BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Superintendent of Schools Melissa Varley officially began working for the district in July. Since that time, she has met with most of the board members, the entire administrative team and many community members.

This week Dr. Varley will be meeting even more people – in particular teachers and members of the community. On Sept. 3 and 4 teachers will report to their assigned schools to attend Staff In-Service Days. There will be a Freshman Parent Night at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Sept. 3, at Governor Livingston High School. Thursday, Sept. 5, the first full-day of school for students in Kindergarten through twelfth grade, marks the opening of the 2019-2010 year. On Sept. 9, preschool students will report to school.

TAPinto Berkeley Heights sent Dr. Varley questions on a variety of topics, so parents, staff and others could learn more about the district’s new superintendent. She replied by email.

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Q: At this point, what do you see as the district’s strengths and challenges? 

Dr. Varley: I believe our strengths are our community, students, teachers, and administrative team. The district is successful in so many things, it is very hard to name them all. We have a staff of people who love children and strive every day to do what is best for them. The board of education is also very committed to the school district.

With only two months under my belt, describing its challenges is hard.

I would venture to say that it seems our Early Childhood/Elementary programs need someone to oversee them. We need one person in charge of curriculum and instruction for the Pk-5. A building principal has a huge job, adding on a very meaningful task of curriculum to their already heavy workload leaves (a chance for) something to be forgotten. We need a strong literacy program that is research-based. Reading is the foundation of all things education.

The remainder of our strengths and challenges will have to be revisited at a later date.

Q: Did anything about or in the district surprise you once you began work in July? What?

Dr. Varley: There were no surprises. I have lived near BH for 13 years and knew Judy Rattner pretty well. This is an amazing place to work.

Q:  Why did you become an educator?

Dr. Varley: My father was a principal for 37 years and my mother was his secretary. It was in my blood. I started out as a summer custodian, then, was a paraprofessional, then, a teacher, assistant principal, principal, curriculum director, assistant superintendent and superintendent. I have worked almost every facet of education. And I love it!

Q:  What do you think of the latest school rankings (92 in NJ by US News, 30 by NJ Monthly), and do or will these rankings play a significant part in your decision-making process?

Dr. Varley: I think all rankings differ. My biggest concern is academic achievement and the all-around education of students. I want to see Berkeley Heights excel in academics while making sure our students have the social and emotional guidance they need. If a child isn’t mentally healthy, they cannot be academically healthy.

Q:  There is still no final contract with the teachers - is this going to make things difficult for you when school opens?

Dr. Varley: It would most definitely be easier for me if the teachers and board had an agreed upon and signed contract. However, from what I know about the teaching staff, they are a professional, focused group. My hope is that this comes to a successful close soon. 

Q:  What are you anticipating the most during this school year?

Dr. Varley: I cannot wait for the school year to begin! I’m ready to dig into the school community and start learning about all the Berkeley Heights Public School District has to offer.

Q: Are you a sports fan? Will you attend athletic events?

Dr. Varley: I graduated from the University of Georgia. I’m a HUGE college football fan. I do believe athletics brings a strong sense of discipline and competitiveness that students need to go far in life. I will attend as many events as possible. With that, I enter a caveat that I have two teenage daughters who have lives of their own that I need to focus upon. You will definitely see me at Friday Night Lights, The Thanksgiving game, and at least one of most of our sporting events. 

Q:  How many hours does a superintendent put in a week?

Dr. Varley: Well, that depends. For the first month of school, my days run into one another. I have two free week nights in September. The remainder of the time, I will be at district events. So, generally, I work 40-60 hours per week. A superintendent’s job is basically 24/7, however, in the event of an emergency or other pressing situation, the hours can and do change.

Q: What do you want people to know about you?

Dr. Varley: I’m originally from Georgia and moved to New Jersey about 13 years ago. I live in New Providence and I have two teenage daughters, Emily and Meredith. Emily is an equestrian and Meredith is a gymnast. They keep me very busy! As I said earlier, I’m a huge Georgia Bulldog football fan. I try to attend at least one game per year if possible.

I believe that education is the foundation of success and it can change lives. You have to start at age five building that foundation. I’m the only superintendent in New Jersey who is a member of the Superintendents Association’s (AASA) Early Learning Cohort. This cohort works hard to find ways to make education stronger at the early ages, so that children are ready for a more successful middle/high school experience.

Dr. Varley’s experience in the field of education is extensive. Before assuming the role of Berkeley Heights Superintendent of Schools she has held positions as a teacher, assistant principal, high school principal in a school with more than 3,000 students, curriculum director in Bergen County, assistant superintendent in Sparta, and superintendent in Florham Park.

On a personal note, Dr. Varley wrote that she has three hobbies, “reading, Crossfit and driving my children around ;0.” She is a member of Crossfit 908 in town.

And, for those who wonder how she feels about marching bands, “I was in the band in high school. I love MARCHING BANDS! I played the flute, the bass drum and was a majorette,” she wrote.