• Interviewee: Trusheim, William
  • PDF Interview: trusheim_william_part_3.pdf
  • Date: June 4, 2020
  • Additional Interview Dates:
    • Date: May 29, 2020
    • Date: June 1, 2020
  • Place: Hightstown, NJ
  • Interviewers:
    • Shaun Illingworth
  • Transcript Production Team:
    • Jesse Braddell
    • Donald Koger
    • Kathryn Tracy Rizzi
    • William Trusheim
  • Recommended Citation: Trusheim, William. Oral History Interview, June 4, 2020, by Shaun Illingworth, Page #, Rutgers Oral History Archives. Online: Insert URL (Last Accessed: Insert Date).
  • Permission:

    Permission to quote from this transcript must be obtained from the Rutgers Oral History Archives. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Shaun Illingworth: This begins the third interview session with Dr. William Trusheim, on June 4, 2020. I am in Hightstown, New Jersey. This is Shaun Illingworth. If you could just tell us where you are, Dr. Trusheim?

William Trusheim: Sure, this is Bill Trusheim, and I'm in West Milford, New Jersey.

SI: Last time, we followed your career up to the time you became superintendent of schools in Pequannock. You said one of the reasons why you were asked to take on this role was because the community was divided. Can you elaborate on that and explain what you meant by that?

WT: There were a couple of factions in the town, those that were supportive of the previous superintendent and those that were not. That was really the division, and it was kind of surprising that it became quite so polarized. I have no ill feelings toward my predecessor. Actually, we got a long rather well, but his ideas didn't jive with everybody in town. I think I told you that I had already decided to retire as principal of the middle school, which was a position that I really, really loved and I am really proud of that school. I did have board members who asked me to consider becoming superintendent for the purpose of reuniting the town, because I had been there for so long and I had capital built up with people on both sides of that aisle, if you will. That was really the charge that was there for my becoming superintendent, and I think that at least for the years that I was there, I was able to be successful at that.

When I left, the town was unified, not completely, but at least everybody was working together, and we got a lot of things done in the years when I was superintendent. We had several construction projects that we managed to do on a shoestring. We put in two turf fields at the high school with money that was left over from a previous infrastructure project that had been bonded. In order to put those turf fields in, we put the question up for a vote of the community to have them okay the use of the extra funds of the previous bond. The extra funds could have been returned or used against taxes, but we asked the community to vote on using the money for continued improvements in the school, primarily at the high school. It passed resoundingly. I think it was two to one or three to one in favor. To me, if nothing else, that was an indication that everybody was in a mindset to work together. Even today, when I drive past and I see those fields, I think about the work that went into it, not just my work, but the work of many people, the other board members, the facilities staff at the school, the contractors and so forth. That took up a lot of time for me in my superintendency because we wanted to get it right. There were a few bumps in the road like there always are, but it's there and it's a tremendous facility for the students and for the community. It's nice to know that it has had a lasting effect.

SI: A lot of the work is making sure everything is implemented properly, but in terms of campaigning to have the bond issue go through or getting public support, how do you go about doing that, beyond the education community?

WT: Well, transparency is very important, and we spent a lot of time presenting the budget proposals at the schools and at the senior center in town. We had the Cedar Crest community and another senior community called Hearle Village, and we would always go there and do a presentation of the budget so that they would get the advantage of knowing what we were proposing and why it was important. The seniors weren't necessarily going to come out to a school to see a budget presentation, but we were very fortunate to be able to go straight to them. We had a very high degree of support for the schools and the budget from the senior citizen community in town, which I was very thankful for. We had a very good relationship with them. We had done some programs, even when I was a principal at the middle school, involving the seniors from Cedar Crest that were very successful and that worked both ways. Everybody benefitted.

Two projects come to mind. The first was when we had middle school students offer to train senior citizens in basic computer use. We provided our school library and the students who volunteered to work with the seniors from the Cedar Crest community. It was really great because this intergenerational approach had benefits beyond any training that happened, just making a connection between the students and the seniors. I think it was very valuable both ways, both from the students to the seniors and the seniors to the students. We also did an intergenerational art show. We had art shows at the school every year anyway, and at the Cedar Crest community, they gave art lessons and they had a lot of pretty good artists there. We arranged for them to display their art in our library/media center during our school art show, which happened once a year. We did it in our library because we wanted to make sure that their artwork was protected and in a more confined space. It wasn't in the hallways or in the cafeteria or in the gym, because when we did the art show, the art was displayed everywhere throughout the school. That was really a nice project as well.

Then, later on, at the high school, they did an intergenerational prom. The jazz ensemble played, and the seniors came there for a prom with the high school students--another really great way to make a connection. We didn't do this to get the reward of their positive votes for the budget. We did it because it was the right thing to do, and it had tremendous benefits for both the seniors and for our students. Those were just a couple of examples of the way we made the connection with the seniors in town, and it wasn't just Cedar Crest. It was for any senior in town. That was one way that we got the word out.

