High-energy principal to stay put
Published 6:13 pm, Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Len Tomasello feels he has earned the right to stay home and mow the lawn.
Yet that's way down the bottom of his to-do list for the four-decade educator.
Every day, this grandfather of seven is eager to head off to Sarah Noble Intermediate School in New Milford to welcome students and staff each morning with an upbeat message and song he hopes resonates as they go about their daily tasks.
Dr. Tomasello was appointed last summer to be a year-long interim principal in the district's second-largest school.
Recently, he was unanimously hired by the Board of Education to serve for a second year.
Dr. Tomasello does so even at a discounted rate because state Teacher's Retirement Board rules allow him to collect only 45 percent of the position's $133,786 salary.
Why does he do it?
The New Milford administrator, known to students and staff as "Dr. T,'' still gets a thrill from seeing children excited to explore maps of faraway lands -- be they on a wall or on a computer screen -- as part of a geography lesson.
He delights in children huddled over an aquarium as part of a science experiment. He loves seeing children laugh -- or wince -- as they turn the pages of a library book.
Dr. Tomasello also has great admiration for those who choose to be teachers and relishes the chance to help them be the best they can be.
School speech therapist Janet Natale is elated the administration has opted to have Dr. Tomasello stay a second year.
"I think it's fabulous,'' Ms. Natale said. "He's changed the whole morale around here. I think he's just terrific.''
Part of the change is related to Dr. Tomasello's focus on communication.
Beyond the typical classroom day, he believes it is important for teachers to have time to meet with peers and for students and parents to have ready access to him and to know what's happening in school.
Dr. Tomasello has taught a class to give a teacher the time to attend small-group meetings, invited parents to a brown bag lunch chat and started early-morning teacher reading clubs to discuss state-of-the-art educational literature.
He is a visible figure in the halls and classrooms, and rarely misses an extracurricular student event, according to staff and parents.
School board member Lynette Celli Rigdon, whose son, Brandon, is a student at Sarah Noble, said she appreciates Dr. Tomasello regularly engages with students, staff and parents, and he clearly has a passion for children who no longer need to have someone hold their hands, but aren't quite ready for complete independence.
"He is very down-to-earth," Ms. Rigdon said. "It has been a wonderful experience knowing him, and I'm glad he's staying.'
For certain, heading up a school of Sarah Noble's size and dynamic can be exhausting. More often, though, Dr. Tomasello said he heads home exhilarated.
"If you're a leader, people have to know who the heck you are,'' said Dr. Tomasello, who created a mural of photos of all staff members with their positions and hobbies.
He is known as a rabid Boston Red Sox baseball fan and an amateur photographer.
In the course of this year, Dr. Tomasello said the staff has embraced a number of new initatives, including reading improvement and integration of new technology and interactive learning.
He also reinstituted the annual school geography bee.
"Where else can you get this kind of excitement?'' Dr. Tomasello said. "You cannot imagine the energy that is in a school. It's like a soap opera."