Nathan Hale principal named Connecticut’s best new principal of the year

James Crouch, principal of Nathan Hale Middle School (Courtesy of Norwalk Public Schools)

James Crouch, the first-year principal of Nathan Hale Middle School, received the William Cieslukowski Outstanding First-Year Principal Award from the Connecticut Association of Schools. The award recognizes “exceptional leadership and dedication in a first-year principal,” according to a statement from the association

Superintendent Alexandra Estrella said when they were interviewing candidates for the position, she saw that Crouch had the “one thing you cannot teach a leader and that is heart.”

“Thank you for having the heart to do this work,” she said. “Thank you for having the heart for believing in our kids. And I know, like I said to you many times, I knew you would be great.”

Tiffany Caouette, the assistant executive director for the Connecticut Association of Schools, who presented Crouch with his award at the Board of Education meeting on June 4, noted that this was an extremely competitive award, which included a site visit and interviews conducted by a committee of veteran principals from across the state.

“The feedback we received was nothing short of inspiring,” she said. “During our discussion with teachers, we heard stories of support and encouragement that truly made a difference…Mr. Crouch has fostered a strong sense of trust and mutual respect between the school and the families it serves. This commitment to supporting the holistic development of every child has left a mark on the hearts of parents and caregivers. But Mr. Crouch’s impact extends far beyond adults.”

Caouette said students praised Crouch with “resounding admiration and respect,” noting that he has helped them “make better decisions and solve problems.”

“One student told us he sees Mr. Crouch every morning in the hallway and that Mr. Crouch’s focus on the positive helps this student to focus on the positive in order to have a great day, every day. When asked to describe Mr. Crouch in one word, one student simply said, ‘hero.’ This powerful sentiment speaks volumes about the profound impact that Mr. Crouch has had on the young people.”

Crouch emphatically thanked the “540 reasons I wake up in the morning to come to work.”

“Those are my kids—they inspire me to be great and to improve on a daily basis,” he said. “If you know anything about me, I truly love those kids at Nathan Hale and I would do anything to make their educational experience memorable. They work extremely hard for me, and in return, I work extremely hard for them.”

In addition to students, Caouette said one teacher shared with the group that she was “considering leaving the teaching profession, but cited Mr. Crouch’s guidance as a reason she has remained a teacher.”

“His unwavering support has not only helped her persevere, but has also inspired her to continue to make a difference in the lives of our children,” she said. 

Crouch also thanked his staff for “believing in him and trusting the process,” stating that he knows it “wasn’t an easy task,” but they have made significant improvements for the students. 

Crouch joined the Norwalk Public School district in 2010, starting as an assistant principal at Roton Middle School, before working at Brookside Elementary School and Nathan Hale Middle School in various leadership roles. 

At Nathan Hale, Crouch was recognized for improving the school’s climate through the implementation of an initiative called FRESH, which stands for Future-Ready Education with Social-Emotional Healing, which has decreased chronic absenteeism and suspensions and helped foster a positive and inclusive school environment.

In addition, Crouch has worked to develop curriculum aligned to the International Baccalaureate program—as the school is a candidate for the program, which aims to “develop well-rounded individuals who can respond to today’s challenges with optimism and an open mind.”

He also was recognized for “enhancing communication with all stakeholders,” according to CAS, and for creating a Student Leadership Team, part of an effort to build student leadership skills. 

So far, this team has initiated community service projects, including a partnership with South Norwalk Elementary School to establish a food and clothing pantry.

Crouch said the recognition wasn’t just “a win for James Crouch, but a win for Norwalk.” He thanked Superintendent Alexandra Estrella and the Board of Education for believing in him and his vision.

“For the first time in my career, somebody truly believed that I could do this job,” he said. “Thank you, our illustrious leader, Dr. Estrella, and this phenomenal board for finally believing that I was capable of running my own building, living out my dreams, instead of supporting someone else’s. Hopefully this year, I did not disappoint you.”


3 responses to “Nathan Hale principal named Connecticut’s best new principal of the year”

  1. John O’Neill

    Kudos to James Crouch – Sounds like Nathan Hale is in good hands.

  2. Dawn Calle

    No one has a bigger heart than Mr.Crouch. His message was always positivity at Brookside. Little did our kids know they would need this gentle giant’s
    months of positive messages and love and kindness going into the most horrible time of their young lives, the COVID lockdown.

    I will never forget the day he had to call me to say my son’s bike was stolen, and I had to tell him I had stolen it to teach my son a lesson to not take his bike when I told him not to. The poor man almost had a heart attack.

    Congratulations Mr. Crouch.

  3. Manny Rivera

    Way to go James! Congratulations on this well-deserved honor and recognition!

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