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Superintendent Tom Moore Leaving West Hartford for Chicago-Area Position

West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore. WHPS Convocation. Aug. 28, 2017. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore announced that he will leave the district as of June 30, 2022, and will become superintendent of the Niles Township High School District 219 in Skokie, Illinois.

By Ronni Newton

Twenty-six years after beginning his education career as a history and social studies teacher at Conard High School, and eight years after taking on the top leadership position in the only school district in which he has ever worked, Superintendent Tom Moore is preparing to have a first day of school experience in a town other than West Hartford.

Moore, 52, has announced his plans to leave West Hartford Public Schools as of June 30, 2022.

“The best moments of my life have been spent in this community, which is why it is bittersweet for me to let you all know that at the end of this school year, I will be moving on to a new challenge, in a new place, and will be ending my time as your superintendent,” he said in a message to the community Friday morning.

Moore will become the superintendent of Niles Township High School District 219 in Skokie, IL, a suburb of Chicago. With a district structure very different from West Hartford, he will be superintendent of two high schools only, with a total student body of roughly 4,600 students at Niles North and Niles West high schools. The schools serve the communities of Skokie, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, and Niles, with a diverse population where, according to an overview posted for the national search for a new superintendent: “Over 60 percent of students report that they speak a language other than English. More than 90 languages are spoken, with the most common being Urdu, Spanish, Assyrian and Arabic.”

The district’s states that its mission “is committed to providing an equitable learning environment that embraces diversity and individual student needs, while preparing students to achieve their full potential as a part of our global community,” and was seeking an educational leader with “a record of advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives, in addition to working with diverse populations.”

Moore wasn’t looking for a new job, but the high profile of West Hartford Public Schools – where both Conard and Hall high schools have consistently achieved recognition among top schools nationwide – as well as his role with the College Board and his recent honor as Connecticut Superintendent of the Year, have received national attention.

He’s been approached about other jobs over the years, but couldn’t have imagined leaving in the midst of the pandemic emergency. While COVID-19 isn’t eradicated, the approach has shifted more to management of an endemic and he’s confident the district will emerge strong from its approach to this challenge.

“The past two years have certainly been immensely difficult for all of us, but I have been so proud to lead West Hartford’s schools through this stage of the pandemic,” Moore said. “From our food distribution efforts, to our rapid implementation of online learning, to our high vaccination rates, West Hartford Public Schools have stepped up when most needed. This has been a long term challenge, and the impact will be felt for years, but it is one of many that we have faced during my time here. Whether it was an October snowstorm that made Conard into a shelter needed by so many, the tragedies of gun violence, our leadership confronting racial injustice, or difficult budget issues, our schools have met the tests brought on by the times in which we live.”

While leaving West Hartford – where he and his wife, Tara, raised their children, Jack and Fallon, and where he has spent his entire professional career thus far – is bittersweet, Moore said he’s excited to start a new chapter. After eight years in his current role, he said this is the right time and the right situation where he will be able to focus on a diverse high school population.

“I’m so excited for the unique challenges of a new place, new people,” he said. “I’m really excited about digging in, getting my hands dirty, seeing what we can do to give kids new opportunities.”

Moore has adopted the tagline for West Hartford: Clear Paths, Bright Futures. No Limits,” and beginning with his very first address to teachers and staff as superintendent, in August 2014, he has emphasized that “clear” is intended to be a verb.

“We will clear paths so that there are bright futures for every child that we have, and we will not allow limits to be put on our children for what is possible in their lives. … It’s what we need to do. It’s what we have to do,” Moore said during his State of the Schools report to the Board of Education last winter. It’s a philosophy he has repeated many times, and one which will continue to guide his approach.

“Tom Moore has been a dedicated, committed and respected leader and we are so lucky to have had him as a teacher, coach, assistant superintendent and superintendent,” Mayor Shari Cantor said. “Although I am very excited and happy for this new opportunity for him, he will be truly missed. We are better as a community because of his contributions,” she added.

Superintendent Tom Moore helps the students unload their wagons at Town Hall. Morley Red Wagon Food Drive. Nov. 7, 2018. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

“At this moment, I am truly excited for what lies ahead for Tom Moore,” said Roszena Haskins, director of Equity Advancement for West Hartford Public Schools. “When the bittersweet reality of Tom’s departure fully hits, it’ll be felt in waves throughout the community, and will ripple throughout the state. However I believe that we can rest assured that the impact of Tom’s 26-year legacy as a district leader and good neighbor will sustain in his absence.”

Haskins’ role in the district is one that’s evolved and grown over the years, and Moore’s recognition of the importance of equity advancement – including making the position director level – is an example of the impact he has had in West Hartford.

“Even today as superintendent, Tom’s impact as history teacher is still felt in our classrooms at all levels. He has had such a positive influence on the success of two generations of young people, which is also evidenced in those whom he has inspired to return to the district to teach and lead,” Haskins said. “While shaping the district to be a more equitable environment that every precious child deserves, Tom, without compromise, has made it increasingly possible for students, families and educators to find their unique fit within our district community. Still, Tom has preserved the appeal that makes West Hartford Public Schools highly desirable for families and what makes the Town of West Hartford so special.”

