SHELTON — The school district has turned to a familiar face to fill its top educator post.

The Board of Education approved on Wednesday the promotion of Assistant Superintendent Ken Saranich to lead the district starting Jan. 1. The promotion was approved with an 8-0 vote with John Fitzgerald abstaining because he said he was unable to attend the final interviews.

Saranich, a longtime Shelton resident whose wife, Tara, is a Shelton High graduate, will have a two-year contract that runs through June 30, 2023.

“This appointment is truly the highlight of my career,” said Saranich, who was emotional while thanking the board members for their commitment to him and his family for their love and support.

“As a fellow parent and member of this community, I will develop a shared vision of excellence to face the challenges ahead of us in providing the best education for our children,” Saranich added.

Saranich said being a parent of children in the Shelton school system has helped him understand the educational needs of the students as well as the desires of parents.

“We live during a time of uncertainty,” Saranich said. “Together we will develop an environment whose primary focus will be on educational growth of our students and the wellbeing of our students and staff. We need to continue to be the caring, collaborative community that Shelton has always been.”

“It is an exciting future for Shelton,” Saranich added.

Saranich will replace interim Superintendent Beth Smith, who took over in late February when Chris Clouet left to take a position with the state Department of Education. Smith had also applied for the position, but withdrew in late September, saying she will retire at the end of the school year.

Saranich, as part of his duties as assistant superintendent, has been overseeing the district’s remote learning since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board of Education Chairwoman Kathy Yolish said the board interviewed several qualified candidates, but Saranich “knocked it out of the park with his entry plan for the system. It was very dynamic.”

The finalists were asked to present an entry plan for what they hoped to accomplish in their first six months on the job.

“The process of searching for and selecting a new superintendent for our school system was not taken lightly and each board member was seriously engaged in the process, which began in June,” Yolish said.

Yolish said the community had the chance to provide input during the process. Board members began meeting applicants on Oct 7 and 8. The board narrowed the field from 13 to seven with interviews on Oct. 26 and Oct. 27.

“We held final interviews with four candidates,” Yolish said. “Much discussion and consideration took place with utmost concern for the community input received. Ultimately, the board made the selection of a leader that would best serve our children, our staff and our Shelton community.”

Yolish said Saranich reminds her of her favorite superintendent, Leon Sylvester, when she was a teacher in the district.

“Ken is very much like a younger version with that same love and passion,” Yolish said. “The only difference is Leon was known for wearing white bucks every day and Ken wears red socks every day.”

Saranich was named the assistant superintendent of schools in May 2019, replacing the retiring Lorraine Rossner.

Saranich — who has lived in Shelton for the past 17 years — left the Milford school district 10 years ago to become principal at Shelton Intermediate School.

Saranich graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree from Central Connecticut State University in 1995 and a master’s of arts in teaching from Sacred Heart University in 1997. He received an advanced graduate degree in educational leadership from Southern Connecticut State University in 2002.

He worked in the Trumbull school system from 1996 to 2001, when he joined the Milford school system as assistant principal at Harborside Middle School. He became principal at Harborside in 2007, remaining there until his move to Shelton Intermediate School in 2009.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com