Changing of the guard at Catholic school

St. Francis-St. Hedwig School second-grader Taylor Hennessey helps wrap Principal John Salatto in paper during an event to celebrate the students reading a combined 5,000 books this year June 5 at the school in Naugatuck. The top readers in each grade were able to participate in wrapping Salatto up like a mummy. Salatto is retiring at the end of the month, and John Alfone will be the new principal. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Come the end of the month, St. Francis-St. Hedwig School Principal John Salatto will hand off the reins.

Salatto, 67, will retire this month after more than four decades as an educator.

Salatto found his passion for teaching while working as a substitute teacher in 1973. He then began working toward his teaching certificate and worked as a teacher for 17 years before becoming a principal.

In 2008, Salatto was hired as the principal for St. Hedwig School, where he worked for three years until it was announced the school would be merging with St. Francis School.

“I think one of the highlights of my career was merging the two schools. It was an excellent opportunity,” Salatto said. “I really enjoyed getting to put my fingerprints all over this school and launching it in September 2011. I just had a good time putting it together, working with a new faculty, seeing the excitement from the kids.”

Salatto said one of his favorite memories was watching the two schools merge into one cohesive operation and the two groups of students come together.

“They are very supportive of one another, very helpful to one another. Everyone really pitched in — teachers, parents, staff, kids — to make the new school work. And that it did. The proof is we are here six years later and we have a strong future,” Salatto said.

Starting on July 1, John Alfone will take over as the new principal.

Alfone, a Branford resident, is no stranger to St. Francis-St. Hedwig. He served as the interim principal for six weeks earlier this year while Salatto was on medical leave.

Alfone said he was immediately impressed by the school’s commitment to students and its strong Catholic identity.

“There is a true sense of community when you walk through the doors. The school’s teachers, staff and children were all welcoming,” Alfone said. “I saw the commitment of the staff and faculty for providing best possible education to students.”

Alfone has served as a principal at St. Vincent de Paul School in East Haven, St. Gabriel School in Milford, and Our Lady of Mercy School in Madison since 1990. He has also worked as the coordinator of elementary education and the assistant superintendent of schools: elementary for the Diocese of Bridgeport.

Alfone said he wants to bring his experience and passion for education to St. Francis-St. Hedwig.

“I hope to bring my commitment to Catholic education to the students and families in the parish community, my knowledge of curriculum, and my interest in professional development for staff members. I also bring my love for elementary education to every positon I go to,” Alfone said.

While he plans to wait before implementing any changes, Alfone said, there are changes he is already planning for the school.

Alfone said he wants to reorganize policies and procedures at the school, and work with the Archdiocese to find funding sources to update the technology at the school

Salatto said he has known Alfone for many years and was pleased that the school decided to choose Alfone as his replacement.

“When they first mentioned his name I applauded it most heartily. John will be a good guy to follow me,” Salatto said.

Salatto said he will miss the comradery at the school. Although he has had a long career in education, Salatto hopes he is remembered for one thing above everything else.

“If I am known for nothing else, I would like to be known as the first principal of St. Francis-St. Hedwig School. That’s a hallmark for me and for the school,” Salatto said.