Bloomfield’s Public School District employs 1,300 staff to serve more than 6,100 students at Bloomfield’s eight elementary schools and middle and high schools.
Approximately 1 in 9 Bloomfield residents are 5 to 18+ with most enrolled in the public school district’s pre-K to grade 12 programs. Nearly half of local property taxes are dedicated to supporting education for children and young adults living in the district. Thousands of voters elect new school board members every year.
But the more we talked to residents about the schools, the more we heard questions about the basics – who’s in charge? How do things work? How are decisions made?
So Bloomfield Info took those questions to the school district to get answers for students, parents, and community members about how the school district functions from the perspectives of some of its administrators.
In this second installment of the series, we interviewed principals at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to give insight into the people with the highest level of day-to-day administrative authority in Bloomfield schools.
Who are the principals at Carteret Elementary and Bloomfield Middle and High schools?
John Baltz is the principal of Carteret Elementary School. He has been working in the Bloomfield District for almost 20 years and was the vice principal of Bloomfield Middle School for eight years. He has been the principal of Carteret Elementary School for the last 12 years.
Alla Vayda Manzo is the principal of Bloomfield Middle School. She has been working for the district for 17 years. She first worked as an English teacher at Bloomfield High School after graduating from college. She was a vice principal at the middle school for two years before becoming principal in 2013.
Christopher Jennings is the principal of Bloomfield High School. He has been the principal of the high school and part of the district since 2007. He previously worked as a teacher and a vice principal in other school districts.
What are the general roles and responsibilities of Bloomfield principals?
All three principals described being responsible for daily operations of the school, cultivating the student experience, and for managing staff.
“You want to develop a vision or a goal for your school, not only for your students, but also for your teachers. You want to try to cultivate leadership in our teachers,” Baltz said. “You want to address academics and always strive to improve instruction and to create and maintain a school community culture.”
The principals are also responsible for establishing new initiatives for the school, being a role model for Middle School students and staff, and making sure all state mandates are followed, Vayda Manzo said.
What are a Bloomfield principal’s day-to-day duties?
A principal’s day-to-day schedule requires forethought, planning, and the ability to be flexible throughout the day, all three principals said.
Baltz, Vayda Manzo, and Jennings all begin their day by greeting students, checking in with teachers, and inspecting the building.
“There are meetings throughout the day [and] observations occur throughout the whole year. So you have to maintain a specific schedule that makes sure you get your required number of observations completed by certain guidelines and deadlines,” Baltz said.
“You’re always looking to create new programs to address academics and school culture. And then there are grade level meetings to discuss instruction, how is it going, if anything is needed, and how can we improve those things.”
Vayda Manzo can connect with the middle school teachers during the first period of the day when teacher team meetings occur.
“That’s a really nice time for me to check in with the team and address any issues that are happening. [We] talk about what’s going well, talk about where some support may be needed,” she said.
Throughout the day, she can schedule meetings with guidance counselors, the child study team, the diversity committee, and with curriculum supervisors weekly, according to Vayda Manzo.
“And then part of this job is just unpredictable. Things happen. So if a parent comes in and has a concern, I may meet with that parent. I may meet with teachers to plan an activity or review something that took place. So the day definitely has some structure. But a lot of things happen that make each day different,” Vayda Manzo said.
Jennings also tries to interact with high school students outside of the classroom regularly.
“On a typical day, it’s very important to me to have informal interactions with our students, and staff, but mostly with our students. Sometimes you see very familiar faces at the same time, same day, but it gives you an opportunity just to stop and say hello, [ask] what’s happening and where are they headed. Sometimes it helps to prevent discipline issues just by being out there, but other times it’s really very entertaining and enjoyable interactions with the kids,” Jennings said.
What’s most misunderstood about the role of a Bloomfield principal?
“A lot of times, [families] feel that we’re going to back the school 100%, regardless of the situation, and that’s not always the case. Our goal is in the best interest of the students. And so a lot of times, they may not agree with our decisions, but we hope that we develop trust with our families,” Baltz said. The decision is not meant to harm anyone or [be] against anyone. It’s meant in the best interest of the building as a whole.”
Vayda Manzo also said her decisions are made with the goal of what is in the best interest of the middle school students. She knows that parents, students, or teachers might not always agree with her decisions, but she is focused on creating a safe and engaging learning environment.
Jennings said that he is ultimately responsible for the operation of the high school but that he works alongside a team of staff and teachers that keep the school running.
“There are many people that help run this operation. This is truly a team effort to keep a school of this size running. At the high school, we have a tremendous office staff of secretaries, and we have school aides, and paraprofessionals, who all have very specific jobs,” Jennings said. “And many of them are from the community. So I think that’s something that people don’t sometimes realize is that there are many layers to this process. And many of our team members live locally.”
What’s most rewarding about being a Bloomfield principal?
According to Baltz, the community and culture that has been built by the staff, students, parents, and caregivers at Carteret is something he wants to ensure will continue.
“I think the culture here is that all of our students, all of our staff can achieve,” Baltz said. “Our expectation is that all students can learn and all students will achieve and grow academically.”
Interacting with students placed at the top of the list of responsibilities for Vayda Manzo and Jennings.
“When I’m having a difficult day…I interact with the students, because that always brings me back to my purpose. So I am most passionate about giving them everything that I can to make these two years positive and to give them opportunities to grow and give them high expectations,” Vayda Manzo said.
Being able to have informal interactions with students and being visible to students adds to the rewards of being a principal, according to Jennings.
“For me, it’s always having informal interactions with students that are positive. You can’t have those if you’re not visible and in the halls, and just touching base with kids and high-fiving kids,” Jennings said.
“Just somebody saying, hello or being able to give an update on something that you spoke about before that’s really the juice of the job. That’s what makes being principal really rewarding and exciting.”
What are some ways Bloomfield parents and caregivers can get involved in the school community?
All three principals highlighted the work of the home and school associations. School HSA’s meet monthly and help organize student activities throughout the year. (Learn more about Bloomfield HSAs here.) School administrators also attend meetings to give updates on what is happening in school and to hear feedback from community members.
“I think being aware and even if you don’t have a child at the middle school and as as a member of the community, just checking out our website and looking at our Twitter feed to see what’s happening in your local middle school is a great way, “ Vayda Manzo said.
Baltz also highlighted the Carteret school website as a resource for community members to stay up to date on what is going on in school.
“We send also emails to the entire school population to our parents…and reach out via phone calls as well,” Baltz said.
Jennings encouraged high school parents and caregivers to regularly check correspondence that is sent home to reinforce the message that is being given at school at home.
“If you’re using the lingo, you’re saying the words that we’re saying in school, or you’re asking about events that happened, when your kid is home, it just helps build that bridge between schools and parents and students,” Jennings said.