TAPintoMontville recently spoke with Patricia Kennedy, Principal at Valley View Elementary School. Interviews with the principals of the other Montville Township schools can be read HERE.
MONTVILLE, NJ – Dr. Patricia Kennedy says the “Guess What?” moments keep her going.
“What I like most about working with young children is they’re very curious. They’ll come to me and say ‘Dr. Kennedy – guess what!?’ That spark – that’s the curiosity that you need, to help them become learners.”
Kennedy has four degrees and seven certifications, including two Master’s degrees in English and Reading Specialist and a Doctorate from Seton Hall.
Kennedy began teaching high school English to seniors in Rahway. She taught Reading Specialist classes to undergraduates and graduate students at Montclair State University. She was a Reading Specialist and Basic Skills teacher in Fairfield for eleven years, and a Language Arts Supervisor and Vice Principal in Essex Fells. But Valley View is “my spot,” she smiles, where she’s been for ten years.
State of the School
Valley View was recognized by the state as a “high performing” school and “it comes with a lot of work and a sense that children deserve the best and you plan accordingly. We strive to do the best for them,” she says.
“What makes Valley View such a special place is our motto -- ‘Where All Children Can Learn.’ There are five components to that.
“It starts with the students. We have the privilege of working with some terrific kids. We have pre-k through grade five, and we have the LLD kindergarten through five. We have a complement that mirrors the world. Our kids are exposed to diversity,” she says.
Valley View hosts the district’s Integrated Pre-School Program, a personalized education program for three- and four-year-olds with and without special needs. The LLD program is a district-wide, K-12, program that serves students with more significant Language and Learning based challenges.
“The third graders are reading buddies for the pre-schoolers. It helps both students and the bigger kids become role models while learning empathy and insight.”
Kennedy says the second component is the teachers. “I have a remarkable staff. I have a mix of veterans, mid-career and novice teachers. I was happy with the staff I have here and the people I hire are always up for a challenge. They’re curious, tech-savvy, and willing to work on a team. With that collaborative approach, we get a lot done.”
The school has a technology committee with thirteen members that plans professional development based on the school’s needs.
“There’s so much new in technology but this staff is not afraid. So many of my staff are experts at technology and they show it.”
The third component is the parents.
“We have incredible parents,” says Kennedy. “The Parent-Teacher Association brings wonderful programs.”
Kennedy recalled the last school year included a terrible, harsh winter, but over the summer when she saw the “Adventure to Fitness” program, the PTA purchased it for her school.
“It’s a virtual field trip,” she says. “During the winter our kids were able to take a little ‘adventure’ to the rainforest, or to New York City, or the Arctic, while they stood in front of the SmartBoards with a ‘guide’ who was exercising with them, and they were ‘touring.’ It was a lot of fun for the kids. In other years, our parents did crafts with the kids during indoor recess, and Hip-Hop Dancing. The PTA conducts big fundraisers for us, such as Casino Night, and we were able to purchase 60 iPads and we were able to supply air conditioners to the second floor.
“They’re great people and they want the best for their children and for Valley View,” says Kennedy.
The fourth component is the community, according to Kennedy.
“This is one of the most generous communities I’ve ever worked in. They participate in fundraisers like selling t-shirts, contributing to St. Jude’s Hospital, and the Relay for Life. If they know [the recipient] or not, this community steps up, not just with money but with their spirit. They see a need – big or small – and they support it.”
The fifth component is her fellow administrators, says Kennedy.
“There’s a healthy competition among the school administrators, but we know we are all working together.
“Board of Education Member Michael Johnson is a Valley View alumnus, and he supports what we do and acts as our liaison to the Board. I’ve had a number of superintendents and I don’t have a complaint about any of them. The people who work here admire the community and feel privileged to be here and work very hard, and the administrative team in the last ten years [since I’ve been here] has always supported one another.”
Kennedy is also appreciative of the Board of Education.
“The Board is very generous. We had to rebuild [after the budget cuts a few years ago] and they’re very passionate about education, the kids and the community. The leadership of the Board is very positive and pro-active. We always feel supported. Sometimes you hear horror stories but I’ve never felt that. The Board is in it for the right reasons.”
Kennedy is very proud of the District, stating, “We’re recognized in the state as a high performing district and it’s not by accident or from luck. There are a lot of people with vision and we keep working towards that.”
PARCC State Assessment
“PARCC was a change for us, but if you take the time to look at it, as with any new initiative, you have to find the balance that’s just right. Are they there yet? Maybe not, but they’re working on it. That’s true of the SATs and anything standardized – it’s just part of the process.
“It’s been interesting for us because some of the tasks mirror the Common Core. PARCC isn’t driving the curriculum but it’s supporting what we need to do.”
The district had to provide students with technology in order to take the assessments, but the Chromebooks (mini computers) purchased for the tests are not gathering dust.
“We have the Chromebooks in the classrooms and these kids are doing daily what we didn’t do two years ago. That advancement, in terms of the format for instruction, is similar to before we had Smartboards in the classrooms. They’re used a lot. They’re not motivators and they’re not for play. They’re tools to access information in the curriculum. They’re so much more engaging. It’s a more rigorous way to teach when you incorporate lessons where the kids can research and gather information, then synthesize it. The kids are digital learners. And nowadays, you can’t find everything you need to know in a book.”
“I would like a superintendent who is passionate about learning, which we have had, and who is a strong communicator, because the superintendent has to make the vision transparent. I’d like to compliment Dr. Fried because I’ve never worked with a calmer person. It’s a remarkable quality. People who are passionate can become emotional but he has a sense of what people need, and they need to be heard, and then you come to a mutual meeting of the minds.”
“You see curious students asking ‘guess what?’ in kindergarten and they get the right environment to grow in this community. You look at what these kids accomplish and you marvel. It’s not just the salutatorian and the valedictorian, although one year both were Valley View alumni,” she laughs. “I always say to new principals, the growth you see and the evolution of the district, there’s always a building and a layering. You’re not just doing it because it’s new but because it makes sense for this district and community. It’s been gratifying. I look back over the past ten years and feel good.”