WEST ORANGE, NJ — Hayden Moore got a little choked up while listening to a list of his accomplishments being read to a crowd of student council members from across the state at the New Jersey Association of Student Councils fall business meeting at The College of New Jersey.
The West Orange High School principal was honored as the 2019-2020 Administrator of the Year, nominated by members of the WOHS Student Council and chosen by the NJASC state officers, who are also students. The organization works with high school student councils to improve leadership and hold conventions throughout the year around the state.
“I was just happy to be nominated,” Moore said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Oct. 18. “It’s special because it’s not coming from adults, it’s students. When your students feel that way about you, it resonates. I wanted to create an environment where they feel like they’re in a place where they’re safe and feel like they’re in a place they can thrive.”
To be nominated, a representative from the WOHS Student Council, the council’s adviser and another member of the school’s administration had to write letters of support for Moore. Senior and Student Council Co-president Brett Zeligson wrote the student letter, and explained why he and the rest of the council members wanted to see their principal win.
“We all agreed he deserves it the most,” Zeligson said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Oct. 20. “He represents West Orange so well. We’ve gotten to visit other schools for student council and I realized how much more he does than other principals.”
Catherine Connors, the WOHS student council adviser, reiterated that sentiment in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Oct. 20. The council often travels to other high schools to work with them, and on one trip WOHS students were surprised to learn that other principals don’t have the relationship with their students that Moore has with his.
“This is special because it came from the bottom, from the students,” Connors said. “They see this person really working for them.”
Working with students is one of Moore’s strengths, as he said himself. At a school with approximately 2,000 students, he tries to get to know as many of them as he can. He learns as many names as possible, and if he can’t remember their names, he at least wants to remember their faces.
“I know them all, I work with them, I see them in the hallways,” Moore said. “If there’s a student in crisis I want to know, even if I’m not the person who’s helping them directly. I also get student feedback in everything I do, which is probably the key to how we improve. When you do that, they feel that you care about them.”
He makes sure to attend as many sporting events, performances and other school events as possible. As a West Orange resident, he looks for his students in the community as well.
“If they work part-time jobs, I go to those places and look for them,” Moore said. “I work hard to familiarize myself with them. I really have a love for the students, I want to know them. I’m not afraid to talk to them.”
According to Zeligson, that goes both ways.
“He’s always ready to talk to you,” Zeligson said. “I’ve just walked into his office in the last two years, and he helps. He doesn’t try to refer you to someone else. Just in general, he’s very supportive.”
Connors has been the Student Council adviser since 2017, and said Moore attends all their events and lends a hand as much as he can.
“It’s the small things he does that they notice,” she said of why students love Moore. “They know they can find him in the hallways. He’s one of those rare principals that we have who will check in on them. He knows their names and the sports they play. As a staff member, I know he has our back and supports us, which is a really cool feeling.”
An educator for 21 years and the WOHS principal for the past seven, Moore credits the staff at the school for his award, as well as the students who supported him.
“I feel like I share it with the administration,” he said. “A lot of what goes on is because they help drive that. With students, you work with them because you want them to have a future. When they recognize that, it’s quite an honor.”
Photos Courtesy of Stephan Zichella