You’re Not Mental

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I hope everyone knows the above quote.  If not, you need to stop reading this and Netflix this movie!

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and everyone you’ve worked with has done it.  At some point, you’ve taken a day off, but you didn’t use a vacation day, you weren’t sick, and you did things just for yourself with it. Shopped. Went out to eat. Got a massage or had a spa day. Watched a movie. Saw a baseball game. Binge-watched a series. Slept in. You get the idea. The phrase “mental-health day” has circulated in the workplace for years, yet many shy away from saying that’s what they’re taking.

NBC Nightly News recently aired a story about an employee who emailed her boss saying she was taking a mental-health day. Her boss replied, supporting her.

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So…why is this important, and how does this relate to the field of education?

In our line of work, we need to be at the top of our game every single day. We need to be all-in.  We need to be cognizant that giving any less effort only hurts us. Taking time for ourselves in order to decompress and partake in wellness activities is paramount for us to succeed. We are not confined to a cubicle or in a monotonous job. We are taking care of the future who will eventually be taking care of us.

While the summer is a great time to recharge and relax, we need to be doing this during the school year as well. We need to eat right, exercise, and partake in wellness. We all need mental-health days. Don’t shy away from it; be proud of it.

My New Office

My first “official” day on the job was July 5, and before I could get started, I needed a work space.  I had taken a few tours of the facilities before, and I saw that my new office was on the third floor–the top corner office with a great view.  It was more like a penthouse.

And then I checked out the whole building and told the movers to put all of my belongings in the basement. You read correctly.  The basement!  My staff began to panic and wanted to know if I was okay.

I picked an office that is the size of a utility closet at best. No windows. No bathroom. No opulence resembling the typical superintendent ‘s office. Just enough room to hang a few pictures and my academic credentials.

Why would I do something like this? A few reasons…

1. One of the biggest critiques was that prior administrations were “too good” for the common man, and their elitist attitudes were ever-present because nobody could ever access the third floor.  If I were an employee or if I lived in a town where a public official purposely tried to evade the people he/she serves, I’d be rather annoyed. Leaders recognize that, if you flaunt your white-collar status in a blue-color town, you have signed your own death warrant.

2. There was also talk of things happening in the lower levels and information never making its way up. Some also didn’t want to take the time to get to the third floor to share things. While my mind goes right to, “Why didn’t they email?” when technology consistently doesn’t work or you don’t have the training in how to do something, you won’t bother. Leaders should and will meet their staff, supporters, and critics anywhere they are.

3. Given the prior individuals who held the post before me, there was a stigma that the position was always first-class and everyone else was just cargo. Showing folks that I’m just like everyone else speaks volumes. Leaders can relate, empathize, and treat others with the respect they deserve.

My old office is now a district conference room–a room where all can enjoy the view and spread out to get work done.

Real leaders can do their job from any place, in any place. Real leaders also don’t hide their offices on a floor others can’t reach. It’s time to lead.


The Next Step


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I’m pleased to announce my new superintendency that commenced on July 1.  While it’s been a joyous eight months of being a dad, vacationing, getting healthy (down 103 lbs since surgery), and presenting around the country, it’s time to take the next step. Don’t get me wrong; it was amazing to be compensated and then some to live the way I did, but it was rather sad that some thought that it was the right thing to do. Oh well!  My new boat along with my family thanks you; not too many dads can say they were paid to raise their kids. Onward…

The next step requires my switching two pivotal gears. The first gear has to deal with my mindset. In my previous superintendentcies, I was very focused on curriculum, schedules, and pedagogy. This is going to shift to ensuring that basic needs of life are met. I will now be circulating around acquiring and providing clean clothes, hot meals, and supplies that a learner needs to succeed in school. I’ll still focus on curriculum and operations, but Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will take precedence over logos and useless presentations to folks looking to play “gotcha.”

I appreciate such a shift; it’s almost coming full circle. I began my educational career in a poor, urban school where any and all efforts were appreciated. Folks weren’t planted to cry over mascot designs or legally try to seek results of surveys  (I mean, really, how much time do you really have?! And you choose to waste your energy on that?! How about your kids?!) Parents here appreciate every and anything that teachers and leaders do to further the development of their kids; they are real and will talk to you. That being said, the needs are much different.  One of the needs is clean clothing.  I have partnered with Whirlpool and Tide to have laundry machines and supplies donated for clean clothes on a daily basis.

The second step is unique for me and many other superintendents. Instead of being the lead social media advocate, I had language inserted stating that I will NOT be responsible.  Why you ask?  Because I want my stakeholders to be the ones telling our story.  I have received criticism that I only send out positive messages and that I am trying to manipulate the news. I am eager to see how this experiment works. It will either be spectacular or a complete failure. However, if we don’t try, we can’t move forward with what works best.  Right?  So, yes, a very big change for me, but a very exciting one.


Shout or Shun?

The high school yearbook; the quintessential culmination of your high school experience. Loaded with quotes, lists, and photos, they are also laced with headaches for administrators and beyond. Why? Errors. Intentional and unintentional.

In the past few weeks, I’ve read several articles about mishaps. Some are intentional; some appear just to be legitimate mistakes that end up turning into something because… well, just because.

