UNION – Longtime assistant superintendent Gregory Tatum was appointed as the new school superintendent at a recent board of education meeting after a four-month search to fill the position.
Tatum, 53, appointed at the Oct. 20 board meeting, was one of three finalists considered for the position that has been surrounded by controversy since former superintendent Patrick Martin abruptly announced his resignation in late April. Since that time, Tatum has served as acting superintendent.
An employee of the district since 2003, Tatum was hired initially as the principal of Central Five Jefferson School, and in 2006 was named assistant superintendent of schools.
A Parlin resident, Tatum is married and the father of three children.
The new superintendent’s contract has to be approved by the county superintendent before the appointment is official, which is required by law. That approval is expected any day.
Board Member Vito Nufrio, who chaired the superintendent search committee, pointed out at the Oct. 20 meeting that despite considering other candidates for the position, Tatum was at the top of the list.
“There really was no indication that anyone else would be the choice,” Nufrio said, adding that Tatum had “stellar” interviews with the committee.
“His vision is one we all adhere to,” he added, pointing out that the board desired to “move forward in all directions.”
“I know Mr. Tatum has the ability, skills and experience to do that. He is a leader and has been a leader in this school district,” said Nufrio.
Tatum gave a brief speech regarding his appointment, thanking the board for their confidence in him in leading the district for the next three years and briefly explaining the direction he hoped to take the school district.
“I know throughout the course of the number of years I’ve been here, I’ve observed a number of issues we need to work on and a number of things that need changing,” the new superintendent said, following up with what he felt was an important consideration.
“One man will never do this alone, can’t do it all. It will take the collaboration and cooperation of everyone in this room and everyone in the public,” Tatum said, adding that he will foster this support “to make this a better place for our children, our staff and community.”
“I hope everyone will help me in our efforts to make the school district the best place it can be educationally,” the superintendent said.
Tatum not only served as acting superintendent when Martin left, but also in December 2009 when former superintendent Theodore Jakubowski retired after serving in this position for 15 years, 40 years in the district as an educator. At that time, though, the school board decided to hire an outside consulting firm to conduct a search for someone to fill this role and ultimately Martin came aboard as superintendent in 2010.
It is unknown why Tatum was not considered for the position in 2009, but, at the time, board member Ray Perkins made it clear that finding someone to replace Jakubowski would not be an easy task.
“There isn’t anyone else in the district that brings to the table that kind of experience in terms of sweeping knowledge of the township, residents, students and schools,” the longtime board member said.
Martin was selected from a field of 30 qualified candidates, following a search that began in October 2009 and ended when Martin was hired in April 2010. Although Martin, who initially was earning $190,000 annually, had a five-year contract with the school district, he left without fulfilling that obligation.
It is unknown what transpired between the school board and Martin, but weighing heavily was the fact the school board was not in favor of the popular Saturday and after school academy that he initiated.
Confusing is why the board strongly supported the concept of the middle school and high school academy initially but then did a reverse on the concept. Martin, who preferred not discussing why he resigned, issued a statement that spoke glowingly of the district.
“The Union School district continues to prove itself to be a leader in many areas – athletics, performing arts, ROTC, community service and academic competitions to name just a few – in the state and nationally,” the former school superintendent said.
However, Martin’s goal of improving test scores in the district never came to pass.
Issues concerning test scores surfaced in February before Martin left when school report cards were released by the state. The report for the high school alone showed it was lagging academically in comparison to schools in the rest of the state, but when compared to its peer schools of Hillside, Linden, Roselle Park, Plainfield and Bloomfield, it came out about average in college and career readiness.
The graduation rate also came in at about 90 percent, compared to students in the peer grouping who ranked 87 percent in this area.