On the Road with Dr. William George
With his first month on the job behind him, Middletown's new schools superintendent drives around town to meet educators, parents, students and the community.
If Dr. William O.George's car were an airliner, he would be racking up frequent flyer miles with all his travels around the township.
In the 30-plus days that have passed since he became superintendent of the Middletown Township public schools, George has visited all 17 schools, met with most of the building prinicipals, observed hundreds of teachers and other staffers at work, and talked to countless numbers of parents and students.
That was in December, a busy month with only about 17 working days.
On Thursday, George was scheduled to host his fifth "coffee," a casual night meeting with parents and other township residents inside the Central Administrative Offices at Bayshore Middle School in the Leonardo section.
Although his schedule has been tight, especially since the schools re-opened after the holiday break, George says he has loved every minute of the job he started on Dec. 1.
"I've been in every building at least once and a few times in both high schools," George said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
"Today, I was in Nutswamp [Elementary School] and visited every classroom," he went on. "They have a lot of parent volunteers there. It's exciting to see the parents involved in the schools."
Although he took the top spot in Monmouth County's largest K-12 school district in the middle of the academic year, George is confident that he'll overcome any obstacles coming down the path.
Hired last fall from the neighboring, albeit smaller, Hazlet Public School District, George now leads a system that where turbulence and controversy set the stage for an ongoing parade of exiting, short-term superintendents since last February.
Nonetheless, the Middletown Township Board of Education is charged with educating nearly 10,400 students in 12 elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools.
"There is a much larger economy of scale here," George said. "There are more challenges based on the district size."
Walking through the halls of individual schools, he senses that each building and the staff and students within its walls have their own distinctive personas and identities.
"To be hands-on, I have to be out and about in the schools," George said. "I've been getting a feel for every one of the buildings."
"In all of the schools, I've seen some really great teaching," he continued. "Plus we start out with a great product and that is the Middletown child."
Coming off Wednesday's afterschool question-and-answer session with about 40 Middletown High School South seniors, the superintendent says he is encouraged by the district graduates-to-be.
Two-way discussions about the school's technology options, electives menu and how to help sophomores and juniors complete college applications dominated the hour-long conference with the teens, George said.
"All in all, it was a really good meeting," he said. "I found that they asked really great questions."
A similar session in the media center at Middletown High School North is scheduled for next week. George hopes that the seniors there will be as honest and open as their counterparts across town about policies, the curriculum, and other issues.
Going forward, George would like to sit down with sophomores and juniors as well as their parents in a forum focused on the college entrance process.
Future sessions at each high school will be advertised on the marquees in front of the two buildings, he said.
With the exception of a weeknight coffee klatch held at Middletown North right before the holidays, all of the java-flavored meet and greets have been "very well attended," George said.
Other coffee meetings were held in the mornings at each of the middle schools on three dates last month.
"They've been a great opportunity to hear the parents' perspective and to learn what their expectations are," George said. "I really feel like I've learned a lot from the parents."
Cognizant that the community is still reeling from the recent history of a rapid succession of superintendents, George maintains that he will stay in the Middletown district for the long haul. He has promised to actively listen to district employees, parents, students, township officials, and even those residents without children in the schools.
"This is really a great community. I've lived in the area all of my life, so I am very familiar with the Middletown schools," George said. "I have very high expectations for this district."
George worked a total of nine years in the Hazlet district and spent the last five years of his tenure as superintendent there.