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Q&A with Moorestown's New Superintendent, Part II

In the second part of our interview with Superintendent Brian Betze, he talks about having a thick skin and how his first day in Moorestown was better than his first day as a teacher.

Yesterday, , in which he talked about the challenges of leading a larger district, why it's important for the superintendent to interact with the community, and what he'd like to improve about the school district.

In Part 2 of our interview, Betze discusses why he became an educator, how he handles criticism, and how his first day as Moorestown superintendent compared to his first day as a teacher. 

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Q. There was some negative reaction to on Patch. Is that just something that’s to be expected? And how do you counteract that?
A. I was a little surprised by (the reaction). I was in bed and my wife was reading it and she said, “Oh look, someone commented on Patch.” I said, “Oh, read it to me.” And she read it to me and I almost fell out of bed. You need to have tough skin in this profession. I expect it coming at me. That’s fine. What hurt was people attacking Berlin. That’s just not fair. The people in Berlin are exceptional. Salt-of-the-earth, incredibly supportive of schools, as they are here in Moorestown. So that’s what I found offensive. Don’t attack people who can’t defend themselves. Come at me, that’s fine, and I’ll change your mind, because we’ll show success here and hopefully people will meet me and they’ll see that they’re wrong in their comments … What’s frustrating is there was a lot of supposed facts thrown out there. And when you look at those facts, they’re not accurate. The one was, nearly 12 percent of the students in Berlin Township go to private high schools. Possibly. But we weren’t a high school district. So if you take that population out, kids that were leaving our district, it was like 4 percent. If you look at the data, 10 percent of Moorestown goes to private schools.

Q. In your mind, what is the job of a superintendent? 
A. The job is to be the face of the school district. To stand for the highest level of educational excellence possible, and not to veer from that. And sometimes that’s hard. If I’m not invested and if I don’t have the students best interests in mind and I’m the leader of the district, why should a teacher or administrator have that? … Of all the things—filing reports, and doing observations, looking at data, all that stuff—is meaningless unless you really hold yourself up there as: This is what this district is about. It’s about kids. It’s about quality instruction. And I’m going to do whatever I can to foster it and have that grow within our district. That’s I think the main idea of being a leader, of probably any organization—but particularly school districts.

Q. There was a public meeting, during the superintendent search, . And one of the things that kept coming up was they wanted to hire someone who had experience in education, who’d been a teacher. How important do you think that is?
A. It’s incredibly important. When I stand with teachers and ask them to do something within their classrooms, I’m not going to ask them to do anything I wouldn’t have done in my classroom. There’s a lot of validity when you’re up there talking to educators about education and you are an educator yourself. And I try to pride myself on not forgetting that I still am a teacher, and what it was like to be a teacher. It’s an incredibly difficult job. There’s so much to balance within one classroom. A lot of people don’t realize how difficult it is. And having that empathy, because I was a teacher, really pays off in the end.

Q. What drew you to education in the first place?
A. I grew up in a probably lower middle class family. Both my parents were blue-collar workers. They were big union people. And my father, who never graduated high school—he dropped out of high school because he had to go back to work because his father was killed on the railroad—he was the one who pushed education. “That makes a difference. You can change your life with education” … That’s where it came from. It came from my dad. I keep that in the forefront of everything I do, every single day, with kids. Just walking into a classroom and talking to a student could change their life, could change their level of motivation, could change why they want to come to school. And that’s a heavy responsibility we all have as educators. And we have to take that very seriously.

Q. How long were you a classroom teacher before you moved into an administrative position?
A. About 11 years.

Q. Did you ever consider being an artist as an alternative to teaching?
A. I thought about it. It would’ve been fun to be an animator for Disney, or something like that. I still do art. I still create. And I think it’s important for everyone to continue to create throughout their lives.

Q. What pulled you out of the classroom to being an administrator?
A. It was simply a strong, passionate desire to help more kids at once.

Q. Since you haven’t been a classroom teacher for close to 15 years, is that part of what drives that desire to meet all the kids, to be in the classroom, so you don’t ever get to a point where you forget what that’s like?
A. That’s exactly it. I still coach my children’s soccer teams, just to get back to some type of education. You don’t want to lose touch with that.

