BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - On November 18, 2020, Marybeth Kopacz, the Director of Elementary Education and Intervention for Berkeley Heights Public Schools, along with the four BHPS Elementary Principals, attended the Columbia Teachers College (TC) Reading and Writing Project Principal Summit. This summit is a part of a professional development series that takes place throughout each school year. As an accepted partner district, the Berkeley Heights Administrative team is afforded the opportunity to engage in the summit as part of the overall TC Professional Learning Community partnership.

Kopacz, who joined the administrative staff in August, is responsible for the administration, coordination and supervision of all aspects of Elementary Education. Her responsibilities include oversight of all elementary schools and the Mary Kay McMillin Early Childhood Center. She also acts as the main point person for the district’s partnership with Columbia Teachers College. Joining Kopacz in attending the virtual summit were the four BHPS Elementary School Principals: Patricia Gasparini, William Woodruff School; Jon Morrisseau, Mountain Park School; Jessica Nardi, Thomas P. Hughes School; and JoAnne Carroll, Interim Principal, Mary Kay McMillin School.

At this month’s summit, the keynote speaker was King of Alkebulan. KOA (the artist formerly known as Daniel Beaty) is a visionary actor, singer, writer, and social entrepreneur who lives at the intersection of art, spirit, and social change. KOA has developed an awarding winning body of work that includes his plays Through the Night, Emergency, Mr. Joy, and The Tallest Tree in the Forest – Paul Robeson. He has garnered numerous awards including an Obie award for writing and performance and five NAACP Theater Awards. Raised in Dayton, Ohio, Daniel grew up the child of a heroin addicted, incarcerated father, and younger sibling to a brother addicted to crack cocaine. Daniel learned early on that the arts can help heal childhood trauma, transform pain into power, and inspire a new generation of changemakers to dismantle the systemic racism and oppression at the core of the challenges Daniel, his father, brother, and so many Americans face.

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During his presentation, KOA reminded us of the power of educators. He noted, “As a gay, black man growing up with many challenges, school gave me a safe passage. Administrators and teachers taught me to think the best, so I would have the best.” KOA went on to graduate from Yale University, and he has performed all over the world including giving special performances at Lincoln Center and the White House.

The time spent with KOA, in addition to the TC Reading and Writing Project presenters, was inspiring. As Kopacz stated, “It afforded me and the principals time to work collaboratively with other administrators around the country on strategies and resources to support the important goals outlined in the BHPS district Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mission.” The team had opportunities to engage in workshops and discussions including:

  • How Can you See and Celebrate Instances When Teachers Are Doing Vibrant Anti-Racist Work in Their Curriculum, and How Can You Nudge Them to Take Next Steps?
  • A Handful of Ways to Help Special Education Students in This COVID World
  • Tap the Strengths of Technology to Support Your Multilingual Learners
  • What Kind of Language Can Teachers Use with Kids to Help Them Feel Self Esteem and Confidence in Their Own Genius?
  • School Still Has to Be Fun!: Helping K-5 Teachers Under Duress Maintain a Mood of Playfulness and Community in Virtual and Hybrid Teaching
  • How Can We Set Up Systems to Ensure Less Slippage

As Kopacz noted in her reflection, “It is always an honor to learn alongside the Elementary Principals as we engage in workshops at Columbia Teachers College. I am thrilled to have the opportunity, and it is inspiring to be a part of a collaborative education team that is constantly working to improve instruction and to support our students in social and emotional learning. The elementary administrative team and the school staff members want to help each child succeed in the classroom and beyond. The items and strategies that we take away from these sessions allow us to work toward that end. Most importantly, we strive to make the Berkeley Heights Public Schools a safe, welcoming, and equitable environment allowing ALL students to be included, inspired, and empowered.”