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Groton — During his interview for the job as principal at the Marine Science Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut, Nicholas Spera was asked about his background in the marine sciences.
“I said I had a goldfish as a kid and have been on a few boat rides,” Spera joked.
Now, with a full school year under his belt, Spera can speak intelligently, even eloquently, about the life cycle of a salmon or how to raise oysters. And so can many of his students.
It’s a tribute to his passion, leadership ability and commitment to the students and the reason he earned the statewide honor of this year’s first-time principal of the year, said Dean of Students Michael Regan.
“His energy and enthusiasm is unbelievably contagious,” Regan said. “I haven’t seen anybody with this kind of energy and he never seems to have a bad day.”
Spera will be honored tonight with the William Cieslukowski Outstanding First-Year Principal of the Year Award from the Connecticut Association of Schools during a ceremony at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville. He was nominated by teachers, parents and students.
Spera said he was surprised and proud when he found out about the award.
“It’s the unbelievable staff and faculty that make it easy for me,” Spera said. “The award is a tribute to them. The faculty, the parents and students helped to create a school that is an absolute dream.”
The marine magnet school opened its doors on Sept. 1, 2011 with 100 freshmen and a handful of sophomores at the site of the former Eastern Point School. Construction of the $27 million school with state-of-the-art aquaculture labs was state-funded and open for enrollment to students in two dozen towns. The school is operated under the authority of LEARN, the Old Lyme-based regional education service center.
Everything was new, including the curriculum.
“They had to find a leader that would make it a legitimate high school — attract the kids and convince the parents. The first class was taking a risk,” Regan said. “It took a special person to pull all that together.”
In the first year the school achieved the highest CAPT scores in reading and writing in Connecticut and developed legislative bill 5447, which allows the school to sell its school-raised fish to wholesalers like Grossman’s Seafood.
Spera also built strong relationships with parents and community leaders and helped recruitment and marketing of the school that led to 486 applications in their first year. The school, with 178 students this year, is intended to grow by 75 students per year, with enrollment through a lottery system.
“Dr. Spera’s greatest asset was, and is, his ability to create and sustain a healthy school culture and climate. He is gifted when it comes to building community through relationships. He has the ability to inspire all of us,” according to a statement from the nomination committee.
Spera, an Old Saybrook native, is the younger brother of Old Saybrook Police Chief Michael Spera and son of Dominic Spera, the retired superintendent of the technical high school system. His wife, Debbie, is a school psychologist at Norwich Free Academy.
Prior to coming to Groton, he served as dean of students at Guilford High School and assistant principal at Warwick High School.