Rising up the ranks

August 19, 2018

GREENWICH — Honors and Advanced Placement chemistry teacher. Girls basketball coach. Science and technology administrator. Assistant headmaster. Greenwich High School’s new interim Headmaster Richard “Rick” Piotrzkowski has done it all.

“Cardinal Red is in my blood,” said Piotrzkowski (“Pio-trouski,” he coached).

The father of four has watched three of his children walk across the stage as Greenwich High graduates. His fourth daughter starts her junior year this fall.

“I feel like I’ve gone to high school five times,” he said. “It’s been great. I’ve been able to experience something most people don’t get to experience.”

Piotrkowski moved up from assistant headmaster after Chris Winters announced his departure this July, after nine years, to lead a new high school program at Greenwich Country Day School. The interim assistant headmaster job was posted internally last week.

“Having worked with Rick for roughly 12 years, I know the strength of his character, the depth of his passion, and the sharpness of his intellect,” Winters said in an email.

Over nine years, Piotrzkowski watched as Winters handled institutional and operational changes as an administrator.

“One thing Chris taught me well is that it’s important to have a cohesive collaborative team to solve some of the challenges here,” Piotrzkowski said.

He is inheriting institutional and operational shifts as the school year begins.

First, interim Superintendent Ralph Mayo starts his yearlong term this fall with Piotrzkowski, who considers Mayo his first mentor in the Greenwich school system.

Second, the new headmaster and his staff will institute a concept called opportunity block. The Board of Education in May approved former superintendent Jill Gildea’s plan to reallocate class time to create a free-period from 2:45 to 3:15 p.m. at GHS.

The 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. school day, which started in fall of 2017, caused many students, including athletes and those with jobs, to forgo instructional time. This block will allow students to stay and do homework and seek additional help, or leave for school-sanctioned activities.

Third, requirements increase for the class of 2023 — next year’s freshmen — from 22 to 25 credits. They will enroll in a capstone project, which measures how students are fulfilling schoolwide standards over four years.

Piotrzkowski has experienced adjustments like these before.

Mayo was his first mentor at Greenwich High, followed by former headmaster Alan Capasso and finally, for the last nine years, Winters.

Since Piotrzkowski began, start times have switched from 7:45 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. The size of the school changed, too, moving from 10th through 12th grade and then to ninth through 12th grade.

According to Winters, Piotrzkowski has a larger vision and a focused attention to daily operations.

“Rick has been a very trusted partner with both big picture visioning and with the technical details necessary for an educational institution to meet the needs of students, staff, and parents,” Winters said.

Piotrzkowski began his career as a science and math teacher with the Greentown, Ind., Public Schools in 1980 but moved to the Greenwich Public Schools in 1984.

“I believe in Greenwich Public Schools so much,” said the resident of Stamford. “I don’t live in Greenwich, but my wife and I made the decision long ago to send our kids to Greenwich.”

The teacher-turned-administrator has watched the hillside high school change dramatically since he started in 1984.

Course offerings have shot up in the last 30 years, for example. Students have a smorgasbord of classes to choose from and AP enrollment — and scores — are on the rise.

This year, the average test score was 3.93 out of 5, a 10-year high, he said proudly. Students took a record number of tests — 2,181 — even though the senior class was one of the smallest in 10 years.

The science projects emitting from the labs have become more complex, too. Piotrzkowski remembers hiring corporate chemist Andy Bramante, who has led his research classes to science-fair stardom many years in a row.

“I was around when we started the research program,” Piotrzkowski said. “We’re grateful we have such a talented staff, but talented kids, too.”

A former AP and honors chemistry teacher, he said he will miss building personal relationships with students in the classroom and puzzling out how to get kids to process difficult concepts.

“It’s like being in your own world with them,” he said.

Piotrzkowski received the New England Chemical Society’s 1998 Connecticut Teacher of the Year Award and the Greenwich Distinguished Teachers Award in 1989.

As for his career track, Piotrzkowski said he is headmaster today because he always accepted the challenges of leadership positions.

“A wise person from Havemeyer once told me, ‘Rick, if you’re in the same position for 10 years, you need to rethink what direction you’re going in,’” he said.

The decision to apply for the post was a family one, he said. Piotrzkowski said his “super supporter” is his wife, Anne. On Monday, they celebrate 24 years together.

Although his kids have traveled the GHS hallways, he said he does not see them all that often. That does not bother him, however.

“I have 2,700 family members now that I have to look after,” he said.

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