Each week Patch sits down with individuals who contribute to the high standards of education in Mahwah, and asks them a few questions to get to know them better.
This week Patch talks to new Principal, Christine Zimmermann about her accomplishments at Lenape Meadows and her philosophy and work ethic she is bringing to Betsy Ross.
How long have you been in education as a teacher/principal?
CZ: “I graduated from Rutgers in 1983, and except for the five years I spent at home after having my three children, I’ve been working in schools ever since. I’ve taught every grade from Pre-K through eighth grade and also worked for a time as an adjunct professor at William Paterson University. I’ve been a principal for eight years, the last six of them at .
What will you miss most about Lenape Meadows?
CZ: “I’ll miss the community most. We like to say that Lenape is a big school with an even bigger heart. As with any school, it’s the people – the children, the families, the staff – that make it special and unique. I’ll miss everyone there.”
What's your greatest accomplishment at Lenape?
CZ: “Lenape was relatively new when I arrived, so the school was still in the process of developing common values, vision, and traditions. We put structures in place that allowed staff and parents to “dream big” and continue to move the school forward.
In my time at Lenape, we began regular instructionally-focused grade level meetings for staff, initiated a volunteer Teacher Council that discussed and planned school initiatives, held book clubs for parents focused on issues related to education and childrearing, and met informally with parents at periodic “2nd Cup of Coffee” meetings to discuss school-related needs and brainstorm solutions. It was the synergistic power of many minds working together that really helped Lenape form its identity as a warm and nurturing primary school with high academic expectations.
Over the years, we’ve successfully initiated the research-based Creative Curriculum in Lenape’s Pre-K classes, revised our writing curriculum to match current best practices, analyzed data to improve student learning outcomes, piloted math “flex” groups in second and third grades to address specific student strengths and weaknesses revealed through assessment, phased in the Fundations phonics program for Kindergarten through Grade 2, and began Response to Intervention (RTI), a way of offering tiered levels of academic support according to individual student needs. The primary principals worked closely over the years to ensure that students in each of our schools would have the same academic expectations and experiences.
I’m most proud of Lenape’s enthusiastic adoption of Responsive Classroom philosophies and practices. Responsive Classroom’s emphasis on helping children build academic and social-emotional competencies within the structure of a strong and safe school community has improved the social dynamic of our school deep and meaningful ways. Daily classroom “Morning Meetings” blend academic and social goals, children work with staff to develop common expectations for behavior in our large gathering spaces such as the cafeteria, playground, and bus dismissal areas, and once a month, Lenape’s staff and students gather to celebrate as a school community at our Spirit Days. Classes share songs and samples of student work and we discuss and applaud special class and school initiatives. This year, third grade teacher Courtney Booth and art teacher Ro Richter painted a beautiful “” mural in a prominent spot in our main hallway. At each month’s Spirit Day assembly, every class recognizes a “Kind Kid” with specific descriptions of their acts of kindness. It’s incredibly moving to witness the pride on the students’ faces and to see and hear their peers’ enthusiastic applause. The names of the “Kind Kids” are displayed on our Kindness Tree along with a picture of the month’s group.”
What are you looking forward to at Betsy Ross?
CZ: “I’m excited to get to know everyone – students, families, and staff, and continuing Betsy’s tradition of educational excellence. I know that we’ll work collaboratively on any challenges that may arise. Betsy was the first district school to embrace Responsive Classroom, so I’m thrilled to be part of a community that has those practices embedded into every aspect of the school experience.
My leadership philosophy and practices are based on the “servant leadership” model, which seeks to listen and understand and to empower others to reach common goals. I know that there’s a lot of positive energy at Betsy Ross, and I’m looking forward to becoming part of it and working with others to continue to move the school forward.”
In addition to Principal at BR, you will also coordinate elementary curriculum.
CZ: “I enjoy curriculum work; it’s a reflective and creative process that looks at the “big picture” and at the many small details that comprise the road map of implementation: What do our students need to know? What are the essential questions and enduring understandings of any topic? How do we ensure students achieve the goals and objectives we set for them? How will we assess them in a deep and meaningful way? How does all of that connect to the subject area standards of the state’s newly adopted Common Core Standards? How do we infuse 21st Century and workplace readiness skills? All of these are critical questions that must guide our curriculum work.
Ensuring continuity between Mahwah’s primary schools and between the changing levels of our schools is also important. We want to make sure that each subsequent grade’s curriculum builds meaningfully on what came before. That will be our big focus moving forward.”
Summer plans or Working through the summer?
CZ: “My immediate work-related summer plans are to settle in at Betsy, form relationships, learn more about the school, and begin the process of preparing for a new school year. New windows are being installed in part of the school, so I’ll be monitoring that process, too. I’m also looking forward to working with the new elementary administrative team.
On the personal front, I’m planning some vacation time that involves a bit of travel mixed with catching up on my pile of pleasure books that grows and collects dust during the school year. My babies – twins – just graduated from college and my older son moved back home to start a new career, so after four years of the “empty nest,” my husband and I are readjusting to our new role as parents of adult children. My daughter is preparing for her first teaching job that begins in September, and her twin brother left for China two weeks ago to teach English for a year. Life is always changing…and that’s a great thing!”