The Other Side of Paradise

By Sage Day Boonton Principal, Mary Rose Scalo, Ed.D.

After a thirty-seven year career in public education, I was eager to explore the other side of paradise—private education. Therefore, after retiring from the position of Director of Student Support Services, I took on the position as Principal of Sage Day in Boonton curious to know how working in a private therapeutic school would be different.

The major difference I found was the ability a small school setting has to meet the individual needs of each student. At Sage Day, we have the luxury of moving away from standardization and convergent thinking. We are able to get to know each student and design educational and therapeutic programming to fit the student’s profile of interests and needs. This personalization of the educational and therapeutic experience is what brings students to us and keeps them on a path toward high school graduation. When you are not required to make students fit into a given program and instead have the freedom to make the program fit the student, the experience is liberating for the students as well as for the staff.

So what is it like working in a small private therapeutic school? It is a unique learning as well as a highly charged emotional experience. Listening appears to be the most important thing we do at Sage Day. When people feel that they are listened to and heard, they feel validated and empowered. After a year of listening I have learned the following:

*Giving time to a student is a rewarding gift.

*Students are the best teachers of how to be inclusive and accepting.

*Flexibility is not always viewed positively.

*You need to listen very carefully to hear the important things that are not said aloud.

*There is incredible beauty in difference.

*Laughter, art, and music can do magical things.

*Half days are longer than full days.

*Just because it’s peaceful doesn’t mean everything is okay.

*You can turn off the water in a toilet with a screwdriver.

*There is so much more to learn.

Looking at education from both the public and private sides, I can now see clearly how for some students a small, therapeutic setting can make the difference between success and failure. All aspects of my career in education have been greatly rewarding. Having the opportunity to work with students and staff in this small, private, therapeutic setting is the most gratifying experience in my career. Maybe paradise is making the most of where you are at the moment. Maybe one side of paradise does not fit all. Here is what I know for sure—it’s been a privilege to work on both sides of paradise.