Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series looking back on Superintendent Jim O'Neill's career with the School District of the Chathams. Click here for Part 1.
Jim O'Neill did not wait until his last day to move out of his office, the space he has been in since 2003 as superintendent of the School District of the Chathams.
"I took a lot out this [past] weekend," he said. "It's a lot more emotional ... [and] I'm having a little more withdrawal than I anticipated."
O'Neill announced in February that he will officially retire when his contract expires Thursday.
Room for Improvement
One area O'Neill thinks the district could improve is in its outreach to senior citizens.
"I believe the schools here are very naturally inter-generational," he said."One of the unique things about this community is that we have people ... who no longer have kids here who sometimes come and vote yes, and sometimes just don't vote, and that's because they still believe in public education."
O'Neill said there are programs available for senior citizens to enroll in classes at Chatham High School or to read to younger students at the elementary schools.
"We try to do a lot of things, but it hasn't always materialized as much as I would have liked it to," he said
O'Neill also said he wished the lights at Cougar Field could have been installed before he left. He said it was "deplorable" that Chatham teams did not have permanent lights on that field. He joked about it in his graduation speech at this year's commencement ceremony at Chatham High School, saying the original superintendent of Chatham, who also served in Madison and Florham Park, would have had an easier time getting the lights installed in 1911 than O'Neill has had in 2011.
"There's no doubt in my mind there'll be lights on that field, but it's causing people money," O'Neill said.
He also thinks the administration did not spend as much time supporting Board of Education members during their first years on the board.
"We haven't always been as sensitive to some of the pressures that they get from friends and neighbors in the community," he said. "They're in the very difficult position of being [in] the know, but not being able to say anything."
The only issue where O'Neill expressed explicit "disappointment" was in outreach to the community via the internet. "I thought ... we would make people more knowledgeable about a lot of pieces of the budget, since so much of the budget is posted online and so much of what we do is based on the public approving the budget on an annual basis.
"I thought that more people would have been more knowledgeable about the school budget, when indeed a lot of people aren't. Aren't at all," O'Neill said.
Political Ambitions, Or, What's Next?
Before redistricting in New Jersey was finalized, O'Neill announced he intended to run for a seat in the state legislature. When Chatham Borough, where O'Neill lives, was moved to the Union County-predominant 21st district, it threw a wrench into his plans.
"I think I would have been very anxious and eager to be running this September," O'Neill said. "I think I would have enjoyed that, and given some people a run for their money."
The district already had a full slate of Democratic candidates for state offices, though, so O'Neill said, "I guess that's on hold for two years."
In the meantime, O'Neill has a vacation for himself and his wife planned in July, a gift from members of the community. Once he returns, he said he will look for an interim superintendent position somewhere in the state.
"Everyone says, one door closes, another opens, and I basically believe that," he said. "Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks or a month before that door opens, but I'm sure that'll be the case."
He said he has also "debated" the idea of writing a book. "When I think about that, I wonder if I should write like a fiction book that has a lot of truth in it or if I should write a nonfiction book that would be something that principals or superintendents could look at to help them with decision-making.
"It's an interesting proposition, and I think that if I'm not busy enough by August, that's one of the things I would probably start," he said.
Still, O'Neill said, "The highlight of my career is the place where I spent the longest."
He has many times called his decision to move to and work in Chatham the best one he could have made.
"There are very few people fortunate enough to be superintendent of a place like this," he said.