Paul Vicinus has been named superintendent of West Hartford Public Schools effective May 1, 2023.
By Ronni Newton
Paul Vicinus, who has been the assistant superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for more than six years and is an educator who has worked in the West Hartford Public Schools for more than 30 years, has been named to the district’s top position.
The Board of Education on Tuesday night voted unanimously to appoint Vicinus as superintendent effective May 1, 2023, following a national search that began last summer after the departure of former superintendent Tom Moore for a position in the Chicago area.
“It is unquestionably a privilege to be able to lead this district,” Vicinus told We-Ha.com. “We are one of the most successful districts in the state, known nationally … and the exciting part about it, and honestly the scary part, will be continuing to lead with vision on a continuous path of improvement.”
Vicinus, who turns 55 this month, said some of his priorities include expanding computer science education to make the district a national leader in that area, continuing to expand the district’s reputation as a standout leader in the state and nationally regarding equity, and focusing on needs of families who choose West Hartford as a destination because they have children with special needs. The district already has a robust post-secondary program and operates the successful bookstore, The Next Chapter, and Vicinus said he wants to continue to advance those goals.
Providing additional support for students who want to move into career technical roles is also an important goal.
“There’s so much positive to continue to do, to shape … to work with such outstanding leaders,” Vicinus said. “But the real work gets done in the classroom by the most amazing teachers I know.”
Vicinus has been assistant superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment since July 1, 2016. That appointment was announced in December 2015, and he took over the role from longtime educator and administrator Nancy DePalma when she retired.
Vicinus has more than 30 years experience with West Hartford Public Schools, taking over an open position at Hall High School midway through the academic year in 1993 and was then hired as a math teacher at Conard High School the following fall, He rose through the ranks to department supervisor, assistant principal, director of Secondary Education, and to the assistant superintendent role.
His only time away from the district was in 2010 and 2011, when he served in Afghanistan as a command sergeant major in the Connecticut National Guard. When he returned it was the middle of a school year and he was placed in a role in Central Office – initially on a temporary basis – but his work was noticed by other administrators.
Vicinus has an undergraduate degree in pure mathematics from the University of Connecticut (1992), a master’s in pure mathematics from Trinity College (1998), and an 092 administrative certification from the University of Hartford. He is finishing up the 093 certification program in executive education leadership at Central Connecticut State University, and will complete the year-long program at the end of the month.
“It was a little while after Tom’s announcement, pretty close to a year ago to date,” Vincinus said, when he first considered applying for the superintendent’s job. He said he was at a conference with colleagues and got a lot of positive feedback and encouragement to think seriously about it.
“Before that, I didn’t see Tom’s move coming,” he said. The executive team was all very close in age and he thought they would continue to lead as a team for quite some time.
“I wanted to ensure that the work that we had been doing as a team would continue in earnest, to see that forward,” Vicinus said. And he felt if he wanted to be considered for the permanent superintendent job, the process would be as clean as possible if he wasn’t already serving in the interim role, which has been held by Andy Morrow since July 1, 2022.
Vicinus said he is so grateful to Morrow for taking on the interim role and the leadership and grace he has shown in that position, and grateful to his many mentors and colleagues along the way, including Moore, Morrow, Town Manager Rick Ledwith, Executive Director of Equity Advancement Roszena Haskins, and other former administrators. “They made it easy for me to grow, to learn. They made me look good,” Vicinus said.
“The past year has been a journey filled with many events, but what remained was our purpose to continue moving forward towards prosperity for all those whom we are honored to serve,” Board of Education Chair Lorna Thomas-Farquharson said in a letter to families following the appointment Tuesday evening. “Upon learning last year of Tom Moore’s imminent transition from the district, his departure as superintendent left big shoes to fill. We will eternally be grateful to the leadership of Dr. Andy Morrow, who without hesitation stepped up to lead the ship, often in uncharted waters, during the superintendent search process. Because of his unwavering commitment to continue moving towards an identified goal, we are in the position we are in now to be able to envision the next chapter for West Hartford Public Schools. Dr. Morrow, we thank you.”
Thomas-Farquharson said there were 14 candidates identified through a national search, and said the Board of Education took this search very seriously.
“You are someone who speaks and walks the talk,” Thomas-Farquharson said to Vicinus at Tuesday night’s meeting, someone who not only talks about equity but looks through the lens of equity.
There are myriad reasons why Vicinus stood out during the process, she said, including his willingness to talk with people and come to a shared destination.
In her letter to families, she highlighted the following examples of how Vicinus embodies the district’s values, principles, and vision: “expert curriculum designer, instructional leader, active listener, long term planner, equity leader, data-based decision maker, and strategic planner. He is motivated to achieve goals, however recognizes the sustainable value of shared experiences through collective efforts. He listens to learn, empowers others to reach their fullest potential, willingly accepts constructive feedback, and recognizes the benefits of having diverse perspectives at the decision-making table. He embodies these valuable characteristics all while never losing sight of the overall goal. He understands the value of operating through a lens of equity, recognizing equitable outcomes will only come from equitable opportunities.”