Another thing that happened when I was superintendent was that the board really believed in fiscal restraint, and sometimes it was difficult to get on board with them. When you had to make a difference in terms of a budget, there wasn’t much leeway in spending. Right now, the schools are facing the need to cut tremendous amounts of money because of the Coronavirus pandemic and the financial implications that have arisen because of that. When you have to cut any large amount of money, it always comes down to staff cuts. In a typical school budget, the part of the budget where you really have a say over how the money gets spent is very small. When I was superintendent, we had a say over only about nine-and-a-half percent of the whole budget for any kind of other spending, any projects, anything special, because the rest of it was made up of contractual and fixed costs. When you think about that, that's not a lot to play with. When I was superintendent, we had a two percent cap every year and some of the contractual increases, particularly for healthcare and benefits packages, were much greater than two percent. You had to be a little creative in making sure that you were providing what the students needed and maintaining the educational program, while meeting your financial responsibilities.

I was very fortunate to have some really good business administrators and we worked well together. One of the reasons why we had success with passing the budget was that two of the budgets that we crafted with the board finance committee had a zero-percentage increase. We didn't even use the allowable two percent. We managed--I wouldn't say by a miracle--but it was a zero percent increase. When you go out and you tell that to the town, that's a pretty easy sell. Pequannock has been very supportive of the school budgets. I was there for twenty-five years. The budget went down only twice in twenty-five years. This happened once early in my career when it really wasn't my purview and once when I was superintendent. That second time, Governor Christie encouraged the voting populace to defeat school budgets and our budget was defeated. We went through the process of the town council reviewing the budget, and long story short, we managed to survive. We did lose money. We did have to cut back on some things that year, but the next couple years, we had the support of the voting populous.
[Editor's Note: Chris Christie served as the governor of New Jersey from 2010 to 2018.]

We also did maintain having the budget election in the spring, whereas many schools didn't at that point. It was a good opportunity to talk about what's important because what's important is what's funded, and so that was part of our conversation. What does this budget buy for the kids? If the budget is defeated, what cost would there be programmatically to our students and our teachers? We tried to be very forthright in the way we presented it to the town.

As I said, we were very fortunate, Pequannock had always been supportive of the budget, and that worked in our favor. Even when a town was a little bit divided, they still supported the budget because in the end, everybody wanted the same thing, which was a good education for the students in town. Nobody argued about that; it's just how you got there and paid for it.

That was really my experience with budgeting. It takes a lot of time and effort during the school year because we would start working on the budget in October for the following year. Of course, you're asking people to make predictions about what they need a year hence, and sometimes that's difficult to do. There was an opportunity, before we put the final budget proposal out for public review, for the principals and the different departments to adjust things. Then, of course, there was a point at which you had to put in your final numbers, so there was another opportunity to adjust based on the needs. It was a process that really lasted most of the year, and so that was a piece of what we had to do.

The Pequannock board operated using committees, as opposed to the committee of the whole. With that, we did have a finance committee that was very active, and they were kind of hands-on, which was okay, because if we really wanted them to provide the support that we needed to get that public support, they needed to have a say. Sometimes, it made it a little more difficult for the administration, at the building level or at the central office level, but in the end, when we had a budget that everybody felt they could support, and when we presented it to the public, we had a unified voice. That was important because you don't air out your squabbles in front of the public. Every year, you'd do a budget presentation, which is really the final budget that's going to go to the county and the state. At that point, I think it's important for the board to speak with one voice, and we were able to do that. I think we had one year when we had to make an adjustment in the middle of the meeting because of some disagreement on what little choice we had in spending, but by and large, the board members really do a terrific job. It's all volunteer. They put in lots of time. They put in lots of effort. They bring their personal viewpoint to it. Sometimes, there's some education needed there because they're supposed to be representing the public. I enjoyed working with the majority of board members, both as a building administrator and as superintendent. It was a tremendous amount of work for them, and I have a lot of respect for the board members and leaders that I worked with.

SI: Were there other examples that you can point to of either Trenton or politics in some other form affecting your job as a superintendent, outside of the regular cycle of budget presentations?

WT: In the time that I was there, there were a number of mandates that came down, and I remember going to Trenton quite a number of times to attend meetings of the superintendents being called together with whoever the commissioner was at the time. Certainly, some of those decisions have an impact.

