For Lauralton leader, ‘Dr. Toni’ Iadarola, it’s another beginning

MILFORD >> Lauralton Hall President Antoinette “Toni” Iadarola is leaving the job next school year with a superwoman kind of legacy of bringing the all-girls prep school to new heights in academics, leadership, global awareness and finances.

But Iadarola, 76, isn’t calling it retirement — actually, she said she’d like to see the word itself retired.

“It’s another beginning — it’s a new phase. … We should do away with the word ‘retirement,’” she said.

Part of what Iadarola intends to do is visit people she’s met all over the country and world through many personal and business travels.

“Whatever I do has to be purposeful and meaningful,” she said.

Iadarola, known to students as “Dr. Toni,” is a scholar, a fighter, a women’s rights advocate, a fan of same-sex education for boys and girls, a humanitarian and the daughter of Italian immigrants who were uneducated but instilled the importance of education in their children.

Iadarola said she was heavily influenced by her mother — a strong, unconventional woman — who ran the family’s 100-acre, 80-cow farm in Shelton while her father worked in a factory.

“My parents were lifelong learners,” she said. “The first thing mom did when she got here (from Italy) was to enroll in school to learn English.”

Iadarola had moved back to Connecticut after 16 years as president of Cabrini College, and definitely wasn’t looking for work when she was recruited by a search committee to lead Lauralton.

The more she learned about Lauralton, she thought, “This might be meaningful.”

Iadarola liked the challenge of working at a high school — long ago, she taught history — and the all-girls aspect was a plus, because she’s “a great believer in single-sex education.”

Iadarola said there are many benefits to same-sex education for boys and girls, and in this case it is an opportunity for women to engage in leadership roles, the opportunity to find her voice with fewer distractions.

She also liked the challenge of running a capital campaign, something she had great success with in other positions.

“Lauralton Hall has been a gift to me and I am truly grateful,” Iadarola said. “I like to think that in some small way, I have transformed Lauralton into becoming its best self, but truly in the process, deep down inside, I know that the school has transformed me as well.”

Lauralton officials said the achievements made during her tenure include: completion of a new $2 million athletic field; construction of the Cyber Café; conversion of the carriage barn into the Center for Visual and Performing Arts; renovations of classrooms to emphasize the digital world; instituting a program for faculty development opportunities; and unprecedented fundraising success with the school’s first comprehensive “Because We Believe” Capital Campaign, which is targeted to achieve its $6 million goal and is only about $500,000 short. She hopes to close that gap in this next year.

“Once hired,” said Trudy Dickneider, chairwoman of the board of trustees, Iadarola “immediately began working with the school community to develop strategic and master plans to further its goal of empowering young women for life and was uniquely qualified to move it to the next stage in becoming a premiere Catholic prep school for girls in the nation.”

Dickneider said even more impressive was the fact that while battling cancer, Iadarola continued to work.

“Toni’s fortitude when she was physically down was truly awe-inspiring,” she added.

“She is a rare combination of compassion and strength that encourages everyone who knows her, and we are all very thankful that she is healthy now,” Dickneider said.

A search is in the works for her successor; Iadarola will retire at the end of next school year.

One of the powerful traditions begun by Iadarola is to initiate freshmen at the school’s matriculation ceremony, wearing the school uniform, signing a pledge to honor the core values and formally meeting her, shaking hands.

At that initiation ceremony, many walk by Iadarola with eyes downcast or don’t give her a handshake.

Four years later, there’s a big difference — they’re popping with confidence, she said.

“When they graduate, they have a strong handshake and they look you in the eye,” she said.

Iadarola made another daily change by keeping open the big wooden doors to her office so she could see students passing by, flash them a wave and even make them feel free to pop in if they need to chat.

“When I first came, they wouldn’t allow students to come this way. I said, ‘I want to see them, let them in,’” she said.

Iadarola, who is not married, lives in Clinton and graduated from Shelton High School, where she was president of the class and held other leadership positions.

Iadarola is a recognized and published scholar, having completed graduate work at Georgetown, Yale and Oxford universities.

Her Bachelor of Arts in history/political science is from the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford where she began her career as a history professor in 1973.

She was a Fulbright Scholar, is a world traveler, a global volunteer and has had some dynamic and interesting assignments outside of teaching or administering, including doing consulting work on privatized education in the Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

She has also expanded the reach of students through travel to Guatemala, where a community service project is underway.

She wants graduates to have independence, confidence and a sense of global responsibility.

“We’re preparing them for society,” Iadarola said.

Students dedicated this year’s yearbook to Iadarola because they said she was an “amazing role model who taught them to persevere regardless of any obstacles that they may encounter throughout their lives,” according to a press release.

“I will miss them,” Iadarola said of students. “It’s time to make new memories. I’m excited about that. I don’t know what kind of memories I’ll make.”