MAPLEWOOD, NJ — A new principal will take over at Columbia High School when classes begin in September, after interim Superintendent of Schools Thomas Ficarra announced the shuffling of several district administrators, including former CHS Principal Elizabeth Aaron. After serving as the high school’s principal for the last four years, Aaron is now a principal on special assignment to work on districtwide initiatives. Kalisha Morgan is taking Aaron’s place at CHS.
Morgan has worked in the district as the district’s director of planning and assessment since January 2017; prior to that she served as an elementary and high school principal in Orange for 12 years.
The decision to change principals angered many residents in the South Orange and Maplewood community. Morgan said she doesn’t know why the personnel changes were made. Still, she is preparing for the upcoming school year by meeting with students and parents.
“It’s been great — I’ve been speaking with parents and students and getting a feel for what it’s like,” Morgan said of the transition in an Aug. 9 phone interview with the News-Record. She held several meet-and-greets to get to know students and parents, and to learn about their main concerns.
One thing the new principal said she wants to improve is communication.
“They feel like they didn’t have a chance to talk to the administration,” Morgan said. “Parents said they would find out about things last minute and not have a chance to have input.”
To solve this, Morgan said that she has set aside two hours a day for office hours, when students can voice their concerns. She also plans to attend Home and School Association meetings to better improve parent communication, and has signed up for lunch duty in the CHS cafeteria several times a week. In addition, she also wants to build on the course offerings that CHS gives its students.
“The meet-and-greets went well; parents got a chance to know me then,” Morgan said. “I’ve also already met with the Student Government Association, and I’ll have several assemblies when the year starts.”
Looking ahead, Morgan said she only plans to be at the helm of CHS for a year. She has spoken to Aaron, and wants to continue to build Aaron’s accomplishments.
“Right now, I’m supposed to be here for a year,” she said. “But we’ll see what happens. … It’s up to the superintendent and the board to decide. I’m excited to be working here.”
Ficarra announced the staff change June 30, after the school year had ended. On July 13, both Ficarra and Aaron wrote letters to community describing what the former CHS principal’s new job will entail.
“Ms. Aaron will research best practices across the nation in school configuration and reorganization efforts,” Ficarra said. “Once the new structure is developed for grades K-8, Ms. Aaron will work closely with the superintendent to ensure educators, community members and parents/guardians collaboratively design a seamless and supported transition for students, staff and families. She will help assure that we are designing structures that are not only more effective logistically, but which also create a learner-centered environment in which all students can thrive.”
“The opportunity to work with students, staff, families and community partners pre-k to 12 across our two towns is one I look forward to with optimism,” Aaron wrote in her letter. “This work requires full transparency, collaboration, trust and dedication. I am honored to begin it.”
Ficarra did not return multiple requests for comment before press time Tuesday, Aug. 14.