Dr. Richard Sanzo began a recent letter to high school families with zest, stating that in the lead up to school’s start, “I find myself rejuvenated by the energy you and our staff bring in anticipation of the upcoming year.” And energy is what is needed for the busy academic year ahead.
As a primary goal, Dr. Sanzo pointed out that throughout the year the staff will “continue our efforts to create meaningful learning opportunities for our students as they gain skills which will transfer to college, career, and life in general.” There are a number of strategies being implemented to support that goal, one of which is a tiered administration of PSAT and SAT tests. The results will aid in highlighting areas in need of target teaching.
Dr. Sanzo went on to explain that the “focus for the year will be starting to integrate our new Core Values & Beliefs and Attributes of the Graduate by developing and expanding upon opportunities for students to learn, experience, and reflect upon these skills and dispositions.” Recently adopted by the Board of Education, the Core Values & Beliefs read “New Fairfield High School is committed to all students achieving high academic standards and personal wellness, enabling continuous growth through authentic, flexible pathways. By prioritizing connectedness and compassion, we empower all members of our learning community to take ownership of our individual and collective development as we foster the Attributes of the Graduate.”
The Attributes of the Graduate are comprised of a matrix of tenets by which each student will be measured as a critical thinker, problem solver, effective communicator, and productive citizen. Dr. Sanzo acknowledges that he and the staff are playing the long-game in implementing these new fundamental philosophies by noting that “our challenge is in finding the balance between developing the skills and dispositions employers demand…while at the same time improving other metrics such as standardized test performance. We must embed the instructional strategies, assessment practices, and some explicit test preparation into our course curricula without having it overtake the types of hands-on, real world, problem-based learning experiences that our students must have in order to be successful in the future. “
In discussing his best practices for facilitating a smooth transition between school years, Dr. Sanzo explained that “it’s about communication, coherence, and connectedness. Good communication about expectations, ongoing student performance, and overall goals for the year is important in maintaining a constant line of communication so all members of our community know what’s happening and appropriate feedback can be received.
In terms of our goals, it’s important for there to be coherence with our focus areas year-over-year. I’m a firm believer in having a 3- to 5-year plan which may be loosely defined in the out years, but whose short-term goals contribute to the bigger picture. Lastly, the bedrock of any school is in the relationships between and among students, staff, and parents. We affirmed connectedness as a core value and believe that through strong, positive relationships, we can provide the supports necessary for all to grow and succeed.”
Dr. Sanzo noted that, as an administrator, one of the most challenging tasks is searching for and choosing the right staff members stating, “Most immediately, we are working to fill out our staff, having openings right now in math and science. Across the state, there is a shortage of teachers in these areas and I believe strongly in finding quality teachers for our school. We are actively searching while also exploring alternatives for our students.”
One of the new initiatives he is most excited about is “a new freshman orientation and transition program called Link Crew. Research shows that the transition years for a student can be some of the most challenging and having supports in place to get a student connected to their new environment is essential.”
He went on to explain that “With Link Crew, we are introducing a new student-led orientation on the day before school starts with multiple other follow-up touch points throughout the entire school year. The goal is to get our incoming freshmen connected with an upperclassman who can be there to answer questions as well as serve as a guide and mentor.”
Among the many aspects of the year Dr. Sanzo’s looking forward to is working with the “new student advisory committee consisting of the Student Senate and House of Rebel-sentatives.”
He believes that “The voice of our students is the most important as they are the ones that are directly engaging in the learning experiences that we provide as a high school. One area that we will be working on this year will be investigating and proposing revisions to our capstone program and how we utilize the advisory period.”
When asked what advice he has for high school students on making the most of their time, he stressed that they should “Get involved. Get organized…Anecdotal evidence would suggest that when students are involved in sports, the arts, or other co-curricular, they must manage their time better and as a result become more organized. They are also more connected with the school through both their peers, coaches, and staff advisors.”
He also reached out a hand to prospective students who may need help, “students must not be afraid to ask for help. My staff and I are here to help with any challenge that may come up throughout the year.”
Dr. Sanzo ended his aforementioned letter to families with humility, saying he is “honored to continue to serve as Principal of New Fairfield High School and appreciates the opportunity to work with a talented student body and supportive families.” And he closed on a positive note with the wish for “another positive, productive and exciting school year ahead.”
By Sarah Opdahl