Look at our situation today in considering the possibility of reopening schools. You talk about having a responsibility to come up with some guidance with schools, that's a tremendous job. I expect that the superintendents today, right now, current superintendents, will be spending a significant amount of time communicating either at the county level or the state level as the guidance comes out. As it happens, I'm on the steering committee for the reopening of schools, and that's connected with the work that I do with school culture and climate, social-emotional learning, and character education. I'm not really sure, to tell you the honest truth, what my role will be over the next month, when I believe they have to have a plan put together. I think it will be focused on the organizations that I represent, which is fine. I am glad to have a voice for the New Jersey Alliance for Social, Emotional, and Character Development and SEL4NJ and the SEL Academy where I teach, being able to represent those groups and bring that to the floor in terms of whatever decisions are made in terms of reopening schools. One of the things that we all believe is that one of the most important elements of reopening is to support students' social-emotional capabilities because this has been a traumatic event. It's going to be more difficult to reopen schools than it was to close them because the issues are significant in terms of making sure that everybody's safe and that's the most important thing. We can't just willy-nilly have everybody go back in school and say, "Okay, hopefully, everybody will be okay because kids aren't really that affected by it." That's foolish thinking. That's inviting more problems. I know that our State Department of Ed is taking this very seriously and working hard on developing a plan.

We did have some issues when I was superintendent, and I did go down to Trenton for those meetings. We had a monthly county roundtable of all the Morris County superintendents. The Morris County group was terrific. I think it was one of the best in the state because we had a really strong sense of cooperation between the superintendents and the school districts, the prosecutor's office, the county sheriff and law enforcement. What we did in Morris County--and I assume it's still going on, or at least I would hope so--really could be a model for the whole state. The folks in these different positions in the county and the school districts, we really worked pretty well together, I'd say very well together, whenever there was an issue. So, that was another venue to be able to communicate issues. Our county superintendent would bring things to us at those meetings, and sometimes we'd need to have a special meeting. Absolutely, there were times when we had to be informed of the mandates. The worst ones were the ones that were unfunded because an unfunded mandate impacts what you can do with the rest of your program. I know that the dilemma came because there was always a certain desire to do what's right for kids, but when it comes down to crafting a budget, sometimes you have to make hard decisions as to what you can spend your money on. That goes for the state too. They craft a budget. Everybody would love to be able to have carte blanche to do all the great stuff that could be done, but that's simply not realistic. You have to make an educated decision based on what your priorities are. In a lot of districts, that really does define what the district's vision is for the kids. That's a very important step.

It was one of the first things I was charged with. My first objective that the board gave me, as superintendent, was to develop a vision for the district. It was an interesting process because I really wanted to engage everybody in some way because it's only meaningful if people feel invested in it. It was very interesting with all the efforts to have them give me input in terms of what they believed the vision should be. It really came down to me in the end to decide what it was, to take what they had given me and come up with the vision. It's really important to decide on a vision. You really need to think about what you want your students to be like when they leave your school or district. That's where all this social-emotional stuff and the character education and all of that comes in, because when our students go out into society, their success depends less, I think, on their academic ability than it does on their ability to be good people and have good people skills. Generally, when people lose a job, it's because they failed the people skills side of it and the relationships. That's the work I've chosen to do since I've retired.

SI: I was going to ask about initiatives beyond brick-and-mortar issues and budget issues, things that you wanted to see implemented as superintendent. You had mentioned some of these on the principal level. You saw these as the programs that you identified most with as part of your legacy. Can you elaborate on that, what you wanted to get done, what you think you were successful at, what you hoped to do but maybe did not get to do?

WT: The obvious answer to that would be that my middle school was a School of Character and I wanted to see the other schools do that same kind of work because to me it was transformational. It was the beginning of a transformation of the school. It wasn't the only thing that impacted that, but it was the beginning of the transformation of the school into a school that I thought was very, very high functioning, a strong sense of teamwork. The kids liked to be there. It was exactly what you'd want to see in a school, and I wanted to see that happen in the other schools. As it turned out, one of our elementary schools actually did become a National School of Character during my superintendency. All the schools were working on it to some degree, but only one actually attained that. When I retired, that initiative sort of waned as often happens--my successor really wasn't attuned to that work--and so unfortunately none of the other schools continued to focus on it. So, just the two schools, my middle school and one of our elementary schools, did that work and were recognized as such.

I think that a lot of good things happened in terms of understanding that character piece of a student's achievement was really important, trying to have a balanced view of what student success should look like, and it's not just what you get on a standardized test. It also includes people skills and the social-emotional skills and competencies that will help them be successful in the world. Those are really important aspects of student achievement. I always tried to make that point, and it was an uphill battle because that stuff doesn't often get reported in The Star-Ledger. The stuff that gets into The Star-Ledger are standardized test scores. Certainly, I would always advocate for academic excellence, I do advocate for that, I always have, and I don't think you can do the other work--these "soft skills," which is kind of a broad category for what we're talking about--I think you cannot ignore the academic piece when you do the soft skills, as much as I believe you can't ignore the soft skills piece when you're looking at academic achievement.

