Pamela Vaughan Leaving Intermediate School—but Not Retiring
The principal will continue her career in education, but she'll be missed in Ocean City. Meanwhile, the search is on for her replacement.
Like many new retirees, Pamela Vaughan plans to do some fishing and traveling.
Shortly after the bell rings on her last day as principal of Ocean City Intermediate School, the outdoorsy Vaughan leaves for a long-planned trip to Alaska, where she hopes to snag at least one halibut and one salmon.
But Vaughan's might be the shortest retirement in history. If all goes as expected, she starts her new job July 11—as assistant dean of education at Stockton College.
Vaughan has been an adjunct professor at Stockton for years—teaching aspiring teachers, but she said even she was surprised when the college called about the full-time job.
“I was offered the position on a Friday at 1 o'clock and by 2:20 I had made my decision and told my staff,” Vaughan said. “It's an opportunity to grow and expand with Stockton.”
Like a good teacher, Vaughan didn't whack her 85-teacher OCIS staff over the head with the news she was leaving. Instead, she called a faculty meeting and read to them from a silly book called The Top 13 Warning Signs That It's Time to Retire. It didn't take long for teachers to figure out what Vaughan was telling them. There were quite a few tears.
“I really will miss my kids and my staff,” Vaughan said. “I spend a lot of time here and they really are my family.”
Vaughan, who lives on the Tuckahoe River in Corbin City, taught middle school math and was an administrator in Middle Township schools for 23 years before she took the helm of OCIS in 2003. She was chosen from among 57 applicants.
Sixty-seven people applied to replace Vaughan; interviews started June 2.
“We will go as fast as we can, but as slow as we must in this selection process,” Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said in an update on the school's web site. “We want the best candidate for our school.”
A tragic accident made Vaughan's early days on the job especially challenging. A boiler explosion killed custodian Jean Siegfried at the school; Vaughan recalls she met many of her staff members for the first time at the funeral home. Her leadership through the crisis helped define her tenure.
Vaughan leaves the post even more desirable than she found it. She led the fourth- through eighth-grade, 500-student school to its designation in 2007 as a New Jersey “School to Watch”–the first middle school in the state to be honored that way.
“That was a great day,” Vaughan recalled. “It proved that we exemplify all the things that a good middle school should,” including monitoring adolescent development and fostering high academic achievement, she said.
Since the designation, staffers from some 50 schools have visited OCIS to get ideas and pointers about how to improve their own schools, Vaughan said.
Among other achievements, Vaughan points to several clubs formed during her tenure, including the popular PB & J club that makes sandwiches for needy people in Atlantic City; the fishing club and surfing club. Throughout the school year, there are a number of fun shows and other things for students to get involved in, including the lip syncing competition.
“I am a big proponent of after-school activities for kids,” Vaughan said. “In the wintertime, we're it.”
Vaughan also is big on communicating with parents—something not every school administrator does—and pumping up students for their achievements.
“It's always easy to get in touch with her and she gets back to you quickly,” said Joyce Franks, an aide in the school and parent of a former and current student. “She takes an interest in the kids. My son is a senior (in high school), but she still remembers his name and asks how he is doing.”
Vaughan maintains a website of timely information and requires teachers to keep up active pages, too, and communicate with parents not just when things go wrong. Each teacher is encouraged to make at least one positive phone call to a student home each week.
“I'm here to make sure everything is running smoothly. My staff does the work,” she said. Actually, the principal of this school does quite a bit–and has no assistant principal. “I do discipline, I do PR, budget, hallway and cafeteria duty. You name it.”
Of course, much of any principal's job is juggling relations between staff, parents, students and community.
“She is super supportive of all the teachers and great with the kids,” said Judy Dickens, 21-year art teacher. “She has done everything she can to make us the best school we can be.”
Through it all, Vaughan said honesty that has been the most important quality.
“I can be brutally honest—it is my strength and my flaw, but it's never let me down,” she said. It's particularly critical in dealing with pre-teens and teens.
“You start putting on an act for middle schoolers and they will eat you up,” Vaughan laughed. “That's why I like middle school–they say whatever they think.”
Vaughan credits an active parent support group with making her job easier.
“I can give one call to the PTA telling them something I need and they will have it here the next day,” she said. This year, the group instituted “Muffins with Moms” and “Donuts with Dads,” occasional casual morning get-togethers for teachers, parents and students.
OCIS faces a transition as the longtime nurse, guidance counselor and principal's secretary also retire. But Vaughan said her successor will have an easy time of it if he or she follows her lead.
“Let the staff do their thing. Be a good listener. Keep your eyes and ears open,” Vaughan said. “Whoever is lucky enough to land this job—it's a great job.”