Interim school superintendent hits the ground running

Stemming the flow of students to charter schools is top priority

Just one day after starting his new job as interim superintendent of schools in Secaucus, Kenneth “Ken” Knops was up on a dais alongside the mayor, Town Council, and Board of Education (BOE) members, explaining his plans and goals for the position to the public. The occasion was the annual Junior State of America (JSA) Town Hall forum on Tuesday, Dec. 1, a video of which can be found on the town’s website at
A former teacher, principal, and school superintendant with a daughter currently studying music production at the New School in New York, Knops spoke with the Secaucus Reporter last week about the wealth of experience he brings to his new role.

“One of the reasons we considered Mr. Knops is because in Clark, in two years, he brought them from 101 in the state [school rankings] to 40.” –John Gerbasio
“I like the idea of giving my expertise, helping out,” said the Glen Ridge resident. “We have a young staff, teachers and administrators, and I want to serve as a positive mentor for them as we move the district forward.”
He is also a strong advocate of communication between all parties involved in the education process, and that certainly includes families. “I like good old fashioned, face to face meetings,” he said. “Forums, parent meetings. There are a lot of really nice things going on in the town schools and people need to be made aware. We need to extol the virtues of what we’re doing.”
Those last comments come in part as a reaction to a recent increase in the number of students leaving the public schools to attend charter schools.
Approximately 35 Secaucus students currently attend charter schools in Jersey City and Hoboken, according to BOE President John Gerbasio. “There’s a big financial impact on the district when our students leave to go to charter schools,” said Gerbasio. “Realistically that number could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
This is the first year that a significant number of Secaucus students migrated from public to charter schools. “I believe the state law says that we have to be aware in advance and budget for it,” said Gerbasio. “Since our budget was struck in March, we did not budget for the children who went in September.”
“I would like to get out there and find out why people are sending their students to charter schools,” said Knops. “Why they want to send their students out of town. We need to make people aware of all the good things we’re doing, and maybe also learn how we can put out a better product.”

Filling the gap

When former Schools Superintendent Robert Presuto resigned, the school board decided that rather than rush to find a full time replacement, they would fill the role with an interim employee so a thorough search could be conducted.
They found Knops’s resume posted on the New Jersey Association of School Administrators site. He had retired in March of 2015 after 39 years in education, in part to spend time with his ailing father, who subsequently passed away.
“I was very appreciative of having that time with him,” said Knops, but, “After being home for about 10 months it was nice to get back out in the world again.”
The nine-member Secaucus school board was reduced to a four-member panel to vet candidates, since two members were leaving the board at year-end and three others had relatives in the schools and wanted to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.
“They had several meetings, interviewed Ken Knops, and decided his background and experience was right for us,” said Gerbasio.
“It seemed like a good fit,” said Knops, who lives about 20 minutes from Secaucus. “The district is very similar to the size of my previous district, Clark in Union County, with 2,300 students there, 2,200 students here. There is the same number of schools and the demographics are similar, although I think there’s a little more diversity in Secaucus.”
Knops initially taught grades three through six and served as a basketball coach for 16 years before getting his masters in educational administration and supervision from Montclair State University in 1992 and taking a job as a middle school principal in West Long Branch. He spent nine years as a principal at several schools before becoming a superintendent, a role he held for the past 15 years.
Secaucus is his ninth school district.

Moving forward

“One of the reasons we considered Mr. Knops is because in Clark [N.J.] in two years, he brought them from 101 in the state [school rankings] to 40,” said Gerbasio. “We’re hoping we can pick some of the best ideas from the things he instituted and bring our ranking up.”
“Naturally from an academic point of view, we need to keep on staying abreast of the Core Curriculum and using the best possible vehicles to deliver a quality education,” said Knops. “Class sizes are relatively good and we really have a lot of good technology and resources in the schools. And I’m excited about the building project in the high school and middle school.”
On his first day he was taken throughout the district by several board members and introduced to all the administrators, getting tours from principals and visiting classrooms.
“I’ve only been here a short time but I’ve been very impressed,” he said. “We have an outstanding Board of Education that are very community oriented and hands-on. You don’t see that everywhere. They’re in it for the right reasons.”
The BOE will be holding a special meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 5 to swear in the three members elected this past November: Louis Giele, Joan Cali, and Norma Hanley, the latter of whom has been serving as an interim member since April when former President Gary Riebesell stepped down and John Gerbasio took over the position.
The Jan. 5 meeting will include a reorganization election of president and vice president.
After that, the board will set its sights on finding a full time replacement for the role of Secaucus superintendent of schools, posting for the position in January. “Hopefully the process will expand to the committee to include some staff and or faculty members and perhaps some members of the community; people involved in PTAs for example,” said Gerbasio. “That would give us several months to interviews and do background checks.”
Knops’s contract runs through June 30, 2016.

Art Schwartz may be reached at

© 2000, Newspaper Media Group