“The counselors are really the conduit to our students and their social and emotional well-being in our schools,” said Scotts Ridge Middle School Principal Tim Salem.

“I just think they’re so integral to our overall success that it’s imperative that we as administrators run shoulder to shoulder with them.”

Thinking like that — his appreciation of counselors’ contributions — probably helped earn Salem the honor of being the Connecticut School Counselor Association (CSCA) Administrator of the Year.

“Timothy Salem is a model of leadership as he works with his staff and colleagues,” said the nomination letter sent by the Scotts Ridge counseling staff to their state association. “Timothy believes in a ‘the door is always open’ policy for his students, parents, and staff.

“He always partakes in the sharing of ideas with staff members, ensuring they feel heard, valued, and appreciated. He takes the time to build close personal relationships with his staff, students, and parents in order for everyone to feel as though they are a part of the team.

“Every day, Tim will stand at the entrance to welcome his students by name, checking in when they just are not acting in their usual way or carrying themselves in their typical manner. He ensures that each student feels included and accepted as a valued member of the Scotts Ridge Middle School community.

“Timothy does his best to bring parents into the building in order to create a true sense of community. He holds monthly coffees that are open to all parents with no agenda, to foster discussions on any topic that parents feel are important.

“He collaborates with the community to be able to supply students, parents, and staff with the resources that may be helpful. He dives into each role of his staff members, to understand their roles, their importance, and advocate for their needs.

“He encourages his staff to attend different professional development opportunities to grow in their profession, learn, and bring new ideas into the building. It is an honor and a privilege to work under the guidance of such an incredible leader and feel valued in a wonderful community.”

Stephanie Tavares, who was the principal author of the nomination letter, said the school counseling staff had all agreed he was worthy of the award and his name should be put forward.

“It was certainly a team decision and discussion to nominate him,” she told The Press. “As a department, we feel extremely lucky to be under the leadership of someone like Tim. He understands our roles and truly makes us feel valued as staff members.”

During coronavirus

She added that his leadership during the coronavirus lockdown started recently — overseeing the operations of a school when all the students and teachers are at home, communicating online — has demonstrated again that he deserved the nomination.

“He has only showcased his exemplary leadership in the situation we are currently in,” Tavares said. “He has been bending over backwards to ensure that every student, family, and staff is doing well and staying healthy. This is something no one could have prepared us for, and he is handling it with grace, helping us adjust and doing all he can to make this transition to online learning as smooth as possible.”

Salem said the current difficulties have made him appreciate the school’s staff even more.

“It’s definitely a challenge, there’s no two ways about it,” he said. “It’s very challenging to be in a completely virtual environment.

“As I say that, I’m so impressed with how quickly and efficiently our staff has adapted, and brought our students along on this journey with them.

“No question it’s very different,” he added. “We’re spending, as administrators, hours and hours a day online in meetings.

“But, overall, I think given what we’re tasked with, everybody’s done an outstanding job.”

Scotts Ridge families have been very supportive, despite the disruption.

“We recently conducted a survey with parents and really received some wonderful feedback,” Salem said. “By and large our parent community is just very understanding of this situation, because they’re living with it as well,” he said.

“It’s a big adjustment for everyone. We were caught off guard by how quickly this happened. We’ve adjusted,” Salem said. “The willingness and readiness to do so is there, and it’s wonderful to see.”

Surprise!

Salem said he was totally — though pleasantly — blindsided by the notice that he’d received the award.

“It was such a wonderful surprise,” he said. ”I had to read it twice before I understood what was stated.”

Salem is in his 10th year as principal of Scotts Ridge Middle School, a 563-student operation that serves roughly half of Ridgefield’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

He came to Scotts Ridge from the Danbury school system, where he was a social studies teacher before becoming an administrator. He’s been in education for 26 years and, he noted, is married to an educator — his wife is an assistant principal in New Milford.

“It’s a family full of educators,” he said.

“They live in Danbury and I have two children, I have a 16-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son, both in the Danbury public schools.”

Working with teenagers — and having a couple at home, as well — may have contributed to Salem’s ample store of perspective.

Take that administrator of the year award.

“More than anything I think it’s a testament to the teamwork that exists in Scotts Ridge — not only in our school, but in the broader community,” Salem said. “It’s a testament to that strong connection we have not only to our students but to our parent community.

“There’s a great synergy there,” he said.

“I just think this award is reflective of all those efforts.”

And as Tim Salem makes the case the CSCA administrator of the year award reflects the efforts and virtues of Scotts Ridge’s staff and students and parents — the whole community, really — it seems clear why the award was given to him.