This past week was my third NJSBA-NJASA convention. It’s three days of workshops, booths, food, festivities, and networking. It’s typically the who’s who of school admin; toss in BOE members, vendors (some wanna be hipster, some way out of touch, some just right), and some lobbying action and you have quite the soirée. I’ve evaluated the last two on here; third time is a charm I suppose. Let’s get to it:
The winners: major points for the districts that brought students down to highlight their accomplishments. I saw amazing things happening in the iSTEM center (shout out to Northfield for bringing their students AND samples of their Digital Shop), heard choral performances from Salem High School, and even saw a Robotics Team showing off their creations.
More points go to the very special collaborations that took place. You saw it everywhere; day and night, at tables or over cups of coffee; we Superintendents are tight, and we talk. A lot. While it was nice for me to catch up with many of my former coworkers, one of JE best conversations took place between Dr. Scott Ripley, Dr. Robert Zywycki, and myself. It turns out that Salem County (my former Superintendency) and Sussex county have a whole lot in common. They couldn’t be any farther apart, but the similarities are somewhat insane. Amongst other things:
- They are sparsely populated
- The tax situation is way lighter compared to the rest of the state, but many residents compare it to living in a highly populated area
- There are a handful of locals who are very adamant about keeping things like they were 100 years ago
- Some pedagogy and instruction is completely antiquated to the point where the “education” that is given out is completely useless in today’s society
- There are adamant, passionate administrators who have accepted the challenge of getting all stakeholders to see why education is essential for today’s world.
Finally, points go to the Clark Public Schools and to NJM insurance. Tom Misiak, Supervisor of Curriculum & Instruction in Clark,NJ gave an amazing presentation on NextGen Science and rollouts for grades K-12. I was floored on his rollout; concise, persistent, and easy to understand. The second part goes to New Jersey Manufactuers Insurance company for offering the driver simulator for high school students. The simulator offers a myriad of interactive driving scenarios. I participated in the texting and driving simulation, where you actually use your phone and text while driving. In a seven minute drive, I committed five violations, including striking two cars. The simulator is available for all high schools in NJ.
The Losers: In my opinion, nothing this year was really that bad. My only issue was the marketing company who had their employees dress as hipsters and crash another evening reception. I thought it was tacky and sad that someone thought it was a good idea to crash someone else’s event. Have your own event; don’t crash someone else’s to push a competitors product! And hiring actors to portray (as one performer put it) “obnoxious hipsters”. What were you thinking??? I’m not a marketing person, but something is telling me that trying to thwart someone else’s event is going to make you lose business, not gain it.
The Cowards: It should be clear at this point that some love me and some loathe me. I understand; I can come across as very strong, but I don’t care. I’m very passionate and I will do anything and everything to ensure that we are meeting students where they are, getting teachers what they need, and are learning with today’s tools. I came across a former supervisor. He hired me; I had the utmost respect for him and, in turn, made me who I am, including a national Superintendent of the Year. We did have a falling out, but over the course of a few years I thought water would have been under the bridge and we could be professional. I went to say hello and thank you, but the supervisor saw me, turned white, and made a B-line to the door, taking his board member. I had to snicker. Why run? What are you afraid of?? I saw the BA too, who also turned white and tried to fade into the crowd. Are you both really that surprised that I was there? Did you not know I am a Superintendent of Schools? Again, why hide? Are you mad that I stayed social in the town? Are you annoyed that residents still talk to me and that residents frequently stay in touch? Are you irked that I have respect, something that you still can’t get after all of these years? Are you afraid that I’m going to discuss what we did as administrators? Or spill the beans over something? Why would I do any of that??? The behaviors that these ‘leaders’ demonstrated have contributed to me becoming a better leader, because now I know what NOT to do.
The conference is also full of social activities, and during one event, I walked passed my old supervisor again. The supervisor smiled at his friends and flew the coop (Note that I didn’t say hi, I didn’t attempt to communicate, or any of that). After to running into colleagues from all over the state, I bump into good friends from my hometown. They happen to be sitting right behind the supervisor, BA and two BOE members. I didn’t notice it until the table got up and moved. When they moved, two kept on looking over and had that fake smile of panic on their faces. I didn’t notice it until my friends pointed it out to me, asking me why do they keep looking over. Again, I had to laugh and just shake my head. Petty? Pathetic? Immature? Is this a conference for Superintendents and officials or the middle school cafeteria? You ran away when you saw me. Cowards! All of the interactions are baffling, and the fact that you act this way in places like this makes me think twice about who you are and how I respected you. I recall this supervisor stepping into drama on occasion; clearly all of the drama you’ve had was self-induced.
Oh, that Board Member he tried scurrying me away from? We had a great breakfast. And we talked. A lot (the best question – “Why didn’t you take the job that surrounded our town? That would have been amazing!”). We talked because that’s what real leaders do. We put children first, not theatrics. We lead, not run. We control the message, not react to it. We listen, we act, and yes, we collaborate with others.
Overall, a great conference filled with winners, losers, and yes, cowards. Until next year… and yes, I’ll be present next year too.