New Fairfield High School will be welcoming a new principal on July 1. James D’Amico, most recently Principal of Staples High School in Westport, is a 1994 graduate of NFHS and comes to the position with the reputation of being a great relationship builder.
Mr. D’Amico was on the fast track to administration from an early point in his career as a Social Studies teacher, explaining that, “When I was a young teacher at Staples High School, my mentor, Rich Mott, encouraged me to go and get my 6th year certification, because he saw potential in me, and also because even if I never used it, I would make more money.” Following his advice, Mr. D’Amico was soon after certified and, when the opportunity arose, chairing his Social Studies department. Of the position he says, “I loved the balance of teaching and helping organize the department to better serve teachers and students.” He went on to say of his eventual move to administration, “I think that to be a successful administrator, you have to have loved being a teacher, and also hold the belief that you can improve more students’ experiences by making the system better than you can by teaching a class.”
In a large pool of talented administrators, Mr. D’Amico purportedly stood out to the search committee for many reasons, including his aforementioned focus on building relationships. A believer in genuine, honest communication as a foundation for positive relationships, the new principal says of the faculty, “Working with young people is incredibly rewarding, but also incredibly exhausting. You have to get to know people, and really listen to what the staff that works with students every day is saying.” He equally prizes frequent communication with students, “As a principal, you have to be out of the office and with people where they live their school lives: in the classrooms, hallways, cafeteria, gymnasium, even the parking lot!” The strategy will likely be just as, or even more, successful in New Fairfield, as the district’s high school has 1,000 less students and 100 less faculty that Staples High School.
Pragmatic, Mr. D’Amico acknowledges that, “The Principal has to make so many decisions that impact the school community, not all of which will be loved by everyone…” However, with open, honest communication and positive relationships in place, he is optimistic that people will be able “…trust that you are doing it with the right reasons.”
The young administrator said he was “drawn to the possibility” of leading at the school he graduated from, “It’s really exciting, and truly humbling. I have a real love for NFHS and have wonderful memories of high school. I had such wonderful teachers when I was a student here and felt like the school and the community gave me opportunities to learn, explore, and grow. I hope that in my time as Principal, that I can make sure that twenty-five years later, current students feel that way, too.”
Mr. D’Amico notes that most of his fondest memories of NFHS involve his time in the music and theater departments at the school, joking “I’m sure you could dig up some photos of me as the Drum Major of Marching Band or one of my roles in the musicals!” Of the school overall, he says, “What has always stuck with me is the way that teachers cared about students, and I really had fun in most of my classes, which influenced how I wanted my classroom to feel when I became a teacher. Becoming a Social Studies teacher, I always hoped that students enjoyed my classes the way that I enjoyed Mr. Poodiak’s government class–he was engaging and fun, but held us to high standards.”
Like Superintendent Dr. Pat Cosentino, Mr. D’Amico supports the notion that there are a number of paths to becoming a productive citizen after leaving NFHS, and he is excited to celebrate them, “I think the most important part of conveying that message to students is to truly celebrate those pathways with the same frequency and passion with which we celebrate students getting into top-tier colleges. I think that NFHS is doing a great job with this already, and my task will be to support the students, guidance staff, and parents with the tools that they need. The fact that NFHS already has much of the infrastructure in place to make this happen for students is one of the biggest reasons I wanted to come here!”
A resident of Bethel, Mr. D’Amico has four sons and he is happy to be working in a school that’s quite a bit closer. He says that the boys, “…are very active both in and out of school, and as they get older I want to be sure that I can be a part of as much as possible. I try to be an active dad, and help out where I can, so that’s really important to me.”
Optimistic and eager, Mr. D’Amico acknowledges that, “My hope for being Principal is that I can truly be helpful to New Fairfield. The school has changed over the last twenty-five years, and I am eager to learn more about the direction that the teachers, students, parents, and community want to move in over the next twenty-five years.”
By Sarah Opdahl