Let’s start with the recent yearbook debacle in Wall Township. As a resident, I can attest that this has a strong conservative base. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when people try to, it becomes a problem. The article shows the senior in a Trump t-shirt, with copies of the photos he purchased with the Trump logo. The yearbook comes out – the picture had the Trump logo removed off of his shirt.

Love or loathe our President, removing a logo from a shirt is a clear violation of rights. This is a public school, and while Boards can set dress codes, there is nothing wrong with a t-shirt. If the t-shirt had something inappropriate (drugs, sex, clearly defined inappropriate language) – you replace. But a Trump logo?

The yearbook advisor was suspended during the investigation. While I think that too is going way beyond what is necessary, I’m going to assume that this was a student who did this. I am giving the licensed educator the benefit of the doubt knowing that doing something of this nature would be wrong.

Another incident has a senior in Northern NJ showing off her shoulders with a quote asking everyone if her shoulders distracted everyone from reading her yearbook quote. Personally, I loved her quote – and I’m not the only one. Her photo and quote were picked up by almost every major media outlet and a myriad of print resources, including Seventeen magazine and The Huffington Post. Call her smug, call her sassy, call her what. I call her brilliant. She points out an archaic policy that leads to this BOE getting a negative spotlight. International spectacle over mundane dress code policies leads to failure. it appears that this is another classic example of either administration or Board out of touch with today’s times and the power of social media. I’m hoping that they will address this instead of being the laughing stock of the world because of stubborn minds.

The last NJ Yearbook debacle that gained an eye or two was where a student claimed that her name was not misspelled, but another name was in her place and the only reason that was the case if because she’s African American.  While I certainly sympathize with her for the years of getting her name incorrectly and understand the frustrations of being called the wrong name in school, I do not think this was an intentional action on behalf of the yearbook staff.

Hopefully, people will see these news stories and reflect on their current practices so that one can enjoy yearbooks instead of being the focal point of them for all the wrong reasons. I was one of those cherubs who in my 1997 senior yearbook who also put a snarky comment in my yearbook not thanking one of the teachers.  Snarky? Yep. 1st Amendment? Yep. Wrong?  Nope.  Got a conversation going about how to fix things so all students can be/feel accepted.  Yep.  Onward we go?  Naturally.


Employee Transfers: everyone wins.

One of the nastiest words in education is “transfer.” The impact of the word in education circles can be felt all the way to the core of any school. Since transfers are often punitive, sometimes rewarding, and barely non-judgmental, people become freaked-out when transfers start happening in order to prepare for the next school year.

Transfers often start being thrown around at Christmas time, when administrators begin putting together their wish lists for the next year. The best way I can put it is that it’s like playing Monopoly. “I’ll give you Mr. X if you take Ms. Y & Mrs. Z.” I know; it sounds awful, but it’s often this way in districts. I previously blogged about what or how to do it in one-building districts so that you’re getting what your kids need in order to be successful. 

The biggest fear associated with transfers is dealing with the person who is not volunteering to do it. That person is often afraid of embarrassment, exposure, or being cast as ineffective. After seeing how your buildings and disctrict operates along with identifing your school / district strengths and pitfalls, sometimes you need a powerhouse in an academic or grade level area that needs help. It’s also totally worth taking those who are in need of some help that identify themselves as wanting assistance to become more effective in their craft. Then you have those who are completely useless. They are proud of it, defiant, paranoid, and angry, fully aware that they can’t be touched because of tenure. Let’s be honest here; this is a rarity. In my entire career, I have come across only two people in that spot (one in an educational position, one not) who were only sticking around to “defy the man” and to prove a point.

Transfers also rile up board members in some districts, regardless of your district size. Some even have policies set in place allowing for direct oversight (more about that in my book coming out this summer). Those being transferred who are not asking are the first to go to a board member and stoke the fire. While most board members understand that the superintendent makes recommendations and the board votes yes or no, other board members break ethics codes and “tag team” to create a beautiful, political, theatrical stage set consisting of tears, yelling, and dramatic votes. I’ve had it both ways as a superintendent, but I’ll share with you one instance where long-range planning truly paid off. 

Knowing that no matter what I said was going to be voted against, but seeing the dire need for movement, I set up a vote to fail. Yes, I’ll type it again. I set up something we (the admin team) worked on to fail. 

Why? Try to follow me here. I initially submitted a list from the admin team knowing it would be shot down. Why would I orchestrate such a thing? Three reasons:

  • Those rallying against it would be brought together and energized about the position they are in.
  • Those that don’t like me “get a win” by shooting down something I proposed.
  • Knowing that staying in their spots would lead to a modicum or no improvement (i.e. like the last 2 minutes of the last episode in every season of the HBO classic The Wire, where nothing changes) the board would have to go along with taking action the following year, despite how they felt.

The results? Perfection. People felt all good that they achieved a win (a huge morale booster), the essential moves took place (the list went from about 1/3 being moved to a handful) and the next year even more names were submitted for transfer. Folks could not disagree anymore; change was needed.

