MERIDEN — New leaders will be at the helm of several city schools in the upcoming school year.
John Kuckel, who has led Lincoln Middle School as principal over the past three years, heads over to Nathan Hale Elementary School to become that building’s new leader.
Nathan Hale’s longtime principal Karen Dahn retired at the end of the last school year, opening the opportunity for Kuckel.
Meanwhile, James Flynn, most recently assistant principal at Maloney High School, has been named Lincoln’s new principal.
Platt High School will have a new assistant principal in Bethany McKie. McKie takes over the position previously held by Andrea Fonseca, who has been offered a position as principal in the Stratford Public Schools, said School Superintendent Mark D. Benigni.
The new leaders are settling into their roles. Flynn said Monday he officially started his new position the week before. He has met with Lincoln’s secretarial staff and some faculty.
Flynn, a Meriden native, said he is excited for the opportunity to work with a younger group of students as well as new colleagues at Lincoln after a long career at the high school level.
Flynn, a former social studies teacher, said he strives to be fair and empathetic, learning about the “whole student.”
“As a teacher, you would try to meet them where they’re at,” Flynn said.
In teaching U.S. history, he tried to incorporate real life experiences so that students could relate to the curriculum.
Flynn, who graduated from Platt in 1996 and later attended Central Connecticut State University and the University of New Haven, said he was inspired to go into education by his high school teachers.
“They had a good way about them that made me want to pursue teaching,” Flynn said. Their approach included patience, subtlety and humor.
Officials have not yet named a replacement for Flynn at Maloney.
Dan Crispino, who is director of school leadership for the elementary schools, described Dahn as a passionate, caring, hardworking and dedicated principal.
“Karen will not be easily replaced,” Crispino said.
Benigni described Dahn as having been a dynamic leader at both Nathan Hale and John Barry Elementary School.
“She cares deeply about students, staff and the school community,” Benigni said.
Crispino said he is looking forward to working with Kuckel at Nathan Hale.
“It’s a huge job,” he said. “I don’t think people understand the amount of responsibility that falls on a principal. That’s your building. It’s not just a Monday through Friday job. It’s a 24-7 job in many ways.”
Kuckel, who is in his 21st year as an educator and his 11th year in Meriden, has long worked at the middle school and high school levels.
He said he’s always been interested in an elementary school principal position. So when the Nathan Hale position became available, Kuckel said he expressed his interest.
Kuckel said his experience working with students in upper grades allows him to talk to younger students about what to expect as they progress through school.
“What’s coming up for them, the skills they need,” Kuckel said.
Benigni said Kuckel will bring his experience building relationships with students, families and staff at the secondary to the elementary school level.
“He will be joining a very strong team,” Benigni said.
McKie, a longtime science teacher who taught biology and human anatomy at Maloney, heads to Platt as its new assistant principal overseeing the ninth grade transition.
McKie said she is looking forward to the new opportunity. She described the freshman year of high school as critical.
While McKie has taught science, McKie has also worked closely with families and fellow faculty members in special education planning and placement meetings.
Benigni said dealing with the social and emotional needs of students is a top priority in the coming school year.
“How can we support whole child development?” Benigni said, adding the district has added additional staff to support those needs and increased its summer program to help students begin the academic year already connected to their school communities.
The district is also looking to maximize its outdoor learning spaces.
At the high schools, officials plan to increase focus on ensuring students graduate college or are career ready.
“What are we doing to prepare students for the competitive work environment after high school?” Benigni said.