Interim Superintendent Brings Experience, Expertise In Critical Areas to the PPS Job
By Donald Gilpin
When Barry Galasso takes over leadership as interim superintendent of the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) on July 1, he’ll be bringing with him many years of experience, particularly with a critical background and expertise in online learning and in leading school district searches for top administrators.
Galasso, whose appointment was announced at last week’s Board of Education (BOE) meeting, will continue in his position for about six months to a year as the BOE searches for a permanent replacement for Superintendent Steve Cochrane, who will be stepping down at the end of June. Galasso has been in public education for five decades as a teacher and administrator and has worked at every level of leadership: department chair, assistant principal, supervisor, principal, and superintendent.
Most recently interim superintendent of the Voorhees Township School District, Galasso has served 21 years as superintendent in three different New Jersey school districts. Upon retirement he was appointed executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators representing all superintendents in the state. For eight years he served as executive director of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, an educational service agency based in Doylestown, Pa., working with 13 school districts and their school boards.
Galasso, who received his doctorate in education from Rutgers University, has taught courses in administration, curriculum, and leadership at Rutgers, Rowan, Farleigh Dickinson, Delaware Valley, and Gwynedd Mercy University.
Galasso noted that, having conducted more than 20 searches for top administrators in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, he hoped to use that experience to help the Princeton BOE. “In fact the organization that I led in Bucks County assisted all 13 Boards of Education in selecting new executive leadership,” Galasso wrote in an email. “In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I conducted dozens of board of education retreats, administrative and community goal- and objective-setting meetings. The purpose was to provide all the stakeholders a forum using a consensus-building model to determine the priorities of the community.”
In reflecting on the challenges facing the PPS in the current crisis, with many uncertainties about the extent to which students will be on campus or online for classes and other activities next fall, Galasso acknowledged, “What has occurred has been a remarkable shift in how we are providing education. School closure has caused public educators to shift to online learning in a matter of hours. It has created opportunities for educators to be creative, innovative, and developers of delivery methods. I am sure that our focus will be to evaluate and provide training to develop methods that are effective for all kids.”
As a member of the board of the 21st Century Cyber Charter School, an online public school in Downington, Pa., and a lead developer of Bridges Virtual, a Bucks County Intermediate Unit initiative training teachers to be online instructors, Galasso is no stranger to remote learning. He has also been on the front lines in delivering online instruction. “I have taught online at universities for a decade, and I develop new skills each semester to enhance the experience for my students,” he said. “It takes time and support to do it well.”
Galasso described the Bridges Virtual program, which was created five years ago. “The program was designed to meet a host of needs, including hybrid learning opportunities for high school students and opportunities to share classes among schools that could not be offered in individual school districts in the county. It was also to provide options for students who had difficulty attending school for a myriad of reasons.”
Galasso’s experience in virtual learning was of particular interest to the Princeton BOE in its search for an interim superintendent, noted PPS BOE President Beth Behrend. “Dr. Galasso’s background made him unique among all of the candidates we spoke with because of his experience with remote learning,” Behrend said. “He is familiar with its advantages and shortcomings. His perspective and ideas will be helpful as we plan for how to safely and responsibly meet the needs of our students in an uncertain and ever-changing environment.”
In his brief comments at last week’s virtual BOE meeting, Galasso applauded the Princeton schools for their focus on students and emphasized that he shares that philosophy. “The Princeton School Board, administration, faculty, and staff are all student-first people,” he said. “They make decisions based on what’s best for students, and when you do that you can’t go far off track.”
In subsequent remarks sent by email, he continued, “The Princeton school district has a proud tradition of providing an outstanding education for its students. It is important to recognize and honor the work of the entire school community for their contribution to student success. Organizations that are successful recognize that it’s important to focus on areas of improvement that are identified. They realize that a continuous improvement strategy is necessary to meet all the needs of a diverse population of learners. Building capacity, supporting the staff, and developing new strategies are necessary to meet the ongoing challenges.”
Behrend echoed Galasso’s student-centered philosophy in describing the Board’s priorities in their search for an interim leader. “It was important to us that we find an interim who shared our focus on equity and on students being at the center of all that we do,” she wrote. “We wanted someone with a proven track record of leadership, who could provide concrete examples of ways in which they had solved challenges involving student achievement and equity, the diverse needs of special education students, the development and mentoring of staff, fiscal management and budget constraints, communication with stakeholders, and, of course, crisis management.”
She continued, “We wanted someone who would not just ‘warm the seat,’ someone with energy and enthusiasm, ready to roll up their sleeves, embrace our mission, and help us move forward with our current goals and initiatives.”
Behrend emphasized the importance of Galasso’s “broad array of skill sets,” as well as his extensive experience. “This will help us keep our PPS team (Board, administrators, teachers, staff, students, families, and community) aligned, growing together, and moving forward collaboratively as we seek a new permanent superintendent to lead us into the future,” she said.
Commenting on the outgoing administration’s “comprehensive and student-centered” transition plan, Galasso looked forward to the challenges ahead. “I intend to listen and learn, address the fiscal challenges that will arise, develop a strong governance team, and transition with the current leadership to ensure that there are multiple planning strategies in place to address the uncertainties that lie ahead,” he said.