A leader in a district encompassing approximately 7,000 students, Superintendent Carol Birnbohm leads with “family” at the forefront in her professional and personal lives.
The Lenape Regional High School District superintendent was caught off guard during a recent board meeting when she was named a role model for the girls in the district’s four high schools — Lenape, Seneca, Cherokee and Shawnee.
“I really never thought of myself as a role model,” Birnbohm commented. “I think the teachers, counselors and case managers are the ones who have that day-to-day interface with the kids and the coaches. They’re the ones that become the immediate role model for the kids.”
She said the distinction made her pause and reflect on the fact that LRHSD students look up and see their district’s leader is a woman. Lenape Regional is no stranger to a female leader, as Birnbohm’s female predecessor, Emily Capella, served in the role from 2007 to 2012.
Prior to her 2012 appointment, Birnbohm served as the district’s assistant superintendent and jumped on the chance to become the superintendent after working with Capella on numerous initiatives she “didn’t want anybody else doing.”
Birnbohm said it’s important female students can look up and see that they can achieve their dreams of being the top of any organization they have their sights set on, especially since women are under-represented in Fortune 500 companies.
“But it’s nice to see that in New Jersey, we do have strong female leaders for our students to look up to,” she added.
As an alumna of the district who graduated from Cherokee in 1988, Birnbohm knew she wanted to work in secondary education because she loved seeing teenagers develop new perspectives, gain an understanding of concepts and become passionate about what they’re doing. While she has soared to the top as a superintendent, she said she’ll always consider herself a teacher.
Birnbohm added she lives in the area because she wanted her children to receive the same quality education she received, and she believes strongly in what the district and its schools believe. She is not an anomaly in the district – the children of many teachers, administrators, counselors and other employees are enrolled in LRHSD.
“If you are putting out a product that you think is good enough for your kids, you want the best for them, then you must believe in what we do here,” she stated.
Being a superintendent for the past seven years, Birnbohm has perfected a formula to successfully run a district whose population is equal to – or greater than – the municipalities it receives students from.
The key to a successful leadership, she said, is surrounding yourself with people who do have different mindsets, views and perspectives. The strategy has helped her and the rest of the district’s and schools’ administrative teams grow.
While she is the district’s “face,” she credited most of the student and staff success to the four principals: Matt Campbell of Shawnee, Tony Cattani of Lenape, Jeffrey Spector of Seneca and Donna Charlesworth of Cherokee.
“Each and every one of those high schools are all awesome because the principals’ own personality and their leadership style is allowed to grow,” she said. “I don’t think there’s one way to lead a high school. I think they have to lead with what’s comfortable for them and that’s what makes them successful.”
Being an active person and a former player and coach of various sport teams, Birnbohm said she relies heavily on the immense amount of teamwork that occurs throughout the district. In the district’s team, which is often called a family, the “team members” are provided chances to let their voices be heard and grow both within their positions and as people.
“I feel like it’s my job to bring out the best in each individual organization or person,” Birnbohm commented. “They’re the ones that impact the students’ lives on a daily basis. The strength of our district is that we capitalize on the strengths, intelligence and passion of each and every one of our employees.”
Away from being the superintendent, Birnbohm said she loves diving into podcasts, especially ones that provoke people to change their way of thinking. Currently, she’s listening to “Revisionist History” by Malcolm Gladwell, but she said she jumps at the chance to download podcasts with Dr. Brene Brown.
The active, soy-coffee drinker said in her spare time, she enjoys bonding with her Weimaraner, Amigo, who she joyously said is “the best dog in the entire world.”
Birnbohm added she looks to the district as her family and adores that its schools refer to themselves as families, which helps foster a sense of belonging and “we’re here for you” for the students.
“I’m also a family person outside of school, too,” she added. “I have three kids who are active and keep me busy. They’re the most important thing to me.”