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Part 2: After More Than 15 Years With District, O'Neill Closes Book on Chatham Career

As one door closes, superintendent looks for another to open.

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 .

"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 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 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 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 , it .

"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.

Laura Ali June 30, 2011 at 11:27 AM
Jim was a class act from the beginning and is applauded and congratulated by everyone who has known and worked with him over the years. I wish him every success in whatever the next endeavor is and hope that the School District of the Chathams continues up the same path of producing great results.
Melissa Cavallone June 30, 2011 at 12:12 PM
I did not really know Jim, but I always admired how much he cared and tried to do what was best for the students. Whether one agreed with him all the time is irrelevant - that just isn't going to happen anywhere. I wish him the best.
James Raleigh June 30, 2011 at 11:22 PM
The superintendent position in Chatham is all about dealing with the parents. Guy did a good job. If the "know it all" parents stuck to being parents instead of full time evaluators of our teachers, then we wouldn't even need a superintendent.
Captain Jack July 01, 2011 at 03:39 PM
Dunderheads.
Lbenus July 01, 2011 at 09:48 PM
Hey Tony-O, Jeff Fritts and his family have helped make Chatham Sports. I have never seen a family so involved. How much time do you put in to Chatham Sports?
James Raleigh July 03, 2011 at 11:16 AM
Making allegations without documentation is unethical. Also, calling out people without specifically identifying yourself is simply, cowardice.
Laura Silvius (Editor) July 03, 2011 at 11:26 PM
Hi everybody, we seem to have gone a little off-topic here so I am closing this article to further comments. Thank you for reading.

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