School Super Goger Leaving With Strong Legacy
Friday is last day for top schools administrator who was on watch during new school construction, major budget cuts and 9/11.
Retiring Schools Superintendent in Bernards Township, Valerie Goger, remains busy this week with such duties as completing end-of-year school reports.
Even so, following thirteen and a half years in the Bernards school district's top administrative position, Goger already has been wrapping things up since seemingly out of the blue announcing her retirement plans last October.
She's already had her retirement party, and was home on Monday night instead of at a special meeting of the Board of Education listening to details of a complex plan, with multiple options, to relieve morning traffic jams at Ridge High School.
Last graduation ceremony, for class that was in kindergarten when she became superintendent
The superintendent joined the school district as a business administrator in 1995 and was promoted first to interim superintendent in 1998. She will be replaced by another school business administrator to come up through the ranks, Nick Markarian, who will become schools superintendent on July 1.
But asked for the main impression that Goger leaves with him after several years of working as a team, Markarian, the soon-to-be former business administrator, didn't mention numbers when talking about Goger, another previous business administrator.
"Dr. Goger has always been an excellent example to me of patience and compassion," Markarian said in an email on Tuesday.
Last Friday, Goger attended her last Ridge High School graduation as superintendent. At the ceremony, she certified the Class of 2012 as Ridge graduates for having completed the requirements at what is sometimes cited as one of the top comprehensive high schools in the nation.
Still, Goger declined to make any sort of a speech at her last public ceremony, other than to note that she and the Class of 2012 had spent their entire school careers together since those students were kindergarten during her first year on the job.
Asked ahead of time why she wasn't planning to make at least some brief comments about her retirement at that final graduation, Goger said, "It's their [students'] night." She added that many students and parents may even be unaware of who is in the role of school superintendent.
But if Goger might be expected to leave her desk quietly on Friday, there are signs everywhere throughout the school district of her decisions and her legacy, and that of Assistant Superintendent Regina Rudolph, who also retired effective June 30. Rudolph, hired by Goger, is on vacation this week, and so already is no longer in her job.
She was cited by board members at her last meeting — and she herself points to — the establishment of an district-run before and afterschool care program at all four elementary schools, and also at the William Annin Middle School, that is staffed by teachers.
Goger said she herself knows what it's like to be a working mother, and she wanted a program where students could receive homework help from trained teachers, and then return home for a "peaceful" end of day with their families.
The quality of the district's teachers was another achievement mentioned when Goger completed her last Board of Education meeting earlier this month, and received a standing ovation from school board members.
As top administrators, Goger and her assistant superintendent ultimately were responsible for the hiring, training and placement of the staff and faculty that are the implementers of education at the district's six schools.
"I am very proud that we have gotten the right people on the bus, and we have gotten them in the right seats," Goger said of both teachers and administrators in the school system.
That responsibility alone was a more monumental task than most residents may realize.
At the end of the last decade, with the opening of the Mount Prospect Elementary School in The Hills, the school administrators hired 120 new teachers, and filled 110 total new positions to staff the district's fourth elementary school, Goger recalled.
"It's tough to bring that many people into any work force," she observed.
Even without a new school opening this year, the administrators had to hire 86 people for the following school year, Goger said, to reflect not only some additional teaching positions added to lower class sizes, but also to fill spots left vacant by other retirements, maternity leaves, resignation and a death.
She said she believes Markarian "could not be better positioned" to now fill the role of superintendent.
Overall, Goger said, her biggest challenge was handling growth in the district, with construction of The Hills development feeding thousands of new children into the school system.
There have been other challenges. School funding wavered and stayed flat for many years until 2010 — when school officials were told by the state and then-new Gov. Chris Christie that state aid to the school district would be cut to just under $900,000, an 82 percent reduction from the previous year, for 2010-11. Then, after voters rejected the resulting school budget at the polls, the school system's budget had to absorb another $800,000 reduction in spending that the Township Committee imposed to reflect that defeat. Even so, school officials managed to come up with a final budget for the following year that spared major programs.
But even after that save, Goger was one of the school officials to face fire the following year, when school officials decided to cut such major programs as full-day kindergarten and reduce the nine-period day at Ridge for 2011-12, fearing that state aid would remain at the same lowered level, or might even be less, during austere times at the state level.
An unanticipated increase in state aid saved the day for both programs, but not before a parents' group had raised more than $400,000 in local donations to save the full-day kindergarten program. The money later was returned.
During that time, Goger's salary of just over $200,000 was questioned by some residents, in a time when the district seemed to be looking everywhere for cuts. Even so, she signed another three-year pact with the Board of Education in fall 2010, although she will not complete that contract. Her salary, even with givebacks, remained slightly over $200,000 for leading the school district, which had just over 5,600 students as of the beginning of this last school year.
Goger was in another tough spot — not at all expected, or of her own doing — when she was busy beginning another school year and suddenly was given the task of running a "command post," as she she said Ridge High School became, on a painfully sunny and beautiful morning on Sept. 11, 2001.
Along with handling a coordinated response that included making sure that no child returned home to an empty house that day, Goger and staff had to handle the fears of older children, including Ridge High School students with cell phones who were unable to reach their working parents by phone.
The school district always has taken security seriously, and even before that date had crisis management and security measures in place, she said this Tuesday morning. Still, "You can never really prepare for something like that."
Goger said she believes many people became "kinder and gentler" following 9/11 — and she herself is planning to spend more time in a perhaps more playful role now that she is retiring — as doting grandmother to a toddler granddaughter — one who has already shown up at a school board meeting (and did not comment).
Goger said she never could have conducted her busy years as superintendent without the support of her family, both husband and children. Still, she said that part of her goal in becoming superintendent was, "I wanted my children, especially my daughter, to see a woman can succeed in leading an organization."
Goger, a township resident, said of Bernards Township, "It really has been a privilege to work for this community."