South Mountain welcomes new principal, an SMS grad

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Alyna Jacobs

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — There is going to be a new but familiar face in town at South Mountain Elementary School; following the superintendent’s recommendation and the Board of Education’s May 12 approval, Alyna Jacobs is the new school principal, effective July 1.

Jacobs — who graduated from South Mountain Elementary School, South Orange Middle School and Columbia High School — holds a bachelor of science degree in art history from Rutgers University, a master’s degree in international education from New York University and a second master’s degree from Brooklyn College.

Prior to joining the South Orange-Maplewood School District, Jacobs served as an assistant principal at PS 1139 in Brooklyn, and in the New York schools as an elementary school teacher, lead teacher, literacy coach and math coach. She has worked as an instructional leader, school building leader and staff developer, and has immersed herself in technology, integration, community programs and PTA activities.

In addition to returning to her former elementary school in an administrative capacity, Jacobs has recently relocated back to the village of South Orange with her family.

“Returning home to South Orange after over a decade of living in Brooklyn has been a truly joyful experience. I have had an opportunity to rediscover the town as an adult and, at the same time, share with my children some of the most wonderful memories of growing up here, like sledding down Flood’s Hill, spending long summer afternoons at the town pool, and eating ice cream and making crafts at the South Mountain School Fair,” Jacobs said in a recent email to the News-Record. “Returning to South Mountain School in this new capacity is very emotional for me — especially because my daughter attends the school and my son soon will as well.

“When I returned to the big school to speak to the community in the auditorium, I was flooded with incredible memories of school plays, assemblies and friendships,” she continued. “I’ve had a chance to speak with many staff at SMS and it is clear just how committed they are to the students and to their own ongoing learning. I couldn’t be more excited to serve my community and hopefully make a positive, meaningful and lasting impact on the school.”

Jacobs said she is excited to be taking on her new role and eager to work with the teachers and staff at South Mountain Elementary.

“One of the great strengths in this district is its community. We boast some of the most accomplished teachers in the state, having the largest number of national board-certified teachers in New Jersey,” she said. “The school and towns are saturated with so many open, interesting people — adults and children alike. Between the strength of the instructional leadership and staff across the district, the educational powerhouses in the field who are also residents of our community, and the many individuals across the two towns who live exciting lives and do purposeful work, I believe there is infinite potential to work together for our schools.”

In addition to being the new principal of South Mountain Elementary School, Jacobs will be on the other side of the equation as a new parent to the school. Her daughter will be joining the student body in the new school year. She believes this dual role of administrator and parent will only serve to make her stronger in both and provide a unique perspective.

“This dual role nurtures a very special commitment and investment in the school. As a mother and as an administrator, my vision will be grounded not only in what I know is best for all of our kids, but also what I hope and dream for when it comes to my own children; to know that these two goals are actually one and the same is, I believe, very powerful,” Jacobs said. “Being an administrator and parent will provide me with the unique opportunity to have multiple perspectives, and I’ll have to step in and out of different roles at different times. As a principal and parent within the district, I will constantly be in the shoes of multiple stakeholders and feel compelled to act in the best interests of the entire school community — the students, the staff and also the families.”

The insights that her educational and professional experiences as a teacher, instructional coach and assistant principal bring to the table are, to her, centered on one basic tenet: trust.

“My background is rooted in supporting teachers to grow their practice through a process of collaborative planning, teaching and reflection. Collaborating with staff to set individual goals, and then setting short- and long-term goals for the school, is something I have immense experience doing,” she said. “I know and understand that change takes time, and requires building trust, prioritizing and communicating in order to ensure the success of any initiative.”

But more than that, Jacobs said she believes that the personal touch is what really brings people together.

“I’ve learned that it is extremely important to know the individuals in your school community — the children, the staff and the families. Everyone wants to be known and understand how valued and important he or she is on both a personal and a professional level,” Jacobs said in her email. “Each individual also comes with a unique set of circumstances; my goal is always to approach situations with a mindset where I am seeking to understand those circumstances and putting in the effort to grow relationships and get to know those around me in a way that goes beneath the surface.”

In addition to getting to know the students and teachers, and supporting them in their endeavors, Jacobs is also eager to bring some new life to the school in two very important areas: classroom libraries and purposeful play.

“One of my big goals for South Mountain School is to grow our classroom libraries. Great classroom libraries lead to greater investment in reading — and the more kids read, the better readers they become,” she said. “I want every classroom library to be inviting, organized and robust. Some of the most wonderful classroom libraries I have seen have books that are organized by level, by topic and even by series.

“These rich libraries support the implementation of the curriculum, and also make it possible for kids to take their books home each night to read,” Jacobs continued. “If we want kids going home and doing purposeful reading work, we need to send them home with books.”

Jacobs also believes that purposeful play is intrinsic for developing well-rounded students and she looks forward to incorporating more of that into the school day.

“Children learn so much through play, not only socially and emotionally, but academically. Ensuring that we are nurturing students’ curiosity and offering them opportunities to collaborate, create, problem-solve and negotiate with their peers, will foster deeper academic and social learning. I am truly committed to thoughtfully integrating more play into the classroom,” Jacobs said. “When students are engaged with problems that are both meaningful and connected to their own experiences, they are able to tackle complex problems with a different type of energy and perseverance.

“One of the challenges for parents and teachers is that along with the transition to the Common Core, many of us needed to relearn how to understand and teach math,” she continued. “I think teachers are eager and excited to dig more deeply into math content, and parents are equally interested in learning the methods and strategies that their kids are using at school. And the kids are most certainly up for the challenge!”