SOMERVILLE, NJ - Timothy Teehan, a career educator who has worked as Academic Achievement Officer in the borough’s school district since 2012, was formally introduced as the new Somerville Superintendent of Schools at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.
He will replace Dr. Timothy Purnell, who came to the borough in 2011 from the Harding Township school district. He submitted his resignation in December, setting off a search process that attracted 40 candidates, a substantial number that is “unheard of,” according to Norman Chin, board president, praising Purnell for creating an atmosphere of innovation and success in the school district.
Purnell is leaving Somerville to become executive director of the American Montessori Society in New York City effective Aug. 1
Teehan will assume his new responsibilities July 1. Purnell’s last day is June 30.
As his wife Lisa, and four their six children looked on, Teehan signed a three-year contract that will pay him $160,000 annually.
“I’ve got big shoes to fill,” Teehan said, a reference to Purnell’s impressive list of accomplishments, but said he was up to the task.
“We’ve got a great team, from top to bottom,” Teehan said.
Teehan has been one of Purnell’s key administrators, overseeing several innovative programs that have drawn accolades from the state Department of Education, the US Department of Education, even a doctoral student from Denmark who visited the school district, determined to implement some of those successes in her country.
“The good thing is that we’ve worked together for five years in Somerville; I’ve been actively involved in all of the creative initiatives, the different academies, the non-traditional high school, I’ve been a part of that,” he added.
There are 2,500 K-12 students in the Somerville School District, which consists of the Van Derveer Elementary School; Somerville Middle School and Somerville High School.
Prior to being hired by Purnell in 2012, Meehan was a primary school principal in Upper Township, located in Cape May County.
Teehan has been working on his doctorate degree at Rowan University and expects to complete all the requirements by the end of the summer.
Teehan has a B.A. in History from Rutgers University, certificates in respiratory therapy from UMDNJ-SHRP and computer programming from Cittone Institute, a M.A. from Kean University in Instruction, Curriculum & Administration, and his principal certification from Drexel University in Philadelphia.
The 50-year-old is a lifelong resident of Middletown in Monmouth County.
Purnell recused himself from the interview and selection process conducted by the Board of Education and is pleased that Teehan was selected, as his familiarity with the district, its programs and personnel has eased the transition process.
“I’m extremely proud of his accomplishments and that the board selected him,” Purnell said. “I know he will bring the school district to an even higher level.
“His skill sets, his depth of knowledge are far beyond mine,” he added.
Teehan began his career as a teacher in 1998 at the Stony Brook elementary school in Branchburg. The following year, he left for a teaching position closer to home in West Long Branch, leaving in 2008 for the Piscataway Public School District, where he was principal at Grandview Elementary School, and pre-school administrator at the Knollwood School.
In 2010, he moved to Upper Township for two years before he was hired by Purnell.
Purnell distinguished himself on the state and national level during his tenure in Somerville. In 2015, he was named New Jersey School Superintendent of the Year; in August of 2016, just four months prior to his announcement, he was named Superintendent of the Year by the National Association of School Superintendents.
An adjunct professor at Montclair State University since 2002, the website ratemyprofessor.com rated him the top professor in the United States in 2015.
Teehan was part of the team with Purnell that helped create the Somerville Academy of Liberal Arts, a school within a school operated in conjunction with Raritan Valley Community College. The program enables high school students to earn college credits beginning in the ninth grade. The first graduating class received their Associate Degrees from RVCC in May – one month before they will receive their high school diploma.
Several of those students will begin college in the fall semester as juniors, having earned 60 college credits while still in high school.
“He’s one phenomenal leader,” Teehan said of his mentor. “Anyone that knows him will agree to that 100 percent.”
Teehan expects to maintain the programs and policies Purnell instituted, including “Talk With Tim,” a direct link on the Somerville schools’ website that enables students, parents, taxpayers or anyone else to reach out to the superintendent with questions, complaints, concerns and compliments.
Purnell joked that he was pleased the link will retain its name, as he said it has become a popular form of communication within the school district.
Teehan, a self-described ‘high-tech” guy, has already compiled a long “to do” list that he will begin to check off starting with his first day on the job.
"A lot of work gets done during the summer when the kids are out of the school building,” Teehan said. “I’ll spend time meeting people I hadn’t met before and making the connections between me and Tim so that people know to continue their work.”
Another priority will be filling his position.
“That will take place over the summer, and I’ll be meeting with the administrative team so that we continue to share the same vision,” he added. “We’ve done so much in this district, but I want to take a step back and reflect on what we have accomplished and refocus on it, how we did it and how we can do it better.
“It’s always good to reevaluate everything,” Teehan said.
Teehan will also make time to meet with staff at RWJUH/Somerset to make improvements to the Somerville High School Medical Sciences Academy for students interested in a medical career.
He and his team will also continue to work on plans to establish another specialized academy with a focus on the academic disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The STEM Academy won’t be up and running until the 2018-19 school year, according to Teehan.
The creation of the academies is based on surveys circulated among students, according to Teehan.
“They are the driving force behind what academies we form,” he said.
Both Teehan and Purnell credit the Board of Education with helping to create a culture of innovation.
“The Board is totally supportive, willing to take risks and make mistakes, realizing that’s part of the process,” Teehan said.
“We have a Board of Education that allows us to take risks; they are not fearful of failure, we want to encourage that in our students, to take risks, don’t be afraid of failure,” Purnell said.
Purnell got choked up a few times during his final board meeting in Somerville, speaking highly of outstanding students, superior staff, visionary leaders and supportive parents, community members and a Board of Education.
“Thank you for allowing me to serve as your leader,” Purnell said.
Teehan, his family, Purnell, board members, school principals, administrative staff and teachers, parents of students and students helped mark the occasion with a congratulatory cake after Teehan signed his contract.