BRIDGEWATER, NJ - She may have only been in Bridgewater-Raritan for about four months now, but Alice Steinheimer, new assistant superintendent of special services, has been working with special education students for decades.
“I have been in special education for a little over 38 years, it’s been my life,” she said. “I have always wanted to be a teacher, since I was in the third or fourth grade, and I have pursued this nonstop.”
Steinheimer is bringing that passion for education and students to her new role that is about making sure students with special needs are getting what they need to further their educations, and making sure the staff has the resources they need to help their students.
“My goal is to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of our students and providing the staff with the support they need, whether it be professional development or material support, human resources, whatever it is in order to meet the needs of our kids,” she said.
After earning her Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from Oneonta College, Steinheimer went directly to Adelphi University to earn a Master of Science degree in special education. Immediately after her graduation, she said, she became a resource room teacher on Long Island.
“In New York, there are no child study teams, so there are no learning consultants, so it was a building-based child study team, but they did not make decisions, they were made by a district-wide group,” she said.
“I did testing for students that were referred to the team, and I oversaw the building-based child study team,” she added.
After her family relocated to New Jersey, Steinheimer became a self-contained classroom teacher in Randolph.
“Because you needed to be a learning consultant in New Jersey to do the testing, I was no longer able to do that,” she said.
Steinheimer said she began teaching at the kindergarten level, and then taught multiple disabled students for a little over five years. She then went to Montclair University to receive her LDTC certification, and spent 13 years as a learning consultant in Randolph.
Toward the end of those 13 years, Steinheimer said, she went back to school to earn a second Master of Arts degree in educational leadership from the College of Saint Elizabeth.
“I am a lifelong learner,” she said.
In July 2008, she received her principal’s certificate of eligibility, which is needed to become a director, and followed that with pursuing superintendent credentials.
Steinheimer worked in the Wharton and Mine Hill districts for several years, and then moved on to Denville where she was a director for three years in a kindergarten through eighth grade district. She then had an opportunity to be director in a kindergarten through 12th grade district, so she moved to West Milford.
“I was there for a short period of time, and accomplished a lot in the short period of time, it was an awesome experience,” she said. “And then I spent the past four years in Clinton Township.”
Now in Bridgewater-Raritan, Steinheimer said, she likes working with a large kindergarten through 12th grade district.
“I like to make that positive impact and to look at the big picture and do what’s best for the kids,” she said. “This was a challenge, and I was ready for the challenge.”
Steinheimer said the biggest difference between her early jobs and her work now is that there used to be more hands-on time with the kids when she was in the classroom.
“The students are always the most important part, and I like to get into the classrooms as much as I can,” she said. “Though I might not be working directly with them, I am listening to supervisors and building principals, and getting a good understanding of what’s needed programmatically for the kids.”
“A building principal might see what they need for the students in their building, and, big picture-wise, I’m looking at how that can fit into the overall district,” she added.
As assistant superintendent, Steinheimer said, she can help on a larger scale, and is looking to ensure the continuity of the program to provide for students ages 3 through 21.
Steinheimer said she came to Bridgewater-Raritan partly because of its excellent reputation.
“I’d like to make a positive difference for the entire Bridgewater-Raritan community,” she said. “It’s going great, the kids are wonderful, the parents are wonderful, the people are wonderful.”
Steinheimer said she was also attracted to Bridgewater-Raritan because of its mission statement.
“We will teach them one and all, that is my philosophy of education,” she said. “Every since I was an undergraduate at Oneonta, my philosophy has centered on the anonymous quotation, ‘Children are like wet cement, whatever falls on them leaves an impression.’”
“My personal goal has been to leave a positive impression on each and every student I meet, and that aligns very well with the mission of the district,” she added.
Steinheimer said she will work on continually evaluating program needs, evaluating student needs and having discussions with all of the people involved, whether that be supervisors, principals, related service providers, the child study team or the administration.
“I am also looking at out-of-district kids, and seeing if we can possibly begin a program or enhance one so they can be educated with their peers in a least restrictive environment,” she said.
“The decisions for me are made based on the student,” she added. “If we can create a program that meets the needs in the district and allows the students to interact with their peers in district, that’s great. If we can’t, maybe we can work toward that at a later date.”
Steinheimer said one of her longer term goals is also to work on improving the special services website to make information more parent-friendly, and she is hoping to have that up and running in September. She said she also wants to work more collaboratively with the Special Education Alliance to provide more support for parents.
Steinheimer said she is also on the executive board of NJ CASE (Council of Administrative Special Education), which gives her a broader picture of what’s going on in the state for special education, and includes administrators from public and private schools.
But overall, Steinheimer said, her goal is to provide a safe and meaningful education for all students.
“My goal is to provide that so we’re meeting the individual needs of each and every student,” she said.