CAS Announces 2020 Assistant Principals of the Year

The Connecticut Association of Schools is pleased to announce the winners of the 2020 Assistant Principal of the Year Awards. Congratulations to these outstanding administrators!

  2020 Elementary School Assistant Principal of the Year

  2020 Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year

  2020 High School Assistant Principal of the Year


Garrett Dukette, former assistant principal of Ashford Elementary School and newly appointed principal of Dr. Helen Baldwin Middle School in Canterbury, is the 2020 CAS Elementary School Assistant Principal of the Year. He was nominated for the award by Ashford School Principal, Troy Hopkins, who was Connecticut’s Elementary Principal of the Year in 2018.

“I feel extremely proud and humbled by this recognition,” said Garrett upon learning of his award. “I am extremely grateful to the Ashford community who show up day in and day out to give students the best education, and without whom this award would have been impossible.”

A ubiquitous presence in the classrooms and corridors of Ashford School, Garrett’s absence will be deeply felt by all members of the school community. Parent Lynn Fontaine remarks, “Mr. Dukette wore many hats. He transcended the role of disciplinarian. He was involved in curriculum, instruction, staff development – he did it all.” Adds fourth grade teacher Mike Young, “There had to be multiples of him. He was everywhere.”

A positive, service-minded and energetic leader, Garrett’s passion for improvement and his “all in” approach to school leadership were renowned at Ashford. He applied his personal mantra of “what can I do for you” to every individual, every single day. Says Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Longo, “Garrett really wanted our school to be great and he pushed the limits each day to make it so.” Parent Ashley Vincent remarks, “Mr. Dukette gave all of himself to every child in this school.”

A man of seemingly inexhaustible energy and drive, Garrett was at all times industriously engaged in efforts to move the Ashford School forward. He was always exploring new opportunities and avenues to promote student success, support staff in the classroom and strengthen ties between home and school. A group of staff members were asked to name some of the initiatives Garrett had spearheaded and the rapid barrage of responses included: restorative practices, project-based learning, new school security system, after-school mindfulness program for at-risk students, discussion group for students of divorced parents, career fairs, iReady screening tool, volunteer training program for parents, Ashford-ECSU mentorship program for girls, and community service days. “Lots of people have ideas. But Garrett took the risks and did the hard work to bring them to fruition,” says Dr. Longo. “He took on every initiative with pride and dedication.”

Always looking to improve his practice, Garrett models the growth mindset that he worked to instill in all of his staff and students. Every year, he solicited anonymous feedback on his performance from faculty members and parents. He then compiled the information and shared it out along with a plan for addressing any areas that had been identified as in need of improvement. According to Young, “We gave Mr. Dukette feedback. He reflected on it, internalized it and made changes. He really wanted to better himself, wanted to be a better leader.” Special education teacher Polly Borysevicz adds, “His continuous commitment to self-improvement provided an excellent example for all staff members.” “I am not afraid of negative feedback. I always assume I can do better,” Garrett courageously asserts.

Despite his busy workdays and demanding schedule, Garrett somehow finds time to engage in a myriad of personal and professional activities outside of school. He is currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of Connecticut, is an active member of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and is a den leader for a local Boy Scout troop. Says Hopkins, “His time management skills and ability to get things done are extraordinary. I cannot imagine a more capable and accomplished school leader.”

Garrett, 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 2020 Pre-K-8 Principals Conference in Louisville, KY, on July 12-14, 2020.


Anjanette Belmonte, assistant principal of Henry James Memorial School (HJMS), has been named the 2020 CAS Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year. She was nominated for the award by HJMS Principal Scott Baker, who calls her a “high-energy, students-first leader.”

Appointed assistant principal of HJMS in 2016, Anjanette, or “Mrs. B,” as she is affectionately called by her students, has been serving in her role for a little over three years. Though her role in administration has been relatively short, she has been serving the Henry James community since 2007, first as an 8th grade English/ Language Arts teacher and then as an instructional literacy coach. Her impact and influence can be seen in all areas of the school’s operation and felt by all members of the school community. Parent Meg Evans gushes, “Going above and beyond is something that every assistant principal does. Mrs. Anjanette Belmonte of Henry James Memorial School in Simsbury takes this task to new heights. She loves what she does. It shows in all that she does.” Adds Baker, “Anjanette’s work makes other people better. I became a better principal working with her.”

