New Watchung School Principal Appointed

Wednesday, Dec 16, 2009 8:00am  |  COMMENTS (25)

After the resignation of Principal Marcus Rhaney in October, the Montclair Board of Ed voted to appoint Peter Turnamian as Watchung Elementary School’s principal. He will take position on March 1, 2010.
The district’s website gives Mr. Turnamian’s professional background:

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Rochester University, in 1994 Mr. Turnamian successfully completed a year of intensive professional development at the Teach for America Professional Training Institute in Houston, TX. A New Jersey state-certified school Principal, Mr. Turnamian earned his Masters degree in Education at Harvard University in 1999.
Since 2000, Mr. Turnamian has served as Founder and Director of the Greater Newark Charter School. He is a pioneer of the “Data-Driven Instruction” model, whose work was featured in a book, “Driven by Data,” to be published in 2010.
In his career, Mr. Turnamian has been the recipient of the “Cultivating Quality Education” Award and has served as the mentor principal for the “New Leaders for New Schools” program. He was guest speaker for the Harvard University Principals’ Seminar in both 2004 and 2009, and over the past nine years has led the Greater Newark Charter School to become a model high-performing urban public school.
Prior to taking the Principal position at the Greater Newark Charter School, Mr. Turnamian served as a Literacy Spet at the Madison Park Vocational Technical High School in Boston, and as a Principal Intern at the Boston Arts Academy (1998-2000).
Between 1994 and 1997, Mr. Turnamian taught seventh-and eighth-grade Language Arts and was the founder and coach of a flag football program at Phoenix Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, AZ.


  1. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  December 16, 2009 @ 10:30 am

    All that lovely education and THREE YEARS TEACHING EXPERIENCE?
    C’mon… Harvard… blah, blah, blah… Data-Driven (despite NO EXPERIENCE)… blah, blah, blah… Newark Charter School…. blah, blah, blah….
    Experience matters.
    And while impressive, his background tells me that he will be experimenting at Watchung.
    I wish all– students, parents and teacher AND Mr. Turnamian- well.
    But next time I hope the BOE looks for EXPERIENCE.

  2. POSTED BY Livin in Montclair  |  December 16, 2009 @ 10:53 am

    Before I knew any better, I thought I wanted to my kids to attend Watchung since word was it was the “best school” in town. Now I’m SO GLAD they don’t go there. Data-Driven teaching is a fancy phrase for “teaching to the test”. What ever happened to teaching for the sake of knowledge…teaching our kids to think and question and wonder?

  3. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  December 16, 2009 @ 11:04 am

    No experience, teaching to the test– sounds like a workable model for Newark……
    Here in Montclair?
    Me thinks many parents will see this as LiM (Living in Montclair- If I can call you that..) does.

  4. POSTED BY rick  |  December 16, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

    seems to be lacking in classroom experience

  5. POSTED BY PAZ  |  December 16, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

    Thought there was supposed to be something here about GR?

  6. POSTED BY Montclair Mom  |  December 16, 2009 @ 7:39 pm

    Experience does matter, but I’ve seen some great principals with backgrounds like this – let’s give the guy a chance.
    And data-driven instruction, done right, is about using all forms of data – state tests, but more often teachers own assessments – in order to figure out what kids are struggling with and to examine new strategies for helping support learning. While it can end up being “teach to the test,” done right it’s actually a very rich approach to improving instruction.

  7. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  December 16, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

    The point isn’t whether or not he MIGHT be a good principal, he might.
    But why does Montclair, an impressive district that pays well, have to be the FIRST place this guy works?
    We should at the least demand someone with EXPERIENCE!!!
    And did I miss it, does this guy have a Ph.D??
    Why is Montclair allowing itself to be the proving grounds? We should be the place folks aspire to GET TO. Not start out.
    Again, I hope he does well, but I hope I’m not alone is wishing we had someone with a proven track record.
    Likewise, did anyone notice that this Charter school in Newark had a whopping 170 students?? 170!!
    Watchung has about 450….
    Moreover, that Charter school has this as a mission statement: “The mission of Greater Newark Charter School is to be the best middle school in Newark.”
    Really? The best in Newark, huh?
    Alvarez must go.
    And the BOE needs to be VOTED OUT OF—- WAIT— We can’t vote on them because we’re children. Is Bike Boy Mayor watching or is he riding?

  8. POSTED BY Montclair Mom  |  December 17, 2009 @ 9:50 am

    I’m not clear on how this guy doesn’t have experience – he’s been a principal for nine years, according to the post. And, whether you like charters or not, a charter school principal has a much more expansive job than a regular principal, as they have no district central office to help with budget, hiring, special ed, facilities, professional development, etc. Plus, they have to much more in terms of fundraising, etc. He may have been dealing with a smaller number of students, but it was a much bigger job.
    And to me, I think it’s a great aspiration for a Newark middle school to be the best middle school in Newark – I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t support that goal.

