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New school superintendent starts

Dr. Kathryn Veronesi’s tenure as superintendent of schools in District 13 began with several days of weather events. Her first official day, Jan. 2, was the start of a two-day storm that required an early dismissal of students followed by a snow day.

Her first full week began with a day of thaw followed by plummeting temperatures freezing everything that just melted. Needless to say, Veronesi’s first district work days have started in the very early morning, with phone calls to facilities workers and neighboring superintendents.

Having spent her professional career in Connecticut, Veronesi is used to snow days, but noted that the weather disruptions have delayed her plans to visit the schools.

In an interview with Town Times, Veronesi described her first days as “a very smooth start.” Already, she said, “I feel like I’ve been here forever.”

Veronesi steps into a district in the midst of significant mandated and potential changes. The switch to Common Core State Standards is changing the curriculum and testing. The Board of Education is currently studying the future of the district’s schools, with a possibility of school reconfiguration or closings. Coginchaug Regional High School also needs a permanent principal.

Veronesi said she was drawn to the position because of the community and the CORE ethical values articulated by the district. “I don’t think there’s a place I go where there isn’t someone from Durham or Middlefield,” she said, describing the community as truly supportive of education.

As she did at the BOE meeting where she was officially hired, Veronesi referred to the CORE ethical values of respect, responsibility, honesty, kindness, and courage which school officials pledge to instill in the district.

“That last CORE value of courage, that’s an unusual CORE value for a school district to identify and that spoke to me,” Veronesi said. “We have to have the courage to do what we believe is best for the kids.”

According to Veronesi, the small town of Hebron, where she worked as an elementary principal and interim superintendent, shares some characteristics of District 13, such as a hard-working, supportive community. The school grades are divided differently in Hebron, with a K-6 school followed by a 7-12 high school. Veronesi said she is “thrilled” to have a separate middle and high school.

Getting a principal for the district’s high school is a priority of her first school year. CRHS has been without a permanent principal since the departure of Andre Hauser last spring. When then-Superintendent Sue Vicarro resigned shortly after, the BOE decided to focus on the superintendent search, allowing the new superintendent to take part in the principal search.

The goal, according to Veronesi, is to have a principal lined up by May, which is possible with “a pretty precise time line.”

Of the other changes in the district, Veronesi spoke of them as a mixture of opportunity and challenge. About implementing Common Core, Veronesi said, “There’s not a finish line. It’s going to be this ever-evolving process.”

Part of the challenge will be simultaneously writing, implementing, and reviewing the new curriculum while also using a new teacher evaluation system, she said. “So many of these things are true indications of advancement in what we know about teaching.”

Veronesi described the building utilization study as part of a trend of declining enrollment in Connecticut districts. “We need to be deliberate and responsive in what we do with that,” she said. “I’m trying to be a very astute listener and observer.”

Veronesi emphasized the necessity of collaboration in the building utilization study, requiring input from the educational planning firm, the BOE, and the community to make the best decision. This fits with her style of leadership, she said. “My style of leadership is a collaborative one. We are all better for working together.”

In the immediate future, Veronesi said she will continue to visit the schools to meet the staff and students and looks forward to working for the students and meeting the community.

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