February 12, 2020

SHUPPrinceton To Honor Robert Ginsberg For His 56 Years in Education

56 YEARS IN EDUCATION: Johnson Park Elementary School Principal Robert Ginsberg will be honored on February 27 for his “career spent nurturing the future.” Send Hunger Packing Princeton is hosting a winter fundraiser “evening of inspiration” at the Johnson Education Center, One Preservation Place in Princeton. Visit shupprinceton.org for ticket information. (Photo courtesy of Send Hunger Packing Princeton)

By Donald Gilpin

In his 56 years working as a teacher and school administrator, Dr. Robert Ginsberg has championed core values that have become firmly embodied at Johnson Park Elementary School (JP), where he has served as principal since 1999. He believes in the power of diversity. He believes in making children the agents of their own learning. He believes in the value of the natural environment for children and their education. And he believes that kids need to be reminded frequently to help those who may be less fortunate.

Send Hunger Packing Princeton (SHUPPrinceton) will be honoring Ginsberg at “An Evening of Inspiration” with “a tribute to a career spent nurturing the future” on February 27 at the Johnson Education Center, One Preservation Place in Princeton.

“Dr. G. has been part of the fabric of our schools for over 30 years and principal of JP for more than 20,” said SHUPPrinceton board member Wendy Regina-Vasquez. “His caring and advocacy for all of our children, but especially the children SHUPPrinceton serves, has made him a beloved member of our community. We’re thrilled to be able to honor him.”

Ginsberg emphasized the importance of SHUPPrinceton’s collaborative work with the schools, noting that 25 percent of JP students’ families may have food challenges. “If we provide breakfast and lunch for them during the week, we can support them and help to make sure that we’re meeting their bodily needs as well as their intellectual and academic needs,” Ginsberg said. “If kids are not well fed and taken care of and healthy, certainly that interferes with their ability to focus in school and learn.”

The JP mascot is Koko the gorilla, and the school’s Koko Fund uses money raised by the students to help send approximately 100 children each year, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it, to summer camps in collaboration with the Princeton Recreation Department, The Watershed Institute, the YMCA, and the Arts Council of Princeton.

Through a variety of activities the JP students have also provided funds for SHUPPrinceton and other organizations to help families facing financial challenges.

“It needs to be a message that we send to kids all the time, that we are our brother’s keeper,” Ginsberg said. “We’ve spread charitable and community service activities throughout the year, not just holiday times, so that kids know it’s part of what their value system should be.”

Commenting on JP, where he took the helm in 1999, Ginsberg reflected in a 2017 interview with Princeton Community TV, “It’s a great cohesive community. I love working here. I could have retired years ago, but it’s not like work when you come here.”

He continued, “There’s a supportive, receptive parent population, a phenomenal, competent teaching staff, and wonderful, wonderful kids. What could be better?”

Ginsberg noted that JP had recently built an amphitheater, refurbished their outdoor environmental trail, created two classrooms in the woods, and was planning to create a natural terrain playground with an emphasis on inspiring the students’ imagination and creativity.

“We’re looking to make this the best school possible,” Ginsberg said, and he went on to add that JP “is a wonderful diverse school. We want to show that that’s the world these kids are going to live in and it’s possible for everybody to get along with each other. We may speak different languages or worship differently, but we can all get along well. This is where it starts. The school has become much more diverse over the years and it works.” He noted the school’s goal to have a staff that’s just as diverse as the student body.

Ginsberg went on to point out that, more and more often, the students are taking the lead, with third-graders advising the landscape architect on ideas for the natural terrain playground, the rapidly growing after-school newspaper club giving students the opportunity to work together ”to be the agents of their own learning,” and fifth-graders taking charge of the yearbook that used to be the project of a group of parents.

“The fifth-graders put together the book with their ideas and their voices and their images, as opposed to what parents think kids want,” said Ginsberg. “It’s what the kids themselves want to see there.”

Ginsberg started his career in 1964 teaching junior high school in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where his annual salary was $3,600. He faced up to 40 kids in a classroom at a time, and the technology available consisted of a mimeograph machine that produced “those old dittos where the purple stuff came off on your hands.”

After earning his doctorate at Cornell University, Ginsberg moved to New Jersey as a gifted and talented supervisor in East Brunswick, then in 1988 came to Princeton as principal at Littlebrook Elementary School before eventually settling in at JP in 1999.

In looking forward to the February 27 event with SHUPPrinceton, Ginsberg emphasized that he’s not quite yet ready to retire. “When my wife had a heart attack seven-and-a-half years ago, I said to her, ‘Well, I guess it’s time for me to retire.’ She said to me, ‘Don’t retire. If I have to live with you 24/7 I’ll have another heart attack.’ Every time I bring up the R word, she says ‘go another year.’”