It’s a miracle.
Not that Suellen Newman, the director of the Hudson School, was nominated for a Life Changer of the Year Award for the 2015-2016 school year.
Or that the independent private school she founded in 1978 has grown from 18 students at its humble beginnings to today’s 187.
It’s a miracle instead that Newman, who has become a grandmother to so many in the Hoboken community over the past nearly four decades, has agreed to – even for a moment – take “partial” credit for the school’s success over the years.
“It’s not part of who I am [to take credit],” said Newman sitting at her office. “It takes people believing in you, people willing to take chances, and people who are willing to go for the ride even when it’s bumpy.”
A wall of books and arts and crafts from former students line the walls of the picturesque office – many of whom are now community leaders, parents of Hudson School students, parishioners, even members of the Board of Trustees. But in Newman’s eyes, they’ll always be the children roaming the hallways or costumed up for a school play.
“It’s a bit like asking someone to adopt your child, but again, I’m very grateful.” – Suellen Newman
Photos of her actual family also populate the shelves of Newman’s office. Four of five of her children attended the Hudson School, two have taught there, and five of her nine grandchildren graduated from the school.
‘It’s going to be hard to leave’
After the National Life Group’s nominations close on Jan. 15, 2016, a selection committee of past award winners will review hundreds of nominees from throughout the U.S and choose 15 winners. (Read a story on another Hoboken nominee by searching “Connors principal relishes national award nomination” on www.hudsonreporter.com).
When the Hudson School opened its doors in 1978, it was housed at the Hoboken Public Library. It began as a middle school, and now offers nearly 150 courses for students from fifth grade to 12th grade.
The Hudson School moved to the old Martha Institute Building on the corner of Sixth and Park in 2002 and the high school has grown from five students in its first year (1995) to 74 in 2015.
Some courses at the school, Newman is happy to say, are taught by former Hudson School students, which “speaks volumes of the school’s vision” to allow teachers the flexibility to teach the classes they love in their own novel ways.
The Hudson School has long touted a “need-blind admission policy,” which has resulted in a diverse student body of ethnically, linguistically and socially assorted students that speak countless languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Gujarati, Croatian to name a few.
In fact, 12 of the school’s first 18 students received scholarships through the Geraldine Dodge Foundation.
During its inception the school was very much about exploring different frontiers of education that weren’t as prominent in the ’70s like history beyond the Western World, philosophy subfields, the impact of geography, and exposure to cultures around the world.
Newman can’t help become choked up while speaking of her departure from the school as the director while looking over a wall of letters from alumni on a bulletin board of where their lives have taken them – across to it another wall of baby photos sent from former students.
“It’s going to be hard to leave; that’s for sure,” she said before taking a moment to gather her thoughts. “It’s a hard place to leave. I don’t wish it on anyone. I think it’s particularly hard for a founder and director. I think principals feel sad when they have to leave from a school, but it’s really hard when you created something. It’s a bit like asking someone to adopt your child, but again, I’m very grateful.”
Stepping into Newman’s shoes is Paul Perkinson. He began as dean and chair of the History Department at Friends Central in Philadelphia, followed by Upper School Head at North Shore Country Day School outside Chicago. He also led a long distinguished career for eleven years at the Head of School at Tandem Friends School in Virginia, where he created the current Faculty Reflection and Practice evaluation system.
“It is with great excitement, deep humility, and unbounded zeal that I join The Hudson School at this point in its history,” said Perkinson in a statement. “Hudson’s commitment to superior teaching and engaged learning is impressive and evident. Because of Suellen Newman’s inspired leadership and unique vision, the Board of Trustees’ clear and confident care, and faculty and staff’s abiding love for the school and their students, Hudson is in a very strong position for future growth.”
Newman said if she were to win the top prize of $10,000 it would simply go to “helping the children.”
To learn more of the nominees visit www.lifechangeroftheyearnominees.com.
Steven Rodas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.