Profile                                                            Page 47


The Payoff of Persistence


Chris Manno

It was a challenge Chris Manno couldn’t refuse. It was Christmas Eve and his 18th birthday. He got down on the floor at Steinert High School in Mercer County, N.J., and started doing push-ups. He kept going for the next 55 minutes.

He got to 700, the school record held by Doug Martin, his social studies teacher, track coach and mentor, and kept going. He finally stopped at 1,224, deciding the number nicely matched the date.

How did he do it? Simple, Manno says: “You just keep going.”

It didn’t hurt that he had been training since 9th grade, spurred on by his admiration for Martin and the discipline instilled in him by his parents, both public servants. That discipline, combined with an ability to adapt to changing circumstances, has served him well. Manno was named New Jersey superintendent of the year in 2012 in his seventh year leading the 4,200-student Burlington Township School District near Trenton.

Manno’s dream as a high school student was to go to West Point, and he was on his way until he flunked an eye exam. He tried an internship in computer programming but found he was much more drawn to working with young people. He spent eight years as a math teacher and supervisor and coach of swimming, track and cross country teams before moving into administration.

In January, Manno took on a new challenge as chief of the nearby Burlington County Special Services District and Burlington County Institute of Technology.

Manno points to the creation of Burlington Township’s All Students Achieving Plan as one of his signal achievements. The plan contains clear, measurable objectives for improving student performance, safety, district operations and community engagement.

A one-page document about the initiative is posted in every classroom and major office in the district.

That openness, clarity and inclusivity are hallmarks of Manno’s tenure, school board member Susan Eichmann says. “He really changed the whole climate of our school district. He came in and was completely present in a way we hadn’t experienced before,” she adds.

Manno has developed deep relationships in the community. He belongs to the Rotary club and serves on the boards of the food pantry and YMCA.

Eichmann says all of that helped the district through one of its most trying moments.

That came in 2009, when a 2nd-grade class performed a song about President Obama at a February assembly. The song, sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” praised the president and his accomplishments. After a video of the performance hit the Internet, the district was deluged by outraged e-mails and calls. Fox News and CNN requested interviews.

“It was all-consuming,” Manno says.

The controversy provided a crash course in how to deal with a crisis. The key, Manno says, is transparency. He met with his community contacts to explain the issue and advised district staff on how to talk about it.

Manno advises school leaders confronted with such a crisis to return calls from local media even if they are barred from providing specifics.

“Say, ‘Yes, there is a situation occurring, but I can’t comment on the details because it is a personnel matter, or it is a confidential student matter or it is a police investigation,’” he says.

Paul Riede is a staff writer with The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y. E-mail: hoffried@twcny.rr.com



Currently: superintendent, Burlington County Special Services District and Burlington County Institute of Technology, Westampton, N.J.

Previously: superintendent, Burlington Township School District

Age: 46

Greatest influence on career: Doug Martin, a coach and my high school social studies and government teacher, who taught me the principles of confidence, concentration, consistency, discipline, dedication and determination

Best professional day: Teacher of the Year Day each year. I visit the school to surprise our honored teacher and ask students if they believe the recipient is Teacher of the Year. It is a reminder of the profound power of our profession.

Books at bedside: Leadership Conversations by Alan Berson and Richard Stieglitz and Lincoln on Leadership by Donald Phillips

Biggest blooper: On the day the governor visited our school, I was to introduce the first speaker, following a detailed script, which stated: “Speaker — Assemblyman X.” I introduced the assemblyman as the speaker of the assembly. He thanked me for the promotion.

Why I’m an AASA member: The print and electronic publications keep me up to date on national educational issues.



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