The Highland Park School community on Monday, Sept. 21, 2015 said an official farewell to Acting Superintendent Israel Soto with statements representing a gamut of emotions: humor, sadness, wisdom, respect – infused with a deep love. In the two years he was affiliated with the district, he was an atmospheric vacuum cleaner sucking the negativity out of the air and replacing it with a positive vision for the future. His tools were simple ones. He stopped, looked and listened and listened and listened. He made everyone believe how passionately he cared about the end product – every child in the district. Below are two speeches from: Mr. Michael Lassiter, principal of the Highland Park High School; and Mr. Israel Soto, looking forward to his new role of retired acting superintendent at his home in Florida – where many of his fans intend to vacation this winter!
MICHAEL LASSITER, HIGHLAND PARK HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL
As an educator in Highland Park for over 20 years who has worked for at least 5 Superintendents and 3 Interim Superintendents, I can honestly say that Israel Soto has been one of our best leaders in a long time. He came to us as one of our assistant superintendents in 2013, and he has worked tirelessly for the benefit of our students, faculty, staff, and our entire community ever since.
During his distinguished career, he has worked as an educator in New York City, as an Assistant Principal at PS 30, in East Harlem, and as the Principal of P.S. 57, the James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy, in Harlem for 13 years. Before he came to Highland Park, Israel was a turnaround coach and a member of the Regional Achievement Center teams for the NJ Department of Education. His broad background and extensive experience has been invaluable to our district and has helped guide our district back into calmer waters this past school year. He has jokingly called me “El Jefe – the chief” now that I am a principal, and I have seen him as the trusted captain of our school district’s ship who has kept our schools safe and on the right course under his leadership and vision.
Israel is an energized leader. Whether it is from his morning coffee, peanut M&Ms, or some other ritual he has, I have never seen him tired. Even after travelling back and forth to his home in Florida, he has always been focused, on a mission, and ready to give you his full attention when he visits our schools. Although we are both shorter in stature than some, Israel meets every one eye to eye and connects with them. He is incredibly personable in his demeanor and approach. He sends out greetings often, remembers birthdays, and has texted the administrators on Holidays at home to wish us well. Israel has been a very involved superintendent who has visited the schools frequently in order to stay on top of pressing issues and concerns. His passion for our students’, staffs’, teachers’, and administrators’ success is ever present and the support he has given those in need has been most appreciated. He has also made those tough decisions when needed, but I know from experience that he has sought advice, weighed his options, and even prayed in order to be sure he was doing what was right for our schools.
I asked my colleagues to comment on their experiences with Israel and here is what a few of them had to say:
Israel always welcomed me with open arms…literally. He always extended a handshake or a hug, and I have come to appreciate and embrace Israel’s warmth. He makes you feel like you are a part of something wonderful and I cannot express my gratitude enough for this.
Israel has always been there to mentor and guide me as I have begun my career as an administrator. He always has a story to share for every situation.
ISRAEL SOTO, ACTING SUPERINTENDENT, HIGHLAND PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT
There are milestones we celebrate that cause us to take time to reflect on our life trajectory. We begin thinking about humble beginnings, experiences lived, relationships built, lives impacted and significant and not so significant others that impacted our lives.
Tonight I feel like the most fortunate man on the planet to have had such a wonderful career, the blessing to continue living my dream , to have God at the center of my life, guiding my thoughts, my decisions and path, to have Iris… my soul mate, my wife, the woman I would slay dragons for. Baby, I’m coming home. She has loved me beyond measure and has sacrificed much in support of all my endeavors, and to all my daughters, grandchildren and friends for their love, understanding and the immense joy and strength they bring to my life. You all complete me.
It’s been a long and difficult, yet rewarding road traveled for the boy born in Brooklyn NY to Puerto Rican parents who came to this country seeking a better life far from the one they lived in PR. They raised me in the midst of adverse circumstances, they returned to PR where my father worked tireless hours as a farmer, while all along instilling in me the values that would become the standard by which I would try to live and raise my family by. Values pertaining to Hard work, honesty, integrity, compassion and respect. I would later learn from those that mentored me throughout my career the importance of being a good listener, of defining a vision, of inspiring others to be more they could ever imagine to be, of making sound decisions and galvanizing a team of people to accomplish a common goal. I hope I have honored my parents, my family and all those who love me by exemplifying all these attributes as your superintendent. I believe that Highland Park is at a much better place today and that a strong foundation has been laid for continued success.
There are many people I want to thank tonight, for without them, these words would be meaningless.
I would like to thank Tim Capone for believing in my abilities and hiring me to work by his side as Assistant Superintendent in Highland Park.
to Ralph Hoag and Michelle Calas for the memorable moments, friendship and expertise we shared . We were a strong team. It just wasn’t meant to be.
to a wonderful cadre of dedicated and talented teachers, paras, nurses, cafeteria workers, custodial staff and CST members let by Bill Shlala who come each morning ready to give their very best to our kids.
I would like to thank all the school board members, district and school leaders for guiding our district schools to greater heights. Highland Park is very fortunate to have talented and distinguished leaders in the like of Jen Napp, Principal Anthony Benjamin, Principal Kelly Wysoczanski, Principal Mike Lassiter, Principal Jennifer Minaya-Osemwegie, Caitlin Brady, Brian Humphrey, Linda Hoefela, Elizabeth Asamoah and their team . You are equally fortunate to have such high caliber of school secretaries who keep the engines going in full throttle to ensure the smooth operations of schools.
Special shout out to all my Middlesex county colleagues, in particular to Superintendent of MRESC, Mark Finkelstein and Middlesex County Superintendent Laura Morana.
I want to extend a special kudos to the Ed. Foundation for being the funding source for so many teacher driven initiatives, to Chris, Betty and Susan Odato. You are an incredible asset to Highland Park. Susan, you are so gifted, such a special lady. I will miss you dearly. Thank you keeping me focused, informed and entertained. All of you will have a special place in my heart.
I want to thank Mayor Gayle Briall-Mittler and the entire Highland Park community for your support, for the opportunity to serve this great town, for embracing me as I have embraced you. Stay strong, stay relentless and stay united in placing the needs of our students at the forefront of all your conversations and decisions! I leave with a reservoir of cherished memories deposited in my heart to last a lifetime.
May God protect and bless you always!