We put a lot of effort into coming up with class schedules in schools that made sense and allowed the kids flexibility of choice. We had a very, very complex high school schedule. My middle school schedule was also complex, but it was a different model because it was the middle school, and it was all based on teams and that allowed us to do a lot of great things because of that structure. At the high school, they really had a difficult time coming to a decision with what kind of schedule they would have. They had a schedule that was a hybrid schedule based on three different models, and the result of having a schedule based on three different models was that there wasn't much interchangeability in the day for the kids. Without getting into detail, that meant that there weren't certain opportunities at the school, mostly in electives, whether it be music or art or you name it, for kids to be able to take those. We want every kid to be able to come to school because they want to do something, they want to find that thing that ignites their learning. For many kids, it's not English, it's not math, it's not social studies, it's not science. I mean, for many kids it is, but for other kids, it might be music, it might be art. It might be any other thing, athletics, other activities. To my way of thinking, it's whatever ignites their interest in learning, and that generalizes out to everything.

The kid that wants to come to school because they love band, I'm saying that because that's my area, the kid that wants to come to school because they love band and they're successful in that, that success bleeds over into everything else they do. You could replace the word "band" with any of those other activities. One of the things that I had an issue with was that the schedule format was limiting student choices and limiting their ability to explore things that were interesting to them. I didn't fix it completely, but I did what I could to fix it. I tried to make that high school schedule a little bit more flexible for kids to be able to take courses that they wanted to take. I wish I could have done more. It's not the superintendent's job to write the high school schedule, but I had a lot of experience doing it because I'd been a principal for a long time, and I created a lot of schedules. We really did the best we could at that point to give the kids some choices, to give the kids the ability to take honors classes and do other things, and the schedule was kind of limiting in terms of that, being able to offer enough different course sections so that students could go back and forth between honors and the other levels.

Another thing that I really had a belief in was making sure that special education kids in the district were being properly served, aside from the fact that's the law. When you build schedules, and you talk about allocation of funds and rooms and staff, you really need to meet everybody's needs. I really tried to do that and I think I was pretty successful at that too. That was one of the things that becomes more and more difficult, because one of the problems that you face in a district is special education budgeting. You could have a special needs kid move into the district that would have a tremendous impact on the budget. To be able to have enough money on the special ed side of the budget to cover that impact was a real challenge and we did put money in the budget so that we would be able to meet those needs if they arose, but there's a limit to how much you could do. We had two siblings that moved in that over the course of their career in the district, I'm sure the price tag was millions for just those two students because of the cost of out-of-district placement, transportation, and other services. That was a real issue. That's something that I wish could be addressed at the county level, because if the special ed cost was amortized across a county and all the school districts there, it would really take the pressure off those kids moving into one school or another. Whether that would ever happen, I don't know, but that's a major challenge. Of course, that was something that I wanted to make sure of--that the special ed kids were properly served. I had the pleasure of working with one director of special services in particular who shared my belief in that. I think we did a very good job, sometimes to our disadvantage of serving the special ed students, where we had people wanting to move into town because of the quality of the special ed program, which of course could be a financial drain too. Those were some things that I faced.

In addition, one of the things that I tried to do was move my Professional Learning Community (PLC) program from the middle school into the other schools, and I was able to do so in different formats in the elementary school and in the high school. That was one thing that I believed very strongly in, and thought was very transformational for the schools. One of my projects was to bring PLCs to the high school and the elementary schools, which we did to some degree of success, but it was not the same as the middle school, because the teamed environment in the middle school was perfect for it. At the elementary school, they really experienced the grade-level meetings more so than the PLCs. At the high school level, it's so departmentalized that it becomes compartmentalized, and to suggest to the faculty that they should actually be meeting across departments with other teachers that weren't teaching the same subject area and looking to do some projects together or at least to talk about how the learning in one area supports the learning in another area. That's a conversation that is not often had at the high school level. We had some success at that, and I can think of a couple of projects that teachers were able to put together that were cross-disciplinary and that worked out pretty well. Again, I was superintendent for three-and-a-half years, and that's something else that I think fell by the way side after I retired. As much as I would have loved to see that, I don't know that it had any real sustainability.

One thing that I was very active in supporting, along with a couple of my colleagues, was random drug testing. My middle school was the first middle school in New Jersey to implement random drug testing. Our high school was the first high school in Morris County to do random drug testing, and we did it in response to a couple of losses that we experienced as a school community. Without getting into too much detail, one student died using ecstasy. He was in New York at a rave; he ended up dying there in the club. He was a rising senior, and it was like how could this possibly happen? Everybody was shocked and everybody said, "We can't let this happen to anyone else, so let's plant a tree." At Pequannock High School right now, there's a tree that's growing out behind one of the academic wings of the school that's dedicated to that student. But when the students of today walk past that tree, I don't know that it makes any impact on what they're thinking. We had another student who overdosed on heroin that, we believe was cut with fentanyl. He survived but became a quadriplegic. At that point, we said, "Planting a tree is not going to work, so what do we do now?"

