HILLSIDE, NJ – The Hillside Board of Education has announced the appointment of an interim superintendent of schools while they continue to pursue a full time candidate for the job.
Zende L. Clark will temporarily replace the retiring Frank Deo — who has been the super since 2012 — as the interim superintendent of schools in Hillside, becoming the first African-American superintendent in the district’s history. Her appointment is effective Sept. 1, but she is currently working for the district as a consultant.
When asked in an interview last week if her appointment as the first African-American superintendent has a special meaning to her, she explained her elation.
“It really does,” Clark said. “I started here 36 years ago. And I was here through the state mandated desegregation. To know that we have come this far, to know that at one point the state had to come in and integrate the community, and now the board appoints their first African-American to the position, I think that shows the community has come a long way.”
Clark had worked in the district for 36 years and is coming out of retirement until the Board of Education finds a full-time replacement. She began as a teacher for 17 years before serving as the director of human resources from 1997 to 2002. She later went on to become the director of secondary education before retiring just last year.
“I was honored to serve the community in that capacity,” she said of her previous work. And she is just as honored to serve now. “I’m honored to have this opportunity and I look forward to working with the staff and parents and the board to assure that our students are provided with a rigorous education, and I’m very excited about the opportunities ahead.”
While Clark admits the position is one she wanted in the past – she interviewed for the position in 2012 when it was given to Deo – she also said she would have to come out of retirement to become the full time superintendent, and it’s not something for which she currently has plans.
“I am the superintendent from Sept. 1 through the 2016 school year,” she said. “If they are able to find someone sooner than the school year ends, I will resign. They will be working to secure a full-time superintendent of schools. In order to be a full-time super, I’d have to come out of retirement. Right now, I have not given that any consideration.”
But despite there being no permanence to the position, Clark says she will not simply maintain the status quo.
“That’s not me,” she said. “I’m going to work with the board. I plan to meet with leadership to find what their interest is in terms of moving the district forward. I am hoping they will allow me to move the district forward. And I’m hoping to get the ball rolling so that the new full-time person can move forward with the progress we make.
“I’ll be working with staff,” she continued, “to see what the needs are and to implement them. I’ve only been gone eight months. So we will hopefully continue to work on some of the initiatives we started to implement.”
In addition to her other roles in the Hillside School District during her 36-year tenure, Clark has also served as administrative coordinator of grants and special projects, and interim principal. These positions, combined with the three others, “make her the ideal candidate to bridge the gap as the district conducts a search for a permanent superintendent,” according to a release from the Board of Education.
Clark completed studies at Kean University in Union, from which she holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education. She also holds advanced degrees in communication science, and a Master’s Degree in administration from the College of New Jersey. She is currently completing a Ph.D. program at Fordham University.