Twenty-two years ago, Joseph P. Macary ’94 (CLAS), ’05 ELP, ’16 Ed.D. was the athletic director, social studies department head, and a classroom teacher at Crosby High School in Waterbury, Connecticut. The then-Superintendent of Schools encouraged him to apply for the social studies supervisor position, but he enjoyed teaching so much that he didn’t. A month later, the position was reposted, and, again, that same person encouraged him to apply. Macary did, went on summer vacation, and returned as the top candidate for the position.
Fast forward to Nov. 17, 2023, and Macary, who is now superintendent of Vernon Public Schools in Vernon, Connecticut, was recognized as the 2024 Superintendent of the Year by the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS). Macary’s remarkable achievements, dedication, and exemplary service to the field of education made him a well-deserving recipient of this prestigious award, according to CAPSS’s press release.
“This recognition is deeply humbling, representing acknowledgment from esteemed peers,” Macary says. “It signifies an esteemed privilege, as there’s no higher honor than recognition by your peers in the field. The honor, in essence, acknowledges not only me but the collective efforts of the entire Vernon community and my formative experiences at UConn, profoundly impacting my educational journey.”
This recognition is deeply humbling, representing acknowledgment from esteemed peers. It signifies an esteemed privilege, as there’s no higher honor than recognition by your peers in the field. — Joseph Macary
“Joe Macary was selected in 2016 as a featured Executive Leadership Program alumnus for the Neag School of Education Leadership Forum,” says Richard Gonzales, the Neag School’s director of Educational Leadership Preparation Programs. “In his speech, he emphasized the moral imperative for ensuring educational opportunity and prosperity in life holistically for all children. That message is as important today as ever and one that we emphasize in ELP and UConn’s Administrator Preparation Program as we prepare future school and district-level leaders.”
Three fellow superintendents nominated Macary for the Connecticut Superintendent of the Year award. The application process resembles that of the National Superintendent of the Year, involving extensive documentation — resumes, videos, detailed inquiries — submitted by early September. The selection committee, which includes past CAPSS presidents and former CT Superintendents of the Year, convened in October and notified Macary of his selection by the end of that month. Macary is now prepping his application for the National Superintendent of the Year Award, but regardless of the outcome of that process, he’s the ambassador for Connecticut superintendents for the following year.
Macary thanks UConn for playing a pivotal role in shaping his career — first, during his undergraduate studies, when he developed his core beliefs; second, during the Neag School’s Executive Leadership Program (ELP), when he interned under then-Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Smyth in Wolcott, which set him on his path to superintendency; and finally, during his Ed.D. program, which he completed in 2016.
“Instructors like Casey Cobb, Barry Sheckley, and Richard Lemons deeply influenced and expanded my educational leadership skills,” Macary says. “This recognition represents the culmination of these transformative experiences that directed me to the superintendency and widened my impact beyond Waterbury.”
Initially unsure of a career path, coaching soccer in Waterbury revealed Macary’s ability to influence and engage students. This led him to teaching social studies while coaching, eventually transitioning to administration.
As superintendent, Macary emphasizes action over discussion regarding administrator development. In Vernon, a third of the 22 administrators in the district possess their Superintendent Certification (093) and most have completed the Neag School’s ELP program.
Macary actively encourages senior-level administrators to enroll in the UConn program for its insights into affecting district-wide changes and enhancing administrative skills. Macary lauds the ELP program as exceptional professional development, ideal for preparing individuals for senior leadership roles. He advocates for its practicality and effectiveness, deeming it the most valuable professional development experience available.
Pursuing the ELP program at UConn seemed a natural step given its reputable educator preparation. The program’s high quality … and my internship in Wolcott further solidified my career shift. — Joseph Macary
“Pursuing the ELP program at UConn seemed a natural step given its reputable educator preparation,” he says. “The program’s high quality, led by notable educators like Dr. Robert Villanova and Dr. Philip Strifer at the time, impressed upon me and my internship in Wolcott further solidified my career shift.”
He says the experience broadened his perspective beyond Waterbury and prepared him for district-level impact, affirming his desire to make a difference in children’s lives. The program’s internship, especially, exposed him to district operations and fueled his aspiration to create change on a larger scale, pushing him toward senior-level administration.
“As Vernon’s superintendent for the past eight years, my proudest achievement is the impact on students’ lives,” he says. “Initially, only 40.8% were at grade level in reading and 27.9% in math. Today, it’s 52.5% and 44%, respectively; real progress for real students, offering them better opportunities. Additionally, we’re successfully narrowing the achievement gap, benefiting all student groups.”
For his doctoral research, Macary delved into the stagnation of secondary school achievement, particularly examining the instructional core. Coming from a high school background, he observed little change despite consistent scores. His dissertation, supervised by Cobb, Sarah Woulfin, and Villanova, focused on the reasons behind this stagnation.
Under his guidance, the districts have steadily increased their scores and rankings. … This person is your quintessential servitude leader who puts those in need before himself. — Jan Peruccio
“It was an enriching experience investigating the issue alongside such esteemed professionals,” he says.
Currently, Macary serves as the internship coordinator for the UConn ELP program, overseeing aspiring superintendents’ internships and their completion of 120 hours of journals. He reviews their journals, conducts seminars on various topics, and supports their growth as future leaders, emphasizing the necessity of cultivating the next generation of educational leaders in Connecticut.
At the November 2023 Connecticut Association of Boards of Education/CAPSS Convention, where Macary was announced as the next Superintendent of the Year, last year’s honoree Jan Peruccio introduced him as “everyone’s friend. Someone who is genuinely caring and kind.”
“Under his guidance, the districts have steadily increased their scores and rankings,” Peruccio said. “In short, this person is your quintessential servitude leader who puts those in need before himself.”
In Macary’s acceptance remarks, he described what he hopes is his enduring impact in the field: “My legacy is to make a difference in the lives of children by setting high expectations of learning, advocating a whole child approach to learning – academic, social, and emotional – and integrating the family community into the school system.”
To learn more about the UConn Neag School of Education’s Executive Leadership Program, visit executive.education.uconn.edu.