Dadona looks back on the amazing story of the school she helped establish with Goodwin College and LEARN.
EAST HARTFORD — For Linda Dadona, Director of the Connecticut River Academy (CTRA) at Goodwin College, the past five years have been the most challenging of her 38-year career in education, but the resulting benefits to her scholars have made it all worthwhile. And now Dadona’s career is coming to a bittersweet conclusion as she looks toward retirement.
“This has been a very special experience — the hardest job I’ve ever had, but the most rewarding,” she said of the partnership between Goodwin College and LEARN, the regional service educational center under which the Academy operates. The CTRA population comprises students from 43 towns, including 45-50% from Hartford and 12-14% from East Hartford. The school boasts a remarkable balance between African-American, Hispanic, and Reduced Isolation (White, Asian, etc.) students.
Sitting in her office in the beautiful, 105,000-square-foot building at 9 Riverside Drive in East Hartford, Dadona recently indulged in a few moments of misty remembrance of her tenure as the head of CTRA. The building itself is less than two years old; Dadona herself was there for the ribbon cutting on January 7, 2014, following three years in modular classrooms on the Goodwin campus.
“It’s certainly going to be hard to say goodbye,” Dadona said. “This is the best staff I’ve ever worked with. We had a common purpose.”
That purpose, she explained, was to create a unique experience within Connecticut’s magnet schools: an environmentally-themed, college-oriented high school. Growing from small classes at 195 Riverside Drive to a $57 million building serving hundreds of students in just five years, Dadona was at the helm of developing the school’s academic programs and setting the tone for its ongoing culture of cooperation and learning values.
“I was a high school principal working with a college, doing something unheard of,” she said.
Dadona was just two years from retirement when the opportunity to begin development of CTRA arose. Undertaking such a massive project meant postponing that retirement, a prospect that initially left her conflicted. But her husband, she said, knew right away that this was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. “He knew I was invested even before I did,” she said.
Goodwin president Mark Scheinberg reflected on Dadona’s impact: “All we asked Linda to do was to create a school where none existed, build a culture integrating students from highly diverse backgrounds, set high standards of academic excellence preparing mostly first-generation students for college success, move the school three times from temporary facilities into a new building, and do it with intelligence and grace. All of this she did, and we will be forever amazed and grateful.”
Now, five years later, Dadona has been able to see the fruits of that labor. “To see the success our kids are having is validating to the whole model that Goodwin created with LEARN,” she said. “There’s been a number of moments that have taken my breath away.”
Alan Kramer, Dean of Magnet Schools at Goodwin College, spoke specifically about the students who are benefitting from Dadona’s work. “Linda has created a unique culture of academic achievement, with 97% of CTRA seniors graduating and 84% going on to higher education — including 15% to Goodwin. She helped develop an early college program that has resulting in 67% of CTRA graduates finishing their high school careers with Goodwin College transcripts in hand.
And though her retirement will see her spending time with family at a much slower pace than her years with CTRA, Dadona said a part of her will always remain tied to education.
“We’re part of something bigger than ourselves,” she said. “I think it suited me well.”
Assistant Director Tara Amatrudo, who has worked closely with Dadona, will assume the role of Director of CTRA on July 1. Of her successor, Dadona had nothing but praise: “I can’t think of anyone better for the school,” she said.