Monroe gets to know Masuk’s new principal, one small group at a time

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Masuk Principal Steve Swensen sits at his desk, but not for long. With the start of school around the corner, there is work to do and people to meet.

MONROE, CT — Steven Swensen, the new principal of Masuk High School, wearing a white face mask and a lanyard over his light blue dress shirt, emerged from his office last Thursday, while on his way to an informal meet-and-greet with parents outside the building.

On his way, a parent smiled at him near the counter in the main office. “Welcome to Masuk,” she said. “You’re gonna love it here!”

“I already do,” Swensen said with a smile.

The former Windsor Locks High School principal recently accepted Masuk’s top job at a salary of $167,314.

Since his first day on Aug. 17, he dove into the planning for the start of school amid the global coronavirus pandemic, met parents dropping their children off at Fresh Fest and stopped by the booster club’s golf fundraiser to thank them for supporting Masuk sports.

“Steve has jumped right in and has made a concerted effort to get to know the staff, students and families,” said Joseph Kobza, the acting superintendent of schools. “He clearly understands the importance of relationship building as he has given all groups several opportunities to meet him — in person or via Zoom.”

This week, Swensen met more parents on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, then participated in Zoom meetings for parents who missed him, according to Kobza.

Swensen, 49, and his wife, Nicole, live in Cheshire and have five children, with ages ranging from two to 19.

Tall with an athletic build, Swensen played baseball and basketball at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.

“I’m a diehard Yankee fan and a huge ‘Star Wars’ fan,” he said. “I was seven when the movie came out in 1977.”

Swensen earned a B.A. degree from Southeastern, an M.A. degree in “Technology in the Classroom” and an educational leadership degree from the University of Connecticut.

He served as a housemaster at Shelton High School and was a mathematics teacher and dean of students at Avon High School, before being hired as principal of Windsor Locks High School in 2014.

“I love school. I love kids. I love teaching and learning,” he said. “I feel so lucky to be in Monroe. The town is so welcoming.”

An opening at Masuk

The position at Masuk opened after Jacob Greenwood left to accept the principal job at Ridgefield High School. Swensen had become familiar with Masuk, while working in Shelton.

“I have friends in town and friends of friends here,” he said. “People retire and stay in Monroe. That tells a lot about the pride the teachers have in their school.”

Plastic screens are set up on desks as part of social distancing measures at Masuk and signs taped to walls and on restroom doors remind students to wear masks, wash their hands and to stay home when they are sick.

It is in this atmosphere that schools will open on Sept. 1, with a hybrid model breaking students into two groups, A and B. Group A will go to school on Monday and Tuesday, while B does remote learning from home.

Everyone will do remote learning on Wednesday and Group B will go to school on Thursday and Friday, while Group A learns remotely.

Because of this, each group will have a first day of school at Masuk and a first day of remote learning.

“The start of a new school year is challenging in itself,” Swensen said. “These are unprecedented times.”

While doing synchronous learning, teaching students at school and home simultaneously, teachers will have to monitor students in their classroom and on their computer screen to make sure everyone understands the lesson.

“With the preparation Monroe public schools has taken prior to my arrival, there’s a solid plan in place,” Swensen said.

Swensen said he agrees with the hybrid model the district chose, which he said will allow schools to ease into an eventual full opening.

As he walked outside, a boy wearing a “Star Wars” shirt walked by. Swensen gave an approving glance, “I love it!”

Waiting for Swensen on the grass to the left of the building, a small group of parents greeted him warmly. Then they stood in a circle, far enough apart for Swensen to take off his mask, showing them the face of Masuk’s new principal.

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