Haskins said she would be sad about Moore’s departure at any point in time, but is pleased that Moore has discovered a renewed sense of purpose on his own terms. “As Tom embraces this new opportunity for challenge, change and reward, I hope that he can reflect and fully realize the sheer magnitude of his leadership influence on the children and families of West Hartford and on colleagues across the state,” she said.

“West Hartford Public Schools has accomplished so much that we should all feel great about over the years under Superintendent Moore’s leadership. I know that Tom has always felt lucky to lead West Hartford Public Schools and tries everyday to show his gratitude through his dedicated and tireless work. I am confident that Tom will continue to be a wonderful mentor, coach, and leader in the field of education, wherever he goes. I am proud to call him my colleague and friend,” Haskins said.

Superintendent Tom Moore, Director of Diversity Advancement Roszena Haskins, and Assistant Superintendent Andy Morrow. West Hartford’s Cookin’. March 30, 2019. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

When asked to share her thoughts, Board of Education Chair Lorna Thomas-Farquharson said, “Tom Moore is an individual who embodies the essence of walking the talk. His commitment to educating all of our youth through lens of equity is not just spoken about through his words, but demonstrated through his actions. His commitment to recognizing the vitality of family engagement and school-home partnership has been essential. His drive to speak up for those who may feel voiceless is inspiring.”

Thomas-Farquharson said she is also faced with mixed emotions about Moore’s announced departure. “On one hand I’m proud of him for embarking on a new journey by sharing his passion for education with another district. District 219 in Niles Township, Illinois is so very fortunate to have Tom as their new Superintendent. On the other hand, I will undoubtedly miss Tom and his leadership for all reasons previously described. Nonetheless, I sincerely wish him well as he journeys into the next chapter of his professional life.”

Other district leaders also shared their sentiments.

“Tom is an inspiring leader and role model, a dedicated and passionate colleague, and a trusted friend,” said Paul Vicinus, assistant superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. “I’ve had the great fortune of working alongside him for nearly three decades. During that time, he’s inspired, challenged, and supported – not only me, but the entire team that surrounds him – to the benefit of the students and larger West Hartford community,” he said.

“Tom’s passion for education and commitment to providing the absolute best for every child has taken West Hartford Public Schools to new heights, positioning us as a model district in the state if not the nation. He has an uncanny sense for talent. He recruited an amazing and talented team of instructional leaders and he deploys people relative to their strengths in order to best benefit the organization. His vision for education is grounded in the basic human belief in the potential of every child, the realization of the impact of education, and the powerful difference one person can have on another,” said Vicinus.

“While awards and accolades do not mean much to him on a personal level, winning Superintendent of the Year for Connecticut is testament to the courageous and caring leadership he has provided while serving as superintendent. I am a better leader and a better person for knowing him.”

“I’ve had the privilege of working with Tom for a dozen years and witnessed each day his commitment to our schools and community,” said Assistant Superintendent for Administration Andy Morrow. “It’s never been just a job for him – he’s always engaged deeply and personally in every part of the district, especially where students are impacted. We’re all going to miss his leadership and I’m going to miss his friendship, but I’m excited for him as he faces this new challenge.”

A native of Wrentham, MA, Moore graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. That’s where, on the first weekend of freshman year, he met his wife, Tara, who is originally from Ellington, CT.

Moore said he wasn’t initially planning to become a teacher. He majored in Soviet Studies, and said he planned on working in politics or something involving international relations. A combination of a health scare for Tara, the implosion of the U.S.S.R., and a brief stint coaching baseball and substitute teaching led him to becoming a history teacher, and forged the path to a career he still loves. He recalled that when he first set foot in that classroom as a substitute, he thought, “This is where I feel at home, to talk about history, our role in the world.”

Twenty-six years ago last week Moore started student teaching at Hall High School in West Hartford, and then was hired to begin teaching at Conard in the fall. He rose through the ranks, becoming a department supervisor, Conard principal from 2007 through 2010, and assistant superintendent for administration until being named superintendent in July 2014.

Neither Tara nor Tom Moore have lived anywhere other than Massachusetts or Connecticut.

“I think the thing people who have come to the school system more recently might not know is how deeply personal West Hartford Public Schools is for our family,” Tara Moore said. “Tom and I were both young teachers here – Tom at Conard and me at Charter Oak. We knew that our schools had great academics, and we knew this wasn’t a place where kids learned diversity in theory, it was something they lived.”

At the time they were living in a house they had built in East Haddam and commuting to West Hartford, but as their oldest child, Jack, was ready to start kindergarten they decided to move to West Hartford, “and we would make that decision again a thousand times over,” Tara Moore said. “To this day, who they are and how they approach the world has been deeply shaped by their experiences in West Hartford Public Schools. For us, West Hartford was always more than just a job. We chose it, and it was our home.”

Moore was the first in his family to go to college. It wasn’t an automatic path for him, and he paid his own way. “The whole idea of clearing paths is a very personal thing that he has lived,” Tara Moore said. He sees himself in many of students who have potential but need access, and need someone to “see” them. That insight, along with the rigor of the West Hartford curriculum, has benefitted countless students along the way, she said.

