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Prioritizing STEM in Public School Education, Dr. Salvatore Menzo Named Champion for Industry

Dr. Salvatore Menzo, superintendent of Wallingford Public Schools and dedicated STEM education advocate, has been selected as this month’s Champion for Industry. Menzo has taken a once-conventional public school system and transformed it into a diverse, collaborative partnership with local manufacturers to develop hands-on educational programs that deliver career skills, both technical and soft, for students and local residents.

After developing his educational leadership skills as superintendent at a small one-school district in Connecticut, Menzo was selected as the new superintendent of Wallingford Public Schools almost 11 years ago.

With 6,000 students across 12 schools, leading the educational future of Wallingford was a significant undertaking.

But instead of singularly focusing on the future of Wallingford’s schools, Menzo instead broadened his vision to improve the future of Wallingford as a unified town. Integrating community involvement into all facets of education and town development, Menzo and local stakeholders developed the idea of the “Wallingford 100,” the notion that 100% community involvement plus 100% student engagement equals 100% student success.

When “coupled with our strategic plan, those two things together have allowed us to have success in all the areas necessary to help our students have the best outcomes possible upon graduation of high school,” Menzo says. “And that ties into a career, it ties into college readiness, it ties into just being good citizens. It ties into being good adults that we will be proud of – and they will be proud of us in helping them become those successful individuals.”

Readying Students for Manufacturing Career Opportunities – Not Just Jobs

As the largest per capita international exporter in the U.S., Wallingford is home to a number of companies with global business connections, a factor the district uses to its advantage.

“I’m so fortunate – and our town is so fortunate – to have businesses who are willing to take our hands and continue this journey together,” Menzo says. “They’re willing to accept all the crazy ideas that we have because they know that they’re coming from a place of supporting our students to make them the most successful citizens in our community in Connecticut.”

When planning out STEM lesson plans, teachers spend the summer meeting with local industry professionals to design a curriculum to best prepare students for success in the real world.

The district has also developed engagement opportunities for students interested in pursuing advanced manufacturing by ordering two manufacturing mills for students to get hands-on experience. The new equipment further strengthens the existing technical resources already in place across the district.

By “giving students as much opportunity as possible to make it the best experience” during their school years, Menzo explains, it “allows them to be truly proud of what they’ve accomplished in our system when they graduate.”

“We want our students to be exploring careers and life after high school as early as possible in our system,” he says. In an effort to introduce manufacturing as a career option early in students’ lives, the district is even incorporating STEM-related subjects into kindergarten curriculums. Through this early exposure, he notes, “students will have more opportunities to see the authentic connections between and amongst their subject areas as related to potential career opportunities.”

For Menzo, that’s the key – career opportunities for students, not just future jobs.

“We’re teaching students to work toward a career, rather than a job,” Menzo explains. “A lot of times people talk about [how they want their] child to get a job. We want them to, too; we want them to be ‘out-of-the-basement ready’ and able to successfully take care of themselves. However, we want them to feel that it’s a career – it’s a passion.”

Leading Change Through Collaboration and Facilitation

Although Menzo acknowledges his leadership within the district, he is the first to admit that he may not have as much hands-on experience in industry or business compared to other collaborators at the table – but to be effective, he doesn’t have to.

“When I think of myself as a leader, I really see myself as a facilitator of change and a facilitator of opportunity,” Menzo explains. “My job as a leader is to facilitate other people’s ideas and help make the connections, to help bring the best people together at the table to have the most significant outcome for my students and for our students in our district.”

In working with manufacturers, Menzo also acknowledges the reputation and future of the manufacturing industry for today’s young professionals.

“It’s not necessarily my responsibility in my present role to worry about Connecticut industry, but it is my responsibility in my professional role to worry about the success and the future of my students,” Menzo says. “So they tie together, and it’s nice that we’ve been able to do that in a successful manner.”

Harnessing the Collective Impact

When asked about his proudest achievement in his STEM work in Wallingford thus far, “the collective impact approach that we’ve been able to apply in solving a myriad of problems in our community and a myriad of challenges” tops the list, he says. “When I say, ‘collective impact,’ it means education, it means parents, students, social services, the mayor, faith institutions — all of those different groups and businesses working together to solve a problem.”

And the community is taking notice – and getting involved.

“That ability to be part of a group that pulled the community together around these initiatives is a legacy that I’m really proud of,” Menzo says. “There’s a synergy that has been created, be it [among] the businesses or universities or healthcare professionals, parents, students… there’s a sense that people want to be a part of what we’re doing.”

Sharing the Spotlight

When recognized as a Champion for Industry, Menzo is quick to share the spotlight with the entire Wallingford community development team.

“I don’t see this just as an honor for me,” he notes. “I see this as an honor for the district and the businesses. I can’t wait to be able to share this with them because this would not happen if they weren’t willing to answer the phone calls or having me come out to meet with them or attend their events and attend our events. It couldn’t work.

This is a team award – it’s really a tribute to the hard work of our community.”

Image Credit: Courtesy of Salvatore Menzo          

Part of this article from Lindsay Gilder, the Associate Editor for Thomas Insights. She was previously a Supplier Content Analyst and contributing writer for Insights.

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