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Ask the Professionals: Cherry Hill’s New Superintendent Dr. Meloche

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Ask the Professionals: Cherry Hill’s New Superintendent Dr. Meloche

Justin Gick '16, Editor-in-Chief

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For the first “Ask the Professionals” interview this school year, I had the opportunity to sit down with our new superintendent, Dr. Joseph Meloche. Although he is not a stranger by any means, I was interested in knowing what Dr. Meloche hopes to accomplish during his time as superintendent.

First, Dr. Meloche will get a sense of the community’s perception of the school district. He plans to reach out to different stakeholders: students, parents, business owners, and political leaders in Cherry Hill and across the state. Dr. Meloche thinks that the Cherry Hill School District is the most incredible place to work, live, and be a part of; he wants to enhance the experience for everyone that is here. This goes across the stakeholder groups: the students who are receiving services on a daily basis, the community members, and the families that are benefitting.

Dr. Meloche is going to finalize a transition plan and go over the specifics of what he wants to do, with whom he needs to speak, and where he wants to go. Another goal is to improve the level of academic achievement. This is going to be a challenge because Cherry Hill is already a successful school district. Dr. Meloche explained that we can always improve upon what we are already doing. We have wonderful families, kids, and incredible teachers. He wants to take Cherry Hill to the next level, to be the center of education in South Jersey. There is a need to reach out to surrounding districts and involve them in more discussions. Dr. Meloche said one of the things that does not happen enough in education is that professional educators do not talk enough about what they do.

When asked if Dr. Meloche would change the current start time back to a later start time at the high schools, he said the current start time was contractually negotiated. In order for that to change, it would have to go through a collective bargaining process. This involves a negotiation between the Cherry Hill Education Association and the Board of Education. He anticipates continued conversation surrounding the start time of school because of recent publicity. There is a lot more research out there. It has become a hot topic in everyone’s mind, but it is not something he plans to change at this time.

I wanted to know if it would be hard for Dr. Meloche to be the main boss of friends and colleagues that he used to work side by side with in the past. He said “in a word, no.” Over the past couple of years, he has supervised all nineteen of the schools in his roles as Director of Curriculum and Assistant Superintendent. Many of the people with whom he worked as peers have already had experience with him as their supervisor, boss, or building principal. One of the things that has benefitted his career has been building relationships with people, which for him, is based on honesty. If somebody is doing well, he will tell him that he is doing well. If somebody has a challenge or a problem, he will help him get through it. Dr. Meloche is not concerned about that piece and he believes his colleagues will not be concerned about it either. This is one of the things he learned while being a principal at the schools he also attended. He had the opportunity to supervise people that taught him and coached him in the past. He learned how to balance that early on in his career.

A couple of years ago, when I first interviewed Dr. Meloche, he said that he decided to become an administrator in order to have a broader impact on more children. I wanted to know if he thought he has impacted more children because of his various jobs in administration. He said that he felt that he has. As a matter of fact, it is actually something that he talked about during the interview process for the position of superintendent. He thinks he has impacted more children through his involvement in the hiring process throughout the district and through reaching out to all of the buildings. Dr. Meloche supports staff and is always available. Becoming superintendent gives him the opportunity to continue setting the agenda and driving that agenda forward for the district. He can continue to influence students and make a difference. It may not necessarily be on a daily basis, one on one, working directly with students the way he did when he was a principal, but he thinks he will have a larger impact on the school system as a whole.

