude, enthusiasm, sensitivity, and a fierce personal commitment to the success of every child in his care. “Gordon is the most passionate, student-centered administrator I have ever met in my life,” says Central Middle School Principal Tom Healy. “He helps kids become the best versions of themselves.”

Reacting to the announcement of his selection, Gordon remarked, “I am so humbled by this honor. I decided to move forward with the award process because of what this recognition could mean for the school. Despite the title of ‘Principal of the Year,’ this is not an individual award. Western is the ‘School of the Year,’ and I just am fortunate to be a part of it. We have come a long way these last few years. This progress would have been possible without the support of the entire Western community.”

As principal of the only Title I school in the district, Gordon has made educational equity a priority of his administration. Six years ago, he worked with staff to introduce the AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) program at Western to serve students who are typically under-represented in higher education. Students who are enrolled in AVID are provided additional supports through tutoring and lessons to develop skills and behaviors for academic success. Additionally, under Gordon’s leadership, Western changed its grading practices to allow for multiple attempts at mastery; hired a math interventionist to accelerate growth and move students into more challenging math courses; and developed a Response to Intervention (RTI) process based on a thorough analysis of student data. The results have been dramatic and far-reaching. According to 2018 Smarter Balanced Assessment data, the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch who perform at the proficient level or better is 42% in math and 63% in ELA, an almost fifty percent increase from just three years earlier. The achievement gap at Western, formerly above the state average, has been cut to about half the state average.

But performance data and test scores are not Gordon’s sole focus. Anyone who works with him knows that he concerns himself as much with his students’ social and emotional development as with their academic progress. Gordon has helped affect a seismic shift in the school’s culture and climate through his tireless efforts to celebrate diversity, showcase excellence, and create conditions for deepening relationships between the students and adults in the building. Eighth grader Talia Klein says, “We are all a family here. We have a very diverse community and we all love each other like siblings.” Adds eighth grader Elizabeth Szele, “Mr. Beinstein connects with us on a personal level and does cool things to get us connected to one another. Western opened its doors to me and everyone is so kind and supportive. I love to come to school everyday.”

Parents, too, feel closely tied to and excited about the school as demonstrated by recent school climate survey results. Last year’s survey showed that 98% of responding parents looked favorably on their child’s experience at Western; 94.5% said their children enjoyed coming to school; 94.5% felt their children were appropriately challenged academically; 96.5% strongly agreed that staff knew and cared about their children; and 97.5% said their children felt supported by staff.

Parent Karen Hirsch praises Gordon for “changing the entire experience at Western.” And Michael Bocchino makes this powerful statement: “My son looks at Mr. Beinstein as a partner in his education. He doesn’t feel as if he is on this educational journey alone.”


Joseph Blake
Joseph Blake, principal of Coventry High School (CHS), has been selected as the 2019 CAS High School Principal of the Year. Joseph is only the third administrator in Connecticut’s history to have received both the Assistant Principal of the Year Award and the Principal of the Year Award. He was named the state’s top assistant principal in 2014 when we was an administrator at Suffield High School.

Joseph was nominated for the award by CHS Assistant Principal Steve Merlino who is, himself, a former assistant principal of the year. Upon receiving the news of his selection, Joseph stated, “I am honored to be the 2019 CAS High School Principal of the Year. It is a much appreciated recognition of the positive culture and academic success created by the dedication of the teachers, administrators, staff, students, and families in Coventry. All of Coventry shares this award!”

Given his imprint on the CHS community, one would assume Joseph has been there for decades, yet he is just finishing up his fifth year as principal. Upon entering the school building and meeting Joseph, which is inevitable given his ubiquity in the hallways and classrooms, one is immediately struck by how deeply invested and intimately involved he is in all facets of the school operation. “Joe is a soup-to-nuts administrator,” says Merlino. “ He is so much more than the organizational chief of the school. He is a tutor, interventionist, data manager, presenter, scheduler, counselor, advisor, guide and sounding board to the entire school community.”

Joseph is a passionate child advocate who goes to work each day with the goal of connecting with students and driving them forward toward success. He takes a personal interest in them as individuals, monitors their academic progress and works with staff to ensure they have the supports they need to excel. Students appreciate and respond to his authenticity and attentiveness. Sarah Sullivan, a senior at CHS, says, “Mr. Blake knows when something is up. He will stop us in the hallway because he sees something on our face. There is nothing better than having an adult who wants the best for you.” Classmate Hannah LeVasseur adds, “It’s not fake. You can tell Mr. Blake genuinely wants to be here. He wants to get to know you and see you grow.” And, senior Nancy Conti, beams, “It is nice to know that someone believes in me.”

Parents, too, see the positive impact of Joseph’s efforts to connect with their kids. Tara Wesoloskie, parent of a 9th grader, shares, “It is very special to see how well Mr. Blake knows our kids. He gets to know them on a personal level and has a handle on their entire experience. Mr. Blake pushed our son further than even we thought he could go.” Rebecca Kennedy, who has a 10th grader at CHS, observes, “Mr. Blake connects with every student on the spectrum and knows how to motivate every one.”

Joseph’s ability to build strong relationships with students extends with equal success to his staff. The most recent school climate survey revealed that 98% of the staff are happy and feel valued and professionally challenged. Social studies department chair Gary Baumgartner boasts, “I have been here for twenty years and I’ll be here for another twenty if Joe sticks around!” Remarks Gene Marchand, vice chair of the Coventry Board of Education, “When you have a good administrator, the whole team rises. Joe’s staff is empowered and has ownership. You can see they are excited and invested.”

Joseph makes it his mission to ensure that no CHS student slips through the cracks. Each marking period, he meets personally with every senior who is in danger of failing a course so he can better understand the challenges that student is facing and support the efforts of the counselors and teachers in helping the student overcome obstacles. This practice has had a dramatic impact on student success rates as evidenced by CHS’ consistently high graduation rate (above 97% for the past two years).

Alicia, Gordon and Joseph will be honored by CAS at the “Celebration of Distinguished Administrators” to be held on October 23, 2019, at Saint Clements Castle in Portland.



The State Principal of the Year Program
The Principal of the Year Program, sponsored annually by the Connecticut Association of Schools, was established in 1984 to bring recognition to the principalship and to spotlight the important role of the principal in shaping the educational environment and experiences of children. The program recognizes outstanding school 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 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).
National Recognition Programs
Alicia will represent Connecticut in the National Distinguished Principals (NDP) Program sponsored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). One principal is chosen annually from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. Principals representing private K-8 schools, Department of Defense Dependents’ Schools, and the U.S. Department of State Overseas Schools are also recognized. The national recognition events will take place in Washington, D.C., on October 10-11, 2019.

Gordon will represent Connecticut in the National Principal of the Year Award Program sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). He will compete for the national honor along with principals of the year from each of the other forty-nine states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and the Department of State Office of Overseas Schools. NASSP will recognize all state principals of the year at an Institute in Washington, D.C., September 30-October 3, 2019.