Head of Concord High named Secondary School Principal of the Year
Concord High School Principal Gene Connolly (seated) shakes hands with Belmont High School Principal Dan Clary, who offered his congratulations after Connolly received the Charles A. Napoli Award as Secondary School Principal of the Year 2014 at the New Hampshire Association of School Principals' annual meeting at Church Landing in Meredith on Thursday, January 9, 2014. The two administrators used to work together at Concord High School. (WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)
Thanks to Gene Connolly, the principal’s office isn’t a scary or ominous place at Concord High School.
Connolly, in his 11th year leading the school, is out in front of the school each morning, greeting the students as they enter the building. His door is open whenever possible so students can come in and talk. He addresses most of them by name. In this high school, the principal’s office is a welcoming one.
“You want to be in our office, and the kids realize that the first time after they meet him,” said Lisa Lamb, his administrative assistant.
This “kid-centered” focus, as Athletic Director Steve Mello calls it, is part of what led Connolly to win the title of Secondary School Principal of the Year, awarded to him yesterday by the New Hampshire Association of School Principals. Mello nominated Connolly with the help of Assistant Principal Rona Cadarette and Anna-Marie DiPasquale, a social worker at the school. Yesterday, they sat with other administrators at Church Landing in Meredith, where Connolly was given a ring and special photo plaque to commemorate his award. In 2001 he won Middle School Principal of the Year while working in Derry.
“There are literally hundreds and hundreds of people in schools who work real hard and they don’t have moments like this, so this is very humbling for me,” Connolly said after receiving his award.
The principals association accepts nominations from
anyone – students, teachers, parents, family members – for its principal of the year awards. The nominees must then write a series of essays, and a small pool are chosen for interviews with the selection committee. That committee then chooses two finalists and spends nearly a full day at those finalists’ schools, talking to students, teachers and other community members.
Connolly and the elementary and assistant principal winners will travel to Washington, D.C., this fall for a conference. Lois Costa, principal of Adeline C. Marston Elementary School in Hampton, won Elementary Principal of the Year and William Lonergan of Pinkerton Academy in Derry won Assistant Principal of the Year.
Cindy Chagnon, chairwoman of the selection committee and a member of the State Board of Education, praised Connolly’s ability to build relationships and develop a sense of community when she presented him with the award. She also highlighted his efforts to introduce new class structures that encourage all students to push themselves. Special education teachers, for example, co-teach with regular classroom teachers, and the high school eliminated a system where students took classes with other students on their same level of achievement. Now, high- and low-achieving students are mixed together in one class.
“Gene has helped create a school where all students have the opportunity to thrive,” Chagnon said.
Cadarette, who is new to Concord High this year, also emphasized Connolly’s ability to build a welcoming community.
“He goes out of his way to remember who you are as a human being,” she said.
Assistant Principal Ben Greene echoed that, saying one of Connolly’s best attributes is his willingness to make time for students whenever he can. If a student goes to the main office to see Connolly, he’s almost always available to see them.
Beyond creating this sense of openness, Superintendent Chris Rath said Connolly is a skilled manager who knows how to build an effective team. He is well aware of his strengths and puts people around him who have different strengths, she said.
“He has a very keen idea of what he’s trying to accomplish,” she said.
Connolly, for his part, was quick to acknowledge that many people contribute to the atmosphere and success of Concord High.
“It’s never about me, this is an award our school wins,” he said. “When I say our school community, it’s the parents, the kids, the teachers, the custodians, the lunch folks, all those people, and this is a reflection of all the work we do.”
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)