Meet the 2024 Principals of the Year!

The Connecticut Association of Schools is pleased to announce the winners of the 2024 Principal of the Year Awards.
Congratulations to these outstanding administrators!

  2024 Elementary School Principal of the Year

  2024 Middle School Principal of the Year

  2024 High School Principal of the Year


Scott Jeffrey, principal of Highland Elementary School (HES) in Cheshire, has been selected as the 2024 Elementary School Principal of the Year. Scott was nominated for the award by his superintendent, Dr. Jeff Solan, who calls Jeffrey “a constant positive force for change.”

“I’m honored and humbled to have been selected for this special recognition,” said Jeffrey upon learning the news. “Highland is a special place because of the rich collaboration between all stakeholders with a focus on keeping students at the center. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to work alongside such exceptional educators and to represent Highland and the Cheshire Public Schools.”

Throughout his tenure at HES, Scott has demonstrated exceptional leadership and dedication to building a kind, inclusive school community where all members feel valued, cared for and supported. Working closely with his Safe School Climate Committee, he has introduced a number of research-based programs and strategies that promote social-emotional learning and ensure a safe learning environment for all students and staff. The responsive classroom approach to teaching and the Yale RULER Emotional Intelligence program have helped to create a secure and supportive educational setting built on respectful, trusting, and caring relationships.

“Scott’s greatest strength as a leader is fostering a positive school culture that inspires growth, inclusion and holistic development of every individual,” says Kristine Trifone, district reading and math specialist. Adds Solan, “Mr. Jeffrey’s impact on the school culture serves as the foundation for the academic strides the school has made. Student achievement has consistently grown throughout his tenure…Highland has regularly been a ‘Connecticut School of Distinction’ over the years.”

Under Jeffrey’s leadership, HES adopted the Building Thinking Classrooms model which encourages student collaboration, promotes a growth mindset, and fosters a classroom culture where students can explore ideas deeply. The goal is to transform traditional teaching practices to better prepare students for complex, real-world challenges and is in direct alignment with the district’s focus on complex thinking.

Highland Elementary School houses the district’s elementary intensive education program, the success of which can be attributed in large measure to Jeffrey’s expertise in specialized instruction and autism spectrum disorder. He launched the school’s first Unified Sports program, leading to HES being the first Connecticut school to earn the distinguished National Unified Champion School Award in 2020.

Scott’s leadership extends well beyond the ways of HES, contributing to multiple district committees, including the District Safety and Safe School Climate Committee and the District Teacher Evaluation Committee. His influence is characterized by trust-building, strong instructional leadership, and engaging professional development targeting students’ individual needs.

Remarks Assistant Superintendent Marlene Silano, “Scott Jeffrey is the principal you want for your child, the principal you want to work for, and the colleague you are glad to have. He is dedicated, compassionate, measured, genuine, and a fierce advocate for his school.”

Jeffrey 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 event will take place in Washington, D.C., on October 10-11, 2024.


Dr. Kristy Zaleta, principal of Rogers Park Middle School (RPMS) in Danbury, has been named the 2024 CAS Middle School Principal of the Year. Nominated by Christopher Roche, Danbury’s Chief of Schools K-8, he describes Zaleta as a skilled instructional leader and capacity-builder. “The pipeline for aspiring school leaders should run right through Kristy’s office,” says Roche. Adds Superintendent Kara Casimiro, “The hallmark of a great leader is that you can build other great leaders. Kristy is the model of a great leader.”

Reacting to the news of her award, Zaleta stated, “I am deeply honored and grateful to have been selected as the 2024 Middle School Principal of the Year. It is truly humbling to be recognized in this way, and I am thankful for the support and recognition of the work we do as a school community at Rogers Park Middle School.”

After an initial career as a research scientist, Zaleta brought her passion for science into the classroom as an 8th-grade science teacher. Her outstanding instructional skills were recognized with the 2013 Danbury Teacher of the Year Award and the Connecticut Excellence in Middle School Science Teaching Award.

As principal of RPMS for the past six years, Zaleta has been instrumental in promoting equity, building a positive school climate, and implementing systems that support student achievement. She has been a strong advocate for student voice, empowering students to become independent learners through initiatives like the Student Ambassadors and Peer Leaders programs. She prioritizes student agency and actively involves students in their learning goals and in the operation of the school. Students have input into the development of after-school clubs and activities, and they lead their own parent report card conferences. When it came time to update the school’s cell phone, dress code and tardy policies, the Student Ambassadors were enlisted to work alongside the administration in carrying out these important tasks.

RPMS, a culturally diverse school with a significant number of multilingual learners, benefits from Zaleta’s commitment to inclusive education. With 71% of the student body identified as Hispanic/Latino, Zaleta has worked tirelessly to ensure new families feel welcomed and supported, providing resources in their native languages to aid their integration. She has spearheaded whole-school reform efforts focused on culturally and linguistically responsive (CLR) teaching. She recently secured a $10,000 Fitch Grant to expand CLR training for the entire staff, partnering with Dr. Sharroky Hollie to ensure effective implementation.

