Only a few weeks after celebrating her 38th birthday, Tewksbury resident Karen Chase took over as the new assistant superintendent for the .
“Chatham is great, it really is,” Chase said. "I like to see the 'big picture' of an organization and see how every facet of a school system, curriculum, personnel [and] budget functions together to serve the students."
Since she started her new job on July 2, Chase dove in feet-first. She attended her first Board of Education meeting on July 23, has met with all principals and supervisors, and meets regularly with Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa. "Every district does things differently, so I have to familiarize with the school's specific procedures," she said.
Chase now occupies LaSusa’s former office, a space which she has already turned into her own. “I actually researched colors,” she said, and eventually settled on a “soothing” light blue.
“When I was a classroom teacher, … I was a big fan for color. I read that red stimulates hunger but creativity, and blue is calming, and yellow causes anxiety. I incorporated these ideas into my classroom, and [it] was always very appealing to the students. They always commented on it,” Chase said.
She also found a few of her own favorites, such as the . "I love it. I think it's the best place because it has a welcoming feel," she said.
Learning to Think
Chase holds a bachelor's degree in English Education and a master's degree from the University of Connecticut in Educational Psychology, with an emphasis on gifted education. She is also pursuing a doctorate in Education Leadership at Seton Hall University.
Before she came to Chatham, Chase spent six years with , first as supervisor of Language Arts K-12, Basic Skills Instruction and Gifted and Talented Education supervisor, then as the Curriculum supervisor, a role she took over in 2010.
Before Montville she taught preschool-aged children, English at and Language Arts Literacy at . She also taught college classes at Montclair State University.
It was while teaching Gifted and Talented students at in the that Chase began her move into administrative roles. “I was in the classroom, and I realized I needed to learn more about how these high-ability students learn. So I immediately enrolled in a master’s program at UConn, where they focus on gifted and talented education,” she said.
Chase's experiences trained her brain to see multiple pieces of a puzzle and how they all connect. “I’ve taught every level and every subject, so it just automatically all goes into my brain together very well. I see it all fitting together,” she said.
It’s not just her professional experience that taught her to think this way. Chase is a fan of puzzles, especially Sudoku. “It’s a matter of holding additional information in your head, so you hold steps A, B and C in your head, and then you move on to step D. A person may not be able to do that in the beginning, it’s very difficult, but I think your mind can be trained to do that,” she said.
She is also passionate about learning new things, and constantly uses Google to find out information. She loves music (her iPod includes music from Zac Brown Band to Dave Matthews) and reading, and hopes to find a good pilates class and take horseback riding lessons.
Chase also displays pictures of her two Boston terriers on her desk. Their names are Walden, “named after the pond,” and Grace, though given her personality, Chase said, “I should have named her Lucy, like Lucille Ball.”
Moving to Chatham
Within Morris County schools, Chase said, "Chatham has a great reputation. It’s a stellar district, and every meeting that I’ve had has confirmed why that is,” Chase said. “They’re progressive. They’re well-read. They’re up on current research. They know best practices, and they’re so dedicated to their work. Everybody is just so very collaborative.”
Chase plans to meet with the district Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTOs) and hopes to stop at the Back to School nights in the district. “If there’s a time for me to be present to the staff and the students, I will do that, even if it’s just me walking around the building. … I want to be visible. That’s my goal,” she said.
She also looks forward to speaking with students about their experiences. "I think it's really important to talk to students, to listen to their ideas and hear their concerns," she said. "That's why we're here. That's why I get up every day, to come here, to come to Chatham, to serve these children in the community."
Chase also wants to find a project she can get involved with, either a new project, such as family learning nights for subjects like literacy or math, or an existing program, such as the English as a Second Language classes.
“I think that it’s important to look at our ESL program and make sure that we’re providing support for our English Language learners, because there [is] a population here that we need to service,” Chase said. “Not knowing the language, it’s very difficult to navigate just the structure of the school day.”
Chase's passions when it comes to education are extremely varied, from grading—"Does an 'A' give information to a parent, or would a parent value more specific standard information?"—to "using assessment to drive instruction", from teaching organization to using common core technology in the classroom.
"There [are] lots of things that I'm fascinated with" when it comes to education, she said, "and I'm always thinking, 'What implications does this have for us?'"
Chase said she has “a strong passion for the underserved—underserved struggling learner, underserved high-ability learner. I really feel that population, which is small here in Chatham, does need a voice. … I’m really here for all students, but that’s one area that I’d like to look at and see how we’re servicing those students.”