Acting Director of the NJDOE's Professional Learning Network Maryellen Cervenak laughs with Superintendent David Healy and High School South Principal Michael Citta in the hallway during the NJDOE's visit to the school Oct. 16.

On behalf of New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet, reps from the NJDOE visited Toms River High School South as part of its #bootsontheground initiative whereby the department can learn more about what schools and districts are doing, what resources they might need, and what the role the department can play in connecting schools and districts moving forward.

Led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner A.R. Hasan, the NJDOE visiting team included Andre Taylor and Maryellen Cervenak. Joining them at HSS were County Superintendent Kevin Ahearn; TRRS Superintendent David Healy; Assistant Superintendents James Ricotta, Jr. and Dr. Marc Natanagara; HSS Principal Michael Citta; and Toms River Board President Russell K. Corby.

The group convened in the newly renovated and H. Hovnanian Foundation-funded Business Incubator-- a HSS teacher greeted them by saying “Welcome to the nicest room in America!”-- and the model space certainly proved impressive. Hasan, a Command Sergeant Major who worked in Washington D.C., kicked things off by explaining the purpose of the trip, which was to get out of Trenton to not only see what schools and districts are doing, but “to celebrate what you’re doing.”

Hasan admitted he had “a heart for Toms River,” and as a self-described “Shore kid” recalled playing football against the district teams in his high school days. He and his colleagues sought to discover what resources exist within Toms River Schools, how best to leverage those resources, as well as understand the district’s needs.

Cervenak, the acting director of NJDOE’s Education Professional Learning Network, spoke about developing a statewide network of schools and districts, where best practices can be shared, as well as ideas and resources for initiatives like professional development and conferences.

From there the team toured HSS as Superintendent Healy spoke about the district’s accomplishments, from competitive grants, to innovative and popular events like Jersey Shore Makerfest, to the district’s ESIP projects, and much more. Healy also informed the NJDOE team about the district’s dire financial situation under the state’s new budget, which strips TRRS of $70 million over the next seven years. Hasan and his colleagues reiterated that they’re here to be an ally of the district, and appreciated hearing directly about TRRS’s financial plight.

From walking the hallways greeting students, teachers, and administrators, to visiting classrooms, to checking out the school’s new ESIP-(self)-funded boiler room, it was clearly a productive visit where relationships were established and connections made.