BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Students and staff at Demarest Elementary School met their new principal last week, as Mike Sullivan prepares to become head of the school in September. Currently the vice principal at John H. Walker Middle School in Nutley, Sullivan is taking over for Demarest departing interim Principal Deborah Ferrara, who has been at the post since March.
“It’s a great community. The schools there have a great opportunity,” Sullivan said about Demarest in a phone interview with The Independent Press on May 28. “Working in Nutley, we’re neighbors and have been able to work together in the past.”
The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on all aspects of daily life, including schools, this past year. Closed from March 2020 to April of this year, the Bloomfield School District is on a hybrid virtual and in-person combination learning schedule. Sullivan’s first order of business is to figure out what full days at school will look like for students who haven’t been there every day for more than a year.
“The key is going in with an open mind,” he said. “We have to work with the parents and kids, and be patient to take our time to get back.”
Technology has been a massive part of education during the pandemic, and Sullivan said some of the things that teachers and administrators learned while forced to teach from home can be applied even after Demarest’s doors are open all day, every day, and things are looking more normal post-pandemic.
“I want to do more listening than speaking, first,” Sullivan said. “First is working on that transition back to normal. Having been virtual for such a long time, using technology was huge. We can take the positives from that and from being in quarantine and keep them to move forward.”
Sullivan has been working at the middle school level for a few years now, but, before becoming a vice principal, he taught sixth grade in an elementary school. And all four of Sullivan’s daughters are between kindergarten and fifth grade, so he’s not new to being around younger students. He decided to make the leap to administration so he could work with more than one class of students at a time.
“You have an impact on the whole school,” Sullivan said. “That’s a pretty cool thing, as opposed to only having the 20 kids in front of you. I wanted to do something that would benefit the community and that I would enjoy, and working in the classroom was great.”
He’s already met the staff and most of the nearly 500 students at Demarest, and is raring to go when the new school year starts.
“I try to be engaged with students and families,” Sullivan said. “I don’t want to be behind closed doors doing paperwork all the time. I’m very excited and am looking at this in a positive way. I’m ready to go.”