“Twenty-six years is a long time to accumulate memories, but some of them have stayed with me,” she said. “There was a group of very funny and dedicated AP Euro students who gathered on the stone wall in front of our house wanting to know is Mr. Moore home because we have a question about Charlemagne that just can’t wait until Monday. He wasn’t, so our two kids got special permission to come down and hold court on the front steps until the impromptu study session could begin. More than once, a student came to the house because he had made a serious mistake, but he wanted Mr. Moore to hear it from him, and to say that he was sorry for letting him down. I think about how hard it must have been for those kids to make that trip over and knock on the door. I also think it’s a testament to the level of respect he had earned with the kids and the type of character he inspired. Those are the conversations that matter.”

Superintendent Tom Moore. Conard High School graduation. June 24, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Moore made numerous graduation speeches, as faculty speaker as well as in his role as an administrator, as well as convocation speeches, and is known for speaking extemporaneously.

“He would find a way to weave together Britney Spears references, the inspiration of Thoreau, and always, the wisdom of Springsteen into something funny, poignant, and inspirational before sending kids off into the world,” Tara Moore said.

She recalled other inspiring moments as well, moments from teaching or coaching that helped others create memories. “There was even one moment in an undefeated JV football season that felt a little movie-like. I could see Tom’s clipboard in the air, and all of his players on the sidelines jumping straight up and down around him. One of his players who had never touched the ball connected with a pass in the endzone. It was a play specially designed for a young man who needed a memory, and you know that’s one of those things that he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life.”

As a teacher, Tara Moore said, “Tom brought history to life walking alongside his students on the D-Day beaches of Normandy, through the Warsaw ghetto, to Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall, the Katyn Forest memorial, through Dachau and the gates of Auschwitz. I’m sure his students would say that he knew when to help them connect their own lives to these places and points in history, but also when to step back and give them space so they could just absorb the enormity of what they were there to witness.”

Becoming superintendent and not being in the classroom every day didn’t mean he cared less about the kids, she said. “Tom is genuinely inspired by great teachers, and he so, so loved his days in the classroom. But to care enough about kids to create a vision for them, put the structures in place for them to succeed, along the way making hard decisions and accepting the fallout that comes with those decisions – that’s an absolute testament to how highly you think of kids. When someone cares enough about you to fight for you, that’s a powerful thing.”

Moving to Illinois will be starting over, with a blank slate, Tara Moore said. “I am happy to be starting something new together. We started West Hartford together, and it’s been such a great experience, personally and professionally.” The past two years have been hard for everyone, but in some ways that makes it a good time to step out of their comfort zone, she said.

Moore said when he was hired as superintendent, he was charged with “working towards improving equity, making sure that our children had equal access to challenging coursework, and bringing recognition to the great work West Hartford Public Schools was doing. During my time, I am so proud that, due to the incredible work of so many, and the commitment of our teachers and students, we have had great successes in these areas.”

He’s proud that the achievement gap has been narrowed, graduation rates are as high as ever, more students earn college credit than in any other district in the state, and students, teachers, and administrators have been honored for their achievements.

West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore has been named Connecticut Superintendent of the Year. Photo credit: Wilmarie Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

“I had the honor to stand on a stage with 49 other superintendents last week as our nation’s superintendents of the year, and I am well aware that West Hartford Public Schools earned that distinction, and I was accepting the recognition for everyone here,” he said.

“Tom’s work is not finished, but I think he feels good about where he’s leaving the district,” Tara Moore said.

“Now it is time for me to move on,” he wrote in his letter. “I believe that most leadership has a shelf life, and eight years as superintendent of West Hartford Schools is the right timeline for me. I also believe that we have a very short life span to do as much as we can, to help as many people as we can, and to positively affect the lives of those that we come in contact with. I have loved my time here, and I leave you in incredibly good hands. I look forward to watching West Hartford from afar, and seeing the great days that are ahead. I will always be grateful to this community, to all who work in our schools, and to the families that entrust us with the education of your children. Thank you.”

“Tom is frequently praised for his communication style and his steady leadership of our district,” said Board of Education Vice-Chair Deb Polun. “And that praise is so well-deserved! But there is also so much going on behind the scenes that make him who he is: his responsiveness to and compassion for students and families; his fostering of leadership in our students, teachers, and administrators; and his ability to listen and incorporate feedback from others. He is the model of a public servant, and I have been so honored to partner with and learn from him.”

Clare Taylor Neseralla, also a member of the West Hartford Board of Education, also shared her thoughts. “It has been my honor to work Tom as a teacher, have my daughter served by his leadership, and now working with Tom on the Board of Education. In each decision, he always asked what is best for students. He is an advocate for teachers and a trailblazer among superintendents. Tom’s gains in helpIng our district be more equitable and inclusive are to be applauded and I am glad Tom received the recognition he deserved. He will be missed and his new district is very fortunate.”

While no timeframe has yet been established, Thomas-Farquharson said, “As we prepare to transition, the Board will begin operationalizing next steps with selecting a new superintendent.”

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