Toledoan named New Jersey director of education evaluationWritten by Brian Bohnert | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ever since starting kindergarten at 5 years old, Tim Matheney has always had a place inside a school building. But that’s about to change this summer.
In July, the 45-year-old Toledo native will leave his position as principal to nearly 3,000 high school students to become the new director of educator evaluation for the State of New Jersey.
Matheney will lead a statewide initiative for the research and evaluation of teachers in the state. He said New Jersey is one of about a dozen states seriously looking at “educator evaluation reform.”
“We want to build a system of evaluation that accurately reflects how teachers contribute to the education process,” Matheney said. “We want to highlight those teachers who are doing great work and we want to identify those who are not as successful. We then want to identify ways to intervene with less successful teachers to provide better education.”
Matheney recently served on a state advisory committee on teacher evaluation. After a few months of planning the initiative, he was offered the job during the second semester.
Matheney called the new initiative “one of the most important education policies in the nation” and said he and his staff will work hard to assist every district in the state.
“This initiative has been moving forward for about a year and we completed a first pilot year this year,” he said. “We had a number of systems implementing new systems of evaluation. A second year of pilots will begin during the 2012-13 year and we hope to learn more from those districts so we can implement a statewide system well into the 2013-14 school year.”
Matheney’s new staff will be in charge of supporting local school districts. He plans to spend 20 percent of his time in local schools with the first visit planned for July, he said.
“I’m going to be involved in a visit to the Newark Public School System in July and I’m sure it’s the first of a number of local district visits over the summer and more importantly in the fall,” he said.
Education through practice
For the past eight years, the St. John’s Jesuit High School alumnus has been the principal of South Brunswick High School in Monmouth Junction, N.J. In his time at the school, Matheney has strived to create “the most ideal environments for academic excellence” through positive reinforcement, extensive research and high standards, he said.
Matheney said he connects his philosophy of high-level academics coupled with high expectations to his days as both a student and a teacher at St. John’s.
“At South Brunswick, we hold high expectations for ourselves and our students,” he said. “That’s connected to my experiences at St. John’s. I believe even though this is a very comprehensive public school, it is very possible to have high expectations for behavior as well as education.”
He also said his parents played a large role in his personal and professional development.
“My father, Dean, was an employee of the Toledo Public Schools system for many years. My mother, Betty, was a reading aide in a Title I program where she worked to help students in learning to read,” he said. “Clearly my parents stressed the value of education in my life. They were great role models in that they dedicated their careers to public service in education.”
April Gonzalez, supervisor of English and social studies at South Brunswick, said Matheney’s high expectations motivate the students and administrators.
“He has inspired us to be the best we can be and I say ‘us’ meaning his administrative team, teachers and students,” Gonzalez said. “He has high expectations and I think that is a good thing. He definitely has a way of motivating us to think outside the box.”
Those new ways of thinking have played major roles in the creation of many successful programs like the South Brunswick School Summit, a retreat where all teachers and administrators meet to discuss goals for the year to come, she said.
“Some really unique programs have been developed,” Gonzalez said. “One is called Project Success, a 12-week program from January to March where, at some point during the school day, we take students and they receive extra support for the high school proficiency assessment. It’s a 12-week intense study and practice session in taking the exam.”
Because of the program, students taking the language arts test had a 97 percent passing rate this past year, she said.
As principal of a large school, Matheney said it is very important to not only challenge the students academically, but to challenge them to be the best people they can be. South Brunswick operates under five core values: honesty, kindness, respect, responsibility and service.
In 2011, South Brunswick received a National School of Character Award from the Character Education Partnership out of Washington, D.C.
“We work hard every day to provide a great education for students academically and through building character,” Matheney said. “Outside awards are nice but I care more about the end product of our work and I am very proud of our students. I think they’re well prepared for college and their work in the future.”
Matheney graduated from Princeton University in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in history. While many graduates from the prestigious school often pursue careers in equally prestigious fields like business, medicine or law, Matheney said he was proud to go against the grain.
“When you’re a student at Princeton there are expectations that you pursue a career in business administration or law or something like that,” he said. “To make the decision to become a teacher separates you from the majority of other students who are pursuing more traditional paths of a Princeton graduate. But I was OK with that.”
Matheney currently lives in the Princeton area.
Looking back on the past eight years at South Brunswick, Matheney said the one thing he will miss the most will be the relationships he has had with his students.
“Being a principal is full of great moments. Every year has 1,000 moments that are memorable,” he said. “One thing I take great pride in is you can take a walk through my building at any time and you see classroom doors open, teachers teaching and students learning. I’ve had visitors come in and say this feels like a school of 200 students. It is so quiet and so obvious that students are learning every day. I can point to certain awards, but the relationships between students and teachers are the most important things.”