Upon entering the school building and meeting Anjanette, one is immediately struck by the aura of pride that she radiates. Incurably good-natured and upbeat, her love for her school and community are earnest and ever-present. The staff, students and parents all appreciate the passion she brings to the school building and to all facets of her work as an assistant principal. A group of eighth graders took turns praising their beloved Mrs. B. “She is so caring and so passionate. She transfers her energy to the students,” says one. Another remarks, “She eats, sleeps and breathes this school. We are her pride and passion. She cares so much about us as kids, about our education.”

Anjanette leads by example, always exhibiting the characteristics that define the HJ Way: respect, kindness, responsibility, fairness, and trustworthiness. She serves as head of the school’s climate committee and has led the implementation of several initiatives which have helped to foster an inclusive school community where the values of tolerance, patience and sensitivity are cornerstones. Anjanette has done extensive work in the area of restorative practices, which has led to a reduction in negative behaviors and discipline referrals. She has also provided opportunities for cultural competence training for many of the staff and has supported initiatives such as Unity/Anti-Bullying Day, Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, the Gay Straight Alliance and the newly created Diversity Club. Thanks to Anjanette’s efforts, HJMS was awarded the CAS Positive School Climate Recognition in 2018.

Anjanette is, first and foremost, a champion and cheerleader for her students; and their welfare is always in the forefront of her mind. Says special education teacher Tracy McConnell, “Anjanette’s focus is always on making sure kids are okay. Their welfare and well-being come first and performance comes second.” Adds Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Services Sue Homrok-Lemke, “Anjanette never strays from her purpose and that is to ensure that her students are excelling at high levels in all areas of their lives.”

Students know that Anjanette is there to support them and help them to be their best selves. “She shows us that she will do anything to make sure we have a great education,” comments one seventh grade student. Parents trust Anjanette’s judgment because they know their children are her highest priority. Mike Luzetti, parent of an eighth grader, states, “Anjanette is insanely smart and talented. I have never questioned a decision she has made because she always has the kids’ best interest at heart.”


Todd Manuel, assistant principal of Trumbull High School (THS), has been named the 2020 High School Assistant Principal of the Year. Nominated for the award by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gary Cialfi, Todd was chosen for his ethical and relationship-driven leadership and his unerring focus on what is best for students.

“I am greatly humbled to be the recipient of this prestigious award,” said Todd. “I fully recognize it would not have been possible without the support of our students, their parents and my colleagues. This acknowledgment represents a much larger group of educators both within the Trumbull Public Schools and across the state of CT, all of whom are dedicated, hard-working professionals focused on supporting every student…every day!”

During his five-plus years as assistant principal at THS, where he is in charge of C House, Todd has distinguished himself as an earnest and authentic leader and a passionate advocate for his students. There is never any doubt that, for Todd, kids come first. “Mr. Manuel is truly a student-centered educator and administrator. At the core of all his decisions is the student,” says THS Principal Marc Guarino. In fact, it was the prospect of distancing himself from kids that made Manuel hesitant to move into administration. “I miss my time with the kids. That was the hardest part of my transition,” admits Todd.

In his role as assistant principal, Todd uses every available opportunity to interact and build relationships with students, to really get to know them and help them build upon their interests and strengths. Says parent Kate Hampford Donahue, “Mr. Manuel has a special talent for engaging students and inspiring them to achieve.” Adds THS senior Jaime Tolk, “This is a big school, but, thanks to Mr. Manuel, it doesn’t feel that way. He gets to know everyone and goes out of his way to personalize the environment.”

Todd insists that all students can achieve at high levels and his every action is driven by his desire to see them reach their full potential. He has worked side-by-side with staff to raise expectations for student performance, expand access to more challenging courses and promote programs that bolster students’ social and emotional development as well as their academic performance. Todd led the creation and implementation of the school wide advisory program which provides students with opportunities to cultivate stronger relationships with their peers and a faculty mentor. The program had an immediate, positive impact on the school climate and has continued to be refined and expanded throughout Todd’s tenure. “Mr. Manuel is a strong believer that students’ potential should never be capped. He believes in taking a little risk to help a student reach a little higher,” observes Guarino. “He sees his job as supporting every student in all areas of his or her development, not just academic.” And, says Michael Saad, parent of two THS graduates, “Todd sets the bar high. He makes kids see what they are capable of.”

Todd has a gift for empowering students, providing opportunities to elevate their role at school, give them a voice in deciding the direction of their learning and embolden them to champion themselves and their capabilities. Junior Rachel Weintraub gushes, “Mr. Manuel has made us feel more comfortable standing up for ourselves. He has taught us how to use our voice. We are encouraged to express ourselves.” And, adds Saad, “He helps kids find their own confidence.”

Todd 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. Todd, 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).