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From a Cab Driver to a Superintendent

Patch recently sat down with Easton, Redding and Region 9's new superintendent Bernard Josefsberg, who talked about his background and how he intends to serve the community.

After graduating college, Dr. Bernard Josefsberg began a career as a cab driver in New York City. Eventually, through a federal grant where he was hired to operate phonics machines, he “fell into” substitute teaching in Jersey City.

Through what he describes as a “fairly conventional rise” up the educational hierarchy in — including a four-year stint as a principal in New Canaan — Josefsberg worked his way to the top.

On July 15, Josefsberg officially .

“There are challenges, but there’s good work to be done here,” Josefsberg told Patch last week, adding there’s a “very strong platform [already in place here] upon which one can accomplish that work.”

Prior to taking the reins here, Josefsberg was superintendent for Leonia Public Schools in New Jersey for seven years. Josefsberg said that despite New Jersey Governor Chris Christie creating “an atmosphere across the state that is hostile to public school superintendents,” he decided to leave Leonia for other reasons.

“I accomplished what I felt I could accomplish in Leonia,” he said. “I felt it was time to move on to something else. I was also able to leave more or less on my own terms with a sense of accomplishment. I was able to influence the picking of my successor. And with my daughter finishing high school and heading to college, it was time for a change.”

When asked about the , Josefsberg said he hadn’t had the time yet to delve deep into it, but had looked it over.

“It reflects a certain viewpoint — I don’t believe it’s the case that viewpoint has made everyone stand up and salute,” he said. “I’m certainly aware there are three boards. That’s the reality in place. We need to make it work — part of needing to make it work might involve thinking about how we can evolve. But I’m in no position to say this can go here and this can go there. I’m trying to figure out what’s in place.”

Josefsberg said part of his responsibility is to serve the community, “identifying pathways of how the community can move forward.”

“We have a shared experience here, a shared challenge,” he said. “I do think what happens in Redding affects Easton and what happens in Easton affects Redding, and both towns feed into Barlow.”

It’s time for schools in the 21st century to become schools of the 21st century, not schools of the 20th century, Josefsberg said. The districts need to figure out what they “need to provide kids with so that they can become responsible adults in the 21st century.”

“The purposes of schooling haven’t changed, but the forms of schooling have to adapt themselves,” Josefsberg said. “The issue with public schools in general is sustainability. You can’t simply roll over the existing arrangements year after year after year and expect you can sustain yourself in that fashion.”

Acknowledging the economic climate and unique set up of the three districts, Josefsberg reiterated part of his job is to serve the community.

“There’s challenging fiscal circumstances, challenging demographic circumstances,” he said. “Parents — legitimately and appropriately — retain their high expectations for the performance of the schools. Those expectations have to be met. It’s always been important to me that the schools work well for all students in the system. I like the idea of placing students in the center — if you put them in the center, there’s no top or the bottom.”

Josefsberg stressed the value of arts.

“The arts are a way of understanding life — learning how to express yourself and communicate,” he said. “You can’t be fully human without an appreciation of the arts. If you have no sense of the breadth and depth of that way of interacting with the world, you’re really deprived.”

For Josefsberg, school is just as much a part of the real world, well, as the real world.

“I’ve always been bothered by the notion that there’s school and then there’s the real world,” he said. “Schools should be dynamic, interesting places where learning takes place on a regular basis, as opposed to something you endure.”

Josefsberg said he intends to fulfill his contract.

“I’ve made a commitment to the boards that hired me,” he said. “There’s good sensitivity to that for obvious reason.”

Josefsberg said he hopes parents and community members get in touch with him.

“I like the people up here, and I’ve had some great conversations already,” he said. “I’m very happy I’m here.”

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