Sacred Heart alumnus Alan Strauss has received recognition from the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS) for outstanding work, not just once, but twice in three years—a first-time feat for any administrator in the state.
In February, CAS announced that Strauss, principal at The Gilbert School in Winsted, is High School Principal of the Year for 2016. That also put him in the running for the national award.
Previously, Straus received the CAS William Cieslukowski Outstanding First-Year Principal Award for the 2013-2014 school year. In between, the Connecticut Association of School Librarians bestowed on him its Administrator’s Award.
“It’s a great honor for my school and my community,” said Strauss, 54, in a phone interview after the CAS announcement. “I’m blessed; I’m very lucky.”
He said he gives credit to SHU, The Gilbert School and the Winsted community for the honors he has received. “The awards are nice, but it’s more about the people around you who are doing a lot of the dirty work,” he said.
Strauss attended the University’s Fairfield campus for his master’s degree and received his administrator’s certificate and sixth-year diploma from SHU’s Eastern Campus in Griswold. After graduation, Strauss served as an adjunct professor at Griswold and returns to the campus once a year as a guest lecturer.
“Sacred Heart has been fantastic,” Strauss said. “I go back every year to Griswold and help with their résumé center and cover-letter writing. I like to pay it forward.”
Strauss said he didn’t know he was nominated in 2013 for the CAS First-Year Principal Award. “It was a rookie-of-the-year award,” he said, adding that he didn’t think he would receive anything beyond that recognition.
The CAS Librarians’ Administrator Award came about, he said, because of Gilbert School’s infusion of technology into the classroom. “We utilize technology and support our media staff. We’ve put iPads in the classroom…this is a great place to work,” Strauss said.
This school year, Strauss learned he was nominated for Principal of the Year but did not foresee himself winning. “It was a surprise,” he said. “It was wonderful just to be nominated.”
Karen Packtor, assistant executive director at CAS, said candidates who are nominated for the award are asked to complete an application and provide state assessment data, a report on leadership practices and supporting information from a student, parent, teacher and fellow administrator. Packtor added that more than a dozen members of The Gilbert School community nominated Strauss.
“Alan was the unanimous choice of the selection committee,” Packtor said. “His written application was incredibly strong, revealing a leader of intellectual and pedagogical depth with a big heart and a profound love for and pride in his students and community.
“During his short tenure at Gilbert, he has skillfully united those around him in the pursuit of excellence and has succeeded in making dramatic, systemic changes that have resulted in improved test scores, rigorous academic offerings, expanded enrichment opportunities and a school culture predicated on positive relationships,” she said. “The astounding increase in graduation rate during Alan’s tenure [78 percent to 93 percent] is a compelling indicator of his impact.”
As principal of the year, Strauss will speak before school districts, community organizations and a variety of conferences throughout the state. He also will go to Washington, D.C., in September, where the national winner will be named. He will meet with principals of the year from other states, as well as the president, members of congress and the secretary of education.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Strauss said. “Sacred Heart really owns this. I had phenomenal mentors and professors who helped me hone in on my weaknesses.”
Karen Christensen, director and associate professor at SHU’s Eastern Campus, said Strauss is truly a motivational speaker. “He is so deserving of all of this,” Christensen said.
A Fairfield native and now a West Hartford resident, Strauss said he didn’t know right away he wanted to be an educator. His father was a social studies teacher, but that didn’t exactly inspire him to pursue the profession. It wasn’t until his junior year at the University of Connecticut, where he was studying political science and psychology, that he realized he wanted to work with children.
Over the course of 24 years, Strauss taught high school social studies in Weston and Naugatuck, where he also instructed students in psychology and human rights courses. He was vice principal in Windsor for two years before becoming principal at The Gilbert School.
The progression from teacher to administrator was a natural one, Strauss said. “I wanted to get involved in all aspects of education,” he said. Moreover, at The Gilbert School, Strauss doesn’t miss getting in front of the classroom because he does it all the time, teaching advanced placement psychology there.
“I’ve always been interested in people,” Strauss said. “If you understand people, you understand how to empower them, too.”