District finalist tours Lawrence schools

Philip Meara, who is vying for top job in the Lawrence public schools, spent a whirlwind day visiting the school, meeting with teachers, staff, parents and community members.

By:Lea Kahn Staff Writer
One of two leading candidates for superintendent of schools spent a whirlwind day in the Lawrence School District on Wednesday, meeting with students, staff and community members.
   Philip Meara’s day in the district began at 6:45 a.m. and was slated to end shortly after 9 p.m., following a community meeting at Lawrence High School.
   Mr. Meara, 54, is the superintendent of schools in the Freehold Borough School District. He is one of two finalists for the top administrative post in the Lawrence district. School district officials declined to release the name of the second candidate, at that candidate’s request.
   The Board of Education expects to name a new superintendent of schools at its Jan. 11 meeting. The board has been searching for a replacement since former Superintendent of Schools Max Riley left for the top job in the Randolph Township School District June 30. The board appointed Thomas Butler to serve a six-month term as interim superintendent. Dr. Butler started work in the district on July 1.
   During a break in the activity Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Meara said he had visited each of the seven schools in the district. He said he was "very impressed" at the knowledge of each of the principals, who know their respective buildings "inside and outside."
   Mr. Meara continued, "The principals are the people I spent most of my time with. They talked about their students, and they all had a positive ‘take’ on the district. There was no hand-wringing. They all talked about the potential of the Lawrence district."
   Mr. Meara said he was also impressed with the "liveliness" of the classrooms that he visited.
   "Every place that I went was not only welcoming, but it was very apparent that the teachers value their students’ work," he said. "This sends a message to me of the relationship between the teachers and the students. The teachers in fact value and appreciate what the students are doing."
   Mr. Meara said he liked the quality of the workmanship of the renovations in the school buildings — from the quality of the windows to the heating and air conditioning systems. The school district is in the process of renovating and adding onto each of the seven schools.
   In addition to visiting the schools, Mr. Meara toured the Eggerts Crossing Village affordable housing development and the Lawrence Neighborhood Service Center, said Rebecca Gold, the district’s director of personnel.
   Mr. Meara also had lunch with the presidents of the schools’ Parent-Teacher Organization, Ms. Gold said. He met with representatives of the Lawrence Township Education Association, which is the union for teachers and custodians.
   "It was a very nice day," Ms. Gold said. "He is full of energy. He is positive and knowledgeable. He had a nice time. He met a lot of people."
   A native of Trenton, Mr. Meara is married and has three grown children. The Allentown resident earned a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in education from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Bank Street College in New York City.
   He has been the superintendent of the Freehold Borough School District since 2003. The school district has an enrollment of about 1,400 students in grades pre-K through eighth grade. It has two elementary schools and one middle school.
   Mr. Meara taught or held administrative posts in the East Windsor, West Windsor and Plumsted school districts. He was an assistant superintendent in the Plumsted district before being named as superintendent in Freehold.

Related story:
Superintendent candidate peppered with questions at forum(Jan. 5)