By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — All 550 students at Visitation School know Dr. Vincent Cascone. He’s their principal.
But here’s a pop quiz. How many know him as Dad, or Uncle? This year, five students ranging from first through eighth grade (and Visitation alum Anthony, now a freshman at St. Pius X High School) call him dad, and to six first through seventh graders more, he’s Uncle Vince. And all are proud that Dr. Cascone was named a 2013 Distinguished Principal of the Year by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
They were joined by the Visitation student body, teachers, staff and parents who gathered in the school gym Oct. 16 to surprise, cheer and clap for Dr. Cascone. One of the special elements of the assembly was a video of students sharing opinions of their principal.
The kids were asked their favorite things about Dr. Cascone (“He talks to us,” “He always says hello,” “He loves kids!”), the best thing about him (“Over the years he has made us better and he’s really nice!”), and how he came to be their principal (“Mrs. Wingit, the school secretary, hired him,” “People think he’s awesome, that’s how!”).
“This is exciting,” Dr. Cascone said. “I love the fact that I’m kind of an ambassador, representing Catholic schools at the assembly.” The NAESP honorees this year include 53 public elementary and middle school principals, six pre-K- 8 private school principals and two from U.S. State Dept. American Overseas Schools for a total of 61 principals. He is one of three Catholic elementary school principals nationwide who received the award.
The award was established in 1984 to recognize principals who set high standards for instruction, student achievement, character and school climate for the students and their families as well as teachers and staff in their communities.
A two-day event in Washington, D.C., Oct. 24-25 celebrated the principals. Legislation in both chambers of Congress marked October at National Principals Month. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was to deliver the opening address, honoring the principals at a State Department Reception Oct. 24. Certificates bearing the Great Seal of the United States and Distinguished Principal school bells were to be presented to the honorees at a formal Awards Banquet and Dance, Oct. 25. Dr. Cascone looked forward to the trip. “I’m excited about the State Department reception and the black tie dinner and dance. So’s my wife. She got a new dress for it!”
Dr. Cascone attended Southwest Chicago Catholic schools through elementary and high school, then received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Education from DePaul University and doctorate from St. Louis University. He returned to Chicago to teach and serve as a Catholic school principal for a total of 10 years before coming to Kansas City when notified that the principal’s position at Visitation was open. That was 9 years ago.
Since his arrival at Visitation, he has established a Volunteer Resource Program that supports classroom teachers in implementing Differentiated Instruction. Parent volunteers read to students, assist with math problems and work with students in small groups. He established an award-winning reading lab for students with reading disabilities and an enrichment program for high achievers. He has also continued Visitation’s participation in and support for the Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education. F.I.R.E. raises funds to help Catholic schools hire paraprofessionals and special education teachers to work with students with special needs so they can attend their parish schools with their siblings and friends.
Visitation’s School of Stewardship, a program spearheaded by Dr. Cascone, give students opportunities for volunteerism in their parish and community, to donate to organizations in need through H.O.P.E. (Helping Our Partners in Education) projects, and to learn about stewardship and its importance. The Junior Board introduces 6th – 8th graders to the business of philanthropy through hands-on experiences and opportunities to meet people who daily commit themselves to worthy causes. Students involved are also responsible for making well-thought out financial decisions concerning the proper distribution of funds to eligible agencies.
“Here at Visitation we educate the whole child; that includes spiritual education. And our test scores are sky high,” Dr. Cascone proudly said.
In 2010, Visitation was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. In 2012 the National Catholic Educational Association named Dr. Cascone a Distinguished Principal.
Dr. Dan Peters, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph congratulated Dr. Cascone for this latest Distinguished Principal Award.
He said, “Dr. Cascone is an excellent administrator, and Catholic through and through. He, his wife and their kids are all highly involved in their parish and Visitation School. He is a really good Catholic leader and principal.”
“The nomination was a surprise,” Dr. Cascone said. “It’s nice to get that recognition, for me and for our diocese.”
He looked forward to interacting with the other principals, “to learning from them and find more and more ways to use the wisdom and talents of teachers in programs and strategies” to make Visitation School even better, he said. He reached out to the other Missouri honoree, Mary J. Kleekamp, principal of Geggie Elementary School in Eureka, to congratulate her and exchange ideas.
If they wanted to participate in a memento exchange, honorees were asked to bring souvenirs that reflected a unique aspect of their state. Dr. Cascone planned to bring 80 two oz. bottles of Gates Original BBQ Sauce.
He also looked forward to talking about Catholic Schools with other principals, including the other Catholic School principals being honored, Sarah J. Hengst, John Paul II School, Houston, and Nancy Nasko, St. Pius V School, Chicago.
NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly said, “Only a principal can move a school from good to great, simultaneously championing children and uplifting the communities they serve.” Visitation sts and teachers would probably agree that Dr. Cascone has done those things and done them well.tuden