Optimistic outlook for Meara

Various facets of the school community are welcoming the arrival of new Superintendent of Schools Philip Meara with cautious optimism.

By:Lea Kahn Staff Writer
The selection of Philip Meara, the Freehold Borough School District’s superintendent of schools, to lead the Lawrence Township School District has been met with cautious optimism by various facets of the school community.
   Mr. Meara, 54, was the unanimous choice of the Lawrence Township Board of Education at its Jan. 11 meeting to assume the top administrative post. His first day in the Lawrence school district is March 27.
   Mr. Meara, who will earn $165,000, replaces former Superintendent of Schools Max Riley, who left the district in June to become superintendent of the Randolph Township School District.
   JoAnn Lupo, president of the Lawrence Township Education Association, said the LTEA’s six officers — including herself — met with Mr. Meara for about a half-hour when he visited the school district on Jan. 4.
   "He seemed enthusiastic and prepared," Ms. Lupo said. "We have to take the school board’s word that he was in fact the best choice. We have no reason to doubt he was the best choice."
   Ms. Lupo continued, "The LTEA is anxious to have someone in a permanent position with whom we will be dealing. The 560-member union represents teachers, instructional assistants, secretaries, maintenance, cleaners and custodial staff members.
   Diane Goff, co-president of Advocates for Special Kids, said she "has every confidence" that the school board selected the best candidate when it chose Mr. Meara. The group comprises parents of special education students enrolled in the township school district’s special education program.
   "I have every hope that he will be really good," Ms. Goff said. "He has a lot of teaching experience. I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s an asset in dealing with children’s educational needs."
   Elizabeth Donahue, who, like Ms. Goff, has a child who has been classified as needing special education, said she is "hopeful" that Mr. Meara is the right candidate for the job.
   "I am thrilled," Ms. Donahue said. "He seems like a community builder. He makes you feel confident. I think (appointing Mr. Meara) is a step in the right direction. He has good ideas and he will listen to what people have to say."
   Ms. Donahue said the next challenge facing Mr. Meara and the school district is to choose someone to oversee the special education program, which she said has been in "turmoil" for several years. There was frequent turnover among administrators and staff after Dr. Riley reorganized the program.
   During Dr. Riley’s five-year tenure as superintendent, more than half of the school district’s 23 Child Study Team members — along with some special education teachers — left the Lawrence district for other school districts, or chose to retire. The CST is made up of psychologists, learning consultants, speech therapists, social workers and occupational therapists.
   Fred Vereen, a community activist who has been concerned about the achievement gap between black students and the rest of the student population, said he "feels good" about the new superintendent "at this point."
   Mr. Meara visited the Eggerts Crossing neighborhood during his Jan. 4 visit, said Mr. Vereen, who manages the Eggerts Crossing Village affordable housing development. The school district has been working closely with students who live in the Eggerts Crossing neighborhood to provide academic assistance to them.
   "Everything I hear about Mr. Meara is good," Mr. Vereen said. "I can only go on that. I have not had a chance to talk to him personally, but he has said he wants to work with us to continue what the school district is doing. I feel at this point he will work with us."
   Carlos Hendricks, the executive director of the Lawrence Neighborhood Service Center on Eggerts Crossing Road, also met Mr. Meara during his daylong visit to the Lawrence school district. Mr. Hendricks said he came away with a feeling of excitement about working with Mr. Meara.
   "I have never had the experience of working with him, but he gave me the impression he is interested in providing continuity (with the LNSC and the school district)," Mr. Hendricks said.
   "He’s a local person and I think somebody who is local would be more committed," he said of Mr. Meara, who grew up in Trenton.
   Mr. Hendricks said he is looking forward to working with Mr. Meara. He said he wants the children to benefit, and he plans to do his part to foster a good working relationship with Mr. Meara and the school district.