  9. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  December 17, 2009 @ 10:16 am

    TEACHING experience. TEACHING.
    With NO Ph. D?
    And forgive me for not going crazy over the goal of being the best Middle school in Newark.
    I question whether a goal of being the best in a bad school district is really a goal.
    How about the best in the State?
    How about competing with the best, rather than the best of one of the lowest rated districts in the State?
    Forgive me for looking for a rather simple and important thing: TEACHING experience.
    It’s hard to manage a professional teachers with SO little experience doing it.
    It’s one thing to say: “These kids will learn!!”
    And quite another to do it.
    Sadly, this guy has no Ph. D, little teaching experience and will be at a school where kids don’t wear uniforms…
    AND a school where he is NOT the KING as– you detailed a principal of a Charter School is.

  10. POSTED BY Betty Blue  |  December 17, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

    What a bunch of whiners! It must be Hell to work in this school system! Give the guy a chance, please.

  11. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  December 17, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

    Who’s whining Betty?
    Some of us pay taxes, have kids in the school or just care about who the BOE is hiring.
    Remember, he’s replacing a wonderful guy with great credentials….. removed for ah, um, inappropriate behavior.
    Forgive me for not just hoping our dear APPOINTED BOE and our loser of a Super Alvarez know anything.
    They don’t.
    (I just hope this isn’t yet another example of their bad decisions…)

  12. POSTED BY Montclair Mom  |  December 17, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

    Prof Williams,
    First, teaching experience certainly helps you learn about education, but in no way guarantees that you’ll be a good leader. And good school leaders learn a lot about good teaching while doing their jobs – just from a different perspective. And if what you care about is teaching experience, then why are you bemoaning the lack of a Ph.D.
    And I agree that it’s one thing to say that these kids will learn, and another to do it. But this guy led a school that went from 8% to 77% passing the GEPA ( in four years. While tests are by no means the only thing we should be thinking about, that indicates to me that he knows something about student learning.
    And charter school leaders are far from kings – just ask one of them.
    Honestly, it seems like you’re using this decision as a way to vent about broader issues – why not wait and see if this guy might actually do some good for the school.

  13. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  December 18, 2009 @ 7:15 am

    You make my point: I don’t want to wait and find out IF this guy is good. And as I said, I hope he is.
    My point is that Montclair should not be a proving ground for folks with NO Ph.D and NO real teaching experience.
    To that, I disagree with you: in education being able to relate to your teachers by having taught yourself IS IMPORTANT.
    And about that “jump” in test scores. It’s not odd considering the school can pick and choose who is enrolled in it. When the new school opened, folks had no idea what it was– in 2004 a Charter School was still a new idea– but as folks learned about it: uniforms, small classes, selectivity, etc. those better students began to apply.
    THIS POINT- taking the cream from the “normal” public schools is a BIG ISSUE- cannot be overstated. So in a few years, obviously, the test scores rose– BECAUSE the school was able to attract BETTER students.
    This “jump” would be impressive only if the school took its students from the public school list in a blind manner— THEY DO NOT!!
    So forgive me if I’m not impressed.
    Again, no real teaching experience and no Ph. D.
    Lastly, the Wachung school– parents, teachers, UNION– are VERY different than a inner-city Charter School. My fear is that this gentleman may not also have experience dealing with highly educated and demanding parents.
    Likewise, if a principal from an affluent suburb went down to the Newton Street School in Newark, I’d have the same fear.
    But again, I wish him well. I just see this choice with a whole lotta questions…….

  14. POSTED BY googleaddict  |  December 18, 2009 @ 7:37 am

    Did either of the last two Watchung principals have a Ph.D?

  15. POSTED BY Montclair Mom  |  December 18, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

    Prof Williams,
    We both clearly want the best for the school. In my experience, hiring any new principal is a leap of faith. And while this person may not have experience with the challenges of Montclair, he clearly has experiences with challenges (starting and operating a charter school is no easy thing), and I hope he can adjust to the new ones. And he’ll have to “prove” himself with his teachers just as any new principal (regardless of experience) would.
    On a different note, I think it’s critical to clarify (for those who don’t already know) that charter schools do NOT pick their students. There are certainly issues with who chooses to apply (and to stay), but charter students are selected by lottery, and (as a group), they do not “cream” the highest performing students. This was a concern by many when charters started, but there’s no real evidence to support that this has happened.
    And, also, the school he runs was open for several years prior to 2004, so a good part of the “self selection” had already happened before the big jump in scores.
    I don’t know anything about this particular man, or know if he’ll be successful at Watchung. But assuming he will be less successful than other candidates seems unwarranted.

