Wallingford begins search for new superintendent, Menzo prepares for ‘next challenge’

Wallingford begins search for new superintendent, Menzo prepares for ‘next challenge’

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WALLINGFORD — The school district has already begun the search for a new superintendent, starting with a request for proposals from candidate search firms.

Board of Education Chairperson Karen Hlavac said Monday that the job — to be vacated at the end of the school year by Superintendent Salvatore Menzo — will be posted this week, meaning it will open at the same time to both internal and external candidates.

Hlavac said the board intends to ask the search firm to coordinate the candidate application and develop a survey to send to the community, family and staff.

She said the board is hoping to appoint a new superintendent by June 30, which is the end of the school year.

Menzo, who has been leading the school district for 12 years, recently accepted a job at Goodwin University as superintendent of magnet schools.

“I've learned so much personally and professionally (in Wallingford) that I'm just ready for the next challenge,” he said Monday.

While Menzo will be a Goodwin employee, the magnet schools are operated by LEARN, a regional educational service center based in Old Lyme.

Goodwin University runs two magnet schools, both located in East Hartford — Riverside Magnet School for grades pre-K to 5 and Connecticut River Academy for grades 6 to 12.

“A student who goes into that system could actually go to preschool through college or university,” Menzo said. “I think that was something that excited me as well — learning about the magnet school system but also learning about the university system, and working in a unique environment in which the two are married so nicely together.”

Connecticut River Academy’s curriculum is focused on environmental science, advanced manufacturing and workforce development — which is something Menzo said appealed to him about the job.

Goodwin and the Wallingford school district have an existing professional development partnership. Goodwin staff have helped develop the advanced manufacturing curriculum, and the school is a donor towards the Aerospace Center in the Center for Innovation and Design.

“There's going to be the continued partnership with Wallingford,” Menzo said, “which is also something that was exciting for me, in the sense that I wouldn't be severing ties totally. There will be those opportunities for collaboration and partnership.”

One of his first duties, he said, is developing a team to identify areas to continue innovations in the existing magnet schools, and also looking at expanding opportunities for students to go from high school into the university.

“I've been given an opportunity by this Board of Education to really be as innovative as possible,” he said, “but I think what really hit home to me was that in one of the conversations I had with them (Goodwin), they said they were looking to hire a master chef to be given the ingredients to make the best dishes possible for their students. And I think that spoke to me, because that's what any educator would love to have, that next step to have a canvas on which he or she could create.”

Goodwin acquired the University of Bridgeport earlier this year. Menzo said he may be working on projects to bring educational opportunities to the Bridgeport area.

‘High regard’

The former superintendent of Goodwin’s magnet schools, Craig Drezek, died in June 2020 after battling COVID-19. Drezek, 49, was a Meriden native and 1989 Maloney High School graduate.

An interim superintendent, Freeman Burr, had been filling in since Drezek’s death. Among Burr’s responsibilities was facilitating the search for a permanent superintendent, Goodwin spokesperson Philip Moore said Monday.

Menzo, 50, is a West Hartford resident. He came to Wallingford from the superintendent position at Marlborough Public Schools in July 2009.

He holds a doctorate in education leadership from the University of Connecticut. Before becoming superintendent in Marlborough, he was a language arts teacher in the Windham school district and served as vice principal and principal of Silas Deane Middle School in Wethersfield.

Menzo’s current salary is $203,911 — making him the highest paid town employee in Wallingford.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said Monday that he has “high regard” for Menzo.

“I think he's been a very energetic and charismatic leader for the public education in town,” he said. “He has shown great concern for our students having opportunities to learn, and emphasized the importance of learning.”

Dickinson said he hopes the new superintendent will work to combat any learning loss that exists as a result of the pandemic.

“Good work was performed in order to meet that emergency,” he said, “If my reading of surveys and statistics on the state level are true, for Connecticut and for Wallingford, there has been a slipping of the quantity and quality of learning for many students. Certainly we need to be very conscious of that, and help them to recover the lost time.”

On the map

The school board accepted Menzo’s resignation Friday during a special board meeting.

Hlavac said Monday that Menzo has “done an excellent job of moving our district forward.”

“He really provided our students with enhanced and enriched educational opportunities,” she said, citing Menzo’s efforts to establish the Center for Innovation and Design and the partnership with the Early College Advanced Manufacturing Pathway.

School board member Mike Votto was chairperson of the board when Menzo was hired in 2009.

“I feel that he has certainly put Wallingford on the educational map in Connecticut,” Votto said Monday, “from the things that he has been involved in and what he initiated in town.”

Votto said Menzo was the one who broke out the school budget into sustained services — what the school district needs day to day to function — and the strategic plan — larger, long term projects with less of an immediate need.

Menzo also developed a valuable rapport with community leaders.

“During his tenure, we received dozens of donations, thousands of dollars, from various groups within the town and in the state,” he said, “which was fabulous because he had a way of developing those relationships.”

“We're extremely thankful for what he's done for our students,” Hlavac said, “and we're excited and happy for him as he takes this new position.”

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores

FILE: Pond Hill fourth-grader Drew Biller is congratulated by Menzo, May 2015. Drew helped raise over $1,500 for research of Rett syndrome, a postnatal neurological disorder.
FILE: Menzo speaks during the Career Pathways Presentation at Hubcap, December 2016. Parents and students learned about industry and career possibilities from local businesses.
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