Aug. 13 was like the first day of school for Ross Kasun. It was his debut at the Lawrence Township Public Schools offices after being named the district’s new superintendent at a special school board meeting Aug. 8, and he made the rounds, putting faces to names and meeting new people.
“I got to sit with the administrative team and pick their brains as much as possible and try to learn,” he said. “I got to see my office for the first time and put some names to faces. Really, a lot of excitement. Everybody has been so welcoming and nice, and their level of dedication towards the kids in this district has really been impressive.”
Kasun comes to Lawrence after several years as the Freehold Township superintendent.
“I love the size of this district,” he said. “I like to be in the classrooms, I like to get to know the students. The diversity of this district really attracted to me. It is kind of a melting pot, the most diverse group of all the county schools. It causes challenges, but it also creates opportunities. The district wants to be one of the best in the nation. It wants to have that brand. It wants to have teachers wanting to come here, parents wanting to come here, kids coming here and graduating and going to the best schools and doing great things. I think the goals of the district match my own. It’s a district where the board of education and the parents are supportive.”
Prior to his seven-year stint in Freehold, Kasun spent three years as the superintendent in Colts Neck and was the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Summit. His administrative career started as a principal in South Orange-Maplewood and then in Millburn.
Before all of that, though, Kasun found himself facing a career in finance. He graduated from Seton Hall University with a degree in business, and he started his career in sales, which is what he did for about six years after college.
“I realized that I was going to probably work for the rest of my life,” he said. “If I was going to do that, I really wanted to make life better for kids.”
Kasun was coaching youth soccer and baseball at the time, and he says he enjoyed “shaping youth.” He went back to Seton Hall and got his master’s in elementary education. He did his student teaching at an elementary school in Summit, and after he graduated, he was offered a job teaching Kindergarten at the same school. During his time there, Kasun said he learned a lot about children, their differences and readiness levels.
“So much of that shaped my career,” he said. “I think I learned that if I can model things and break it down, I can teach it to anybody.”
‘I want to be part of the community, at sporting events, at plays so I can really listen to a lot of people and hear about the hopes and the dreams they have for the Lawrence schools.’
The next year, Kasun moved to fifth grade in the same school. After a few years teaching, though, he developed an interest in administration, and he went back to school again and got another master’s. He got a job as an assistant principal in the same district and then worked his way through the ranks in different districts.
Kasun loved teaching, he said, but he liked the idea of being able to impact more people as an administrator.
“I also really, truly love working with adults and helping them grow, set goals, and move forward because I know that it’s going to benefit the kids,” he said. “One of the things that I’ve really started doing much more of over my recent career is also teaching at the college level. As a school leader, you really also totally shape the climate and the culture of the whole learning environment. I like that opportunity. I love to develop an environment with a team that is optimal for everybody. Students grow, custodians grow, secretaries grow, teachers grow. If you have that growth mindset going forward, I think anything is possible.”
Kasun, a Monmouth County resident, got the job in Colts Neck about 10 years ago. He has two daughters, Jillian, now 18, and Shannon, now 17, and the commute from the shore up to North Jersey was hard on the whole family.
After three years there, he applied to the Freehold Township position once a slot opened. It was a much larger district, and Kasun viewed it as an opportunity to have a large leadership team with lots of planning and strategic movement. While there, he was named New Jersey’s Superintendent of the Year, which he said was an “award for the team.”
Kasun was also chosen to participate in the first cohort for the six-month Lexington Education Leadership Award fellowship. He was honored for his efforts to use technology to foster personalized learning, said a LTPS press release. This work earned Freehold the recognition of and the ability to participate in the League of Innovative Schools.
Kasun was also selected to attend the Future Ready Summit at the White House in November 2014, again for his dedication to promoting the use technology in the school district. There, he met President Obama and worked with 100 other superintendents from across the country.
“It was a great opportunity to talk about equity, giving everybody access, the importance of technology,” he said.
Kasun brings that same enthusiasm for technology to Lawrence.
“When used right, it’s a tool that amplifies learning,” he said. “Most people miss that it is truly still only a tool. Teachers that we interview and hire now, they’re much more tech savvy than I’ll ever be. They’re digital natives. I think a lot of folks that enter education don’t know how to use technology as a tool to accelerate learning, to improve learning. If you’re just using it to type, that’s a very expensive pencil. If you take a worksheet and put it on a computer, it’s still a worksheet.”
He thinks tech is best used for any type of research, media-blended presentations, and more. He says kids can really work with different types of technology to develop specific skills in subjects they’re good at, and the student-to-student collaboration offered through platforms like Google Docs is vital to today’s school experience. Introducing new ways to use technology in the classroom allows students to be empowered learners rather than passive learners, he said.
Tech, Kasun said, also gives teachers data on each individual student, allowing them to be more diagnostic and to set specific goals for their students. It takes schools beyond a “one-size-fits-all” education, he said.
“How can you use technology to foster curiosity, to increase collaboration?” he said. “I think people need to be taught how to do that. Some inherently do. If you can put somebody in a school in a position who can really roll up their sleeves with teachers and show them how to use technology as a tool, it’s a game changer in education. We have access to information 24/7, so kids can go learn things that they are passionate about. I think anybody now can be an empowered learner instead of a person that is just sitting and getting information.”
Lawrence, said Kasun, is a district that welcomes those ideals.
“We don’t know what the jobs are for our kids,” he said. “The kids who are starting Kindergarten now, the world is changing at an exponential rate, so I think we also have to, in schools, change to meet where they’re at so our kids are successful for tomorrow. It seems to me that that’s what this community embraces.”
And Kasun is ready to get out into that community.
“I want to be a listener and a learner,” he said. “I want to see how things are working and why things the way they are. I want to be part of the community, at sporting events, at plays so I can really listen to a lot of people and hear about the hopes and the dreams they have for the Lawrence schools.”