Q. Do you ever think, maybe at the end of a particularly rough day, “Maybe I should just go back to being a teacher”?
A. The best thing about this profession, regardless of what your position is, you can have an awful, awful day—the next day comes and that day’s going to be completely different than the one before. Every day’s different. You have that responsibility to help all kids … And that keeps me coming back. So I’ve never really thought, “Oh, it would be nice to go back to teaching.” You know what, teaching is a difficult thing to do. In some ways, this is an easier job. You have more responsibilities, but to be in a classroom, to address the different needs of the different learners, it’s a balancing act, and it’s not easy to do.

Q. Have there been any parallels between starting this job and your first day as a teacher?
A. My first day as a teacher I’ll always remember, because two things happened. I had a student pass out. She was sitting at the table. Head hit the desk, fell on the floor, completely out of it. And I’m 21 years old, going, “What do I do?” And later that day—we had wooden benches, stools, in our room—and I sat on the stool, and it completely shattered. With all the students around. So starting in Moorestown was better than that.

Q. Why did the girl pass out?
A. She actually had some kind of heart ailment, that everybody knew about except for me. All the kids said, “Oh, she’ll be fine.” I was like, “Really? She’s passed out. She’s white.” But she was fine. She came back the next day.

Q. Are you excited for school to finally start? Are you anxious? Or are you enjoying being able to line your ducks up?
A. It’s definitely helpful to be able to line your ducks up, to be able to cross your Ts and dot your Is. But the thing about this profession is you can be as organized and ready as you want and something’s going to happen that first day that’s going to throw everything off. But yeah, I’m anxious to meet the staff. I’m really anxious to get to see what they’re doing in the classrooms. And I’m anxious to see the kids.

Q. Have you been able to enjoy your summer at all, while also getting ready for the start of the school year?
A. You have to or you’re gonna be fried come September. Yeah, the family went to Mexico, and Hershey Park later in the summer. It’s been a nice, somewhat relaxing summer. But I like the challenge here … It’s a great opportunity to be challenged, and that kind of relaxes me.

Q. Has there been anything about the new job that’s surprised you?
A. I don’t know that it surprised me, but everyone that I’ve met has been extremely helpful, and just the friendliest people. And it’s just really nice to see that. Nowadays you kind of don’t expect that. But here, everyone’s been terrific … I’m out getting my watch fixed on Main Street and the gentleman there was absolutely just terrific. Telling me about the town, the history, that kind of thing. The pretzel store. Talking to people in there. And then of course, around the district as well.

Pete August 11, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Not one interview question or comment about how to run a fiscally sound education system. How does he plan on maintaining good education with an affordable tax burden? I’m very disappointed that neither he nor Patch broached these issues.
Rob Scott (Editor) August 11, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Pete, It's a good question, no doubt. And there are probably a hundred others I could have asked as well. I'm not making excuses, but due to time (and space) constraints, I limited myself to these questions. Perhaps I should have solicited questions from readers. Unfortunately, hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. Next time maybe.
Pete August 12, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Rob, I could give a rats behind about his union heritage (we know whose side he’ll be on), arts background and all the other fluff. I expect that the 2013 Spring Musical, or whatever it’s called, will be expanded and budget will increase well beyond the $65,000 spent mostly on teacher’s stipends in recent years. What is important is that our kids get a quality education and a basis for their future as adults at a cost that is affordable to the taxpayers. You could certainly ask for another interview…………..
Greg Harr August 13, 2012 at 12:12 AM
The cost to the district/taxpayer for the 2013 Spring Musical as of the last negotiated contract is $29,210. This covers the work of ten adult staff members with well over a hundred students for almost four months. Money for all other expenditures is self-generated and unrelated to the district budget. Greg Harr Social Studies Teacher, Fall Play & Spring Musical Director Moorestown High School gharr@mtps.com
bobby jones September 14, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Brian, you do remember when you crossed the line, I do, will you tell the truth or should I??

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