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After 13 years of leadership as principal of Guilford High School, Rick Misenti retires with the end of the school year. He’s grateful to have been a part of an extraordinary school system and community. (Photo courtesy of Guilford Public Schools )
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When this extraordinary school year comes to a close, it will also mark the end of an extraordinary 13 years at Guilford High School (GHS) led by Principal Richard “Rick” Misenti, who will retire. And talk about defining moments: His final months as a principal, and his final farewell to the GHS Class of 2020, will be forever looked at through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This senior class, and the adversity that has confronted them, has demonstrated even more resoundingly their resilience and the strength in character that will carry them through life after GHS,” says Rick. “They are well-prepared educationally, they have strong values, and they’ll be able to navigate any task that they take from here on in. And their resiliency with distance learning, with missing out on activities...the way they’ve handled it will take them far in their life after Guilford High School.”
While they won’t march onto the Town Green for commencement, he hopes his message planned for the Class of 2020 graduation exercises, which “we’re trying to make as special as possible,” will come through during the safe-distance ceremony.
“I wanted so much to stand before our community and say goodbye and say thank you,” he says. “This would have been my 30th graduation ceremony, and the message I’ll somehow try to convey to the senior class is that most of these seniors began 13 years ago with me. Most of them were in kindergarten 13 years ago and I was beginning my first year here as principal. So we have matriculated through the education system and these years together. And little did we know after 13 years our ending would come like this. I’ll say goodbye to the senior class; I cannot think of a greater class to go out with. And I would say goodbye to this community, and I would thank you for making the last 13 years of my career so special. Thank you for spending hours nurturing and guiding our children. This is a special town—I have been blessed to be able to serve as their principal.”
Exceptional Experiences and Support
Looking back over his 13 years at the high school, three exceptional experiences quickly come to mind, as well as three specific areas of support that help point to the success of GHS, Rick says.
“The first is being awarded a National Blue Ribbon School, the second was involving our community and our faculty and our kids in the design and the build to the move into a brand-new school building, and the third is bringing the International Baccalaureate program to that high school,” says Rick. “Those are three things that come to my mind quickly, and while I wish I could say it was all because of me, it’s because in any successful high school across the country, there are three common threads that run through and through that high school or that school system.”
Rick says they involve a combination of inspiring educators, motivated students, and exceptional community/family partnerships.
“The first thread is our teachers, and I truly believe the teachers in the high school are the best on the planet,” says Rick. “The second is a strong student body. They not only represent our school and community inside the classroom, they represent our community and its values. They reach out to people who have more needs than any of us. They’re there for people. They’re sensitive, sincere and giving of oneself. You don’t see that all the time in young people.”
The third thread is a “tremendous partnership” with families and community, he says, pointing to new high school facility as well as support programs including Guilford Youth Mentoring, Guilford Foundation, and Guilford Fund for Education. During his administration, the Town of Guilford approved a $92 million budget and built the new high school, which opened in 2015.
“We’re not sitting in a brand new building unless there is a strong partnership with community and its educational system,” says Rick.
Rick says the partnership that’s in place between the school community and the community at large also has a great deal to do with the success of GHS.
“When you look at our mentoring program, they have 6,000-plus hours a year that they mentor with Guilford’s kids,” says Rick. “I look at Guilford Foundation and the Guilford Fund for Education—two tremendous organizations that have pumped in more than money, they’ve pumped in resources for teaching and learning. Where do you find that in a community? That’s what makes it so special. It’s not the money; it’s the people who are involved, who give of their time and talents for teachers and for young people. That’s what makes this town so special.”
Beyond that, Guilford Public Schools provides exemplary support for students across all ages and stages, he adds.
“I have to take my hat off to the Guilford Public Schools system and give credit to the elementary and middle schools as well,” says Rick. “They prepare our students, and when our [GHS] teachers get them, our teachers take them to a whole other level. But it is a wonderful school system, K through 12, with exceptional leadership not just in the buildings but in the district office.”
Rick says the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Paul Freeman and the Board of Education is the best combination he’s experienced in his career.
“I have a been a high school principal for 30 years. I have seen everything. I will tell you that, from the Board of Education to the superintendent to the principals of all the schools and the teachers, you can’t find it better anywhere,” says Rick.
Helping to Shape GHS
During his GHS years, he is especially proud to have played some small role in shaping GHS into the program that is today. He’s also thankful he could help, in some small way, with transitioning to the new high school facility.
“I had a small part, but I had a part in it, and it was so rewarding. The way we designed and moved into the school was phenomenal,” says Rick.
He’s also exceptionally proud of helping to bring the International Baccalaureate Diploma program to the school.
“I knew about the program because my son graduated from the International Baccalaureate program in Florida. So I knew the positive things about it, and I brought it to the high school. I remember the first meeting, asking if everyone wanted to get on board, and they did, “ he says.
The International Baccalaureate program challenges juniors and seniors during a two-year program of study promoting interdisciplinary learning approaches, critical thinking, global awareness, and personal development.
One of the most recent milestone moments for Rick arrived in 2019, when GHS was the only Connecticut high school recognized by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Schools Program. Being a national blue ribbon school puts GHS among the elite in academic performance among high schools across the nation.
A Life in Education
A Connecticut native, Rick was a stand-out baseball player at Xavier High School in Middletown and is a member of the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame. He played college ball in Florida, and following graduation, began his teaching career in that state. He returned to Connecticut to take the helm at GHS following a 31-year career as a teacher, coach, and administrator in the Pinellas County, Florida school system.
Once he completes his role as GHS principal, Rick is looking forward to spending more time with his two grandsons, Leo, 5, and Peter, 3.
“They are my pride and joy, and I plan on spending a lot of time just being there if they need me, helping out with school with them, or if my son and daughter-in-law need me for anything. I look forward to doing that,” says Rick.
Rick’s son, Kyle, an attorney, and his daughter-in-law, Victoria, met while attending Yale University and reside in Connecticut. Rick will remain in Connecticut as well, and will come back to visit Guilford and the many people he’s met and befriended through the years.
“I will never forget the town of Guilford. I will never forget the people in it. The First Selectman [Matt Hoey] and I went to high school together, we played on the same baseball team together,” he says. “Kind people like him, the great leader that he is... just the wonderful people here, I will never forget. They were kind to me; they were generous with their kindness. They were so generous with their time and talent for young people.”
As for the shoes he’s leaving for the next GHS principal to fill, Rick humbly asserts he just an “old fashioned” high school principal who lucked into a fantastic opportunity to join GHS 13 years ago.
“The 30 years I’ve been a high school principal, I didn’t pretend to be anything but a high school principal,” he says. “Going to events, whether it’s athletic events, whether it’s curriculum events, honor society meetings, art shows; whether it’s attending the Poets Guild when they come into our school—I just think principals are supposed to be doing that. They’re supposed to be traveling to the other side of the state to watch their teams participate, whether it’s athletics or it’s debate. I’m just an old fashioned principal who just happened to come along at the right time at this high school.”
The 2020 guide to the Madison Chamber of Commerce has arrived!