We held a community forum, and the idea of random drug testing was brought up. After much discussion, we decided to institute a random drug testing program for both the high school and the middle school. The middle school program was completely voluntary, and students could sign up or not, but what we asked them to do was make a commitment not to use drugs. At its height, we had over eighty percent of the students volunteering to be in that program. In the time that I was in the district from the start of doing that random drug testing--I think it was instituted in 2007, I don't really recall the exact date, but it was before I became superintendent and that was in 2009--to when I left the district, there was not one case of a positive random drug test at the middle school. I couldn't say that for the high school. The longer you keep a student from using, the less likely it will be that they'll use later on. That was important to us, and I do think it made a difference. That was something I spent a lot of time on, both as a principal and as superintendent and, again, we had to deal with a couple of challenges from the state.

In order to collect the sample and send it for analysis, we had to become a registered lab and have a medical director (the school physician) and have a couple of people to run the program. You had to go through the same kind of application process as that of an independent lab. We had to do it twice. We had to do it once for the high school and once for the middle school. It was a complicated operation, but I do think it saved some kids from using. I, for one, never want to have to go to another kid's funeral. I went to too many of them. What we did was pretty significant, and I say "we" because I didn't do it alone. There were other people, in particular, one other teacher that worked with me, who's actually an administrator too. He was a subject area supervisor. We put the program together, and our program in Pequannock became the model for many national programs in its day. We worked with an attorney named Dave Evans, who was really a champion for random drug testing, and he helped us out tremendously. We did many presentations at other schools about the effectiveness of it, so that was something we spent a good bit of time doing. It's just another side of keeping kids safe and healthy.

SI: Were there any legal challenges to the program?

WT: Well, when we did forums with the public, we suspect there were plants in the audience from the American Civil Liberties Union and you could sort of identify them when they would speak. The interesting thing is that when we first went about instituting this, we knew we had to engage the public. This wasn't just something we could do in the school district without the support of the public, so we did have public forums on the topic. We sent out an opinion poll. It wasn't an actual survey, but rather an opinion poll. It was interesting because eighty percent of the respondents felt that we needed to do more than we were doing, which was what was required by the State of New Jersey, and when we did the public forums, ironically, the comments were almost in that same percentage, eighty or ninety percent in favor, in terms of the people making comments, and ten to twenty percent making negative comments. We felt we had a pretty strong positive commitment from the community to go ahead.

We were very careful when we wrote our policies, and Dave Evans, who I mentioned was a lawyer, was very helpful to us in pointing to some other districts that had done some similar policies. By the time we were done, ours became a sample that he spread throughout the country. We went down to Washington, D.C. Bob DuPont (Bob DuPont was Ronald Reagan's drug czar) invited us to come to Washington and talk about what we'd done in Pequannock. So, we did go down to D.C. It was a very interesting experience--are you familiar with the Cosmos Club in Washington? [Editor's Note: Robert DuPont is a psychiatrist who specializes in substance abuse and addiction. He was the drug czar from 1973 to 1977 during the Nixon and Ford administrations. He served as the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.]

SI: No.

WT: The Cosmos Club is a very interesting place. It's on Massachusetts Avenue. It's really a hop, skip and a jump from the Gandhi statue on Massachusetts Avenue, and it's a very, very upscale place. You walk in and there's a room to your left honoring all the members of the club that had won presidential awards. It's just an incredible place. DuPont had secured the Cosmos Club to do this conference on the whole issue of drug use. It was really interesting. It felt like, "Are we really here?" It was a pretty exalted crowd, but it was certainly our pleasure to be able to present things that we had done in Pequannock that really hadn't been done in too many other places. That was while I was still principal. Random drug testing was something that we put a lot of effort into, and as I said, I hope that it helped kids. I believe that it did.

SI: Why did you decide to leave the superintendent position?

WT: I had originally intended to retire at the end of the 2012 school year, and when I became superintendent, my contract ended at that same time, when I was planning to retire. I told them I was only interested in one contract. At that point, the numbers all added up. I had been in Pequannock for twenty-five years. I was about to turn sixty-three, and I'd done forty-two years in public education. That's when I would've retired anyway, so that was really my decision. I was offered another contract, but I didn't accept it. I decided to retire on my original date, and I don't regret it. Frankly, this is a decision that I'd made long before this happened, but my new contract would've been affected by Christie's superintendent's salary cap. I think it would've cost me somewhere between twenty and thirty thousand dollars a year to stay. So, really with forty-two years' experience and a pension, it didn't make sense. Christie's decision was not the main reason why I retired. I know a lot of people who left the superintendency because of that decision, and I think it certainly had a negative effect on district leadership in New Jersey, but that wasn't the main reason why I retired when I did. [Editor's Note: In 2010, Governor Chris Christie capped a school district superintendent's salary at 175,000 dollars. It has since been repealed by Governor Phil Murphy.]

