Longtime CT educator named Woodbridge schools superintendent

Vonda J. Tencza was recently appointed as the new superintendent of Woodbridge Public Schools. 

Vonda J. Tencza was recently appointed as the new superintendent of Woodbridge Public Schools. 

Seymour Public Schools

WOODBRIDGE —  A longtime Connecticut educator and administrator will be the new superintendent of the town's schools, capping a roughly four-month search for a permanent leader.

Vonda J. Tencza was unanimously appointed to the post by the Board of Education in November. Tencza said she would approach the position with seriousness, compassion, and integrity.

"I am confident that I will be able to partner with parents, teachers, administrators, and the Board of Education to help this unique district continue to grow great learners who achieve at high levels,"  Tencza said in a statement.

For the past eight years, Tencza has served as the associate superintendent of Seymour Public Schools, including a stint as the acting and interim superintendent. Prior to that, she worked in the Hebron school system for eight years, first as an assistant principal and then as the director of curriculum and technology.

Tencza will begin her new role Dec. 12, according to a release. As the new leader of Woodbridge Public Schools, Tencza assumes control of a district that has been lauded for its academic achievement and the strength of its staff. But thorny problems also await, most notably concerns regarding diversity, staffing shortages and a deteriorating culture, some community members said.

With staffing shortages plaguing many school districts across the state, Tencza will be charged with trying to steady Woodbridge schools as they have been "scrambling" to recover following a surge in recent departures, according to a September report by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education Search Services, a consultant hired by the school board to lead the search process.

Despite having a track record of staff retention, WPS has lost 38 staff members in the past 18 months and is “still scrambling to build knowledge bases” and find the “caliber of people we lost," the report stated, citing responses from survey and focus group participants.

The losses have coincided with a sense of  "teacher burnout" and helped fuel "ongoing teacher shortages and attrition," the report stated. Several respondents mentioned the demoralizing departure of a long-term STEAM teacher who partnered with many teachers to facilitate learning, according to the report.

Adding to the stress of shortages has been the tense working conditions that some staff members have said they've experienced recently, according to the CABE report.

"District staff used to enjoy significant autonomy and a high level of initiative in their work," the report stated. "The last few years, they 
felt substantial erosion in that autonomy, causing staff to feel 'under a microscope' and unsafe to try new things and take risks."

Staff members also said the family-like culture within Beecher Road School — the district's lone facility serving pre-kindergarten through sixth grade  — had started to erode under recent leadership, highlighted by the practice of eating meals together being eliminated, according to the report.

Furthermore, staff members lost meaningful professional learning and a diminished professional development budget, causing them to feel "far less encouraged to grow," the report stated.

Diversity within Beecher also was a sticking point for some respondents who said a new superintendent would be challenged with “navigating and growing" that area of learning, while also supporting those in the community who feel marginalized or misunderstood, the report stated.

Woodbridge resident Solin Florez, whose two children attend Amity Regional High School, said Tuesday that greater diversity would allow students to "see through other people's eyes."

Tencza, who lives in Kensington, will replace interim superintendent Christine Syriac, who had been filling the position since Jonathan Budd resigned in July to join Greenwich Public Schools as chief human resources officer.

Susan Compton, current superintendent of Seymour Public Schools, said Tencza will make an "outstanding leader" in Woodbridge because she's extremely intelligent, highly motivated and a great communicator.

"A problem solver in every capacity," Compton said. "Her number one priority is to always do what's best for students."

While serving as Seymour schools' interim superintendent, Compton said, Tencza was focused on utilizing available funds to kickstart the district's recovery as it emerged from the pandemic.

"I truly feel that she'll take the Woodbridge school district to the next level of academic excellence," Compton said.

austin.mirmina@hearstmediact.com