For the past seven years when school has started in Howell Joe Isola has been at as the principal welcoming students back for another year.
This year Isola was still welcoming students back to school, but this time as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Personnel. Since taking over the job this summer Isola said it is another exciting turn in a career that started with an accounting degree from Wagner College in his native Staten Island.
Isola said he was helping to coach football at his high school alma mater Susan Wagner High School when he realized he wanted to work with notebooks and textbooks rather than accounting ledgers and calculators. It is a decision that even all these years later he said he has no regrets about. "I just loved instructing at that point and loved helping kids through things," he said. "You build that bond and I realized one day in my office at my accounting firm that I was working for that I'm more interested in that [teaching] than I am in this."
His first teaching experience came as a special education and gifted and talented teacher at Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn. From the classroom, Isola moved up to a dean in the building before eventually earning a promotion to assistant principal.
Working with such a wide variety of students, Isola said helped him in many ways in doing his job better. "It was about problem solving," he said. "These kids needed answers. They weren't going home to mom and dad to fix everything. I think that's when I really fell in love with what I was doing."
When he got the chance to leave the classroom to take on more of an administrative role, Isola said he was not sure at first that that was the direction he wanted to go in. "I was concerned about leaving the classroom on a regular basis, but what I found was that the staff was very comfortable working with me in terms of finding solutions for the kids. I really embraced the thought process that okay, I can impact more kids now."
After moving his family to Monroe Township in New Jersey, Isola said he spent eight years making the long commute to Brooklyn before taking the job at North.
And while the school was different in many ways from what he was used to in Brooklyn, he said the similarities between where he lived in Monroe and Howell made the transition easier. "Many of the things that my wife Pamela and I loved about home, I was finding here," he said. "It was a good match for me."
Having not worked in the state, let alone the district, Isola said he was unsure of what to expect when he first arrived at the school. "I was an outsider coming in to a very different setting than what I was used to. I was received as an unknown but certainly given the opportunity to forge great relationships."
Even as the school year was ending this past June, Isola said his focus was still on getting ready for the year ahead before his new position opened up. "I'm somebody who believes that you must be focused on your current task to do it successfully," he said.
When it was announced that Karen Jones was leaving to take over the superintendent position in , Isola said he gave a lot of thought to whether he wanted to leave somewhere that had become his home for a new job. "I said am I the right person for the district in this capacity. Could I help more? and I meant that. That's what it was about for me," he said.
Taking over for Jones is something that Isola knows will not be easy, but he said her efforts will make the transition that much easier for him. "Doctor Jones did an extraordinary job in very difficult times," he said. With the district facing heavy cuts, Isola said Jones' work helped keep the schools moving forward during difficult times. "The fact that she was here are big shoes to fill, but also things are well organized and there's a process in place for success."
As a diehard fan of the New York Yankees, Isola compared following in Jones' footsteps with the players who came after Mickey Mantle playing center field for his favorite team. "But when you look to your right and your left you have two good players there so you're going to be okay."
Not having interviewed for any positions after getting the North position, Isola said the fact that he could take this new job in a place he already knew was a big factor in his decision to apply. "I said this is home and if I can go to a position where I can help more people and have a larger impact, that's a great combination," he said.
Now that the school year is started, Isola said he is still learning what his new job entails, but he is excited to do what he can to help the district achieve its goals going into the future. "I've said from the day I entered education that this is about people. This is about kids," he said.
With the personnel aspect of the job, Isola said he is looking forward to working with teachers throughout the district and helping them to succeed. The curriculum part of the job, he said, is one that he is looking forward to continuing the strong level of success the district already has.
Part of the team he will be working with includes Superintendent Enid Golden, who Isola said he has already built a strong working relationship with during his time in the district as well as Patricia Callander, the Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services. Callander and Isola first worked together when she was the special education supervisor for the district working out of Middle School North. "I knew the leadership team well. I've worked closely with many of the supervisors and building principals. It just seemed right."
One of the biggest concerns Isola said he has about his new job is that it takes him even farther outside the classrooms he has grown to love being around. Wanting to maintain that connection though, is something that he said will help him organize his days during the year. "Hopefully working closely with the principals on projects within their buildings and getting the chance to see kids and staff is going to be an opportunity that I need to manage to make sure that I have time to do that stuff," he said.
No matter how much he enjoys his new job, Isola said he takes with him plenty of memories from his time at his first school in the district. "i love the staff members at Middle School North that I got to build a relationship with," he said. "I love the colleagues that I have. They're a part of my personal circle."
Outside of the district, one of the biggest parts of his personal circle is his family. Along with his wife, the pair have three children: Joseph Jr. 18, Nicholas, 15 and Andrew, 13. All three sons, he said follow in their father's footsteps at least when it comes to baseball. "It's one of the non-negotiables in our family," he said with a laugh. "Everything else is up for discussion, but in terms of what baseball team we root for, it's the Yankees."
Isola said even when he is at home with his family, he is very rarely in his house. He also serves as the president of his Pop Warner league in Monroe and also has helped to coach his sons in their various sports experiences. "We always feel like we're running to a ball field somewhere," he said. "That's what most of our time is consumed with. Most of our free time as little as it is is dedicated to the children at home."
Now, as his oldest son starts his freshman year of college, Isola said he is looking forward to the challenges his new job presents just down the road from the building that gave him such fond memories. Now, he said, he is looking forward to making more memories in all the buildings across the district.