As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across New Jersey at alarming rates in Spring 2020, schools and school districts were thrown a massive curveball to finish the 2019-20 school year.
The Cranbury School, like many others, would have to navigate the closing of the school’s in-person instruction and the transition to fully remote learning that year.
Susan Genco, superintendent and principal of the Cranbury School, helped lead the Cranbury School through the finish of 2019-20 school year and into the preparation and execution of plans for the following 2020-21 school year.
Her efforts earned her a new honor at the end of the 2020-21 school year, as Genco was named the 2021 Middlesex County Superintendent of the Year by the Middlesex County Association of School Administrators (MCASA).
“I am proud to accept this award on behalf of the Cranbury School Community and I share this recognition with an outstanding school family and Board of Education,” Genco said. “This year has been incredibly challenging and I am blessed to work with an administration, faculty and staff who care deeply for our students and do everything in their power to help them shine, no matter the circumstance. I am also honored to work with a board who volunteers countless hours to benefit children.”
According to the school district and Mark Finkelstein, MCASA chair of the nominating committee, members of MCASA unanimously voted to name Genco to be this year’s recipient.
Each member can nominate a name and Genco’s name was unanimous amongst the members in the nomination process, which is a first for the organization.
“It was a surprise and an honor to be selected by my colleagues in Middlesex County. Their collective intelligence and teamwork has been invaluable and I am grateful to be a part of their team,” Genco said.
With the start of the 2020-21 school year the Cranbury School continued to be fully remote, then gradually in-person instruction had been implemented in the fall. For rest of the school year hybrid learning and fully remote learning were the two options available for parents and students.
Expanded in-person instruction followed and occurred near the end of the year.
“For the nine years I have been on the board, Dr. Genco has continued to be an exceptional educational leader,” Cranbury Board President Karen Callahan said. “During the past year, her strength in leadership, resilience, determination and compassion have risen to the forefront. With each decision Dr. Genco faced this year, there were at least 10 tentacles attached that needed to be considered.”
She added that every decision was weighed against the science and safety guidelines with a singular focus to get as many students in-person instruction as possible.
“Cranbury School started the year fully remote, while finishing the year affording every student the opportunity to attend full day, 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., in person while providing lunch,” Callahan said. “This was no small feat. It would not have been possible without the hard work, cooperation and support of Cranbury’s staff and families trusting in her leadership.”
Genco, as the chief school administrator for the district over the last 10 years, led the administration through the educational changes to instruction and challenges in the pandemic, while also taking part in the cleaning of the school with other members of the administration and staff.
“During a crisis, more than ever, it was important to Dr. Genco to enlist a network of teams, promote open dialogue, and encourage creative ideas and problem solving in order to navigate this pandemic,” Callahan added. “She stayed focused on serving students above all else while providing regular, clear communication to inform the board, staff and community of district updates. As an engaged leader, Dr. Genco ‘walked the walk’ by cleaning desks, conducting temperature checks and even serving lunch.”
Genco was not only leading the charge in implementing safety protocols, learning instruction, and continuing school operations, she also worked to establish an onsite COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Cranbury School.
The district partnered with Penn Medicine Princeton Health for the mobile clinic, which occurred in March and April. The mobile clinic would not just be for Cranbury School teachers and staff.
Invitations were sent out made to other district teachers and staff members from Princeton, Old Bridge, North Brunswick, Jamesburg and South Plainfield.
“Regardless of the never-ending workload Dr. Genco needed to tackle this year, she always took time to consider her fellow colleagues and provide support,” Callahan said. “There is no better example of her selflessness than during a meeting with Penn Medicine where Dr. Genco inquired about vaccine clinic opportunities for her colleagues. Dr. Genco was the catalyst behind coordinating a meeting with Middlesex County superintendents and Penn Medicine to provide additional vaccination clinics.”
Genco helped connect Penn Medicine Princeton Health with other Middlesex County superintendents and administrators, so that other mobile clinics could also take place a schools throughout Middlesex County.
“In the midst of all she was handling in her own district, Susan was thinking beyond Cranbury to the welfare of educators throughout the county,’’ said Finkelstein, superintendent of schools for Educational Services Commission of New Jersey.
Finkelstein said the onsite mobile clinic at the Cranbury School resulted in the vaccination of more than a thousand educators throughout Middlesex County.
“Her compassion, resilience and extraordinary leadership encapsulates all the reasons Dr. Genco is respected and admired by the Cranbury community and her peers,” Callahan said. “It is why Dr. Genco is the clear choice to be honored as County Superintendent of the Year.”
According to the school district, prior to her manning the helm of the Cranbury School District administration, Genco was a principal in the Brick Township School District.