  16. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  December 18, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

    I called the school an you’re right, I was told the State comes in and randomly chooses from the applications.
    However, as you point out, the issue of who chooses to apply (motivated students/parents I would assume) points to why the jump in scores may have occurred. Understand, my thinking here is that once folks find out about the school, more motivated students/parents apply.
    The scores would then naturally rise.
    Forgive me for being skeptical of any school that claims a jump from 8% to 77% in 4 years.
    Something else was at play and I believe the self-selection of who applies is a primary reason.
    If not, this guy and school should be he model for EVERY SCHOOL EVERYWHERE.
    I hope he doesn’t end up being another MHS Principal Earle who leaves me flat.

  17. POSTED BY Schooled  |  December 18, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

    A Ph.D is a worthy accomplishment, but I’m much more persuaded by profwilliams’ desire for more teaching experience than his demands for a Ph.D for a principal. From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t translate into successful leadership any more than a BS or MA or even a CQ might.
    He has at least two and a bit years of middle school teaching experience. Not much, granted. But anyone who can handle 7th and 8th graders for more than ten minutes must have something going for him.
    I’m hoping to enroll my kids in Watchung when they are of age. Hopefully this guy will 1) be fantastic and 2) stick around for a while so that we don’t have to transition to a new principal AGAIN.
    Otherwise, I may have to apply. I’ve got lots of teaching experience, but no Ph.D.

  18. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  December 18, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

    Here’s the point about a Ph. D: where do you draw the line?
    How about a BA? Supposed she’s exceptional? No?
    Me neither.
    A Master’s? Well, hate to tell you, any fool can get one of them…
    And while (any fool can get one too) a Ph.D by itself is certainly no indication of quality, to get one requires much. THAT is the point.
    Our leaders, and a principal of a school is certainly that, should have advanced degrees.
    I don’t want to start lowering the bar and making exceptions.
    Again, the issue of the Ph. D is because he has so little TEACHING EXPERIENCE.

  19. POSTED BY tudlow  |  December 18, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

    When you get a PhD, you learn more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing.
    Most in secondary education don’t have a PhD, though, they have an EdD.
    The degree is impressive and certainly shows commitment because writing and defending a dissertation is like pulling out your fingernails verrrry slowly one by one but I don’t think it guarantees an effective leader.

  20. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  December 18, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

    (Don’t get me started on the “EdD……)

  21. POSTED BY tudlow  |  December 18, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

    Yeah, prof, but that is what most in school administration have! That is the only doctorate Harvard offers, interestingly. In general, the PhD garners more respect but I don’t recall any superintendents or principles in secondary ed admin having a PhD–it’s always the EdD.

  22. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  December 18, 2009 @ 7:58 pm

    Like I said: Don’t get me started on the EdD……
    The Ph. D is thought to be more “research” whereas the Ed.D is more applied….

  23. POSTED BY tudlow  |  December 18, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

    Well, let me take this opportunity to disclose that I have a PhD and an honorary EdD and my dissertation topic was a quantitative AND qualitative analysis on the merits of the PhD versus the EdD in the field of education and from this very specific knowledge that I possess, I can unequivocally declare that the newly appointed Watchung principle will be stellar and will be able to maintain the “Watchung is really a public MKA elementary school for all the parents that secretly want to do MKA but just can’t stomach it due to tuition and their god-awful taxes” image.

  24. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  December 19, 2009 @ 7:02 am

    Well, let me take this opportunity to disclose that I had a friend who was an Officer at MKA, and I wouldn’t send the little prof there if you offered FREE tuition to me.
    Understand, my home has two educators with advanced degrees and decades of experience, I don’t think we would spend more than 2 minutes turning down the free tuition offer.
    Such is the world where image (re: MKA) is much, much more than fact.
    As I’ve said a million times, compare our best compete and win…. It wasn’t too long ago we read about one of our public school kids:
    “Zohar Atkins, Montclair resident and senior at Brown University was selected as one of the Rhodes Scholars for 2010.”
    But who cares. I wouldn’t pay these taxes with these schools to send my kid to a private.
    But that’s me. Folks can do what they like, I rarely care about the personal choices others make.
    Again, I hope the guy does very well. I feel connected to all the school children in town as taxpayer and only want what’s best.
    And perhaps he represents a new breed of Principal, one educated in some of the lofty promises of the “applied” Ed.D degree, and seeking only to expand our kid’s vision.
    (Let’s just hope his writing ability is better than MHS’s Principal Earle.)

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