A Few Final Thoughts
A double dose of reality brings me face-to-face with retirement from my stint as a public school superintendent and seeing my term of office as President of NJASA conclude as well. For me, that's a lot to reconcile! So, in the spirit of offering some last words, I ask for your indulgence in allowing me to share a few final thoughts.
First and foremost, please accept my deepest gratitude for the opportunity to serve each of you through the presidency of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. It has been my great honor and privilege to work with and on your behalf. Along with you, we have been challenged by a seemingly never-ending array of issues. Against the backdrop of insufficient state funding, we have endured the revolving door of DOE leadership, the relentless demands of AchieveNJ, the constant stream of legislatively-driven professional development requirements, tenure reform without the removal of seniority, budget caps on administrative spending, caps on the tax rate and caps on superintendent salaries. In full view of all of these issues, you have managed to practice compliance while still devoting full attention to the important work – educating children. For that and much more, you have my deep admiration and abiding respect.
Seemingly lost in a constant rhetorical assault about "failing New Jersey schools" is the fact that our students achieve at high levels, especially when our student scores are compared to those of students in other states. At or near the top of all data analysis endeavors by NAEP, New Jersey students demonstrate understanding and skill acquisition at enviable levels. Is there still room for growth? Absolutely! Sage wisdom from Abraham Lincoln has always served to guide our actions. He said it this way; "The largest room in any organization is the room for improvement." We need to remind those who denigrate our efforts and results that our commitment to continuous improvement will persist in spite of their mischaracterizations!
On another front, as leaders we often feel the heat of feedback for doing what is correct, but not popular. Sometimes the heat is generated in the community and, more disappointingly, sometimes the friction is generated by Board of Education members. In either instance, as you know all too well, leadership has its detractors. To this end, I commend the words of Thomas Jefferson to your attention. Jefferson, upon leaving the Presidency, said, "One never carries out of office the reputation that carried one in." In the corner of my office is a framed copy of a message that is entitled, The Penalty of Leadership, in which the author reminds of the enemies of change and the efforts of opposition. In spite of the challenges of leadership, we do the right thing because our children deserve nothing less. Often, in the face of opposing views, superintendents make the difficult decision knowing that a penalty will be exacted. "Do it anyway" seems to be an appropriate descriptor for these occasions.
Please know that as we all move forward, I am traveling on the same highway as you; I am just at a different mile-marker. The road to greater student success is littered with the same obstacles and potholes described above as challenges. Our work is never finished but I plan to continue the trip, just not in the vehicle of the superintendency. I look forward to seeing you in a new school year and working collaboratively on behalf of the children of New Jersey.
Wishing you a safe and restful vacation, I am,
Gary P. McCartney, Ed. D.