Haddonfield Superintendent committed to moving forward in 2019

Mussoline preparing for QSAC testing, continued upgrades to educational process

Since landing in the borough last June, weeks ahead of his scheduled hire date, Haddonfield School District Superintendent Larry Mussoline has had a lot on his proverbial plate.

Taking over following the sudden departure of an interim superintendent, arriving just in time to deal with the aftermath of an alleged racial incident involving the boys’ lacrosse team, and needing to patch some holes in the administration that would make his workload significantly easier — all while commuting long distance — could have caused lesser professionals to throw up their hands and throw in the towel.

But Mussoline pressed on, and turned a chaotic 2018 into what he sees for the district as an optimistic 2019.

“If there’s one thing I learned from premier athletes, guys like Joe Maddon who I grew up with in Hazleton, or Kristy Kowal, an Olympic swimmer, both of them told me the same things: If we lose, if something bad happens, we have the ‘Five Minute Rule’ — you have five minutes to cry, to complain, to jump up and down, after that you better be ready for the next game, and if you can’t you won’t be able to play.”

During a lengthy sit-down on Dec. 14, Mussoline revealed most of his six-month tenure in Haddonfield has been about analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating both information and personnel so the back half of the current academic year, as well as the upcoming 2019–2020 school year, proceeds as smoothly as possible.

“The school district itself was in some need. We filled the position of curriculum director that was open. We lost an assistant superintendent on extended leave, so we moved the high school principal (Chuck Klaus) into that position and he’s been a wonderful man and understands the community; he’s been a huge asset to me. We hired a PR person part time. But we weren’t communicating, and due to the small nature of the team and community, you can’t rely on principals or superintendents or assistant superintendents to do press releases and such. There was too much to do.”

Now that Mussoline has pieced together the puzzle of who will comprise his team, including Colleen Murray, a November hire as the district’s chief academic officer, he can go about tackling the big project looming on the horizon that will provide a crystal-clear picture of the district’s academic progress.

The New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum is the state Department of Education’s monitoring and district self-evaluation system for public school districts. The system focuses on monitoring and evaluating school districts in five key components that, based on research, have been identified to be key factors in effective school districts: Instruction and Program, Fiscal, Governance, Operations and Personnel.

“The key thing that members of this community should be looking for is called QSAC. Watch out for how we score on QSAC because we have not been through this evaluation in eight years. Haddonfield, under former Gov. Christie, was exempt from having to go through this rigorous evaluation for that period,” Mussoline related.

“What that’s going to tell us, and what that will tell me is, if things are in place — and the scores are good — that’s great. If not, it’s certainly going to guide me and the board of education in seeing what things as far as curriculum and instruction need to be in place, and then we’ll have to do QSAC again next year to see if they’re in place.”

The board of education went through some changes in the past year with the resignations of Glenn Moramarco in September and Mary Fagan in mid-December, but is expected to find solid footing relatively quickly as the calendar turns.

Board President Adam Sangillo and Susan Kutner, who announced she would be stepping down from her duties as vice president, were re-elected this past November. David Siedell has served his role well as curriculum committee chair. Justin Benford will be sworn in as the Board’s new member in January, and the process to fill Fagan’s seat has already begun. Mussoline expects that vacancy to be filled by the end of the month to complete the nine-member group.

“I couldn’t ask for a better board president in Adam or in Susan as vice president. Justin is a wonderful addition. We have an opportunity now to pick a new board member. We waited for the community to pick Justin because we knew we had that open seat and we would get him on, rather than picking someone and having them step off at the end of the year,” Mussoline said. “I feel like Lou Gehrig in that speech at the end of his career, ‘the luckiest man on earth,’ because I’ve found we have such wonderful, dedicated people on the board who have helped me a great deal.”

Also on the docket in the coming year, Mussoline revealed, will be strategic planning — an effort to canvass the community regarding its input on the district’s future academic goals. That project will be undertaken by Judy Wilson who had previously served as superintendent in Princeton, and the implementation will be Murray’s responsibility.

In addition, the long-range facilities planning project, aimed at correcting physical plant deficiencies and to be overseen by Kutner, has already begun and is expected to be completed in early 2020.

“What I’m looking forward to most in the upcoming year is the calm, the knowing that we’re putting it all back together and getting the district back on solid footing, where everything that needs to be in place will be in place so that our foundation can be built,” Mussoline stated.

“We’re coming into a foundation that’s not as strong as people think and we’re going to see that, through QSAC and other things that we’re working on. Once we get a handle on all of it, we’re looking forward to solidifying the foundation so that we can work on 21st-century learning, digital learning, what the one-to-one initiatives are looking like, and how we prepare our kids for college when it will be driven by a system that’s all online learning. So we can’t start that until we get that foundation right and really, really solidified.”