HARTFORD — The Connecticut Association of Schools named Hartford Principal Desi Nesmith of SAND Elementary School the 2010 recipient of the “William Cieslukowski Outstanding First Year Principal Award.”
Recipients of the award, named after the former president of the Elementary & Middle School Principals of Connecticut, must demonstrate exemplary instructional and organizational leadership, a willingness to take risks and the ability to overcome adversity.
Nesmith was recognized for his work in facilitating the school’s transition to the nationally acclaimed America’s Choice education design and for producing the highest gains on the 2010 Connecticut Mastery Test of any elementary school in the district.
“It’s truly an honor to be recognized,” Nesmith said. “But the real credit goes to our students, their parents and to our dedicated teaching staff. I also want to thank America’s Choice for its support throughout this process.”
Established in 1998, the America’s Choice School Design is a proven model that provides an unmatched combination of professional development, technical assistance, and high-quality materials to help turn around schools that have a substantial group of students with difficulty meeting standards. Since then, more than 1,000 schools nationwide have adopted the design, which is customized for elementary, K–8, middle, and high schools.
Nesmith’s implementation of the America’s Choice design in his first year as a principal resulted in a 14.8 percentage point increase in his school’s Overall School Index, the highest increase among elementary schools and the second highest in the entire district.
“Mr. Nesmith also wasted no time introducing himself to the community and setting higher expectations for educational success even before the official start of schools,” said Assistant Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, who oversees school redesign.
“It was not long before the community was buzzing with talk about the new guy going door to door talking about the new school going into their familiar neighborhood building.”
The new principal also aligned the 7th and 8th grades with the new Journalism and Media Academy giving students a strong writing component to their curriculum. Students also participated in a four-week summer program at the Simsbury Community Farm, where they participated in science and literary classes.
“Desi’s contributions have given life, breadth and depth to the message and vision of America’s Choice at SAND,” said Jennifer Weiss, Senior Associate of America’s Choice in New York City. “As a first year principal, faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges and adversity, Desi remained focused and driven, curtailing air supply to all potential fires by devoting time and effort where it matters most: with students and teachers.”
A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Mr. Nesmith was a 5th grade teacher in the East Hartford school system. He later became a “Teacher in Residence” at the Connecticut State Department of Education’s School Improvement Unit and then an Intervention Resource Specialist in the Office of the Hartford Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education.
“If my own children were just starting elementary school, I would want Desi to be their principal,” said M. Leon McKinley, director of Elementary Education for Hartford Public Schools and Nesmith’s mentor. “He’s that good for children.”