By Kelly Burch
---- — NEWBURYPORT — When Susan Viccaro becomes the superintendent of Newburyport Public Schools later this summer, it will seem like a homecoming for the Essex native.
“That’s really what drew me to Newburyport — to be back on the North Shore,” Viccaro said. She has three sisters and 10 nieces and nephews in the area, and is thrilled to be able to take a job that fits her career aspirations and her desire to be close to family, she said.
Although she is familiar with the area, Viccaro recognizes that it will take time to get to know the school system.
“I want to spend the first six months or so getting to know staff, students and families,” she said. “I expect to do a lot of listening, to really get my arms around what the issues are and in what directions we need to head.”
Viccaro said that through the interview process she heard a lot about the strengths of the school district and was also exposed to some of the staff’s concerns.
“I really need to just get up there and do a lot of listening,” she said. “I want to talk to every staff member and get to know people.” Viccaro plans to host regular office hours, where parents, students and community members can voice their thoughts and concerns on the school district.
“It’s very much about me doing some outreach once I’m up there,” she said.
Viccaro comes to Newburyport with a strong background in managing a school system. She has been the superintendent in Regional School District 13 in Connecticut for nine years. During that time, she has instituted all-day kindergarten in the district and has overseen the writing of four, five-year strategic plans.
“I’m very proud that I have had a hand in each of those plans in some manner, shape or form, and I have led the last two,” she said.
The plans included the institution of five core ethical values for the district — respect, responsibility, kindness, courage and honesty.
“I am very passionate about the five core values,” Viccaro said. “I hold every student and every staff member accountable for those on a daily basis. I think it has really helped to create an atmosphere where students are comfortable, and where we can all be life-long learners in a very positive school climate.”
For Viccaro, the pursuit of knowledge is never-ending.
“I want every student and staff member to understand what it means to be a life-long learner, and to be courageous enough to try new things,” she said. “I also want us to offer a wide enough range of opportunities that we are providing every student with an appropriate education.”
Viccaro was first inspired to become an educator by her grandmother, an elementary school teacher. “She was the biggest influence on me wanting to have a career in education,” she said.
After graduating from Gloucester High School, she got a job at the Hogan Regional Center, a facility run by the Mass. Department of Developmental Services, where she worked with adults with intellectual disabilities.
Viccaro attended Fitchburg State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in special education and elementary education. After two years of teaching in Wolfeboro, N.H., she took a job in District 13 as a special education teacher for the middle and high schools. In 1995, she became the special education coordinator in Wethersfield, Conn., before returning to District 13 three years later to become the director of pupil-personnel services.
Through her years of teaching, she has been exposed to education at all ages.
“Even though I was in special education, I brought in team teaching, so I was also working with a lot of regular kids,” Viccaro said. “I have a lot of experience at middle and high schools. As the pupil-personnel coordinator, I ran the preschool program and an offsite program for young adults at Wesleyan University.”
In 2004, Viccaro became the superintendent for District 13, a role that she has held since.
As she focuses on finishing off her last school year in Connecticut, Viccaro is looking forward to the next chapter. Right now, one of the biggest challenges is coordinating the move with her family. Her oldest son lives and works in Boston, so she is “delighted” to be moving closer to him, she added. Her daughter has just finished her first year at Nazareth University in Rochester, N.Y., and her middle child, a son, is leaving this summer to teach abroad. Viccaro’s husband, Michael, who works for Connecticut Light and Power, is debating whether to request a transfer or to retire.
“We’re trying to figure that piece out,” Viccaro said. “It’s been a whirlwind to say the least, but I am very lucky.”