We sat down with Maria Iozzi, Principal of the Red Bank Middle School, which serves the 4th through 8th grades.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and what made you decide to go into the teaching profession.

Iozzi: I’ve been in education for twenty-three years, always loved and being with children and it’s been my passion since I came over from Portugal as a child.  I was one of those bi-lingual students, only spoke Portuguese, so that played a big part into going onto bi-lingual education and helping those students that have the same challenges.  I majored in Spanish because I loved the language so I’m actual tri-lingual and I was hired right of out college as an elementary Spanish teacher for twelve years in Perth Amboy, also earning my bi-lingual certification.  I also have a Masters in Administration and Supervision.  Because of a change in residence I applied as a teacher and ended up as the Dean of Students for the Middle School in 2005.  I became the English Language Learners (ELL) Supervisor, after my third year became a Supervisor for the Red Bank district.  In 2007 I became interim Principal of the Middle School and have been Principal since 2008.  It’s been a great ride, I love my kids and I’m in the right place.

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Q: Tell us how graduation went and how many graduated.

Iozzi: I say this every year, but this year was the best graduation we had for 122 students.  They will all be going to the high school and it was a beautiful ceremony.  Salutatorian, Gus Del Pra and Valedictorian Lillian Wooley giving outstanding speeches, referring a lot to the staff, the teaching, the caring, the nurturing and the love from their teachers that helped them succeed. There was a lot of teary eyes in the crowd.

Q: You’ve been the Principal of the Red Bank Middle School now for thirteen years and manage over 625 students and over fifty staff members.  What are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Iozzi: Probably parental involvement because a lot of the parents don’t speak the language.  They care about their kids, they love their kids and they want what is best.  But they can’t help them with math or language arts, so that is one of the bigger challenges we have.  They do come out for family events and have a great time, but for those informational sessions I wish more would come but I feel they may be timid and hesitant and I understand that because I came from that.

I think having a Spanish speaking principal really helps because they know they can reach out to me and can communicate any concerns during the school year.

Q: What, if there is one, a typical day as the Principal?

Iozzi: My day starts off in the morning greeting the children with hellos at the front door and I walk around this building conducting walk-throughs so I know what’s going on in the classrooms, including formal ones where I’ll give feedback on what’s taking place and general observations.  We do morning announcements about every two weeks and take turns with our two Vice Principals.  A huge part is being with the kids at all 5 lunch periods.  Then it’s meetings, checking email and winding down the day.

Q: How do you discipline youngsters at this age (12 – 14)?

Iozzi: We try and be proactive, we have grade level assemblies with the students reminding them of school-wide, grade level and classroom expectations  These include when you can go to your locker, to lunch, can be in the hallways and conducting yourself on going home or on a trip.   Kids just need that discipline and relationship is huge.  In fact, one of the most important questions I ask when screening new teachers is how they build rapport.  The kids need to know that you care, that you listen and get to them individually.  If you realize that they are not having a good day, you ask, what’s going on, what’s happening, things like that.  We try to train our teaches to take that approach so that hey will be successful in the classroom.

Q: Red Bank is a growing town and has a significant Hispanic population.  What adaptions have been made for these students?

Iozzi: We have a bi-lingual program so those students that don’t speak any English, are included in the general activities, events and assemblies.  In the fourth and fifth grades, if they are coming from the ELL program from the primary school and up, it’s time for them to transition out we don’t have a bi-lingual classroom at these grade levels.  These students are more sprinkled throughout  so they mingle with the general population students who may have been in the program and exited out.  We have an ELL coach that provides training for both the ELL and our non-ELL staff to help the kids better participate in the school and classroom.

Q: What’s your primary focus on making sure that your students are ready to move up to the High School?

Iozzi:  Rigorous teachings, focused classrooms, a good curriculum and teachers that articulate with the high school.  Teachers from the high school come to the Middle School to see our eight grade classes as well. We have four teachers at the eighth-grade level and throughout the year they meet with teachers from the high school to discuss programs there.  The RBR’s teachers also talk to our seventh grade about their Academies so that when they enter the eighth grade they are in the mindset to apply to one of these Academies if they want. 

We also have our Advancement via Determination (AVID) program which is college-ready focus and we have a “Wear Are You Headed Fridays?”   This day everybody wears college sweatshirts and we have many college pendants hanging around the school.  We get the Middle School students to start preparing for high school and taking that further for high school students to think about going to college.  We’ve built those foundation skills so the students can successfully advance and move on.

Principal Iozzi also wanted to recognize and thank Secretary Judy Schindler who is retiring after thirty years of service.