Johnston born and bred, the high school’s new principal hugged his entire family following Tuesday night’s unanimous School Committee vote.
Matt Velino’s rise to one of Johnston’s top school administrator posts has been meteoric.
“I started off as the Phys Ed and Health teacher at Brown Ave. and ECC,” Johnston High School’s new principal said Tuesday night. “During that time I was extremely lucky to work under phenomenal school leaders.”
He named a few (many of whom sat in the audience of Tuesday’s School Committee meeting where Velino was officially approved as the new JHS principal): including Helina Dlugon from Brown Avenue Elementary, Julie-Anne Zarrella and Keri Roberti from the Early Childhood Center.
“As I was finishing up my Providence College Masters in Educational Leadership program, I moved to be the Behavior Support Coordinator at Winsor Hill as part of my internship,” Velino recalled. “There I worked under Matt Yates, another school leader I am extremely fortunate to have worked with.”
Throughout his education career, Velino has found guidance and a steady supply of role models among his fellow faculty and administrators.
“After I graduated from (Providence College) I was hired by West Broadway Middle School in Providence,” Velino said. “I truly cannot speak highly enough of the leadership team and staff at West Broadway. Rich Parillo, the Principal, really helped me find my niche as a school leader. Every single decision he makes is what is best for his students and staff. He makes sure everyone at the table has a voice and all are involved in the decision making process. His leadership style is one I try to emulate every day. As the kids say, he is a GOAT.”
“G-O-A-T” stands for “Greatest of All Time.”
“I was also lucky enough to work alongside Karleen Keefe, who was the other Assistant Principal,” Velino recalled, re-examining the path that led him to the JHS corner office. “I cannot speak highly enough of Ms. Keefe and how much she loves her students. I will always be extremely grateful for my time at WBMS and working with these two school leaders, as well as teacher leaders like Sherri Mooney and Holly Bedrosian.”
The Johnston resident and town native only returned to his alma mater last semester.
“When the opportunity arose in late September to come back to Johnston, I knew I had to throw my name in,” Velino said.
He was hired as the school’s new assistant principal, under former top JHS administrator Donna Pennachia.
“Dr. Pennachia has been on leave and plans to retire at the end of the school year,” said Johnston Schools Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr.
Prior to the vote Tuesday, DiLullo addressed the School Committee.
“I want to just take a minute to recognize Matt Velino who is on the agenda this evening,” he said. “Matt grew up in Johnston. Matt worked at Brown Avenue and ECC as a PhysEd teacher. Went on to get his administrative certificate. Worked at Winsor Hill for a while. Left us for a little bit — we won’t forget about that Matt — but he’s on the agenda tonight for (to be approved as) principal at the high school where he now serves as the assistant.”
Velino is a 2008 Johnston High School graduate, and coached football at the school for five seasons, from 2016-2020.
“I am also a proud member of the Johnston community still,” he said Tuesday. “I was lucky enough to be the chosen candidate by Dr. Donna Pennachia, Ms. Sue Volante, Ms. Maria Simeone, and Ms. Natasha Zito. My first day was Oct. 11 and it was great to be home.”
He recently stopped by Brown Avenue Elementary to read to some of the town’s youngest students — part of “Read Across America.” He has two youngsters at the school.
“I was the Phys Ed and Health teacher to over 150 current students and coached most of the Juniors and Seniors when they were Freshmen and Sophomores,” Velino said. “The connection with these students helped me immensely.”
Throughout the interview process, Velino was able to convincingly argue nobody knows the town’s student body better.
“My favorite part about JHS is the students,” Velino explained. “We have some of the most talented students in the state in their respective areas. One of my goals coming in is to get these students the recognition they deserve.”
He sees talent throughout the school district — on every level — from the arts, academics and athletics.
“We have a music department that I would put up against anyone in the state,” Velino said. “Their concert last week was amazing. The entire group performances were impressive, and the solos by Nariah Johnson and Destinee Costa were incredible. We also have an amazing Art Department and I love walking the halls and seeing the students' artwork on full display. I am looking forward to the Art Show coming up.”
“Our academic decathlon and their accolades speak for themselves,” Velino said. “The future of the team is bright, with one of the smartest students in the state, Lucas Anderson.”
And perhaps Johnston High’s new principal knows his students best from their standout performances in the competitive arena.
“Finally, our athletics,” Velino said. “We have two of the best athletes in the state in NeAri Vasquez and Olivia Iafrate and I am excited to watch them continue their athletic career and college commitments.”
Velino plans to help the town’s youngsters grow into High School and then ensure they each emerge ready for the real world.
“Matthew Velino is a dedicated school leader who brings a fresh perspective to secondary education,” DiLullo said of the new JHS principal. “Matt makes strong connections to both students and staff as evidenced by the strong showing of support at the school committee meeting when he was appointed. I am looking forward to working with him as he transitions into leadership at Johnston High School and continues to encourage students and staff to achieve academically and socially. He will be an asset to the school and the district. I also thank Mrs. Volante who has stepped in as the Interim Principal during Dr. Pennachia's absence. She has worked hard at leading the school during this year.”
A rousing standing ovation greeted the official vote to name Velino principal on Tuesday night. The meeting space set up, as always, in the Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School library, ran out of free seats by the 7 p.m. scheduled start time.
“I would also like to congratulate the new principal, Mr. Velino,” said School Committee member Marysue Andreozzi.
The crowd burst into another round of applause.
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