Executive Director of Equity Advancement Roszena Haskins will become deputy superintendent Niles Township High School District 219, which is led by Tom Moore, West Hartford’s former superintendent.
By Ronni Newton
Roszena Haskins will be returning to her education roots but in a new and challenging role, and as of July 3, 2023 will once again be working with Tom Moore as she assumes the newly-created role of deputy superintendent for the Niles Township High School District 219 in Skokie, Illinois.
The Niles Township High School District 219 Board of Education unanimously approved the hiring of Haskins on March 14, and issued a news release announcing her appointment. According to the release, Haskins’ role will “have a heavy focus on recruitment, retention, and equity efforts for the district.”
Haskins submitted her official resignation in a letter to West Hartford Town Manager Rick Ledwith, Interim Superintendent of Schools Andy Morrow, Executive Director of Human Resources for West Hartford Public Schools Julio Duarte, and Mayor Shari Cantor on Wednesday.
“Farewells are never easy. It is with a mix of emotions that I announce the end of my 16 year tenure with the West Hartford Public Schools (WHPS) in June,” Haskins wrote in the letter, which was shared with We-Ha.com. “This decision comes with a bittersweet good-bye to the Town of West Hartford, a community that will always be home to me. West Hartford is where I welcomed my son into this world and where I was welcomed as a teacher-in-training 27 years ago. Words cannot adequately describe the immense gratitude that I have for the WHPS and Town of West Hartford for giving me a fulfilling career experience. I am grateful to have had the honor and unique opportunities to pursue my passion and serve the community.”
Haskins said she was not searching for a job. “I think it’s fate that an opportunity arose,” she said in a phone interview Friday, noting that it has been a whirlwind.
She said she and her husband went to visit Tom Moore and his wife, Tara, during restaurant week in Chicago. They landed just before school dismissal time, and said Moore was eager and excited to show them his two campus sites.
“I returned home and could not stop talking about everything that I had experienced and how the people and the environment of Niles Township High School District 219 made me feel,” Haskins said. “I believe that it was fate that an opportunity emerged for Tom to reorganize his cabinet structure into something that he believed would serve the district well. I saw it as a timely and exciting opportunity, so I threw my hat into the ring.” The screening, interview, and selection process, she said, was extremely rigorous.
Haskins said everyone she met in District 219 upheld high expectations centered on students. “Everyone consistently displayed a welcoming and positive demeanor,” she said, and adults shared positive stories about students and students seemed at home.
“The words ‘hate has no home here’ can be seen painted aesthetically on every building. A district with such a powerful aspiration speaks to me and what I stand for. District 219 feels like a culture fit for me,” Haskins said.
“What resonated with me most was when Superintendent Moore said to me, ‘I think you would be great here. You will love the students and will be motivated by the talented staff.’ He said, ‘I just know that you will love it here.’ Tom Moore knows me better than anyone who has worked in the district,” Haskins said, and she believes that personally and professionally she and her husband will enjoy their lives in Chicago as much as the Moores do.
Haskins said she and her husband sold their house in 2021 and had been aggressively and unsuccessfully looking for a new home in the West Hartford area in an unkind real estate market. “We are both fully portable empty-nesters. Our son is 27 and thriving. While he is so thrilled for us and plans to relocate elsewhere in the near future he does not plan to follow us to Chicago,” she said, adding that she expects he will love it when he visits.
Haskins has had great success in Connecticut. Just last weekend she was honored as the 2023 Outstanding Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Professional by the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education Alumni Board at the organization’s 25th annual Alumni Awards Celebration.
Haskins was promoted in July 2022 from her role as director of Equity Advancement for West Hartford Public Schools to the position of executive director of Equity Advancement, a position that encompasses both the school district and the town – a role that works with all local leaders to increase their awareness; expand dispositions; actively eliminate boundaries; monitor and evaluate programs focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion; and is also focused on developing policy and professional development programming.
Prior to her current position, Haskins led the West Hartford Public Schools’ Office of Equity Advancement for six years. She began her career as a special education teacher in Hamden, CT, and has worked in West Hartford for the past 16 years. She was previously principal of Sedgwick Middle School and an assistant principal at Conard High School.
“I responded to Roszena’s news with both sadness and gratitude for all that she has given to our school district and town,” Ledwith told We-Ha.com on Friday.
