sean mcneil 050316 1New Fair Haven schools Superintendent Sean McNeil gets right to work, serving cake to students at a gathering to welcome him Tuesday night. His official start date is July 1. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)


HOT-TOPIC_03The Fair Haven Board of Education kept it local in filling the superintendent’s job Tuesday night.

The board unanimously approved Sean McNeil, principal of the Port Monmouth Elementary School in Middletown, to replace Nelson Ribon.

McNeil, 36, grew up in neighboring Little Silver, graduated from Red Bank Regional and has spent his entire 14-year career in education at Port Monmouth.

Board president Bruce Padula told several dozen parents and students gathered at a special board meeting at the Knollwood School that McNeil’s selection was “the culmination of a long process” that winnowed 37 candidates. The board was intent, he said, on finding someone with classroom experience and strong communication skills.

The word from McNeil’s superiors in Middletown was that he “is so good at celebrating success” and an exceptional communicator, said Padula.

McNeil was chosen after repeated interviews, some conducted on weekends, in which he was asked, among other things, “philosophical” questions.

“It was a very thorough process, very rigorous,” he told the audience in brief remarks. “I really enjoyed the process. With each step, I felt closer to the Fair Haven community.”

McNeil is a graduate of the University of Delaware, holds a master’s degree in special education from New Jersey City University, and earned certifications in administrative roles, including superintendent, he told redbankgreen. He lives in Tinton Falls but still considers Little Silver home, he said.

He began his career as a special education teacher, and spent six years in the classroom before advancing into administrative roles. He’s been Port Monmouth’s principal for six years, he said.

“I think I have a good breadth of experience coming in from Middletown, where there are a lot of stakeholders, a lot of challenges,” he told redbankgreen. “The biggest challenge for a superintendent, no matter where you are, is to try to bring together many different stakeholders to work toward one common goal.”

His three-year pact provides a starting salary of $135,000 with $5,000 annual bumps.

Among the challenges McNeil will have to deal with is tight space at both of the district’s two schools, which now serve about 1,050 students, Padula said. Capacity is one of several issues under examination as part of a strategic plan review, with a referendum on adding space possible as early as this year, he said.

McNeil indicated he’s eager to take it all on, and said he’d start meeting informally with parents before he officially starts work on July 1.

“I intend to eat, sleep and breathe Fair Haven,” he told the gathering before serving slices of cake to a clutch of kids who surrounded him.