Dr. Timothy Purnell, Chief Education Officer, Somerville Public Schools, was selected New Jersey's 2015 candidate for the American Association of School Administrators' (AASA) National Superintendent of the Year Award by the New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA).
NJASA Executive Director Richard G. Bozza said, “Tim Purnell is an excellent role model for all aspiring chief education officers to emulate. He is a results-oriented professional who continually strives to improve the quality of education for all students through his knowledge, experience and enthusiasm.”
The NJASA procedure names three regional – Northern, Central and Southern – Superintendent of the Year winners prior to selection of the State Superintendent of the Year. Purnell was selected the NJASA Central Regional Superintendent of the Year. The two other chief education officers joining Purnell are: Southern Regional winner – Dr. Scott P. McCartney, Chief Education Officer, Egg Harbor Township School District; and Northern Regional winner – Dr. C. Lauren Schoen, Chief Education Officer, Mahwah Township School District.
All the regional Superintendents of the Year were introduced on October 29th at Workshop 2014 in Atlantic City. The workshop was co-sponsored by NJASA, the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials (NJASBO), and the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA).
The 2015 New Jersey Superintendent of the Year serves on the New Jersey State Board of Examiners and the New Jersey State Program Approval Council.
Recently, President Obama invited Purnell to the White House to join a national group of ‘Future Ready’ Chief Education Officers, at ConnectED to the Future. He was part of the President’s pledge to connect 99 percent of students to high speed Internet, and empower teachers with the technology they need to transform teaching and learning. “While honored to attend, my selection was in much part due to the efforts of the Ville staff, Board of Education, and students,” stated Purnell. He credits his success on the strength of his teachers, administrative team and the support provided from the Board of Education.“He is a team builder who is quick to give credit to the person or group that introduced or developed and implemented an idea,” states Somerville Board of Education President Linda Olson.
Purnell has always attempted to stay ConnectED. As a middle school science educator in Montclair in 2001, he applied for a grant entitled Internet Accountability, where parents could log into classes and absent students could attend through a webcam and instant messenger. He submitted his first community blog entry in October 2008 and his first tweet in October 2009. He creates podcasts for the Somerville community on his YouTube channel and his blog received the 2010 Top School District Blog Award. In particular, the district’s budget podcast was highlighted as an innovative approach. Most recently, Purnell launched a “Talk with Tim” initiative to further engage members of his community.
He also launched a new app to help the Somerville school community to keep informed of district happenings. Known as Somerville PS, the district app features customizable news feeds, calendars, lunch menus, and more. It can be downloaded from Google Play or iTunes for free.
The 2015 New Jersey Superintendent of the Year has worked hard to cultivate a positive atmosphere in Somerville. He has conveyed an optimistic approach attempting to shield his staff from any notion of viral negativity. Purnell writes in his blog, “As superintendent, I am ALL IN for our students and ALL IN for the Ville! Parents and staff also made the commitment to and be ALL IN and that set the stage for an academically challenging and developmentally responsive environment for learning for all ages and all aptitudes.” Last year, the district adopted the theme from Gian Paul Gonzalez and highlighted a 6th grade student as the keynote speaker for the opening day in-service with the faculty. Purnell recently established #allin4theVille awards to recognize staff members for being ALL IN.
Under his local leadership since 2011, Somerville student achievement has increased. Through a program called Assess, Analyze and Achieve, the district used data to target student instruction and educator professional development opportunities. The program earned Somerville a national recognition as 1-of-49 school districts to receive a District of Distinction in the inaugural round of awards by District Administration Magazine.
“He assures that the full spectrum of abilities is addressed by assuring that our curriculum is challenging and that our teaching staff has professional development opportunities that enhance their ability to bring out the best in their students. We are seeing growth in test scores throughout our schools,” states Somerville Board of Education President Linda Olson.
Purnell believes that partnerships are essential in education. In a partnership with Raritan Valley Community College, the district recently launched an Academy of Liberal Arts program where students can graduate high school with an Associates degree and a Workforce Skill Development and Employability Program for at-risk students. The district also partnered with AT&T to fund a Young Science Achievers Program for at-risk students and created a transitional program for classified 11th and 12th graders that includes job skills training, coaching, and shadowing.
Somerville is the place for best practices in the classroom, and it’s only fitting that the district hosted the Kindergarten Summit. Surrounding preschool providers (including Somerville preschool educators) are invited annually to visit district Kindergarten classrooms for a day of articulating, highlighting best practices, and sharing Kindergarten expectations. Somerville also offered a free Student Achievement and Data Summit for educators, administrators, and Board members statewide. The Summit included a wide variety of engaging workshops that even included a student presentation.
Purnell brought a team of administrators to Massachusetts and published his findings in a recent national syndicate. “Our visit to Massachusetts encouraged us to view education through a different lens. Too often we become blinded by the system and trapped in the box that we, in a sense, have created,” he said. “In our opinion, Massachusetts is a petri dish full of ‘best practice’ ideas in which we only scratched the surface. Do not work in isolation, or your system will become stale to change.”
Prior to his post in Somerville, he served as the chief education officer in Harding Township, New Jersey for three years. He also served as a middle school principal, elementary vice principal and science teacher.
Purnell received his Bachelors in Arts in 1997 from the University of Delaware with a concentration in Biology. He received his Masters in Administration and Supervision in 2002 from Montclair State University and his Doctorate from Seton Hall University in 2008. His research, entitled No Transient Child Left Behind, studied the link between student transience and standardized test scores on a global and local level.
The 2015 New Jersey Superintendent of the Year has served as an adjunct professor at Montclair State University since 2002. He had the unique opportunity of being able to develop and implement the University’s Mental Health Issues in the Schools curriculum. Purnell has served as a workshop and keynote presenter for various organizations and companies. His backpack research, in cooperation with Dr. Mark Kaelin from Montclair State University, was featured in the New York Times and Star Ledger.
Purnell’s strength lies in strategic planning. The district launched a District Dashboard, a one-page graphical representation of the Board’s strategic plan. The Dashboard serves as a scorecard to communicate progress towards building goals, as measured in Purpose-Driven Walkthroughs. The Purpose-Driven Walkthroughs provide quick, statistical measures that assist building leaders in measuring the effectiveness of their building goals. Former Somerville Board of Education President Al Kerestes states, “Tim is a true visionary. Through a thorough and collaborative strategic planning process Tim consistently demonstrates abilities to establish pathways forward.”
Currently, Purnell is serving in his second year as President of the Somerset County Association of School Administrators. A committee of NJASA Past Presidents selected Purnell to represent New Jersey in the 2015 National Superintendent of the Year Program. The national award, established in 1988 and sponsored by ARAMARK Education, VALIC, and AASA, is open to all public school superintendents in the United States and overseas.
The selection qualifications for the State and National Superintendent of the Year include: meeting the needs of their students, demonstrated communication strength, a commitment to professional development and growth, and significant community involvement. Additionally, at the state and regional levels, NJASA has an additional qualification that addresses service with the county affiliate and NJASA.
AASA will announce the National Superintendent of the Year at its Annual Conference on Education in February 2015. The recipient of this prestigious honor will receive a $10,000 college scholarship for a student at the high school where the superintendent graduated.
Purnell, recently inducted into his high school Hall of Fame, lives with his wife, Alexandra, and three children in Madison, NJ. He loves playing the drums and spending time with his family. Movie night at the Purnell household involves Chinese food and the latest family feature film.