Angela Siso Stentz, New Acting Principal at Johnson Park: “I’m really excited to take that on”
By Donald Gilpin
Angela Siso Stentz, who became the acting principal at Johnson Park Elementary School (JP) on July 1, brings to the job experience from more than 20 years in the Princeton Public Schools, along with a love of children, a desire to help make decisions on behalf of all students, and an eagerness to build relationships with the JP community.
Starting in the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) in 1999 as a special education teacher in math and Spanish, Siso Stentz became supervisor of student activities in 2005, supervisor of guidance in 2008, and since 2017 she has served as assistant principal at Princeton High School (PHS).
“Angela was an outstanding assistant principal,” said PHS Principal Jessica Baxter. “She always put the students first and has a genuine care for kids, families, and staff. The students, families, and staff at JP are lucky to have her and will form positive relationships with her very quickly. Angela will be greatly missed at PHS, but we are thrilled for her to have this incredible opportunity.”
As a young woman growing up in Brick Township, Siso Stentz thought she wanted to be an attorney and work in family law. “I remember always feeling that I wanted to do something in that field to support families,” she said.
In her senior year at Rutgers University, however, she had the opportunity to work as an intern at schools in New Brunswick. “I loved it,” she recalled, and her life path took a change in direction.
After receiving her undergraduate degree in political science and Spanish at Rutgers, she went back to school that summer and in a year had earned her teacher certification. “That taught me to make a quick decision to do something that I loved and not something that perhaps my parents wanted me to do,” she said. “It was really my decision, and I appreciated the fact that my family went with me on it.”
Though Siso Stentz and her two sisters, who also became teachers, were the only educators in the family, she knew she had made the right choice. “I can’t imagine myself doing anything different,” she said.
She taught for six years at a private school in Howell, New Jersey, before coming to Princeton, where she continued to work as a classroom teacher, but always had a desire to become an administrator.
“As a special education teacher, I always felt I wanted to be a part of the team that helped make global decisions on behalf of students for a school building and a school district,” she reflected. “I advocated for all students, but I seemed to gravitate towards students who needed somebody to be their supporter, so whether it was special education
students or English language learners or students who were going through really difficult moments at home, I wanted to support them.”
Siso Stentz noted that as an administrator she has always been determined to make sure, no matter what the program or idea or issue under consideration, “that we were considering all of the students who would be impacted by our decision.”
She is also proud of the fact that in her years in PPS she has had the opportunity to work in many different areas, at different levels, and with many different challenges and experiences — all of which have helped to prepare her for her new role at Johnson Park.
“I feel that I’m ready,” she said. “I’m eager to do something new and exciting and challenging, and I certainly recognize that what we are dealing with as a world with the pandemic and remote learning – making sure that we are teaching and learning and providing access to all students while maintaining our highest level of social-emotional support for students and teachers — is at the forefront of what this next phase of my career will be. I’m really excited to take that on.”
Looking forward to connecting this summer, either virtually or face-to-face, with members of the JP community, Siso Stentz sees many of her experiences and initiatives in education translating effectively into the elementary setting. She mentioned, in particular, her work with wellness and equity at PHS, which she plans to adapt and develop at JP.
“I spent a lot of my career working closely with high school students, and I often thought to myself, ‘If we had only started this conversation — whatever it might be – earlier, by the time they get to the high school level they’d be better equipped, better prepared. They’d have developed certain skills or concepts.’ Those concepts can begin at the elementary level so you have a systemic plan for providing education and support, starting as early as possible.”
Siso Stentz had a few examples. “With everything that’s happening in our world, we need to have conversations about race, conversations about bias, and really focusing on a couple of foundational skills like building relationships, being kind to one another, being strong with our social-emotional platform, and making sure that we are teaching students some of these coping mechanisms as early as possible, recognizing and appreciating that while we are different from each other, we still can be respectful and kind to one another.”
She emphasized that the elementary schools need to go a step further in talking about racial literacy and embedding these conversations naturally in the work the district is doing with wellness and combating harassment, intimidation, and bullying.
The Fall Scenario?
The 2020-21 school year will certainly be unlike any other in history, and Siso Stentz is ready for many uncertainties, rapid changes, and monumental challenges, as she prepares with her colleagues over the next two months.
“It’s going to be a very busy summer with many, many different scenarios before we’re finally done with it,” she said. “What we can say for sure is that returning to school, no matter where you are, is not going to be normal. There will be safety precautions and protocols in place: mask wearing, hand washing, hand sanitizer stations. Things are going to look quite different this year, but our first priority is doing what we can so that our students and staff are back in the building in September.”
Emphasizing the schools’ focus on safety, she continued, “We are exploring a couple of options of a hybrid model, with some students in the building for a portion of the week, then flip-flop for the other students who are not in the building, with remote learning continuing as well to support what’s going on in the classroom. The remote part would be an extension of what’s happening face-to-face.”
She cited valuable survey data from the staff and the community, as well as Center for Disease Control and Princeton Health Department guidelines to follow. She continued, “Our ideal situation would be that our students are in the building more than they are at home and we are providing support to address gaps that we have to address. But our first priority is to make sure that we are connecting with our students, making sure that they are well, making sure that they are emotionally supported. This also goes for our staff.”
She also mentioned that they would be prepared to pivot again and return to full-time remote learning, if necessary, in the face of further COVID outbreaks.
Siso Stentz, who is currently enrolled in a doctoral program in educational leadership at Rider University, lives with her husband Ben Stentz, the Princeton Recreation Department director, in Hamilton. In addition to the fact that Ben Stentz shares his insights from having come through the PPS school system, they often find their paths crossing in their work.
“It’s been fun to get the perspective of our school system through someone who’s been through it, and with his profession our worlds cross a lot,” she said. “It’s been interesting and fun to have experiences where we have to work together for the kids in Princeton.”