Gray and Purnell named NASS Superintendents of the Year

Timothy Purnell, Superintendent of Somerville Public Schools in New Jersey, and Cedrick Gray, Superintendent of Jackson Public Schools in Mississippi, have been named Superintendents of the Year by the National Association of School Superintendents.

“Leadership is incredibly important as we see public education evolving nationwide,” said David Brown, NASS Executive Director. “Schools serve as the focal point of thousands of communities nationwide and we need educators that have put programs in place to put students first.”

Purnell is considered an erudite leader engaged in developing educators and initiatives to meet the needs of all public school students.

In order to promote stakeholder involvement, Purnell started #allin4theVille on Twitter and he hosts an annual Super's Bowl Community Investment Day to celebrate partnerships and bring the community together as one.

As a means of providing school leaders with statistical data to drive instruction and educational decisions, Purnell has implemented "Purpose-Driven Walkthroughs.” These walkthroughs assess the leader's progress towards achieving their "Wildly Important Goals" (WIGs). Stakeholders can visit the District Dashboard from the district homepage, which displays gauges that measure building progress towards each of the WIGs.

Another prominent achievement is the 3DPD, a three-dimensional professional development program. This professional development program is designed for teachers by teachers and features modeling of exceptional practices by in-district teachers.

“Classroom educators can share classroom best practices by uploading videos on a private channel,” Purnell said. “This portal allows teachers round-the-clock access to professional development.”

Purnell believes continuous education for his teachers, as well as recognizing the hard work of his employees, is incredibly important.

In order to meet the needs of all students in grades nine through twelve, the district launched a separate non-traditional, competency-based high school where students begin their day at 9:30 am with breakfast and educational experiences in a blended environment. The program is hallmarked by opportunities for credit recovery and graduation on a rolling basis.

Purnell also believes in providing students with opportunities to apply learning through real-world experiences as they plan for life after high school and college. A central focus of this experiential learning is to provide at-risk students with positive role roles; his approach pairs students with school and community members to support and mentor them.

He credits his wonderful team for the successes of his district.

“This award isn’t about me, it’s about the work of everyone in my district,” he said. “Ideas are great, but every great idea requires strategic implementation. For that, you need to #getoffyourisland and collaborate with stakeholders and community organizations. Public schools need to partner with outside agencies to assist in providing the optimal learning experience for every child."

Dr. Gray mantra of "Building Stronger Schools Together" has taken the Jackson Public School District to new heights. He is widely praised for leadership and guidance that have revived the district and given it a new focus. He’s known for an innovative and effective strategic direction process: "Wearing WIGs (Wildly Important Goals), having FITs (Focused Instructional Teams), and saying ABCs (Attendance, Behavior, Coursework)," which applies a research-based focus to school improvement and student achievement.

Despite a high level of poverty in the district, his innovative approach to instruction is credited for increasing the number of high-performing and successful schools in the District with 5 designated in the top 10 percent in the State.

“I have understood the value of good relationships and the impact of having high quality, loyal professionals on your team,” Gray said in discussing collaboration with teachers, administrators, parents and members of the community. “The superintendent can’t always be the smartest person in the room. Good people that are committed and loyal are essential.”

Under his leadership, the district’s state and national accreditation status has been restored to “accredited” and “in good standing”. His approach to instruction is credited for increasing the number of high performing and successful schools in the district, with five designated in the top 10 percent in the state. The district is enjoying its first-ever 1:1 digital initiative, providing high school students with a laptop computer and/or access to personal computing devices. He was pivotal in establishing a citywide collaborative effort to improve educational opportunities.

Gray also understands the importance of district operations. Under his direction, there have been numerous improvements, including district email migration to the “cloud”, the Food Service department received federal recognition for all 38 elementary schools, money saving green maintenance and energy management programs, as well as the hiring of 450 new certified teachers.

In addition, the district converted to online student registration for the first and Jackson’s operational and instructional management developed the district’s first-ever Balanced Score Card to showcase these achievements.

His love for students has been readily apparent. Students in Jackson Public Schools now have opportunities for their voices to be heard, with a Student Board of Trustees, a Student Gallup Poll and an exit survey of high school seniors for their feedback. The inaugural student board helped craft the district’s first ever “Cell Phone” Policy which allows digital technology on high school campuses with responsible use.

“Today’s superintendent is a motivator, innovator, and visionary responsible for district progress, community engagement, positive board relations, as well as district employee morale and scholar academic performance and achievement,” he said. “Oftentimes we are also a counselor, doctor, pastor, legislative aide, and statesmen. We have to be truly multifaceted.”

National Association of School Superintendents