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Pendergrast stepping down as Morris School District superintendent

 

Mackey Pendergrast, New Jersey’s top superintendent of schools last year, on Monday announced he will retire from the Morris School District in November.

“It’s been a great six years  It’s just time for me to move forward,” Pendergrast told Morristown Green.

His cautious approach to the pandemic, with frequent home quarantines of students and periodic shutdowns of schools, was praised by many parents but pilloried by others, who have grown increasingly vocal.

Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast addresses virtual Morris School District board meeting, Sept. 14, 2020. Screen shot by Kevin Coughlin

Pendergrast said the turbulence is not why he’s stepping down from the $219,000 job.

“It’s been a wonderful, great experience in the Morris School District. I have no other feelings than tremendous gratitude,” he said.

Pendergrast submitted his resignation at a school board retreat Monday night.

“Despite the inevitable sadness and sense of loss we will feel at Mackey’s departure, he has established an enduring legacy for the Morris School District through the programs, policies, and systems he worked so hard to implement,” board President Melissa Spiotta said in a statement.

“Most significantly, he created a mindset here that will enable us to weather the transition and maintain our great successes.  But we will miss his brilliant mind, magnanimous spirit, and witty humor for sure,” she said.

In a message to the school community, Pendergrast called it the highlight of his 33-year career to lead this diverse district, which serves 5,700 students from Morristown, Morris Township and Morris Plains.

“While I look forward to the new opportunities in my professional future, this moment is certainly bittersweet,” he wrote.

Morris School District Supt. Mackey Pendergrast addresses Morristown High 2019 commencement. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Pendergrast thanked the community for helping prepare students to “live principled and productive lives, and … contribute meaningfully to a sound democracy rooted in the ideals that their education has fostered.  Thank you for joining me in this noble endeavor.  Every day has been an inspiration.”

This year is the 50th anniversary of the historic state Supreme Court ruling that created the district. Integrated schools are “critical for a student’s education, critical for strong schools, and critical for a strong community,” Pendergrast said last month at the dedication of a statue honoring an architect of that merger.

Pendergrast has taught history and coached basketball at Summit High School, worked as a guidance counselor and administrator, and served as superintendent of the West Morris Mendham Regional High School District.

He said he plans “on being in education for a long time,” but declined to elaborate, telling Morristown Green he’s focusing on ensuring the Morris School District “gets off to a great start” next month.

Since Pendergrast’s arrival in Morristown in 2015, the 10-school district has seen a dramatic expansion of its preschool program.  The district also cited improved reading, writing, and math scores in the elementary and middle schools; increases in honors and Advanced Placement enrollment; and new STEM programs and sports including girls flag football and girls ice hockey.

Pendergrast’s challenges during the pandemic included hundreds of COVID-19 cases, and providing technology for many families without internet access or computers for virtual classes.

Trenton and Washington were not very helpful, he said on The Morristown Green Podcast.

“We just decided early on, we have to figure this out on our own…we couldn’t really depend on the state or the federal government for too much guidance,” he said.

Now, with the delta strain on the rise and mask mandates sparking debate, someone else will have to figure things out for the Morris School District.

STATEMENT FROM THE MORRIS SCHOOL DISTRICT:

Mackey Pendergrast Steps Down as Superintendent
of the Morris School District,

Retires From NJ Public Education

August 9, 2021–Morristown, NJ.  The Morris School District announces that Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast has decided to step down from his position and will be leaving the district on November 7, 2021, after more than six years as its educational leader.

During his tenure, he embarked on a number of bold, far-reaching initiatives in technology integration and blended learning; reading and writing, STEM, and bilingual education; data interoperability; equity and inclusion; preschool expansion; communications and community relations; social-emotional learning; and health, wellness, and safety.

As a result of these initiatives, the MSD has seen significant and sustained growth in student achievement and in student participation, both academically and in co- and extracurricular programs.  Among the district’s accomplishments over the past several years are:

  • New innovation wing at Morristown High School, with state-of-the-art learning spaces, including an advanced design technology architecture
  • Dramatic improvement in reading, writing, and math scores in the elementary and middle schools
  • Significant increase in honors and AP enrollment, more than doubling the number of AP exams taken while test scores remained constant
  • Elimination of graduation gaps among all demographic subgroups for students in the district for three or more years
  • Increase in the percentage of students admitted to “most competitive” and “highly competitive” colleges
  • Addition of a wide range of new co-curricular, extracurricular, and athletic programming, including Rocketry Club, Girls Flag Football, Girls Ice Hockey, Boys Volleyball, Sign Language Club, Mock Trial Team, among many others
  • Flourishing of new programs in STEM–from coding in Kindergarten to Integrated Robotics at FMS to Cybersecurity at MHS
  • Historic preschool expansion:  90% of all 3- and 4- year-olds in Morristown and Morris Township now have access to free high-quality preschool through the MSD
  • Innovative “Learner Positioning System” to holistically identify and support students’ individual needs
  • Comprehensive wellness and social-emotional learning initiatives at all levels, including growth mindset and mindfulness

Based on the pervasive success of the district’s cohesive vision for learning and multi-strategy approach to student achievement and wellness, the Morris School District has gained regional and national attention throughout education circles, particularly at the intersection of equity, data, and technology.

For example, the MSD was admitted to the highly selective League of Innovative Schools in 2016, the only district in Morris County to hold this distinction.  Mr. Pendergrast was asked to join 9 superintendents from across the nation to present at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in 2019 for a showcase on how successful school districts have addressed the equity gap and positively impacted the lives of marginalized students.

Mr. Pendergrast was named New Jersey’s Superintendent of the Year for 2020 by the NJ Association of School Administrators.

