How to be super
April 14, 2014
GLEN ROCK, N.J. – “You interviewed the superintendent? Was he nice?” asked sixth grader Spencer LaVine. This highlights a curiosity about our school; while the principals and assistants are well known, some people don’t seem to know who the boss is.
“I walk the halls of the Middle School/High School… because it’s connected to my office. I will say hello to the young people that I see in the hallways, sometimes they’re a little confused by who I am,” said Dr. Paula Valenti, Superintendent of the Glen Rock School district – the woman behind it all.
Though she started her career as an art teacher, she rose through the ranks of school administration to, at last, become the superintendent of our school system.
“The superintendent is responsible for the entire district, so, four elementary schools, one middle and high school, and the oversight of all of those,” Valenti said.
Dr. Valenti was born in Pennsylvania, but moved to Union County, New Jersey at age 5, and she has been here ever since. Her credentials include a BA from Kean College, coursework at UCONN and the University of Virginia, and, most recently, her doctorate from Seton Hall University.
Before coming to Glen Rock, she taught visual art in places like Ridgewood, Montclair, and Dumont; she then went on to become an administrator.
“[Did I always want to be] a teacher? There were two career choices that I thought about in high school. Teaching was one of them, and fashion illustration and design was another. And I made the choice to stay in New Jersey and go to the state college,” Valenti said. “[Administration] was something that other people saw in me, my participation in committees and things that I was doing when I was a teacher, and they said, ‘You know, you’re really good at leading groups. You should think about [becoming an administrator].’”
Dr. Valenti then worked as an administrator in Newark, Englewood, and Emerson. Despite all these many different places, she assured The Glen Echo that Glen Rock was her favorite place.
“[My] favorite is usually what I’m doing at the moment. I like to live in the moment,” Valenti said.
Her many experiences have aided her in her current work, and she feels that it has benefited her immensely to have worked at nearly all levels of education.
“She was a high school principal, so I think out of anybody she’d truly understand my job,” said John Arlotta, principal of Glen Rock High School.
She took over for Raymond Albano, who had been the interim superintendent, at the beginning of 2013. Dr. Valenti has since been working long and hard to improve the Glen Rock School district.
But what exactly does a Superintendent do? Dr. Valenti explained her day – what she considered a ‘normal’ day – to The Glen Echo.
“I began my day with some observations that were done over at Coleman School, so I had classroom visits where I went to see teachers. I am observing all first year teachers and non-tenured teachers,” Valenti said, reflecting on her schedule. “I did two of those today; I may have a phone call that I have to get back to someone, or someone may call. Immediately following those today I did a webinar with the state.”
The webinar was a meeting, or “web seminar,” with officials about the new PARCC assessments that will be replacing the HSPAs next year.
“So we participated in that. After I was done with that I went upstairs to the high school to observe a lesson by one of our guidance counselors and, now, I’m being interviewed. And in between there I had lunch with some of my team, with my business administrator – usually every day I’ll have lunch with the business administrator and the director of curriculum. That’s a typical day on campus,” she concluded.
At 3:07, when all the students hurriedly exit the school, our superintendent stays in the building.
“I might have a break in the late afternoon where I’ll stop in and see a sport activity or I’ll go home and run some errands, and then I’ll come back and go to the meeting at night whether it’s the board of education meeting or if it’s a BOE committee meeting or… last Friday night I went to the Middle School Play… I was also at the basketball game that they had,” she said, recalling the events she had recently attended. “I do [get vacation], weekends are weekends, [but] there are sometimes events on weekends that I’ll go to. Case in point, football games and [events] like that.”
One of the first major projects she hopes to spearhead is the addition of a “broadcast journalism television-radio studio” to our media center.
”I think that it’s an area where we could use some attention… our technology and the media center,” Valenti said. “We’re talking about that at the board level, and we’re talking about that with our business administrator.”
Many students would agree. School policy says that no electronic devices are to be used in school, including pagers. Clearly, it is a little outdated.
“We’re going to look to craft a [new] policy, and then a regulation that will enable us to expand our use of technology,” she said, then noting that the phone being used to record the interview was, according to the current policy, banned.
Another major policy change that Dr. Valenti believes could happen soon is the introduction of full-day kindergarten. Due to the economy, many families now have both parents working full time and so are unable to be around during the day.
“Although it’s not a reason to [enroll in] kindergarten, there has been a significant request [for it]. So we are putting a committee together to study full-day kindergarten… not for next year but perhaps for the following year, 16-17,” Valenti said.
But that’s not all. Dr. Valenti is also a proponent of new security features throughout the building.
“I think it’s a necessary component of living in the 21st century world,” Valenti said. “Our security greeters are our first step in terms of beefing up our security practices. We are, moving forward, going to be implementing some structural changes to the buildings in the front, installing what we call ‘man traps’ which will delay entry to the building by getting through one door and then being trapped in a vestibule, and then [there will be] another set of doors before you can gain access.”
Above all, she stressed that “the safety of our young people and our teachers cannot be underestimated.”
A superintendent’s job isn’t easy, though. It involves managing a lot of people and keeping schedules running smoothly.
“Sometimes the most difficult part of a leader’s job is resolving conflict, and that can get messy and can get very tangled and can be a very sensitive process,” Valenti said. “And the flip side of that is working to build trust. And it’s easy to build trust and develop that, [but] once it’s destroyed it’s really hard to build it back.”
Dr. Valenti conducts much of her business through e-mail, as this allows her to communicate most effectively with the maximum amount of people.
“I do believe in the lonely work,” she said. “I do the lonely work, and I can’t shy away from the lonely work – sometimes teaching and learning and leading schools is lonely work… and many careers have that.”
But what is the most crucial part of a superintendent’s work?
“You know, on a day to day basis, [it’s] inspiring those that I work with… I love what I do; I’m still passionate about what I do, [and] I think that I’m always looking for ways to…. create schools that are exciting and enriching environments where we incubate talent,” Valenti said.
As the superintendent of Glen Rock schools, Dr. Valenti is always looking for ways to improve the schools in the district.
“To be able to say that I’ve left a place better than when I found it is something that I pride myself on,” Valenti said.