“It has been an honor to have worked with Roszena and learn from her every day for the last sixteen years. Roszena worked tirelessly to advance equity for students, colleagues, and families and her legacy will be felt for years to come through her work to establish our Equity and Diversity Council, our Vision for Equity and Anti-Racism and our Educational Equity Policy. I will miss her mentorship, leadership, and friendship and wish her and her family nothing but the best in the future. Niles Township is lucky to have her in this new role and we have been blessed to have had her here for the last sixteen years,” said Ledwith.
Moore, who left West Hartford to become District 219 superintendent last July, said choosing Haskins as his deputy superintendent “is going to be the single most important thing” he does for the district.
“Any room, school, or town that Roszena sets foot in immediately becomes a better place,” Moore told We-Ha.com. “I’m thrilled that when looking at the next step in her professional life she decided to come join us in D219,” he said, noting that he is thrilled that she and her family are going to be relocating.
“Although her leaving West Hartford comes with an understandable feeling of loss, I’m beyond thrilled for Roszena as this represents an amazing opportunity to apply her incredible skills, knowledge, and leadership in a new role on a broader scale,” said Paul Vicinus, assistant superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. “Without question, Roszena is among the most talented, dedicated and adaptable professionals I have ever had the pleasure of working with. She is a gifted leader, speaker and teammate. Beyond that, she is just an incredible human being; full of care and compassion, grit and determination, passion and drive,” he said.
“While I am saddened to contemplate not having her within arm’s reach, I know how selfish it would be to wish to contain her talents to any boundaries; thus I am celebrating her move to take on new challenges and ever greater responsibilities in a new setting,” Vicinus added.
“It is truly an honor for me to have been selected as deputy superintendent for Niles Township High School District 219,” Haskins said in the release. “The district’s outstanding reputation that I have come to learn about, witness, and experience fills me with excitement about joining the great work being done and optimism about the future of D219. I am humbled to be given this opportunity to serve within such a special community that values diversity and embodies a firm commitment to excellence in public education that every student deserves. I am thrilled about the challenge, change, and reward ahead, and I cannot wait to make District 219 a place I get to call ‘home.'”
“I believe that life has its seasons and cycles and I have concluded a wonderful cycle here in West Hartford,” Haskins wrote in her resignation letter. “In recent months, I have reflected on the relationships that I have been privileged to enjoy. The students, colleagues, parents/caregivers, community leaders and partners have become family to me. West Hartford has been my greatest teacher in times of celebration, seasons of growth and in moments of healing.” Haskins said she hopes that she has done a good job representing both the school district in its promises to children and in starting the town on its journey “to be its best version of humanity and goodwill.”
In addition to the award she received last weekend, Haskins has earned many accolades in the past for her work in West Hartford. She received the Bridge Family Center’s “Build No Fences” award in 2011, for her work with students and families and in 2021 was honored statewide with the George Coleman Excellence in Equity Award.
She designed and implemented the district’s first-ever and largest professional Equity for Excellence Conference for more than 1,000 educators and administrators. The announcement of her Neag award noted that this professional equity platform “was inspired by her co-creation of a high-tech multimedia exhibit focusing on West Hartford residents’ personal stories, funded by a $50,000 Inspiring Equity Grant from the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund.”
Haskins’ accolades also include the State Education Resource Center’s Excellence in Equity Award, West Hartford’s “Hometown Hero,” and 100 Women of Color for Connecticut.
As for what’s next for the town’s equity advancement efforts, Morrow said, “While we can never replace Roszena’s impact and work for our schools, WHPS will start the process for filling the Director of Equity Advancement position later this spring.”
Adrienne Billings-Smith was hired as equity coordinator last fall and reports directly to Haskins, but her work is with the town only, not the schools.
Vicinus said the district remains committed to “Equity Advancement and our formal structures to support that effort.”
“For West Hartford Public Schools, this time could never be better for new energy that will advance what we have built as a district in service to equity,” Haskins said, especially as a new leader will take over as superintendent following the search that remains underway for a permanent successor to Moore.
Self awareness is an important leadership disposition, she added. “I am self-aware enough to realize that I have reached the end of a cycle that I hope has served West Hartford as well as it has for me and my family.”
She’s looking forward to begjnning a new cycle, as her “favorite version” of herself, and leaves West Hartford “inspired by a leading community in the country that strives to be best across the land for all people.”
Haskins said everything happened so fast, but that’s probably a good thing because she might otherwise think herself out of something that feels too good to be true.
“I’ll miss everything about West Hartford,” said Haskins.
“I am at peace with my decision. I think it is the right decision that will be a healthy change for me. I will be forever grateful for my time in West Hartford and will miss everyone immensely,” Haskins said.
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