New Jersey Superintendent of the Year: #getoffyourisland

Tim Purnell“Being a superintendent doesn’t mean you have to work on an island,” said Timothy Purnell, the superintendent of New Jersey’s Somerville Public Schools.

Purnell is also an adjunct professor at Montclair State University and serves on the State Board of Examiners, the New Jersey Department of Education’s State Program Approval Council and as president of the Somerset County Association of School Administrators. Prior to his post in Somerville, Purnell served as superintendent in Harding Township for three years. He also served as a middle school principal, elementary vice principal and science teacher.

Late last year, Purnell was also named the AASA 2015 New Jersey State Superintendent of the Year. Now in its 29th year, the AASA National Superintendent of the Year Program pays tribute to the talent and vision of the men and women who lead our nation's public schools.“This award symbolizes the respect and admiration from my colleagues and peers. I am very proud to represent the great state of New Jersey.”

Purnell became a member of AASA in 2008. “AASA is an organization that has provided strength and stability, serving public education for 150 years,” said Purnell. “It provides superintendents and school administrators with a host of opportunities to network and learn from peers nationwide—that’s essentially your life source in the profession. Collaboration on a national level is extremely powerful.” Purnell’s acceptance speech, which can be found on his blog is entitled “#getoffyourisland.” 

Purnell encourages superintendents throughout his home state and across the country to join AASA, “because it provides a national platform for articulation.” He adds that he’d like to see a critical mass of New Jersey school system leaders join The School Superintendents Association. “Not being able to share with superintendents on a national level would, in my mind, narrow your way of thinking. We need people out there and out front, talking about what’s right for children. “Involvement in out-of-state professional development and resources strengthens your ability to lead by exposing you to alternative ways of influencing student outcomes. AASA provides these opportunities.”

In November 2014, Purnell joined President Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and more than 100 superintendents across the country for the signing of the #FutureReady pledge. “This event symbolized the nation’s efforts to narrow the digital divide,” said Purnell. “In Somerville, we take that very seriously.”

At the White House, Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools and AASA’s 2014 National Superintendent of the Year, introduced the President, inviting the superintendents in the audience to sign the pledge. Hundreds of administrators throughout the nation already signed on. This was part of Mr. Obama’s ConnectED initiative to bring schools online and power the progress towards personalized learning.

An example illustrating Somerville’s use of technology is a mobile app development course where students are creating their own apps and video games to enrich learning. Students are also uploading videos, and creating podcasts and online stories,” said Purnell. “Technology is a tool to advance learning, but the learning experience is still framed by the educator in the classroom. We also implemented 3D-PD, which provides professional development anytime, anywhere. Staff record best-practice lessons and upload to a private YouTube channel for peer review and sharing.” 

Stakeholder accountability is kept through a “District Dashboard,” which charts progress towards school WIGs (Wildly Important Goals).  Annual WIGs are developed with employee input and represent the school’s critical mission for the year. 

Purnell meets with interested stakeholders monthly through brown bag lunch sessions and offers 360-degree feedback through his “Talk with Tim” initiative, an online platform that allows stakeholders to engage with the superintendent directly. “It’s an opportunity for the community to ask a question, share a comment or raise a concern,” said Purnell. “Stakeholders want to be heard—and heard in a timely fashion. This platform provides that vessel.”

“Technology provides opportunities for superintendents and school leaders to #getofftheisland, but AASA provides the framework for meaningful and concentrated discussions on improving schools. We need to amplify these voices and create an organized refrain to promote the positive image of public schools,” said Purnell. “We can do this together through AASA.”

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