Q&A with Principal Anthony Benjamin: Bartle Elementary School

Bartle Elementary School this year welcomed a new principal – Anthony Benjamin, an educational professional with deep ties to New Jersey.  Born and raised in Essex County and currently living in Hunterdon County, Mr. Benjamin received much of his education in New Jersey and has worked in education administration positions throughout the state. He is an undergraduate and graduate alumnus of Seton Hall University, but did venture out of state for an additional graduate degree from Columbia University and coursework at Harvard University. He is currently getting his doctorate (Ed.D) at Seton Hall in Educational Leadership.  Principal Anthony Benjamin, recently married, does not have children of his own yet, however he said that being one of six children (three boys, three girls) did provide some practical experience for a career in educational administration.

A man that Anthony Benjamin holds in high esteem is motivational speaker and self-help book author, Wayne Dyer.  A quote from Wayne Dyer rings true for Principal Anthony Benjamin: “How people treat you is their Karma; how you react to them is yours.”

 Q: What do you love about the job – describe the full scope of the job?

A: The things I love most about being a principal are the endless opportunities to solve problems and create systems or support mechanisms for students and teachers to be successful. The responsibilities of a principal have become more complex and demanding. Principals wear many hats that include being responsible for all things (in their building) related to: curriculum, safety, buildings and grounds, parent and community relationships, health and nutrition, assessment and data, student discipline, instruction, professional development, business/finance, special education, human resources, technology, extracurricular programs/recreation, etc…..Also, I love when children want to get involved (see anecdotes at the end of the interview)…. It inspires me and reminds me of my reason to pursue a career in education.

Q: What are the challenges of the job?

A: The challenges of the job include limited time and resources to bring about systemic and systematic change that will immediately improve learning and achievement outcomes for children.

 Q: What are some of your most gratifying accomplishments in your career thus far?

A: Most recently, I learned that my previous school (Franklin Elementary in Trenton) outperformed all the elementary schools in Trenton on the 2014 NJASK- having the top (#1) overall performance in Language Arts and Math. I have been fortunate to lead some great teams to similar success in every school I have had the opportunity to serve as an administrator.  More than anything I love serving as a coach for the Special Olympics. I have served as track and field coach for students attending and/or associated with the Piscataway Public Schools.

Q: What is your professional experience in education?  What work have you done in education prior to working in Highland Park (other jobs)?  Where did this work take place?

A: My positions in education include: District supervisor (Special Programs, Related Services & Grants); Principal; Assistant Principal / Summer School Director; Gifted & Talented Coordinator; Lead Teacher; Teacher; Coach

I have served as an administrator in Trenton, NJ, Rockaway, NJ, Philadelphia, Pa., Montclair, NJ, Essex Regional Educational Services Commission.

Q: When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in education and why?

A: I knew I wanted to become a teacher in the second grade. I noticed how schools had a magical ability to support students feeling safe, creative, connected /exposed to others, heard or listened to, courageous, etc.  Three years into my career in education, I realized I wanted to be a principal. I wanted to bring about change on a larger scale. I was incredibly inspired by the influence and impact that a principal could have on increasing an individual’s capacity, while improving the lives and outcomes of so many individuals.

 Q: What attracted you to the Highland Park community and school district?

A: The cultural diversity…the responsiveness to the cultural/socio-economic shifts in the community… and the district’s promise and commitment to ensuring all students receive a high quality education.

Q: What obstacles have you had to overcome since working at Bartle Elementary, if any?

A: Rome was not built in a day. I just completed five months as principal of Bartle. The relationship and trust building between parents, staff and I continue to get stronger. We are rising from some challenging times in the past, and have begun to create a new a more prosperous path.

 Q: What was it like starting your job at Bartle Elementary?

A: When I arrived I met several individuals who genuinely made me feel welcomed and supported. These individuals gave me a brief overview of the past and current happenings. They also came across as willing to solve or present alternative solutions/perspectives to a problem or situation.

Q: What are some of your favorite anecdotes about life at Bartle Elementary?

A: Students write me letters all the time. Some of these letters include:

  1. One student wants to have more Lockdown drills and to have a lizard as a classroom pet.
  2. A group of students wants to throw a dance without music.
  3. One student wants to start a school newspaper.
  4. A group of students would like to change the food menu. 

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