The New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA) has chosen Mackey Pendergrast, Superintendent of the Morris School District, for New Jersey’s 2020 Superintendent of the Year. Mr. Pendergrast will now represent the State as a candidate for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) National Superintendent of the Year Award, which recognizes the talent, vision, and impact of our nation’s public school leaders.
He was named Morris County Superintendent of the Year in June and Region I Superintendent of the Year for North Jersey in September. The other regional honorees included the Region II winner, Dr. David Aderhold, Chief Education Officer, West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District; and Region III winner, David Trethaway, Chief Education Officer, Manchester Township School District. NJASA introduced the three Regional Superintendents of the Year at the Annual Fall Workshop in Atlantic City. Thousands of school board representatives and district administrators attended the Workshop, which is co-sponsored by NJASA, the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials (NJASBO) and the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA).
Pendergrast will be formally acknowledged as the 2020 State Superintendent of the Year by the New Jersey State Board of Education at their Annual Recognition Ceremony held at the Department of Education’s headquarters in Trenton on December 4.
In order to pay tribute to the outstanding educational leaders from each state, AASA will honor each state representative and select a National Superintendent of the Year at their Annual Conference in February, 2020. This prestigious program, now in its 33rd year, is sponsored by First Student, AIG Retirement Services and AASA.
NJASA Executive Director Dr. Richard G. Bozza said, “Mackey 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.”
This distinction comes at the start of Pendergrast’s fifth year as superintendent of the Morris School District and his ninth year overall as a superintendent. He began his public school teaching career as a high school history teacher and varsity basketball coach for the Summit Public Schools and held positions in central office administration for the Westfield Public School District and the West Morris Regional High School District before becoming superintendent of West Morris in 2011.
Board of Education President Lisa Pollak and Vice President Nancy Bangiola said they were “absolutely thrilled but hardly surprised” by their superintendent’s recent accolades, including the state’s top honors. “We hired Mackey to lead the Morris School District because of his strong record of innovation and proven ability to translate creative ideas into concrete action and results for students,” said Pollak. Bangiola added, “And we knew immediately that his forward-thinking vision for learning would redound to the benefit of each student in the Morris School District. He promised this to us, and he has delivered far beyond what we ever could have imagined.”
Indeed, under Pendergrast’s leadership the District has seen remarkable growth in student performance, for which it was recently selected to participate in the Equity and Excellence: Innovation in American Public Education showcase at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Reading and writing test scores at Frelinghuysen Middle School have improved dramatically across all grades and demographic subgroups, in some cases tripling over the past four years. Participation in honors-level and AP classes has also risen steadily; the number of AP exams passed by students at Morristown High School has more than doubled since 2015. MHS also had the greatest number of students in Morris County enrolled in BC Calculus and Physics C (the highest level math and science courses offered). Pendergrast notes that these impressive shifts in student achievement reflect “greater access to exceptional opportunities for more and more of our students to engage their intellectual curiosity and pursue their passions–which means they graduate from our district with better preparation for their futures.”
Other highlights of Pendergrast’s tenure in the Morris School District include a flourishing of new programs in STEM, Computer Science and the arts; a preschool expansion of historic proportions; as well as comprehensive district-wide initiatives in Social-Emotional learning, equity and inclusion, communications and community relations, and student health, wellness and safety.
Pendergrast is widely known among colleagues as a leader in sensible and targeted digital learning. In 2014, along with 11 other superintendents, he contributed to the Obama administration’s National Education Technology Plan and was part of a consortium of exemplary superintendents invited to the White House to launch the Future-Ready initiative. Pendergrast firmly maintains that the right kind of technology integration will empower students and teachers and revolutionize learning outcomes. Along these lines, the Morris School District has provided universal Wi-Fi to all students in the district who need it, operationalized a one-to-one chromebook program for grades 6-12, and implemented “blended learning” methodologies, which integrate the best of digital and face-to-face learning in the classroom.
Pendergrast refers to his post in the Morris School District as his “dream job”: “I love turning left off my street every morning and driving into Morristown to work with an amazing group of educators. It is so gratifying to know that our collective successes are being recognized and celebrated; we all have so much to be proud of.”
“Ben Franklin once said the rooster takes credit for the sun rising,” Pendergrast quoted. “And I must admit, I’m feeling a little like the rooster. This honor is really a testament to the entire Morris School District community and a validation of who we are and what we stand for: a healthy, thriving community deeply invested in providing an exceptional education for each child. It has been wonderful to partner with a cohesive, collaborative, values-driven Board of Education. As superintendent of the Morris School District, I have been blessed with an extremely committed, extremely talented cohort of teachers, counselors, and administrators. I am incredibly grateful to all of them, and to the parents, the Morris Educational Foundation, and our many community partners who support and strengthen the essential work we do of preparing our students for lifelong success.”
For Pendergrast, the Superintendent of the Year award is a two-fold honor: “What an immeasurably rewarding experience it has been for me to be part of the Morris School District’s unique ‘community of communities’ and to see it ascend. And to have the privilege of representing an ascending state, also a unique ‘community of communities’ that is at the forefront of high-quality innovation in public education, is an especially profound honor.”