SOMERVILLE, NJ - Timothy Teehan, a career educator who has worked as Academic Achievement Officer in the borough’s school district since 2012, has been hired as the new Somerville Superintendent of Schools, replacing Dr. Timothy Purnell.
The Board of Education is expected to formally announce Teehan’s appointment at its meeting Tuesday night, June 13. He will assume his new responsibilities July 1. Purnell’s last day is June 30.
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.
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.
Married with six children ages 15-25, 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.”
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, who came to the borough in 2011 from the Harding Township school district, announced in December that he would be leaving Somerville to become executive director of the American Montessori Society in New York City effective Aug. 1
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.
“We had a dinner for Dr. Purnell to celebrate his accomplishments and one of the other superintendents, currently retired, got up and said, “You know, when I heard you were leaving, I thought to myself, boy it’s going to be tough to fill your shoes,” Teehan said.
“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.
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.
Another effective program has been Assess, Analyze, Achieve!, which has led to an improved quality of education in the district, according to Teehan.
“Student achievement in the foundational elementary grades was on a steady decline until this program was instituted for grades K through 5,” he explained.
The program consists of three basic steps. First – to assess – reading and writing “on-demands” were given in each classroom, and teachers were trained in the proper manner of scoring and recording results;
Second – to analyze – the Director of Curriculum & Instruction met with teachers in small groups for an in-depth analysis of results, including identification of areas of deficiency, and development of a plan to meet the needs of all students;
Third – to achieve – the process was implemented monthly for an entire school year, and teachers using data gathered from the assessments altered classroom practice based on student needs.
“Through regular meetings with teachers, overall curricular needs were also identified. To address a recurring issue with certain student subgroups’ reading deficiency, for example, a summer and before-school program was started,” Teehan said.
The Triple-A thrust helped to elevate academic achievement in Somerville, according to the new superintendent.
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.
In his resignation letter of Dec. 13, 2016, Purnell wrote, “I assure you that the decision to leave was not an easy one.
“The teachers and administrators are among the brightest and most energetic in their profession. Our tremendous accomplishments, however, would not be possible without the dedication and vision of the members of the Board of Education.
“This is truly a special community!”