SI: I want to talk about some of your work with these organizations that focus on policy issues. Had you become the president of the New Jersey Alliance for Social, Emotional and Character Development (NJASECD) before you retired, or was that after?

WT: I was involved in the alliance from its inception while I was still a school principal. I participated in some of the early meetings and discussions about creating it. There was a center at Rutgers that was funded by a grant, and the grant money ran out. It was clear that the center was not going to continue to function. One of the things that the center had done was support the New Jersey Schools of Character program. Actually, at the time, it was the National Schools of Character program through Character.org. When the grant funding went away, the idea was, "We've got to come up with some way to continue the work of the center without the grant." A volunteer organization was created, and after a lot of discussion, it was decided that the name would be New Jersey Alliance for Social, Emotional and Character Development. The reason for that was that there was a strong feeling in the group that it shouldn't be either social-emotional learning, which some people see that as a field to itself, or character education, as other people see that as a field to itself. We wanted to make sure that in this organization, it embraced both areas, thus the title.

There were a couple of people from Rutgers who were really instrumental in that; one was Phil Brown and the other was Maurice Elias. Those were my two mentors in doing this work, going back to when my school became a School of Character. I was just a member of the organization for a while, and then I was asked to be on the board. I was actually asked to be president, but I couldn't do that while I was superintendent because I couldn't commit to being at all the meetings. I was out four nights a week as superintendent as it was. I even had some other meetings that were local to Morris County, for some of the organizations that I belonged to in Morris County, so I couldn't guarantee that I could be there. I remember one county meeting, and I called them, and said, "I can't come because we just had a bomb scare called in the district, so I can't go anywhere." I knew from experience that I couldn't commit to being president of the organization until I retired. [Editor's Note: Dr. Philip Brown is a Fellow at the Center for Applied Psychology at Rutgers. Dr. Maurice Elias is a Professor of Psychology at Rutgers.]

I was elected president in June--June 1st of 2012--and I retired June 30th. As soon as I retired, that was my position. I've held it ever since. I'm just completing my eighth year as president, and I guess I'm going to be starting my ninth year. Because of the situation with the shutdown, I have asked all the officers to serve an extra year, including myself, so I'm starting my ninth year now as president. I guess I've broken the whole concept of term limits, but that's not part of our bylaws, so we'll see what happens. We've really made a great difference in the schools of New Jersey in that time. It's all volunteer.

One of the things that we have worked toward is when a school receives the recognition of being a state or national School of Character, we tell them, "Okay, now, what are you going to do in terms of outreach to others?" One of the things that we have done very successfully, I think, that has not been part of the national model is expecting that kind of outreach from schools. At the end of January, we named thirty-eight New Jersey schools New Jersey Schools of Character, and I guess it was May 15th, we had thirty-five National Schools of Character in New Jersey named by Character.org. There were eighty-one across the whole country, thirty-five from New Jersey. We were, by far and away, the state with the most. We've had schools that have been recognized more than once. It's a process where it's not something that you get forever. Once you're named, the certification lasts for five years and then you need to recertify. We have--I just put this together, so I know the number--162 schools in New Jersey over the years that have been named a state school and/or a national school. Some schools have been named multiple times. That's a pretty significant number to me. We'd like to do all 2,400 schools, but that capacity is beyond us because it's all volunteer. We're very proud of the work that we do, and we're active with Character.org, which is in Washington, D.C. In fact, right after we're done here today, I have a conference call with them. That's taken a lot of my time and effort, and that's a way of giving back.

I knew that when I retired that there were a couple of things that I was going to do, and I think I might have told you that one of them was this and the other was to get back into playing music. I'm happy to say that I've been able to do both things. Aside from the alliance, I'm also involved in a new organization--newly formed--I guess we're well into our second year. It's called SEL4NJ, Social-Emotional Learning, for New Jersey. It's a network of professional organizations and individuals in the State of New Jersey that support character education, social-emotional learning, school culture and climate. We now have almost a thousand members of that group, a thousand followers, all the major professional organizations, NJEA, School Boards Association, Principals and Supervisors Association, Association of School Administrators, and more. All of those organizations send representatives, plus a whole lot more. [Editor's Note: NJEA is the New Jersey Educational Association.]

