Macrino kicks off first school year as Oswegatchie Elementary principal

A former TV producer in New York City and past winner of the Connecticut Association of Schools Assistant Principal of the Year Award, Joe Macrino is the new principal of Oswegatchie Elementary School in Waterford. (Eric O’Connell/Harbor News)
A former TV producer in New York City and past winner of the Connecticut Association of Schools Assistant Principal of the Year Award, Joe Macrino is the new principal of Oswegatchie Elementary School in Waterford. (Eric O’Connell/Harbor News)

Waterford — Joe Macrino says in some ways, he still is a big kid.

As he kicked off his first school year as principal of Oswegatchie Elementary School on Wednesday, the 38-year-old former TV producer turned educator said he stays grounded by never growing up.

Macrino and his wife, Sarah, live in New London raising their 8-year-old son, Elvis — with whom Macrino collects vintage action figures and comic books — and 5-year-old daughter, Coral May, who was "very excited to join her brother on the bus" for her first day of kindergarten on Wednesday, he said.

A rocker in New London's music scene for years, Macrino still sings, plays banjo and guitar and hopes to "get everything set up in the basement again." He also moonlights as an announcer for an independent wrestling outfit started by a friend a few years ago; his son, Elvis, is the bell ringer.

"I'm surrounded by reminders of how important it is to never forget what it's like to be a child," said Macrino, who was appointed in April to fill in for the retiring Christopher Ozmun. "I have to take a step back when things get too serious and think about what this kid is experiencing, or what you could look like to this kid."

Macrino officially started the job in July, meeting teachers and staff and getting accustomed to Oswegatchie after four years as assistant principal of Lewin G. Joel Elementary School in Clinton.

Superintendent Tom Giard said he's impressed by Macrino's "child-centered approach."

"He really thinks through issues and decisions with a 'what is best for this child' mindset," Giard said.

For Macrino, son of longtime former Waterford High School Principal and current Saint Bernard School Headmaster Donald Macrino, working in Waterford is a homecoming that keeps him on his toes.

"There's a lot of connections and it has that nice community feel," he said, describing Oswegatchie as a "well-oiled machine" and proud community of teachers, staff, parents and students. "But I've got something to prove. I need to do well in the eyes of the community and those roots are deep."

Family dinners on Sunday still are entertaining at the Macrino house, he said.

"My middle sister, Olivia, is raising a lively 3-year-old," he said. "I'm the elementary administrator, my youngest sister, Marceline, is a high school administrator, so we're all talking different languages half the time and advocating for different things. And my father is consigliere, taking it all in. You can learn a lot from his eyebrow or the smile."

From MTV and SNL to the classroom

After graduating from Waterford High School in 1997 and studying to become a journalist at Fordham University, Macrino served as a substitute English teacher at New London High School before picking up an internship in MTV's production department.

"It was the tail end of when they still played videos," said Macrino, who freelanced with MTV and became an associate producer before getting a gig with Saturday Night Live. At SNL he coordinated shoots for their film unit "for everything that's not live, like the fake commercials. That was great."

He also worked for a while with Donna Karan's creative services department, helping design storefront windows along Madison Avenue and SoHo.

But the teaching "seed was planted" during his time as a substitute, Macrino said.

"No offense to the television industry ... but I never felt such a level of fulfillment and giving back to kids and society than I did as a teacher," he said. "That was the best avenue for me to make a small difference in the world."

After working odd jobs, starting a band and substituting again, he attended Southern Connecticut State University's educational leadership program alongside his youngest sister, Marceline, who is now assistant principal at Griswold High School. He earned a master's degree in elementary education at the University of New Haven.

Starting in 2007, he taught third- and fourth-grade students at two Waterford elementary schools for six years before joining Clinton Public Schools.

The Connecticut Association of Schools named Macrino the 2018 elementary school assistant principal of the year for his work in Clinton. He called the award "an amazing honor" but credited his former staff and the "amazing group of families and kids" he worked with at the school, which had a population of about 500 pre-K through third-grade students. Oswegatchie has about 300 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Kelly Enoch, director of special services at Clinton Public Schools, lauded Macrino's "ability to work with and understand the complex needs of our special education students who had behavioral difficulties or had experienced trauma. He was such an integral part of making their day positive and empowering kids."

Enoch said Macrino appreciates the differences between students, "gently supporting them and pushing them forward to grow and be their best."

Macrino said he wasn't actively looking for another job, "but when a position opened in Waterford, I had to go for it. This is home to me. Not only is it a district that got me to where I am as a student and the wonderful experiences I've had, they opened the door for me to become an educator. This is my chance to give back."

b.kail@theday.com

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