SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – AA community meeting to gather feedback to help create a shared vision of priorities and shape the applicant criteria in the search for a permanent South Plainfield Middle School (SPMS) principal was held March 11.

Led by Dr. Noreen Lishak, the district’s superintendent, and held in the SPMS media center, the meeting provided an intimate crowd of eight the opportunity to discuss the ‘qualities and characteristics’ they wish to see in the school’s next lead administrator.

“I am looking for you to provide some feedback in terms of what it is you are looking for in a leader of the middle school…This meeting is an opportunity to discuss anything you’d like in terms of what you are looking for,” Lishak told the group of four residents and two teachers along with one member of the board of education who were present. 

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The application period for candidates closed earlier this month and, according to the superintendent, information from the meeting will be used to help a committee that includes herself, administrators and six SPMS staff members (both certified and non-certified) work through the first round of interviews. 

“When we meet as a committee, this information will all go back and I can say ‘this is what the community has come out and expressed that they are looking for,” Lishak said. 

Although her child has personally had no issues, resident Rhonda Ransom stated that, as a parent, her 'ideal candidate’ would be someone who is ‘interactional versus transactional’ and ‘involved.’ “I would appreciate a principal whom I am comfortable calling, whom my child is comfortable approaching when appropriate, and, at the same time, is someone with a personable side who is about the growth of our students….” said Ransom, adding, “I believe the principal is the face of the school so the tone that he sets is the tone that will trickle down.”

Magdalena Dabrowski, a teacher in Elizabeth and parent of a Kennedy kindergartner, said she feels the next principal should be someone who works with the high school to get students ‘college and career ready.’ “I think it has to start here, in the middle school,” said Dabrowski. “It should be an innovative person with that in mind.”

Resident Kristine Keefe, an Edison teacher and mother of a SPMS eighth grader and Kennedy third grader, envisions the next principal as someone with ‘modern, up-to-date’ techniques and music teacher Andrew Veiss said that he would like to see someone who supports students, staff, and the music program. Additionally, music teacher Katie Haughwout said she feels the principal should be someone who ‘recognizes, across the board, all students’ achievements.’

“They are amazing kids and we want to make sure they stay amazing in everything they do,” said Haughwout. 

Dabrowski added that ‘safety and security’ of the students should also be a priority. “The times we are in are much different then when we were growing up,” she said. “Our schools should be a safe place and [the principal] should be someone who is on top of that as well.”

In rendering her final decision, Lishak said community feedback from the meeting, along with surveyed info from faculty and staff will be taken into consideration. As superintendent, Lishak stated that she is seeking a candidate who ‘understands the importance of instruction,’ ‘understands the importance of data,’ ‘understands the importance of discipline and consistency,’ can ‘see the difference between a noisy, mismanaged classroom and a noisy classroom where learning is going on,’ and has a ‘relationship with the students and the parents.’

“I want someone who, as they are walking in the hallway, is recognized by the students because they are not in their office; they are out, they are in the lunchrooms, they are in the classrooms…” said Lishak, adding that she is ‘looking for somebody who is really going to shape the culture of what’s happening in the middle school.’

“In my opinion, middle school is the toughest age there is…” she said, referencing that, for the seventh and eighth grade age group, middle school is a time when hormones are kicking in and friendships and relationships are changing. “It is a very difficult job, I think the most difficult in terms of being a leader in the building.”

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