It's a way for us to represent the voice of the importance of this work, and again, we take a very broad view of what SEL is. Many people look at SEL as the CASEL five domains. CASEL is the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning out in Chicago and they did groundbreaking work in this field. But they define it pretty rigorously as these five domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and problem solving/ responsible decision making. That's really how you would define SEL in their world. We see it as being broader than that. The character education piece of it really deals more with both ethical values, moral values and performance values.
Having those core values helps to guide behavior, whether it's school or home or whatever, really everything else flows from that. Of course, school culture and climate has a number of different dimensions too, and all of these three areas overlap. There's other areas too, restorative justice and responsive classroom and a lot of other practices, positive discipline comes to mind, that really fall under the same umbrella term that we use called SEL. That's something we're very active in doing right now.

In fact, we're just putting together guidelines for the reopening of school with a focus on social and emotional learning, and so we hope that will be valuable. That's actually a national effort because SEL4NJ is really the state arm of SEL4US, which is an organization that includes all the other state organizations.

It's taken quite a bit of time and effort to be involved in all this. Plus, I teach for the SEL Academy in Leadership for Social-Emotional Learning, and that's out of the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown. There’s another piece of the academy at Rutgers, which is a direct instruction piece. Again, I think it's good work. I think that we all tend to want to be productive, and so that's how I've managed to remain productive in retirement. It is very rewarding because I think that it's good for kids, it's good for teachers, it's good for parents, it's good for communities, and again, it speaks to the need of a balanced view of what student success, student achievement is all about.

SI: You have also taught as an adjunct at Rutgers and also at Jersey City.

WT: Yes, I taught "Educational Technology" for Rutgers, and it was a part of the SCILS program, which is the School of Information and Library Sciences. Then, I also taught for New Jersey City University--lots of different technology courses for educators, graduate level courses. It was interesting because I really enjoyed the face-to-face conversation in those classes, and when I was asked initially to teach this online program, I said, "I really liked the face-to-face part of it and I'm not that crazy about doing online instruction." Maurice Elias talked me into doing it, and I'm glad he did. [Editor's Note: In 1982, the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies (SCILS) was established at Rutgers. In 2009, it was renamed the School of Communication and Information (SC&I).]

It's amazing how in a Zoom environment the class becomes a group rather quickly, and my class members for this program have come from all over the world. My last class had a student from Uganda and one from Hawaii, one from the Grand Bahamas, a bunch from New Jersey, and then some from other parts of the country. It's really interesting to get them on a Zoom screen--and we've been doing this long before Zoom became so prevalent a pedagogy in education--and how quickly they form into a group. That's just been a very interesting experience. I've been teaching that program for about five years now. It's very rewarding too because, again, you see the work that you do, even over a short period of time having an impact and being a benefit to other people, which is a good feeling.

SI: Now, you have also been involved as an alum, a band alum, with some groups.

WT: Yes, on the musical side of my retirement, I'm Chairman of the Board of the Hanover Wind Symphony. The Hanover Wind Symphony is in Hanover, New Jersey, thus the title--it's actually in Whippany, New Jersey. It's a very accomplished community band, but it's not a concert in the park community band. It's a serious wind literature community band, and it's a great experience. One of the things that I wanted to do was to get back into playing my trumpet, and one of the very first things I did upon retirement was audition for the Hanover Wind Symphony.

The conductor of the group was actually a protégé of mine years ago. One of the first people that I knew up north--he moved to North Jersey when I did, so we were both kind of strangers in a strange land. He and I actually performed a duet with the Hanover Wind Symphony when I was school principal. He was a euphonium player and I played trumpet, I played cornet on this. It was a cornet and euphonium duet. So, I knew that being in the Hanover Wind Symphony was something that I was going to consider when I retired. I started playing with the group in September of 2012 and a few years later was elected as chairman of the board. We've done some great stuff.

I have always stayed connected with Rutgers. When I as working in South River, I stayed very connected to the Music Department, and I did a lot of freelance and volunteer playing at Rutgers in the years between my graduation and moving to North Jersey. I was in the Rutgers Collegium, which was an early music performance group. I was in that group for ten years. That was a whole different kind of music, and I really enjoyed doing that. I have a love for that kind of music, and unfortunately, once I moved, I left the group. Actually, at that same time, the collegium changed to be less of an instrumental group. I played the cornetto, recorders, crumhorns and so forth, early Renaissance instruments, in that group. After I moved, the focus of the collegium became more of a vocal group. I really haven't had a chance to do a whole lot of that kind of playing since.