At the last BOE meeting, a mother got up and talked about how Sharp Elementary School was overcrowded and that she would have to send her son across town, on a bus, to another elementary school. Her concern was that she moved to that section of Cherry Hill because the school was directly across the street from her house and now her son has to be bussed. Also, her other child could attend this school. This means that each of her children would be at a different school. I asked what Dr. Meloche will do about the overcrowding at some of the schools. He said at the elementary level in our district, class enrollment is set by policy. In first grade there can be 22 students, second grade 22 students, third grade 22 students, and then it goes up through fourth and fifth grade. This is covered by board policy. As they look at enrollment throughout the district, they have to consider the twelve elementary schools which vary in size. Some have three sections of every grade level and some have two. When the district realized there was a capacity issue, they responded by looking at the number of empty seats in classes. So, if a school becomes full, then they look to see if the surrounding schools have seats in a specific grade and move the student there. It becomes a challenge for the families that it affects. In terms of educational and fiscal activities, it makes sense for the district. Now it is the policy under which they are governed and they have to follow it.

Next, I was interested in knowing how Dr. Reusche and Dr. Meloche got along in the past. He said that he and Dr. Reusche had a very good relationship. Their relationship developed when she was hired as Assistant Superintendent and was in charge of Curriculum and Instruction and he was the principal at West. When Dr. Meloche became Director of Curriculum, they developed a closer working relationship. Dr. Meloche believes that Dr. Reusche and he share the same goals and values in education. They feel the same about what they expect professionals to do and what they want for students. In their hearts, they believe the same thing, that all children can be successful. All children deserve the support, encouragement, and dedication from their instructor to be able to achieve and be successful. They may just take different paths because they have different backgrounds. Dr. Meloche added that Dr. Reusche was an incredible mentor. She was very gracious and caring with her time, her ideas, and her input. It is definitely a loss to the district that she left and definitely a gain for Haverford. Cherry Hill is a better place because of the work she did while she was here for eight years.

I wondered if Dr. Meloche has an open door policy when people come to him with concerns, questions, problems, or issues. He said yes, the misnomer being “open door”, because of the size of the district and his level of responsibility. They will not be able to unexpectedly show up. He will meet with pretty much anybody. If somebody wants to email him or go through Mrs. Cohen to set up the time to meet, he will always attempt to respond in a timely matter.

There is a concern amongst students, parents, and staff that the contract negotiations have gone on for too long. Although I knew Dr. Meloche could not speak on specifics, I wanted to know if he could share with me what time frame we are looking at for the contract to be settled with the Cherry Hill Education Association. He explained that he has not been directly involved at all up to this point. He will serve in a role as it moves forward, but does not currently know what that role will be. On September 3rd there was what is called a fact-finding meeting. Basically, what that means is that the two sides are trying to negotiate the whole time. They “declare an impasse” when they do not think they can get any farther. They bring in a mediator a number of times and then the mediator goes back and forth between the sides to ameliorate the concerns that did not work out. The next step in the process is called fact-finding, where both sides come in and prepare documents which present the facts, negotiating requests and reasons for those requests from both sides. The fact finder will take all of that information for review. A few months from now, maybe in November at the earliest, the Board will get a report back from the fact finder. This report will include what each side is offering and what the fact finder thinks is appropriate. Both sides will receive the report and determine if they agree or disagree. The two sides could get together between September and November and negotiate. Dr. Meloche thinks there is a definite urgency on both sides to reach agreement and have a new contract in place. It does not benefit anyone for the process to drag on because there are real things that are involved; emotions, money and ultimately the most important thing to remember – children and their experience. If they can settle the contract fast, he is all for it.

To end with, I asked Dr. Meloche where he sees this district in five years. He said he sees the district continuing to be incredibly successful! He sees our students continuing to achieve at a higher level in terms of SAT’s, AP achievement, college acceptance, graduation rates, and students being able to choose the college of their choice. He sees an enhanced early childhood program through Barclay and our elementary schools. He would also like to see better relationships existing between the three levels: elementary, middle, and high school. He would like to see the activities between the two high schools continue to develop and see that we serve a larger role within the community, as the district serves as the provider of what is going on in Cherry Hill. One of his goals is to have more voices represented in the work that we do and to have people from different parts of the community speak as well.

I thanked Dr. Meloche for his time and wished him the best of luck in his new role in our district this year.

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Ask the Professionals: Cherry Hill’s New Superintendent Dr. Meloche