Springfield school chief plans to retire

School board will seek replacement for new school year

By: Vanessa S. Holt
   SPRINGFIELD — When she joined Springfield School District eight years ago, it ranked seventh from the bottom in the county for standardized test scores – and she will be leaving it ranked second from the top.
   Helen Sullivan, superintendent of the K-6 Springfield Elementary School District, recently announced that this will be her last full school year with the district. The school board will seek a replacement for the new school year.
   "I’ll work with the (school) board and we hope by September we’ll have somebody on board," she said. "I don’t want to give my school over to someone I don’t know."
   While the district’s single elementary school has stayed around the same size, with about 330-345 students each year, a lot of things have changed in the past few years. Core Curriculum Standards from the state and No Child Left Behind at the federal level have given schools a new list of mandates to follow, whether or not they have the funding for it.
   In fact, one of the biggest challenges of the past handful of years, other than getting test scores up, was just dealing with all of the demands from the state and federal levels – demands that require money. "The state puts a lot of mandates in and doesn’t give you the money," she said.
   Many of those things were accomplished in Springfield by using money acquired through grants, said Ms. Sullivan, an experienced grant writer. The district has obtained over $1 million in grants during her time there, she said, for school programs, for training, technology and many other uses.
   Although the school population has not grown dramatically in the past decade, one of the other challenges of the past eight years has been a dramatic acceleration of technology. When she came on board, Internet in schools and computer-assisted learning were not as omnipresent as they are today.
   "We didn’t have Internet access here my first year," said Ms. Sullivan.
   The solution: Computer-savvy parents volunteered to come in on weekends to wire the school for Internet access at no cost to the public.
   Bringing Latin into the elementary school is another goal on the horizon.
   "We determined if they do Latin now, in junior high they’ll have a basis for doing romance languages. They’re going to be stronger readers."
   Before she took over leadership of the Springfield district, Ms. Sullivan, a Burlington Township resident was a principal in the North Hanover district and previous to that, she had been a teacher and reading supervisor. She attended American University in Washington, D.C., for political science, Rowan University for education and Rider University for her CSA certification.
   As for her reasons for retiring now – she declined to give her age – she said she feels that she has accomplished her goals and is ready to move on.
   "Things have skyrocketed," she said. "There are other challenges I want to move on to."
   That includes wanting to continue working with children, and working with grants and scholarships. She said she may continue some of the work she has done in her free time, raising money for cancer research and working with special needs children.
   "I don’t want to sit," she said.
   "The kids have come so far," she said. "It’s not a ‘me’, it’s a ‘we.’ It’s been fun – it’s a night and day, demanding job. You get here at 7 a.m. and sometimes leave at 11 p.m. and then spend the weekend writing grants."