SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The South Plainfield School Board of Education last month approved the appointment of Kevin Hajduk as the new principal of John F. Kennedy Elementary School. Hajduk, who applied for the position earlier this year, is currently the principal of South Plainfield Middle School and will continue to serve in this role until a replacement is hired.
“Kennedy is known for its progress on state assessments and its great programs; they have a very supportive staff that works well together. They are a true family,” said Hajduk. “I am looking forward to being a part of that and doing whatever I can to make that building even better than it already is.”
Over the summer, Lisa Parker resigned as principal of Kennedy School and, at that time, the board of education named Nancy Erickson as interim principal; Erickson will remain at Kennedy through the end of the 2015-2016 school year. Hajduk applied for the Kennedy position when Parker resigned and was approved by the board on Nov. 18. His transfer is effective on or before July 1, 2016 and he will remain in his current position at the middle school until the appropriate candidate is hired.
“The [search] process for a new principal here is being conducted in a really good way with accounts from parents, staff members, students, and administrators in the building to determine what type of individuals should be interviewing for the position,” said Hajduk, who doesn't expect to transfer to Kennedy until the Middle School position is filled and there is a transition plan underway. “Right now, our interim superintendent is working to get a feel for what the expectations should be so that the person hired is the right fit to keep this building growing at the level that it is.”
He added, “I don't think it is good to just leave a building mid-year unless there is a good transitional plan in place. I truly believe there is a good plan and that it’s not going to be where I am here today and at a different school on a Monday …” Additionally, Hajduk said all necessary elements at the middle school – including preliminary scheduling needs, budgeting and teacher evaluations – will be completed prior to him leaving.
“While the middle school will truly miss Kevin Hajduk, Kennedy School will be getting someone with expertise in many areas, including special education,” said Debbie Boyle, president of the South Plainfield Board of Education. “He brings with him a wealth of information.”
Born in South Plainfield, Hajduk graduated from South Plainfield High School in 1995 and went on to earn a B.S. in special education/elementary education from East Stroudsburg University; an M.A. in educational technology from New Jersey City University; and an Ed.S. with distinction in educational leadership from Seton Hall University. He began his career in South Plainfield in 2000 as a special education teacher at the Roosevelt’s School, working at both ‘old’ Roosevelt (now the administration building) before transitioning into ‘new’ Roosevelt.
From 2004 to 2008, he taught special education at South Plainfield High School and, in 2008, was named assistant principal to the middle school under then-principal Steve Novak. In June 2010, when Novak retired, Hajduk earned tenure as an administrator and was appointed principal of the middle school by the South Plainfield Board of Education.
As principal of South Plainfield Middle School for the past five years, Hajduk has worked with administrators, staff and teachers to embrace the vision that all children can learn, given the opportunity and programs to succeed. Additionally, a Middle School structure, which aligns the values associated with educating young adolescents with the expectations of consistent growth at this age, was incorporated during Hajduk's tenure at the school.
“Mr. Novak was an excellent leader – not only as a teacher but as an administrator as well - and his vision was to improve the effectiveness of the classrooms to get kids ready for high school. He was more of the academic focus in that no matter what the type of student they needed to be ready for high school,” said Hajduk, adding, “We have a little different thought process in that we feel that every child is different and needs to be taught and prepared differently for high school so that every one is successful.”
During his tenure at the middle school, Hajduk worked closely with several teachers, including Geraldine Heim, to research, propose and implement a no-backpack policy at the middle school and, most recently, the school has also implemented new programs and clubs. During his tenure as principal of South Plainfield Middle School, Hajduk also proposed and helped implement a new master schedule and said that, "with the support of a wonderful staff," also established a new mission statement for the building while also reconfiguring the school’s teaming approach.
“It took a lot of time and most of the five years to establish what is in place now,” said Hajduk. “A lot of the time invested into these changes included working closely with our faculty, staff, Parent Advisory Committee, and Parent Teacher Organization to see how we can best do all these things effectively for our kids. In the scope of education, all these things serve as a bridge to ensure that our kids are prepared well for high school.”
He added, “What I am most proud of is that the staff here really understands and supports the changes made and the direction we are moving in. The next principal needs to be someone who will improve upon this to an even higher level for our community and our students, because they deserve it.”
As principal of Kennedy, Hajduk said his goal is to work collaboratively with the staff to eliminate any obstacles for the staff and make any necessary and said he has no plans to go in and immediately start making changes. “I am not one to come in and say ‘this is the way it is going to be.’ You have to first determine what variables – such as the staff, administration, students, communication, etc. – are impacting the progress,” he said. “You can’t just go in to any organization and start changing everything. It has to be done in a way that is understood to be good for kids.”
Although he is looking forward to this new venture, Hajduk said the move is bittersweet, noting that leaving his ‘second-family’ and ‘close-knit staff,’ is hard. He is also proud of the relationship he and Assistant Principal Tamekia Grier-DuPiche have forged. “We solve problems together and have become very supportive of each other’s style, which can be different at times,” said Hajduk of Grier-DuPiche. “Together, we are able to connect with certain kids in certain ways and provide a very good balance.” “Mrs. DuPiche is an excellent administrator who connects well with students. The district is lucky to have someone who understands young adolescent students so well.”
Additionally, Hajduk said it is the students he will miss the most, noting that he really enjoyed the connection he has made with middle school-age students over the past seven years. “I have really seen some difficult children become very successful when they leave and I am definitely going to miss that,” he said. “I also have seen some students become leaders on a national stage which is simply priceless.”
Hajduk is currently working toward his Ed.D. in educational leadership from Seton Hall and will be working on his dissertation beginning in 2016. His goal is to one day lead a district from a Central Office position. He and his wife, Angela, a first grade teacher at Riley Elementary School, moved to Edison in 2007 and are parents to Joseph, 7, Anthony, 4, and Lorenzo, 2, and recently announced they will welcome their fourth child in May.
“I am very grateful to have even been given a teaching position in the town that I grew up in. To be the principal of the middle school for over five years and now to be the principal of Kennedy School, is wonderful,” Hajduk said, adding, “I have been given a lot of great opportunities in my life and have been supported by great mentors. I do not know it all but I do my best every day because I feel our town deserves it.”