Wallingford school district’s new superintendent Danielle Bellizzi is a familiar name but her elevation to the top job overseeing the town’s educational services includes an important footnote.
She is Wallingford's first female superintendent and now a member of a small, but expanding club.
According to a 2020 study by the American Association of School Administrators about 27 percent of superintendents are women. The AASA report found that the number of women superintendents rose from about 24 percent in 2010 to 26.68 percent in 2020. That’s more than double the percentage of female superintendents documented in 2000 (13.1 percent). Women represented approximately 76 percent of public school teachers in 2017-18.
Bellizzi was promoted in June, moving on from her position as the district’s assistant superintendent for personnel. She was selected from a pool of 11 executive candidates. She now oversees a school district with 1,370 employees and an annual budget of $106 million.
“For me, it was definitely something that I've always wanted to do,” she said, “and I thought this was a great timing for it, in a place that I really wanted to stay and grow.”
Bellizzi, who lives in Berlin with her three daughters, has previously worked in a variety of positions at school districts in Berlin, Wallingford, Windsor and also in Maryland, with several moves up the ladder throughout her career.
She succeeds Salvatore Menzo, who departed after 12 years as Wallingford’s superintendent.
Bellizzi said that working under Menzo contributed greatly to her professional growth, and when the opportunity came to apply for the superintendent position, she felt it was a natural next career step.
The AASA has taken a deep look into the reasons women don’t rise to higher administrative levels in school districts. Barriers include a wide range of issues from lack of mentoring to frequently male-dominated schools boards. Other reasons include a lack of interest on the part of women who may get into the profession for the teaching aspect, not administrative tasks. Lack of experience with fiscal management and the difficulty getting credentials are all part of the picture. It’s complex.
But Bellizzi had the drive and the interest to meet the challenge and she took advantage of several mentoring opportunities that have brought her to this career pinnacle. Her three-year contract comes with a salary of $190,000, plus an annuity of $4,750.
As for the members of the school board who made the final decision, we won’t put too fine a point on it except to note that six of the nine members, including the chair, are women. Whatever influence that may or may not have made on the final decision, the fact is the board made a ground-breaking decision for Wallingford and should be congratulated on quickly finding a replacement for Menzo and one who seems extremely capable of doing the job.
While Bellizzi’s appointment is a first for Wallingford, let’s hope she’s the first of many more women to step up and take top leadership positions in our school districts.