Principal Reorganization Produces Differing Opinions
Hopatcong superintendent says district will see measurable gains in three to five years.
With the start of this school year, four out of five Hopatcong schools will have new principals. Joanne Mullane has left Tulsa Trail School to become a curriculum supervisor. Brian Byrne will take over at Tulsa Trail, leaving his post at Durban Avenue School. Lewis Benfatti will move to Durban Avenue from the middle school. Emil Binotto is heading over to the middle school, while Noreen Lazariuk has been hired to replace him as high school principal.
The Board of Education ratified the reorganization of administrators in June, at the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Charles Maranzano.
"We in part, wanted to change administrators to improve the system," Board President Clifford Lundin stated at the Aug. 20 board meeting.
Many concerns have been expressed regarding the changes. Lisa Cascelli, who has a son entering high school and a daughter in middle school, said she is apprehensive about the adjustment period with the new age groups.
"I think that’s going to be quite a learning curve for [Binotto], because middle schoolers are very different than high schoolers," Cascelli said. "They need to be treated differently. Mentally they’re not at the same level as high schoolers.
"And the middle school principal went to Durbin Ave. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I just think it’s going to be a very hard learning curve for a bunch of them because they’re going to be dealing with younger kids now. There’s going to be a lot for them to get used to."
Judi Wolff's son is a sophomore. Wolff said that Binotto knew her son well, which gave her a level of comfort in the way he handled student issues.
Maranzano said that administrative reorganization serves a purpose and is very common practice, according to the Principals and Supervisors Association.
"When we study administrative practices in graduate school, this is a topic that comes up, and the advantages are manyfold," Maranzano said. "You get an opportunity to do what we’ll call vertical and horizontal articulation, where when you bring corporate knowledge from one building to another building from location to location, you have the clear advantage of articulating the mission of the school district in a consistent way."
Maranzano said that four or five decades ago, schools operated like “little fiefdoms.” He referred to his job in Pequannock during the 1970s where there was a vast inconsistency in teachers’ approach to content levels.
“If you went to one school versus another, you got a different education because the teachers were doing things that were a little different; innovative,” he said.
He said now that there are accountability standards, schools can no longer operate autonomously.
“Fast forward several decades and now you’ve got accountability," Maranzano said. "State standards and all kinds of national standards push toward standardized testing. You find that we’re compelled to design curriculum and curricular delivery around benchmarks and around specific moments in time, and so articulating the curriculum across grade levels became a huge push in the '90s, and it’s still a big push for us."
Maranzano explained how articulation requires a continuum of learning across all grade levels.
"Now, just transpose the idea that you're trying to get the teachers in a building with five fourth grade classes to teach the same content on the same day, while allowing for individual variation in student learning and differentiated instruction for students with special needs," he said.
"Extrapolate that, and shouldn’t we do that from building to building, not just from classroom to classroom? Should we articulate our curriculum that clearly so that we’re all on the same page? That’s where we’ve gone."
“When you move principals, you get that advantage, and that’s exactly what we did,” he said. “We took the high school principal and moved him over—not down, but over to the middle school. Now he brings that knowledge of what a ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grader needs to the sixth, seventh and eighth grade level, which we see as a distinct advantage."
Moving principals around helps bridge the gaps and maintain consistency in the curriculum as students move up, Maranzano said.
"He sees curricular and teaching practices," he said. "He should be able to inform the staff where we are strong and where we aren’t so strong, how can we bolster that. Likewise, we took the middle school principal and put him into an elementary setting, fourth and fifth, and for the next several years he should be able to articulate very well what fourth and fifth graders need to know to come into."
Social studies teacher and former NJEA president Jeff Ryder said the reorganization caught everybody by surprise. He said it wasn't on the radar and that it got out like a quick rumor. Ryder said there was no discussion and the principals didn't have an opportunity to talk to their staff.
Ryder grew up in Hopatcong and has been teaching in the district for almost 30 years. He said former Superintendent Dr. Wayne Threlkeld was there for approximately 30 years and always brought a sense of continuity.
"We had such a sense of continuity," Ryder said. "You saw moves go on—they were part of maybe two- or three-year plans. It didn’t seem like everything was being changed at the same time.”
Ryder said the reorganization was precipitated by the retirement of Curriculum Supervisor William Roca, when Tulsa Trail principal Joanne Mullane was moved back to curriculum.
"That’s what opened up the principalship and created the shuffling of the deck," he said.
Ryder said none of the principals have officially spoken to him about how they feel about the change, nor have they questioned the motives.
"The only one I’ve had an opportunity to talk to was my principal," Ryder said. "Emil Binotto is being shipped down to the middle school. If you ask him about it, it’s not like something he planned for. He was part of the move himself, so I think he didn’t even question anything.”
Ryder noted that in teaching, a transfer to a lower grade level is not a demotion. He said it doesn't affect salary; it's about working with a different type of kid. He feels the high school is where Binotto fits best.
“He’s a secondary guy," Ryder said. "He’s a long standing principal. It’s not his first rodeo. He’s probably been at this level before but I don’t know how he’s gonna see the middle school."
Binotto chose not to speak when asked about the change.
Maranzano said that he promised the board when he first came to Hopatcong that he would take a look at curriculum. He made changes to personnel, and credited Curriculum Director Jeff Hallenbeck for handling changes to curriculum.
Hallenbeck said he's been working collaboratively for the past three years with groups of teachers, using professional development time, faculty meeting time and teacher prep periods.
“You want to make sure that what your second grade teachers are teaching in science leads into what your third grade teachers are teaching in science," Hallenbeck said. "And you want to make sure that from grade level to grade level, there are no gaps, and that what is expected to be taught through an elementary, middle school and high school progression, you’re not missing anything.
"And then you want to make sure that across the classrooms within a particular grade, that all of your teachers are touching on the same standards and the same concepts."
Maranzano said Hopatcong now has a mathematical model from K-12 that is consistent and follows one publisher all the way through. He said the articulation is very keen, and will create huge gains in three to four years.
"If I had to say what the strength is, I would say technology and now instruction," Maranzano said. "The articulation of this curriculum across grade levels and across buildings is becoming very keen. It’s a highly refined process for us.
"We focused on that over the last three years and I think it’s going to have huge payoffs down the road. We’re starting to see them now, but you won’t really notice them until maybe three, four, five years down the road, because it’s that consistency factor that’s going to show your gains on standardized tests and that sort of thing over time."