FAIRFIELD — Fairfield announced the selection of its new special education director this week, a former school psychologist who currently holds a similar position in Wallingford and is the parent of a child with special needs himself.

Robert Mancusi, Pupil Personnel Services Director for Wallingford Public Schools, will start as Fairfield schools’ new Director of Special Education and Student Services in August.

“I’m very excited about coming to Fairfield,” said Mancusi, a Wilton resident. “Fairfield has always been a high-performing district that I’ve always had my eye on.”

The district began its search this summer after Andrea Leonardi, who had served in the role for 20 years, announced her departure. Leonardi began as Wilton Public Schools’ assistant superintendent for special services July 1, and Superintendent Toni Jones announced Mancusi’s selection in an email to district parents July 3.

“Mr. Mancusi impressed the interview committee with his knowledge and experience in the field of Special Education as well as his passion for working with staff, students and families,” Jones wrote in her email.

In his role in Wallingford, Mancusi’s experience included programming for students with disabilities, budgeting, gifted management, Section 504 policies, staff training and school climate work, according to the message. He has previous special education leadership experience in Wallingford schools and worked as a school psychologist in East Haven and Wallingford public school systems.

His role in Fairfield will be similar to his current post, though Fairfield is a bigger district. Fairfield’s 2016-2017 enrollment was 10,027 students while Wallingford’s was 5,908, according to data from Connecticut’s Department of Education. The state data details 1,117 students with disabilities in Fairfield Public Schools and 714 in Wallingford.

“My priority will be when I start in August to meet with parents, meet with staff, meet with administrators and work along with Dr. Jones to get to know Fairfield,” Mancusi said of adjusting to the larger district, “and then to begin to forge those relationships so we can hit the ground running.”

Mancusi also holds several degrees in school psychology and educational leadership from Southern Connecticut State University.

“We’re just delighted to have him,” Jones said in an interview.

She highlighted his “authentic, genuine lens” into special education as the parent of a special needs child alongside his vast experience working in the field. References spoke of Mancusi as personable, approachable and a great listener, Jones added.

Along with his professional experience, Mancusi has firsthand experience guiding his 21-year-old son, who is non-verbal and autistic, through Wilton Public Schools.

“What he has done for me, he has really helped keep me grounded and focused as a parent. I’ve been able to use what my son has taught me to put myself in the shoes of the parents that I’m working with. It’s hard to have a child with disabilities... I live that every day,” Mancusi said.

Human resources director Ann Leffert spoke at a Special Education Parent and Teachers Association (SEPTA) meeting June 12 to inform parents about the search process and gain input. She had vowed the district was willing to conduct a nationwide search and hire a search firm if the search committee didn’t find a candidate that was the right fit for the job.

At the SEPTA meeting, some parents expressed the hope that the new special education director would work with parent wishes and recognize parents as the best advocates for their children. Mancusi noted he has vast experience with Planning and Placement Teams, a group of professionals and a child’s parents who collaboratively work on an educational plan for a child with special needs. Finding what is best for students and working with parents to do so is “my number one priority,” he said.

Jones said the district’s search committee considered about 15 candidates in an initial round of interviews and three finalists in its second round of interviews. Mancusi stood out as personable and the right fit for Fairfield, she said.

Mancusi’s top goal is to make a difference for Fairfield students with disabilities and their families.

“I just want to help kids,” he said.

lweiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16