CHATHAM, NJ - As a 12-year veteran in the Chatham school district, Michael LaSusa is still getting used to his position as superintendent. After being appointed in June, he said the first four months have been great and he has been well-received in the community.
He started in Chatham as a Spanish teacher, spent a few years as an administrator and then became assistant superintendent. LaSusa told The Alternative Press so far the transition has been great.
“It’s gone well,” he said. “I’m very fortunate that there’s a terrific Board of Education that’s very supportive. I’m very lucky to be in this position.”
He was teaching at the high school in 2004, when the district created a Dean of Students position, which he applied for and got. He then slowly moved his way up the ladder and became the superintendent.
“Our biggest challenge is probably to keep peace and try to maintain the excellence that this district has come to expect,” he said.
Someone in his position faces many challenges. With the new teacher evaluation system taking place next year and maintaining the anti-bullying law, he has a lot on his plate.
The teacher evaluation system has some positive and negative features, he said. While it has the right intentions, using test scores to measure a student’s growth cannot be applied for every class, LaSusa said. It’s going to put a lot of pressure on teachers whose classes don’t require standardized tests. But, because it will not take effect until next year, teachers aren’t worried yet, he said.
“Determining what we value and think is important in assessing a staff is a challenge,” he said.
However, in the second year of the anti-bullying law the district has a better handle on it, he said. The parents and faculty support it and everyone wants the children to be safe at school, he said. Besides the extra work and being unfunded, there has not been much criticism of it, LaSusa said.
The students and teachers are remarkable and each school is unique, he said. Although Chatham is a small town, it is slowly growing and enrollment, particularly at the Lafayette School, is increasing. Because of this, the board of education is trying to figure out how to manage the projected influx of kids at the high school.
As more people are using smart phones and iPads, integrating technology into the curriculum is important, he said. It needs to be a part of the school system and teachers should have the knowledge of how to use it, LaSusa said.
“We have to make sure we’re teaching students how to use technology effectively, intelligently and creatively and hopefully give them some skills in that regard,” he said.
Looking ahead to the future, LaSusa said his goals are to keep the budget at a two percent cap and to look into expanding the high school.