CAS Names 2023 Schools of the Year

Cheshire (CT) — The Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS) is pleased to announce the selection of the 2023 Elementary and Middle Schools of the Year. CONGRATULATIONS to:

  • West Vine Street School, Stonington – Kathryn Irvine, Principal
  • Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School – Mark Ambruso, Principal

Each year nominations are solicited for the Elementary and Middle School of the Year awards. 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 and middle). Winners are then chosen based upon the outcome of the site visit as well as the quality of the written application.



West Vine Street School (WVSS), part of the Stonington Public Schools, has been selected as the 2022-2023 CAS Elementary School of the Year. With a focus on innovative instructional practices, comprehensive student support, and collaborative partnerships, WVSS has emerged as a hidden gem in the education landscape.

When told about the award, Principal Kathryn Irvine said, “We are thrilled to receive such prestigious recognition as Elementary School of the Year from the Connecticut Association of Schools. West Vine Street School is our pride and joy! We are anchored at the core to build trusting relationships with students and families to ensure a sense of belonging and inclusion. As “Super Belugas” we are truly a family, taking great pride in our school and caring for one another and our community!”

The school environment at WVSS is personalized, inclusive, and anchored in achievement. A community of shared expectations, embodied in the SWIM acronym (Stay Safe, Work Hard, Include All, Model Respect), guides all aspects of school operations. The school offers a range of after-school clubs, such as Student Leadership, Robotics/STEM Club, and Unified Clubs. An outdoor learning classroom provides students with opportunities to plant and harvest gardens and integrate environmental education across curricula. Grant-funded programs enhance students’ educational journey, including chess lessons, sensory paths for motor breaks, and before and after-school care. West Vine Elementary School prioritizes mental health, offering a dedicated classroom called Reset and Reflect (R&R) where students can work with mental health staff when they need support.

The school’s teachers and instructional coaches work to employ coaching cycles and peer observations and to invite teachers from other schools to observe the curriculum in action. Closing the achievement gap caused by the pandemic has been a priority, and the students have surpassed the school goals for improvement. Notably, the percentage of grade 3 students scoring at or above grade level in reading increased from 28% in Winter 2021 to an impressive 70% in Winter 2023, while the percentage of grade 4 students scoring at or above grade level in math increased from 44% to an outstanding 73% in the same period.

The staff at West Vine prioritizes inclusivity and diversity, ensuring all students and families feel welcomed and represented. The school’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee has been instrumental in creating videos recognizing national months, celebrating different heritages, and raising awareness about disabilities. The school administration, in collaboration with staff and parents, continually revisits policies, practices, and programming to ensure they represent all voices and perspectives.

WVSS is deeply rooted in its community, forging strong partnerships with parents, families, and local organizations. Through the Welcoming Schools Initiative, the school actively engages parents to implement welcoming practices, create personalized welcome packets for new families, establish connections between families and community members, and develop parent-friendly tutorials. During the site visit, parents were very vocal about the school and the sense of belonging to a community. One parent said “We are a military family and move around often. This is by far the most welcoming school I have ever seen.” Because of this sense of community and belonging and the strong instructional components, West Vine is being recognized as the 2022-2023 CAS Elementary School of the Year.




The Connecticut Association of Schools is pleased to announce that Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School has been selected as the Middle School of the Year for the 2022-2023 school year. This recognition highlights the exceptional commitment of the school, its staff, and the entire community to providing an outstanding middle school education that fosters academic growth and social-emotional development.

One of the remarkable aspects of LOLMS is its strong emphasis on involving parents and the community to support student learning and healthy development. Throughout the school year, LOLMS hosts multiple events where community members can participate and engage with the school and its students. Events such as the National History Day Showcase, Career Day, Wellness Day, and Spring into the Arts provide opportunities for families and community members to contribute and support student learning.

LOLMS also offers exceptional academic support to students. The Learning Labs program provides tiered intervention support, including Academic Lab and Math Connections, to help students develop essential executive functioning skills and address math skill gaps. Regular updates and additional support from teachers ensure that students receive the personalized attention they need to succeed.

A key characteristic of LOLMS is its continuous effort to review and improve educational programming. Through Learning Walks and classroom observations, teachers have the opportunity to learn from their colleagues and enhance their instructional practices. The school has also conducted a comprehensive review of its SRBI (Scientific Research-Based Interventions) program, incorporating best practices and refining intervention strategies to ensure all students receive an appropriately challenging education.

LOLMS prioritizes the significance of fostering healthy relationships and emotional support for students. Through counseling services, daily recess, and initiatives such as Pursuits, the advisory program where students are assigned to multi-age groups by interest in order to participate in shared activities such as wood burning and reading books to preschool students, students are encouraged to connect with trusted adults, develop friendships, and maintain a healthy balance in their lives.

Principal Mark Ambruso was thrilled to receive the award, stating, “The Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School Faculty, Staff, Students, and Communities are honored to receive this recognition. We work diligently so that our students receive the highest quality education and are provided with the experiences and skills necessary to achieve their academic and career potential. We strive to provide a middle school experience that meets the needs of the whole child in an environment that emphasizes kindness and hard work.”

The School of the Year recognition is a testament to the dedication and hard work of the entire LOLMS staff, students, families, and the community. Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School’s commitment to educational excellence, community engagement, and creating a safe and supportive environment sets an exceptional standard for schools across Connecticut and nationwide.

By Tiffany Caouette, Assistant Executive Director