The Rutgers Alumni Wind Symphony was created in 1985, '84-'85. That's when I was still in Central Jersey, at South River. A good friend of mine was the organizer and the creator of that group, and he was another graduate of Rutgers. Peter DelVecchio is his name, and he was in the Class of 1973. I did play with that group a couple of times in its early form in the mid to late '80s. They rehearsed every other Saturday morning, and working in my job and doing all those nights and then making the trek down every other Saturday to Rutgers for rehearsal really wasn't something I was prepared to do. Plus, I had my own kids in school, and they had band responsibilities. I wanted to be a decent dad and go to those things. My daughter rowed crew at Bucknell, so I spent a lot of my weekends watching her row in various regattas around the Northeast.

When all of that cleared out, Nick Santoro, Rutgers Class of '73, was the conductor of the group. He was another one of my closest friends over the years, and he put together a special performance of a particular piece that I had played when I was at Rutgers, and he asked me if I wanted to come and play. I said, "Sure." Then, I played that concert, and since then, I've been a member of the Alumni Wind Symphony. In fact, I believe, at least at last count, I am the oldest Rutgers graduate in that group, Class of '70. Then, there are people from '71. There was somebody from '72, '73, and then it goes out to the more modern era. It has been very nice to be able to do that because I get to sit next to somebody I sat next to in the Rutgers Wind Ensemble when I was in school. To my other side, there are a couple of my former students from South River who went to Rutgers. There are aspects that go beyond the musical, and so it's nice to be able to reconnect with all of them. As I told you once before, I had a large number of students from South River that went through Rutgers and went through the band. A number of them are in the Alumni Wind Symphony, so that's a nice touch as well.

Of course, we shut down pretty early on in this pandemic because Rutgers closed and that's where we rehearsed. Hopefully, we'll be able to rehearse again when Rutgers reopens, whenever that is, and the same goes for the Hanover Wind Symphony because we rehearse in a school that is now on remote instruction. We're kind of hanging out there until the schools can reopen and will allow us to come in. Both of the groups are large, sixty to seventy players, so obviously to be able to even get together is going to require a number of phases down the road in terms of reopening.

What we have done with Hanover in the pandemic is that every other week, we have a Zoom get-together for the members of the wind symphony. It's been interesting because you sit there in rehearsal with somebody, even for years and years and years, because we have people that have been in the group for thirty-five years, but you sit there in the group with these other people, and you don't always get to know about them and their lives. One of the things that we have been able to talk about in these get-togethers is everyone's experiences and musical influences. What teachers were really important to you, so forth and so on? When did you decide that you wanted to be a musician? Just some simple prompt questions like that. Even though we haven't been able to meet in person and rehearse, we've learned more about each other than we ever knew, and so it's been a very positive experience.

We have a scholarship program in Hanover where we award a scholarship to a senior division student, somebody who's typically getting ready to finish out their high school career, and a junior division student, somebody who's in the middle school. This year, we had auditions scheduled, I think it was April 22nd, so we decided to do them on Zoom because we wanted to be able to award the scholarships. We actually did the auditions on Zoom, and that worked out really well. We selected two good, really deserving winners. One is a tuba player and he's going to solo with us at our next concert, hopefully in October, if we can do it in October. Then, we have our junior division student, who simply gets a cash award to be part of a summer program. But that's been difficult for both of them this year, in terms of being able to find a summer program that's actually able to run. We're trying to be flexible and support them in their musical growth because one of the objectives at Hanover is outreach. We do an outreach high school concert every year. This scholarship program is another way that we can impact individual students to contribute to their development. That's also given me some good things to do in life, which are rewarding.

SI: You have covered a lot of the subjects I wanted to ask about. Is there anything that I missed or anything that you want to add that we did not get a chance to talk about?

WT: Well, it's been an interesting experience because, again, having just entered the "old guard" at Rutgers, as a Class of '70 member, and at this point in life, you get to be kind of reflective anyway. The whole experience of doing these interviews has really encouraged that reflection. I've thought about things over the last couple of weeks while doing these interviews that I haven't thought about for years, and you realize, when you do that, how important some of those things are to your own development and how things turned out for you in life. I really have appreciated the opportunity to do that. I have a love for Rutgers, so aside from everything else, that's certainly part of why I would want to do this. But beyond that, I think it's a way perhaps to give back and use that reflection, and hopefully, at some point along the way, somebody will benefit from my experiences. I do have the highest regard for my education from Rutgers. I'm thankful for the influences that have really impacted my whole life, in terms of my development and how I think and what I've been able to do for others. So, thank you.

SI: Thank you. It has really been a pleasure to record your story. I will conclude this session now. In the future, if you want to add anything to the transcripts or if you have more, I may think of more questions, and if you have more you want to share, we can always do another session.

WT: Okay.

SI: Thank you very much. We really appreciate it.

WT: It's been my pleasure.

SI: Let me end the recording.

WT: Okay.

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Transcribed by Jesse Braddell 7/8/2020
Reviewed by Donald Koger 1/14/2020
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 1/26/2022
Reviewed by William Trusheim 2/10/2022