Lana Mueller, the long-time operations manager for the Lawrence Township Public schools ended her long years of service with the district at the end of May.
A resident of Lawrence Township for many years, Mueller also acted as the de-factor communications director for the district, acting as a conduit to help keep the community up to date on what was going on in the district.
In advance of her retirement, Lawrence Gazette editor Bill Sanservino sat down with Mueller to reflect on her time with the district, where she worked since 1995.
The first part of that interview was published in last month’s issue (may 2021) issue of the Gazette, and concludes below.
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Lawrence Gazette: This will be the second senior class that has been impacted by the pandemic. What are the plans for graduation?
Lana Mueller: Right now they’re talking about having it at the Arm & Hammer Park.
It’s been a situation where the kids—for a majority of this year and for at least half of last year— didn’t get the full high school experience. They didn’t get to go to their dances. They didn’t get to bond with their friends.
The athletes for example. All three of my kids swam and I loved going to those meets. Manny times this year I thought about the parents. I know it was upsetting for the athletes, but I thought it was upsetting for the parents too, just missing out on that.
There’s so many traditional or type things that go along with being a senior and that whole experience.
LG: And then you’ve got the school plays and the musicals and concerts.
LM: Yes all of those things that the kids worked so hard for—and the teachers too.
LG: Has there been any thought about how the pandemic has changed, or might change or impact education going into the future? Do you have any thoughts about the state of education as it moves into the future.
LM: Well for one thing, as far as the remote instruction, we have purchased Neat Bars.
The device has a speaker, a camera and a microphone, and it fits atop a monitor. We have purchased one of those for each one of our classrooms, and it sits on a stand that can be moved any place in the classroom.
So it’s thought that maybe more remote instruction, not like long periods, but if necessary, can be done if something else comes along.
It could also eliminate the need for snow days altogether.
We did give the kids one snow day this year. Dr. (Ross) Kasun (superintendent) said, “let’s have one day of normalcy,” and let them have the snow day. So, maybe we would do something like that.
But that’s one way that it’s changed. The pandemic gave us not only with equipment, but the teachers have had a lot of training, and so on, and have grown from that, I think.
Just being more comfortable and even learning from using Zoom and some of the things that can happen when we use it, and things to watch out for.
I think that’s one of the things that’s evolved from this as far as the future of education. I think that’s better for somebody in instruction to answer.
LG: A big part of your job is to be the community outreach person for the district, working with the media and members of the public. I have been told that it’s not legal for a school district to actually have a position set aside just for PR purposes. I’m confused.
LM: That’s a great question. Yeah, it’s very confusing and the 2009 regulations that New Jersey put out said that communications and PR and that sort of thing is not supposed to be more than 50% of somebody’s job. So most districts kind of avoid having a director of communications. Maybe that person will also do grants or wear a variety of hats.
The N.J. School Public Relations Association puts on its website that you can have a communications person, because a lot of districts think that they can’t have somebody doing that.
LG: As a member of the media, I think that having somebody to reach out to the community is a vital role. What are your feelings about that, and what are some of the challenges?
LM: I agree with you. I think it’s critical to have somebody in that position. One of the challenges is that with my responsibilities of supporting the superintendent, I don’t get into the schools as often as I would like.
That would help me to get more information to put out. But over the years I have people in the schools—almost like internal ambassadors—sending me information.
With the position of assisting the superintendent, there’s a lot of day-to-day requirements that are necessary. A lot of people will contact me rather than contacting the superintendent directly.
And my job’s been described as doing triage, connecting the dots to communication both within the district and then outside.
If the job was structured a little bit differently, then maybe somebody would have time to attend more community meetings. That would be one way to be able to connect with people more.
As far as reaching the community. That’s really a challenge. It’s been said that only 25% of a community has children in a district. The rest don’t get as much information about what’s going on in the schools.
Our main way of reaching people, as far as our district, is through the Gazette, because most residents get it. So we rely on that a lot.
LG: Do you have any interesting stories from over the years that kind of stick out in your mind?
LMN: We did an open house for realtors one night. This is when Crystal Edwards was the superintendent, and it was just for an hour.
She spoke with them for the first 30 minutes and then the peer leaders from the high school broke into groups and took different realtors around the school.
The kids were so eloquent. I didn’t know any of them at all, but I was just so proud of them because. Iw was great almost every time that I had any exchange with the kids. They’re really special.
LG: What are you going to miss most about the job?
LM: The people. Just the relationships, both in the district and outside. I cried when I told Ross I was retiring.
LG: I can imagine it’s tough. But it’s also exciting.
LM: Yes, my husband and I always said that whenever we retire we wanted to have something exciting to go to, and we do feel like that with what we’re doing. We’re really looking forward to it.
LG: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about or anything that you want to let the community know?
LM: I am so glad that we found Lawrence, because we had never lived in a place that had townships and where the township kind of dictates your school district and so on. So that was new to us.
I think Lawrence is a wonderful community and I’ll miss that part, because it does kind of define, you know. It’s a smaller definition of your area, your community and there are so many good things going on here. So I’ll miss that.