Tolman’s Savastano named top principal
Calls Rhode Island Association of Principals’ High School Principal of the Year award ‘humbling’
PAWTUCKET — For his efforts in transforming the culture at Tolman High School and for his grace and humility, always willing to credit the work of others before himself, Tolman Principal C. Christopher Savastano was honored on Wednesday as the Rhode Island Association of Principals’ High School Principal of the Year.
School Superintendent Patti DiCenso said Wednesday's event served as the second grand celebration at Tolman in as many years, following last year's announcement that the high school had shed its statemandated “priority” status after graduation rates climbed significantly. When Tolman High discarded the status of priority, it became the first high school in the state to do so.
DiCenso said that getting rid of the priority status happened thanks to the tireless work of a team of leaders at the school. Chief among them, she said, was Savastano, who last year went before school officials and spoke of the positive work of teachers, administrators, and the Tolman team.
Savastano credited everyone but himself, DiCenso said, calling him a “humble leader but a strong leader … Not once did he take credit.” The superintendent said that represented perhaps the most important moment in her history of listening to speeches.
Savastano has spent most of his career with his “boots on the ground,” DiCenso said, as he knows “the most important people don't sit in an office but work as a team.” Calling him a man of great integrity, respect, and action, DiCenso said that Savastano is at Tolman High for “the right reasons.”
Donald Rebello, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Principals, explained that Savastano's honor was a “very momentous occasion for Tolman High School and the city.” He described the process of selecting a principal to be commended, noting that notifications are sent out annually to administrators, superintendents, students, and families around the state to nominate the best school leaders deserving of recognition.
While the association received numerous nominations last year, Rebello said, he was “very, very proud and very privileged” to say that the association's Board of Directors had deemed Savastano as deserving of the prestigious honor.
Pawtucket School Committee Chairperson Gerard “Jay” Charbonneau said that the definition of leadership doesn't adequately fit Savastano, as his vision of the future of Tolman was much more, proving inspirational and “truly transformational.”
Mayor Donald R. Grebien credited Savastano for his hard work and leadership but, most important, he said, is the principal's hands-on approach – whether he sees a student struggling or succeeding, he's always there to offer assistance or encouragement.
“Leadership becomes about having the right people on your team. It's about being loyal and building a culture to live and learn,” Grebien said.
Grebien also told the assembled students that Savastano “does this for you.”
Tolman High math teacher and Pawtucket Teachers Alliance Vice President Christina DiPrete said that Savastano always listens and is open to ideas, which has made Tolman a place that prepares its students for success. Savastano's leadership guided Tolman through “dark times,” but DiPrete said that she was pleased to be able to celebrate the school's success which has come to fruition under him.
When Savastano finally took to the podium on the stage inside Tolman's auditorium, in front hundreds of celebratory and congratulatory students, he joked “I feel like I'm retiring!”
“This is very difficult for me because I'm not used to being recognized,” Savastano said. However, he said it was an honor to have the support and congratulations from the city, state, and school officials alike on Wednesday afternoon.
He said it was “very humbling” to have Grebien on hand and he explained that when he was hired, the School Committee asked him what it was that brought him to Tolman, and he said that he wanted to work with DiCenso.
Savastano was quick to showcase his trademark modesty, saying that the praise being heaped on him Wednesday, saying he would not be receiving the award without the staff and faculty at Tolman High. He also said that he was most proud that when students come to Tolman High, they know they are coming to a high school where they can receive an education and go on to be successful.
“It's my pleasure to represent you,” Savastano told the students.
Above, Tolman Principal Chris Savastano, center, is applauded by, from left, Pawtucket School Committee chairman Gerard Charbonneau, School Superintendent Patty DiCenso and Assistant Principal Richard Perrotta, as he announced as Principal of the Year in a ceremony at Tolman High School Auditorium Wednesday. Top photo, some Tolman students stand and applaud as Savastano accepts his award.
Principal Chris Savastano is congratulated by Tolman High School senior Neikialah Andrade during Wednesday’s ceremony.