2010-07-22 / Schools

Millstone finds interim superintendent of schools

Former assistant principal promoted to middle school principal position
BY JANE MEGGITT Correspondent

MILLSTONE — The Board of Education has appointed both a new middle school principal and an interim superintendent, although the latter position was voted on after a late executive session when the public had gone home.

During the July 12 Board of Education meeting, Karen Barry, who formerly served as assistant middle school principal, was unanimously appointed to fill the middle school principal position. Former principal Matthew Howell left Millstone to work in the Hazlet Township School District.

Resident Ramon Recalde asked the board not to vote on the principal’s position, encouraging members to consider sharing personnel with the Upper Freehold Regional School District (UFRSD). He suggested Millstone place curriculum director Laura Vetere, who formerly served as a principal, in the middle school principal position in order to share a curriculum director with UFRSD to save money.

Millstone does not have its own high school and has a send/receive relationship with the UFRSD’s Allentown High School. The school districts share some services to save money and in the past few months have started discussing the viability of sharing more services, including personnel, with the neighboring school district.

Recalde said the move he suggested would “show good faith to residents who voted down the budget.”

Middle school language arts teacher Arlene Agulnick said the role of curriculum director is “crucial and critical” to what teachers learn, and in turn what students learn from teachers. She alleged that Recalde’s suggestion would have a “terrible negative impact” on the delivery of instruction to children.

“It will leave the district, with all of the cuts we have suffered, in complete disarray at the beginning of the school year,” she said.

Agulnick said that both staff and students respect Barry.

“We need stability in curriculum and leadership,” Agulnick said. “We need it right now.”

Board member Patrick Whalen said that while eliminating the curriculum director position seems like “a nice, easy hit,” shared services may not be such an easy move.

“Arlene Agulnick hit it right on the head,” Whalen said. “We must be cautious and prudent regarding cutting the curriculum director at this time.”

Superintendent of Schools Mary Anne Donahue said she would like to advertise the vacant assistant principal immediately.

“I feel the position is essential,” Donahue said, noting that the district lost one guidance counselor in the middle school due to budget cuts.

“Assistant principals at the middle school handle all of the discipline,” Donahue said. “This is middle school. We’re dealing with teenagers, young adolescents. There [are] a lot of situations we try to address.”

The board chose Dr. John J. Szabo to succeed Donahue, who will be retiring on Aug. 31. Commencing Aug. 1, Szabo will serve as a consultant in the district to ensure a smooth transition of leadership and to develop plans for the new academic year, prior to his becoming interim superintendent on Sept. 1, according to a district press release.

Szabo has over 37 years of educational experience, and retired as superintendent of the Robbinsville public schools in 2009. Since then, he has remained active in the field of educational administration, serving as an adjunct professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Kean University. He also taught expository writing in the undergraduate program at Rutgers University.

Szabo received his graduate and postgraduate degrees in educational administration from Seton Hall University and his undergraduate degree in English from Trenton State College.

“His broad educational background is comprised of eight years of teaching experience, three years of curriculum supervision, 15 years of building-level administration that include his serving four years as an assistant principal and 11 years as a high school principal, and over 10 years of service as superintendent of schools in two school districts,” according to the district.

When asked about the challenges confronting the Millstone schools, Szabo stated, “Prior to Robbinsville’s opening of its high school, both Robbinsville and Millstone were mirror images of each other. I am quite cognizant of the outstanding performance of the Millstone Township schools and the board’s quest for continued scholastic excellence.”

Szabo said he is also aware of the grave fiscal pressures that have been placed on the academic program, given the failure of the budget and recent developments in Trenton.

“Consequently, our district will redouble its efforts to provide efficiency without negatively impacting student learning,” he said. “In order for this to occur, every effort must be made to encourage professional cooperation, teamwork, and collegiality. By nurturing an optimistic spirit and maintaining a clear focus on student learning, we can achieve a positive leaning environment and overcome some of the limitations that have resulted from reduced fiscal support.”

Board president Kevin McGovern said, “Dr. Szabo brings an enthusiasm and positive attitude to our district that will set a great tone for our teachers, staff and students. He is an excellent fit for Millstone and will serve us well until we complete our search and appoint our next permanent superintendent.”

Szabo has been a resident of Monmouth County for over 21 years and resides in Manalapan with his wife, Pamela.

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