Education

Principal Spotlight: Dr. Michael Raj, Cedar Hill Elementary School

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Dr. Michael Raj, Principal at Cedar Hill Elementary School in Montville Township, NJ. Credits: Melissa Benno
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MONTVILLE, NJ - TAPintoMontville recently spoke with Dr. Michael Raj, Principal at Cedar Hill Elementary School. Interviews with the principals of the other Montville Township schools can be read HERE.

Mike Raj has been in education for almost twenty years.  After attaining four degrees from Seton Hall University (his bachelor’s, master’s, education specialist, and doctorate in education), Raj became a school psychologist in Washington Township, then a vice principal there.  He became a principal at an elementary school in Jefferson, but it was only grades kindergarten through two.

“I really wanted the experience of working with the older elementary school kids,” recalls Raj. “I wanted to be able to see the kids all the way through to a certain point. It was an unnatural break when I stopped seeing them after second grade; I wanted to see the kids through to fifth grade. I wanted the opportunity to grow with the kids. I also wanted to experience standardized testing, as crazy as that sounds.  Then I heard about the opportunity to be a principal in Montville.  Montville has such a great reputation – it’s a real driving force in education.”

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School Initiatives and Programs

“I’m really proud of the school,” states Raj.  “In 2014 we received the State School of Character Award. Read about it  HERE

“We have our wonderful relationship with Pagus: Africa through which we’ve adopted the Airfield School in Ghana.  The kids write pen-pal letters to the kids there, and they participate in workshops that teach them about life in Ghana. They also collect sports items and school supplies to send to the school.  We had a Read-a-Thon to raise funds for Pagus: Africa and raised more than $3,000.

“The ‘Tools for Schools’ kids’ club adopted an elephant in Africa we named Arruba.

“We host Seeing Eye dogs here at the school.  Our school nurse, Bonnie DiCola, brings her puppy in every day, and she is training her sixteenth right now, Jasper.  Bonnie has a great percentage of her dogs continuing on to become Seeing Eye dogs, I think it’s 95%.  The ones who have failed to become guide dogs, only failed for medical reasons. I came to Montville because of Bonnie.  I raised a Seeing Eye dog, too, and I met Bonnie at the Puppy Club classes, where they would teach the ‘raisers’ the basics of how to interact with the dog.  When I met Bonnie there, she said her current principal would never let her bring the dog to school, but I told her I brought my dog to the school where I was principal at that time.  Next thing I knew, I was Bonnie’s principal, and it was a match made in heaven, because Bonnie was always telling me how great the school and the community were.”

Achievements

“We were rated by the State Department of Education on Cedar Hill’s School Performance Report as a ‘high performing school,’” says Raj. 

The report states that “This school's academic performance is very high when compared to schools across the state. Additionally, its academic performance is very high when compared to its peers.”  Read the complete report HERE.

“We were also ranked number four in the State of New Jersey on SchoolDigger.com,” states Raj.

The website states that “In 2014, Cedar Hill School ranked better than 98.5% of elementary schools in New Jersey.”  Read the complete report HERE.

“We also won a Promising Practice Award from the State of New Jersey for our Connect with Respect character education program,” states Raj.  Read about it HERE.

“We have a Monday Mentors Club, in which older students help facilitate conflict resolution with the younger students, a Knitting Club, and the Math 24 competition,” states Raj.

Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen recently sent the school a flag that had flown over the Capitol Building.  Raj is ordering a frame for it and its accompanying certificate and they will be displayed soon.  (Read more about the flag HERE)  The school recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary and displays a new banner commemorating this.

“I wanted a nice visual statement that will be here for a good number of years to show that we’re proud of what we’ve done here so far,” states Raj.

Improvements

When asked what could be improved or changed in the school, Raj stated, “Education, like any other field, is constantly evolving and changing, and we need to be sure that our staff and students are prepared for that.  We need to move forward with the changes.”

State Testing

The week of May 4 marked the next round of PARCC (state) assessments in the elementary schools, for three days.

“I have a son who went through the first portion, and will be going through the next portion, and I’d like to tell parents not to stress over it.  That’s the best way to prepare.  The teachers are going to prepare the kids the best we can.  The only difference with PARCC is that it’s computer-based.  I think they did very well with the first portion, but the actual administering of the test was great – the kids had no problems navigating it.  Our fear of computer-based assessments is not the children’s fear.  They understand [the technology] and that’s their preferred mode of [testing].  We had a couple of minor glitches, like a kid hit a button and the screen over-magnified, but they were fixed after a few clicks.  It went very smoothly.  Day one had a couple of bumps, but by day two, it was like we had been doing it for years,” relates Raj. 

“We have a technology teacher, who taught them about the possibilities with the test-taking technology.  For example, the students were able to eliminate answers that didn’t apply.  If they skipped a question, the technology reminds them at the end of the session to go back to those.  On paper-and-pencil tests, those reminders aren’t there.”

Tone of the School

“I think the tone is fantastic – it’s very positive, the climate and the culture here in the building.  Kids are happy to come in to school, which is half the battle.  When you have a happy kid coming through the door, they’re going to do well in the classrooms. 

“I think our teachers are fantastic.  They care about the kids and they really know their craft.  My staff is top-notch,” says Raj.

Qualities Desired in the Next Superintendent

“I think I’m going to mimic what the other principals have said, but I would like someone who is caring and compassionate, has a ‘child first’ vision, and is going to continue to move Montville in the positive direction it’s going.  Dr. Fried came along and he moved us in such a positive way, and I want someone who is going to continue to do so.”

Family

Raj lives in Paramus with his wife, ToniAnn, who is the media specialist at Woodmont Elementary School, and their children Brandon, who is in sixth grade; Emily, a first grader; and Logan, who is two years old.

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