Her innovative approaches extend beyond classroom instruction and pedagogy. The introduction of the WINN (What I Need Now) block into the school’s master schedule ensures that students receive personalized support and engage in project-based learning. RPMS’s robust extracurricular program, which includes 14 after-school clubs such as Girls in Science, robotics, concert choir, garden club, jazz band, DIY, and intra-murals, fosters student engagement and community connection. Activities like Project Adventure and structured recess, where students, staff, and the school resource officer play sports together, provide critical opportunities for students to interact with peers and staff in a supportive and enriching environment beyond the regular classroom.

Zaleta has introduced a number of successful programs that have helped create a safe and supportive learning environment at RPMS. Initiatives such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), restorative practices, Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate, and the Sandy Hook Promise have helped to reduce out-of-school and in-school suspensions by 65% over the past year, fostering a sense of safety and well-being for students and staff alike.

Roche observes, “Dr. Zaleta is a dynamic, innovative, and inclusive leader, always seeking to build capacity in her staff. She embraces shared leadership and invites staff and students to partner in the work of perennial school improvement.”

Zaleta will represent Connecticut in the National Principal of the Year Award Program sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). She 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. As our state representative, she will participate in the State Principal of the Year Celebration which will be held Oct 16–19, 2024, in Washington, D.C.


Kurt Ogren, principal of Woodland Regional High School (WRHS) in Beacon Falls, has been selected as the 2024 CAS High School Principal of the Year. This prestigious award recognizes Ogren’s exceptional leadership and commitment to fostering an inclusive and supportive educational environment. He was nominated for the award by his assistant principal, Dr. Dana Mulligan, who describes Ogren as a dedicated, open-minded, collaborative, visible administrator who brings humanity and humility to the work of leading a school.

“I am honored and humbled to be selected as the 2024 Connecticut Association of Schools High School Principal of the Year. I am filled with pride because this award is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the entire Woodland Regional High School and Region 16 team,” said Ogren when notified of his selection. “I am grateful for the unwavering support and commitment from the communities of Beacon Falls and Prospect. I will continue to uphold the high standards of excellence that this award represents as I strive to make a positive impact on the lives of my students, staff, and community.”

Kurt Ogren embodies “The Woodland Way,” consistently demonstrating respect, reflection, accountability, and engagement. His collaborative leadership style, focus on continuous improvement, and ability to create a shared vision of success for all learners have united both staff and community in achieving remarkable outcomes.

A cornerstone of Ogren’s tenure at Woodland is the school’s renowned daily Advisory Program. This initiative pairs each teacher and administrator with a cohort of approximately ten students, meeting daily from freshman year through graduation. The program not only enhances student support but also cultivates deep, trusting relationships. The tradition of advisors presenting diplomas to their advisees is a poignant testament to the close-knit community fostered through this program.

From his first day, Ogren prioritized enhancing school culture. His active participation in the advisory program, the introduction of the “Caught Being Excellent” initiative, the “Choose Love” curriculum, and “Wellness Wednesdays” for staff have all contributed to a positive and inclusive school climate. Results from the annual climate survey highlight the success of these efforts, with 97.5% of students affirming the positive attitude of the staff and 100% of parent and guardian respondents feeling welcomed at the school.

One senior remarked, “Mr. Ogren goes above and beyond to get to know students on a personal level. His encouragement of student voice and promotion of student-led activities have garnered national recognition for Woodland’s student government, which has been designated as a National Council of Excellence.”

Woodland’s achievements under Ogren’s leadership include being one of only 19 high schools nationwide to receive the NatStuCo/NASSP Decade of Excellence Award. Woodland students actively participate in state and national leadership roles, further emphasizing the effectiveness of Ogren’s student-centered approach.

In addition to strengthening student involvement, Ogren has expanded Advanced Placement (AP) and early college credit offerings in partnership with UConn, SCSU, and NVCC. His efforts to broaden career pathways for both college and non-college bound students have introduced programs in EMT, CNA, manufacturing, computer science and health sciences. These initiatives have significantly improved graduation rates, with Woodland achieving between 95.7% and 98.9% over the past five years, up from an average of 89.8% prior to his arrival.

Senior Yasmeen Galal stated, “Mr. Ogren’s proactive approach to fostering student involvement is evident through regular meetings with the student government executive cabinet. He not only instills a sense of trust but empowers us to actively contribute to enhancing the overall school environment.”

Kurt Ogren’s exemplary leadership at Woodland Regional High School has made a lasting impact on students, staff, and the community. CAS is proud to honor him as Connecticut’s High School Principal of the Year for 2024.

Jeffrey, Zaleta and Ogren will be honored by CAS at the “Celebration of Excellence in Educational Leadership” to be held on October 24, 2024, at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.


Principal of the Year Award Program Background and Procedures
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.