He also gives to others, not just locally, but through his service in the Army National Guard.
Vicinus, a command sergeant major of the 169th National Guard and veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, was keynote speaker at the West Hartford’s Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 11, 2018, held at the Connecticut Veterans Memorial in the Center.
Among his many awards in the National Guard are the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Afghan Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star, and Global War on Terror Service Medal.
“I am absolutely thrilled for Paul and our School District,” Ledwith, who was formerly the executive director of Human Resources for the town and district before being named town manager, told We-Ha.com.
“Having worked closely with Paul for 15 years I can say unequivocally that his commitment to our students success is matched only by his support for our teachers, administrators, staff, and the entire West Hartford community. Paul is an innovative and collaborative leader who will continue to work hard every day to do what is best for our children. Paul is absolutely the right person to lead our district and build on our reputation as one of the best towns to raise and educate children in the state, we are fortunate to have him in this new role,” said Ledwith.
“My sincere congratulations to Paul on his appointment as West Hartford’s Superintendent of Schools,” Morrow told We-Ha.com on Tuesday. “All of us who have worked with Paul and counted on him over the years know his commitment to our students and community, as well as his unwavering dedication to making our schools the best they can be. Paul understands our past, current, and future challenges, and as a friend and colleague, I am excited to continue our work together under his vision and leadership.”
Haskins said Vicinus is such a special person.
“Words cannot adequately express how elated I am for Paul, for the West Hartford Public Schools, and the Town of West Hartford,” she told We-Ha.com. “It has been a privilege for me over the past 16 years to work with Paul and learn from such a gifted leader who embodies duty, integrity, reliability and excellence in everything that he does. I am always humbled when I think about how Paul serves the children, families and staff of West Hartford with such devotion, while bravely serving our country as a soldier in the Army National Guard. Paul’s warmth, wit and relentless drive to find solutions to problems that keep us up at night are qualities that I admire about him,” she said.
“I will always remember a time when Paul was stationed in Afghanistan in 2010, and he said that the human experience centers on ‘four simple ideas that are relevant here and at home: respect, listening, teamwork and family.’ These are qualities that Paul has modeled for me as a colleague and a friend. I will miss working with Paul, but I look forward to following the journey of WHPS under his leadership,” said Haskins, who announced last month that she will be leaving West Hartford at the end of the academic year and joining Moore as deputy superintendent for the Niles Township High School District 219 in Skokie, Illinois.
Haskins and Vicinus have not only been colleagues in the district, but have been classmates at CCSU, where both are about to complete the work for their 093 certification.
Before the unanimous approval of Vicinus’ contract by roll call vote, each of the Board of Education members shared a few words.
Jason Chang said being part of the search community was a tremendous learning experience that provided the opportunity to sense the community’s needs and aspirations. “What stood out to me, Paul, was your dedication to being such a strong instructional leader … and your commitment to equity and seeing the whole student.”
“I’ve been impressed with your willingness to share information and ideas,” said Ethan Goldman. Vicinus’ previous interactions with parents and follow-through have impressed him, and he said Vicinus stood out during the interview process. “We had a lot of good candidates but you seemed to go above and beyond in sharing thoughts, sharing ideas of how to improve the schools,” said Goldman.
“I have always been struck by your integrity and willingness to listen to different people, different views,” said Gayle Harris. She said she thinks Vicinus can be a unifier. “I think that this is a win for the district, this is a win for the community.”
“I’m really inspired by your recognition of how West Hartford is doing but also having a vision for moving forward,” said Renée Kamauf, the newest member of the Board of Education who was appointed in December 2022.
“I’m thrilled that you will be our new superintendent,” said Clare Taylor Neseralla, who was formerly a teacher in the district and has worked with Vicinus for many years. “You wowed us with your materials, your preparedness, and your ability to think on the spot … and I also know that we are in great hands.”
Ari Steinberg said Vicinus’ “commitment to the district is unsurpassed,” and as a person is always looking out for the best interests of students and the community as a whole. “The level of humility and genuineness that you exude is something I really value,” she said.
Vicinus was born in Bristol, CT, and raised in Plainville, CT. He and his wife, Joanie, moved back to Plainville years ago to take care of his grandfather and still live there. They have three children and one grandchild.
“I’m just tremendously grateful to the Board of Education for the trust and confidence they are placing in me,” Vicinus said.
“It’s a charge I will do my darnedest to live up to because I feel the weight of the responsibility and the expectation, and I am so grateful for this opportunity,” said Vicinus.
He thanked his colleagues, teachers, school staff, and his wife, who was in the audience.
“And to our community that may be at home or hear this news later, I will just say that it is my most guarded responsibility to live up to the expectations of you as parents and caregivers in this district, and to our long and proud history of excellence without exception,” Vicinus said.
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