SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – It’s been a little over six weeks since Dr. Noreen Lishak officially took over the role of superintendent of South Plainfield Schools and, in that short time, the district’s new head administrator has been busy meeting with building administrators, district academic supervisors, analyzing curriculum, and evaluating facilities. Dr. Lishak recently sat down with TAPinto South Plainfield to discuss the challenges ahead, her immediate and future goals, and what she’s most looking forward to as the 2016-2017 school year quickly approaches.

“There are quite a few issues that we need to address. This is a long journey and not everything is going to be done immediately but, as we move forward, we have a strong team and with the support of the board and the public, we feel we will be able to accomplish our goals,” Dr. Lishak said.

Since taking on the role of superintendent on July 1, Dr. Lishak said she’s spent a great deal of time meeting with district supervisors and building administrators along with members of the teacher’s association. She has also implemented a team that includes Assistant Superintendent Mary Flora Malyska and Interim Board Secretary/Business Administrator James Damato; worked to relocate the district’s preschool program; and reinstated the foreign language program within the elementary schools.

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In terms of academics, Dr. Lishak and Malyska have been reviewing not only South Plainfield’s curriculum and course offerings, but also the district’s instructional practices within the curriculum department, the various assessments, lesson plan program, and the best practices of teaching and instruction.

“The overall goal, is to be able to provide South Plainfield teachers ‘with the tools they need to make our students successful,” Dr. Lishak said, adding that she would like to work on developing partnerships with colleges and other career-related routes as well as look into offering students the opportunity of a full year world language program at the middle school.

“We want to ensure students are presented with every opportunity they need to succeed and, to do so, we need to take a look at what we are offering our students, ensuring we are meeting and exceeding the standards.  It is our responsibility to prepare our students for success in college or their chosen career path.” Dr. Lishak said. “Our students know what they want and where they want to be. We just need to find a way to get them there.”

Additionally, over the next few months, Dr. Lishak will be re-evaluating the district’s preschool program to determine if it is viable, sustainable and whether or not it should continue. According to the superintendent, no further tuition increases will be implemented during the 2016-2017 school year and all decisions regarding the future of the program will be rendered by December so that parents have ample time to make arrangements.

Together, Dr. Lishak and Damato have also been spending a great deal of time evaluating the district’s seven buildings and sports facilities, as well as meeting with principals to determine what areas need immediate attention. “Some facilities throughout the district really need some TLC. Our buildings, some of our infrastructure and sports complexes, have, overtime deteriorated,” Dr. Lishak said.

Future Stars, according to the superintendent, was a prime example of this problem. “Even before I accepted this position I heard a lot about the preschool program but whatever was happening last year, the complaints, had very little to do with the program and more to do with the facilities themselves,” Dr. Lishak said. “Moving the program into the elementary buildings so that the students are part of the school community made the most sense.”

With the district’s annual budget required to be within the set cap of 2 percent, funds for major improvement projects ­– new windows, blacktop/parking lots, and air conditioning in the middle school – not to mention academic and athletic enhancements such as increased technology, AP courses, a turf field, and more, the funds just aren’t there. Increased enrollment is an issue the district could be facing over the next number of years and funding to provide the support for increased enrollment would also have an impact on our increased budget.

“Capital improvement money built into the budget each year doesn't cover everything that needs to be addressed and constraints within a budget that is based on a 2-percent cap each year makes it impossible to fund some of the things necessary,” she said. “Even if all things remain the same, addressing the unavoidable increases such as the cost of rising health benefits or salaries the 2-percent cap each year is maximized.”

To pay for necessary infrastructure projects, implement new academic programs and enhance district athletic facilities, the South Plainfield School District will be putting a bond up for a public referendum in the spring. Informal informational meetings to discuss possible referendum items were held August 3 and August 10 with a third meeting taking place August 31. The finalized proposed referendum, including information on the cost of each included project, will be presented to the public and voted on by the board of education at a September 7 public meeting. If approved by the board, the referendum would then be submitted to the New Jersey Department of Education with a public vote scheduled for March 2017.

“There are needs that we have in this district that the budget, unfortunately, cannot sustain and there are programs we would really like to implement but the funds just aren’t there. We need to look toward the future and see what we can do and we have to reach out to the public and ask for their help,” said Dr. Lishak, noting that all ideas presented at the public meetings are being taken into consideration but only those items that are feasible will be included in the referendum.

“Our goal is for the referendum to encompass as much of what the community wants as possible in a large number of areas - facilities, academics, athletics, and more.”

Appointed by the board of education in May, Dr. Lishak is the district’s first permanent superintendent in over two years. In addition to stability, she brings to South Plainfield over 19 years of educational experience.

After a number of years in the business field, Dr. Lishak switched gears and proceeded to earn a bachelor’s in elementary education from Kean University. She secured her first job with the Elizabeth Public School District in 1997, teaching first and fifth grades.

“I truly feel that when you are working with a child and something clicks and they get it, the delight in their face and the happiness, makes you really feel like you accomplished something at the end of the day,” said Dr. Lishak.

Dr. Lishak went on to earn a master’s in educational leadership from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She worked in Warren County for the Great Meadows Regional School District, as director of curriculum and special services before joining the Township of Union Public School District, serving as director of secondary curriculum and testing and later as the assistant superintendent of schools. During that time, she also earned her doctorate in administrative leadership from Walden University.  

With the first day of school just around the corner, Dr. Lishak said she looking forward to going into the building, meeting with the teachers and, most of all, the students.

“I can’t wait to visit each elementary school. I love to hear what the kids have to tell me and I love to answer their questions,” she said.

As South Plainfield’s new superintendent, Dr. Lishak said she brings not just experience and stability but also a new prospective to the district and a respect for the community. “I enjoy the closeness of the community as a whole and I really care about the students here, their education, the programs and making things the best they can be,” she said. “I truly intend on having true, open communication and collaboration with teachers, parents, administrators.”

Dr. Lishak added, “This is our district. It is not my district. Everything I do moving forward is to benefit the students and the district as a whole.”

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