Pendergrast began his career in public education as a high school history teacher and basketball coach before moving to guidance counseling and then administration.  He was Director of Staff Development in the West Morris Regional High School District for six years, then became that district’s Superintendent for four years.

In 2015, Pendergrast landed his dream job:  Superintendent of the Morris School District.  He recalls having told his wife that an opening for chief school administrator in the Morris School District would be the opportunity of a lifetime, the chance to apply his leadership skills and investment in public education in a historically diverse community that shared his values.

He also saw it as an inimitable learning opportunity, both personally and professionally:  “I knew I wanted to be in a place with a culture of collaboration that was driven by values and the pursuit of significance, where a group of dedicated professionals would grapple with tough and important questions, elevate each other through rich dialogue, and grow together in our exploration of ambitious shared goals and enduring ideals,” he reflected.

“John F. Kennedy wrote something that has always rung true for me:  ‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.’  I have learned from and enjoyed immensely the partnerships I have had with my Central Office colleagues, building administrators, faculty and staff, students and families, the Board of Education, the Morris Educational Foundation, and our community leaders.  I can think of only one word that really captures my experience here in the Morris School District:  beautiful.  I am extraordinarily grateful.”

Pendergrast formally resigned to the Board of Education Monday evening and notified the district community in a letter sent shortly thereafter, the contents of which appear below.

Board of Education President Melissa Spiotta said, “Despite the inevitable sadness and sense of loss we will feel at Mackey’s departure, he has established an enduring legacy for the Morris School District through the programs, policies, and systems he worked so hard to implement.

“Most significantly, he created a mindset here that will enable us to weather the transition and maintain our great successes.  But we will miss his brilliant mind, magnanimous spirit, and witty humor for sure.”

MACKEY PENDERGRAST LETTER TO THE COMMUNITY:

Important Announcement From the Superintendent

Aug. 9, 2021

Dear Morris School District Community:

Having spent most of my life in schools, the start of fall always signals to me a new beginning.  Rather than lament the end of summer, I try to focus on the exciting potential each school year will bring.  For me, this includes welcoming new teachers at orientation, delivering the annual convocation for our entire staff, finalizing with our administrators and Board of Education the District’s priorities for the year, and, of course, helping my own children get off to a great start.  It is a time to “level set,” regain our bearings, and stretch ourselves as we confront new opportunities and experiences with fresh minds.

This September marks the seventh academic year that I have had the privilege of leading the Morris School District as Superintendent, and it will be my last “new beginning” in this role.  Today I informed the MSD Board of Education that I am leaving my position as Superintendent, effective Nov. 7, 2021, and retiring from NJ public education. I want to thank the Board for guiding our district with integrity, principle, and honesty over the last six years.  It has been a wonderful partnership.

While I look forward to the new opportunities in my professional future, this moment is certainly bittersweet.  Serving the Morris School District has been the highlight of my career in public education, and I will miss working for and with this beautiful community.  I am extraordinarily grateful for your partnership and support as we have pursued the most important of missions:  establishing a strong and healthy community so that our students will thrive in our schools and in their futures, will be prepared to live principled and productive lives, and will be able to contribute meaningfully to a sound democracy rooted in the ideals that their education has fostered.  Thank you for joining me in this noble endeavor.  Every day has been an inspiration.

I will continue to dedicate myself fully to ensuring a successful start to the new school year, and I look forward to the excitement of another September.

I am honored to have been your Superintendent.

Sincerely,

Mackey Pendergrast
Superintendent of Schools

IN SPANISH:

Anuncio importante del superintendente

9 de agosto de 2021

Estimada comunidad del Distrito Escolar de Morris:

Habiendo pasado la mayor parte de mi vida en las escuelas, el principio del otoño siempre me indica un nuevo comienzo. En lugar de lamentar el final del verano, trato de concentrarme en el potencial emocionante que traerá cada año escolar. Para mí, esto incluye dar la bienvenida a los nuevos maestros en la orientación, realizar la convocatoria anual para todo nuestro personal, finalizar con nuestros administradores y la Junta de Educación las prioridades del distrito para el año que viene, y, por supuesto, ayudar a mis propios hijos a tener un gran comienzo. Es el momento de reunirse,  recuperar nuestro rumbo y esforzarnos mientras enfrentamos nuevas oportunidades y experiencias con mentes frescas.

Este septiembre marca el séptimo año académico en el que he tenido el privilegio de liderar el Distrito Escolar de Morris como Superintendente, y será mi último “nuevo comienzo” en este puesto. Hoy informé a la Junta de Educación de MSD que dejaré mi puesto como Superintendente, a partir del 7 de noviembre de 2021, y me retiraré de la educación pública en Nueva Jersey. Quiero agradecer a la Junta por guiar al distrito con integridad, principios y honestidad durante los últimos seis años. Ha sido una asociación maravillosa.

Si bien espero con ansias las nuevas oportunidades en mi futuro profesional, este momento es ciertamente agridulce. Servir al Distrito Escolar de Morris ha sido lo más destacado de mi carrera en la educación pública, y extrañaré trabajar para y con esta comunidad muy especial. Estoy extraordinariamente agradecido por su asociación y apoyo mientras hemos perseguido la misión más importante: establecer una comunidad fuerte y saludable para que nuestros estudiantes prosperen en nuestras escuelas y en su futuro, estén preparados para vivir vidas productivas y de principios, y podrán contribuir de manera significativa a una democracia sólida arraigada en los ideales que ha fomentado su educación. Gracias por acompañarme en este noble esfuerzo. Cada día ha sido una inspiración.

Continuaré dedicándome plenamente a asegurar un comienzo exitoso del nuevo año escolar y espero con ansias la emoción de otro septiembre.

Me siento honrado de haber sido su superintendente.

Atentamente,

Mackey Pendergrast
Superintendente de escuelas

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

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