LINDEN, NJ — For the first time ever, all staff members of the Linden Public School system gathered in the same building on Friday, Sept. 4, to celebrate the beginning of the school year and the district’s vision for the future.
Teachers, aides, secretaries, custodians, administrators and others crowded into the bleachers of the Linden High School gym, decked out in white T-shirts that read “Rise Up To The Challenge.”
Alone in the middle of the “District Launch” rally, standing on top of the gym’s tiger logo, was Superintendent Danny Robertozzi. For what was probably another first in district history, said Robertozzi, the superintendent suddenly broke out in dance to the song “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor — milking the crowd a little, like a rock star — and a flash mob of teachers, students and the Linden High School dance team streamed onto the dance floor to join in.
“It really went off without a hitch. You could hear the crowd in the background, they were surprised, they were shocked, there was excitement, there was laughter. It was a big event in our district,” said Robertozzi. “Since the students have come back to school the past couple of days, the video has gone viral among the students, too. They really have gotten a kick out of seeing some of their teachers, their principals, get out there and dance. I think it’s done a lot for the morale of everyone.”
Video of the flash mob had more than 4,500 views on Youtube as of press time, and administrators said the event helped amp up staff members before the school year officially started on Tuesday, Sept. 8, when more than 6,000 students began the fall semester in Linden public schools.
After months of brainstorming, with administrators trying to decide how to give the district launch some flare, Linden settled on the idea of a flash mob.
“We had been planning this event,” said Robertozzi. “I had a committee together that was planning this event, and it was one of our social workers over at Linden High School who came up with this idea of ‘hey, how about we do a flash mob?’ Everybody kind of laughed it off, but she was persistent, and once I said okay then everybody got on board.”
And the flash mob, just one moment to remember from the day, “really symbolized what we were trying to do” as a district, said Robertozzi. Linden is involved in efforts to rebrand itself as a “district of distinction,” which involved the unveiling of a new, student-made logo.
“As part of our five-year plan, we want to increase the public perception of our district and make it very positive. Part of that was a rebranding of our district with a new logo, a logo that was created by our students. We held a district-wide contest last year, where we had three finalists with three different designs,” said Robertozzi. “We loved them all, we couldn’t decide. So what we did is we took those three students, we locked them in a room with a few teachers for a day, and they came up with a final logo that we’ve adopted as our new logo.”
Other goals of the five-year plan include raising standards on academics, improving instruction, and reminding staff members of the daily importance they have on students, said Robertozzi. That last objective is why the district launch featured motivational speaker Mark Anthony Garrett, who told the audience that “every single staff member in the school — whether it’s the teachers, the custodians, the secretary — can have an impact on a student’s life, without even realizing it,” said Robertozzi.
The message was really great, added Robertozzi. The delivery was even better.
“He was phenomenal. His story was a great one,” said Robertozzi. “The reason we wanted him to be a part of our day was that his whole thing is how teachers are heroes, and he talks about growing up in the inner city, how he was a special ed student, he was poor, he had lots of family issues at home. And it was really his third grade teacher that made the difference in his life. As he was growing up, every time he was about to go down the wrong path — with drugs, with guns, with gangs — this third grade teacher kept coming back to him, and he credits her for becoming the man he’s become.”
The importance of teachers and staff members goes beyond the classroom, said Robertozzi. Some students may not be good in any given class, like English or Math, and still be successful in whatever their life’s calling turns out to be. For Linden staff members, the goal should be to help students figure out what that calling is, long-term.
“An example of that is the kids who designed our new logo. They are extremely talented artists,” said Robertozzi. “It’s not just about English and Math scores, it’s about finding what our students are good at. Every student has a talent, every student is good at something, and it’s up to our staff members to find out what that is and to cultivate that.”