MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Dara Gronau, who years ago outran the competition on the Columbia High School track, is coming full circle to lead the administration of Maplewood Middle School as its newest principal; her appointment was approved during an Aug. 22 Board of Education meeting.
Gronau earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and English from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and her master’s degree in administration and supervision from Montclair State University. She recently served as district supervisor of English language arts and media in Ridgewood Public Schools and as a high school principal at West Side High School in Newark.
Prior to her appointment as principal in Newark, Gronau served as the resident principal in the New Leaders for New Schools program and as teacher for Teach for America. Gronau began her new job at MMS on Aug. 24.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be returning home,” Gronau said upon her appointment at the BOE meeting. “The last time I was in the (BOE meeting) room, the relay team was being recognized, so I feel that I have come full circle. I look forward to working with Maplewood Middle School. I understand that it is a wonderful staff that is strong, experienced and ready to do great things. I can’t wait to work with staff, parents and especially students.”
In a recent email to the News-Record, Gronau recalled her positive educational experience in the district and her desire to ensure that current students have the same.
“South Orange-Maplewood is a special place — and it’s home. I have walked these hallways and run on these streets as a track and field athlete. It’s wonderful to return home,” she said. “I received a high quality education here and doors were opened for me here. I am passionate about ensuring that all of my students are afforded the same opportunities at Maplewood Middle School. “
Gronau said that she draws on her undergraduate education as a double major in English and psychology at Vanderbilt to connect with the faculty, students and their families, and hopes they will receive a great education and feel that the school is a safe space for them.
“Both have assisted me in the classroom and in leadership positions. As an English student, you learn to appreciate details and to think critically. As a psychology student, you also learn how to be observant and how to engage people so that they feel safe and supported,” she said. “I call upon both of these skill sets when interacting with students, their families, faculty and staff.
Although Gronau has worked with both high school and middle school students in the past, she said she looks forward to the unique set of challenges that accompany the middle school years.
“There are some developmental differences. Middle school students are learning how to problem solve and are managing changing friendships. They are also learning how to advocate for themselves productively. By high school, many students are on the path to mastering these skills,” she said. “I find that, regardless of the age group, students want to see that you care about them and that you are committed to their success. I believe in the students and everything I do and say must affirm that.
“I love the youthful excitement of middle school students. The world is beginning to open up for them. They are so energetic. Harnessing their energy and creativity leads to amazing things in the classroom.”
In her first year as the principal, Gronau said her main objective is to get to know the school and the community, and ensure that students are ready for the next level in their education.
“For my first year, the most important thing for me to do is to build relationships with the school community. It’s important to see what’s working and find ways to maximize the impact of what’s working,” she said. “I also want to listen to our constituents and see where there are opportunities for us to grow and then chart a course to help us get there. My primary focus this year is to ensure that we have a rigorous academic program that prepares students for high school while nurturing and supporting them at this very critical age.”