This is the epitome of long-range planning. Besides doing what is best for kids,  nothing is more satisfying than seeing someone carrying on about how transferring can’t be done and how wrong it is, rallying everyone up to fight it, only to then approve an ever bigger list the following year. It also shows how collusion and callousness can go hand in hand. The political part of the superintendency is often a chess game; while the checkmate may be sweet at the time, it’s looking at how the game was played and the long term effects of the game itself.

Was it sneaky? Anyone who doesn’t like me will say it was, and naturally I’m going to say It wasn’t at all. You can try to make the argument that I brought forward something in bad faith, but knowing that I could convince those to not vote for something last-minute was key. Again – the superintendent needs to look at the big picture and try to plan for years out, whether they are there or not. 

 Was this strategic long-range planning? Absolutely. It was a win-win all around, and you will able to see the results in due time. Creating a great team takes time. If the same thing was left in the same spot and  the same thing was done over and over while the world progressed around them, with a teacher or principal refusing to hanger their ways and pedagogues, where does that leave our future? Screwed. Not only does it cost the student academically, but it costs the taxpayer because now I have to provide additional services to help a student who isn’t succeeding.

I am hoping we (the public) will be seeing this in the future as the state department of education continues to progress and begins to roll out public records so everyone can see how a teacher teaches and how one progresses. Then everyone can see where the problem is. And that’s Just the beginning. Great things will be coming to the department of education after this election, regardless of which candidate wins. Like other states, it appears that the public in NJ will eventually be able to see and have access to much more data, including where teachers rank when it comes to state testing. This is essential for many reasons; more about this in my book to be released later this summer.

Transfers associated with short-term fixes are exactly that– short term. It’s about the long term and what results eventually happen–sometimes months, even years from now. Knowing that your actions had a positive impact on the students is what counts. Superintendents want to make positive changes that help our future that will eventually be taking care of us. The public often only gets one version, especially if the haters want to publicize something that is seen as change, additional work, and yes, doing something new. Nobody likes starting from scratch, but sometimes, that’s the best way. 

So, those transfers that occurred this year, last year, or even next year? On behalf of every Superintendent, you’re welcome. Your kids will benefit in the long run, I promise. Believe it or not, that’s why we all do what we do. Like you, we want our future to succeed; doing the same thing every year as the world zooms right past you is a downright disservice. 


Drunk Drivers Are Stupid

Today, I had the opportunity to sit in on a final meeting before the annual Project Graduation project that I have helped run for a number of years. If you aren’t familiar with the program, Project Gradutation is a program offered by many high schools in the United States, in which organized, adult-supervised and alcohol-free activities are offered as part of a post-graduation party, as an alternative to student-run events involving alcoholic beverages or other drugs. Most run the program the night of graduation; some choose that weekend. The theme for this year was a simple one: drunk drivers are stupid. 

The program is a great and often is a final way to celebrate the entire graduating class together. There are often lots of carnival-like games, tons of food (often ending with a breakfast buffet around 6 AM) and of course a DJ. The event is typically sponsored by the parent-teacher arm of the school and local businesses. 

I can imagine what you’re thinking at this point; many of the kids are just going to go and drink another night. That very well could be the case, and truthfully, we as a school are not going to stop students from experimenting with drugs, alcohol, or other dangerous decisions that they will come across. We can, however, offer all of the resources that we have as a community to deter students from making terrible decisions that can result in the destruction of life.

In the past, I have found visual deterrents to be very impactful. I previously blogged about what Hopewell Central High School did; a full blown mock fatal car accident, with the student council president dying in the wreck. Everything from the blood and crime scene markers to the funeral home showing up. It was full of lights, sirens, and sadness. It was painful to watch. That’s the point. 

I have also arranged for a car that was involved with a DWI / DUI to be “donated” to a high school and display it prominently by the main entrance or where my seniors parked their cars. Again, the image is gruesome, but it’s suppose to be.

There are also lessons that health / PE teachers complete, but as an administrator, I tried to get as many teachers involved. At HVRSD, supervisors also taught one class to keep us in the loop (I loved it). I had second semester seniors. We did a whole unit on why driving under the influence is stupid. We talked about the process, and how everyone can see this because it’s a public record. My favorite lesson was pulling up three different articles on high school party busts; the first two with descriptions & pictures, but the third one had an article with the names of every student who was arrested. That article was the game changer for many. In a matter of hours, your life can change, and not for the better.

I recently saw one statistic that a drunk driver who gets arrested has driven as much as 430 separate times under the influence. How scary is that? 

It’s facts like that that our future needs to be aware of. Drunk driving, or driving under the influence of anything, it just downright stupid and dangerous. We see Celebrities getting busted daily and glorified in our pop culture, but we also see kids who just graduated go through the same thing. 

 Nothing is more painful that seeing someone who worked so hard only to have their lives ruined or taken away because of stupid decision making. I’ve seen it on all levels in schools, from students to administrators; on no level is it easier to deal with. As leaders, we have an onus the make sure that whomever this happens to gets the help they need. 

Here’s to hoping you or a student from your town does not have to go through this. In today’s times where we as a society seldomly agree on anything, we can all agree that drunk driving is stupid.