Keynote speaker Chelonnda Seroyer addressing Linden Public Schools faculty and staff on Wednesday at the district Launch in the Linden High School gymnasium. Seroyer stressed that teachers and staff members can have a great impact on students’ lives by caring.

By Gary Miller

“If you don’t love our kids, you can’t work here.”

Those were the words of Linden Superintendent Danny Robertozzi on Wednesday when he was listing his expectations to the district’s staff for the coming school year.

It was the most direct call for love Wednesday as about 1,000 faculty and staff from the entire district crowded into Linden High School’s gym for the third annual district Launch. But it was far from the only reference.

Staff members performed an adaptation of “Season of Love” from the Broadway musical “Rent.” The new version was titled “Leading With Love,” with lyrics by Linden High teachers Barbara Brady and Duane Cosby. It was a reference to “Lead Your Legacy,” the theme of the Launch.

Guest speaker Argine Safari, the New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, from Pascack Valley High School, spoke of the need for love in response to last month’s rally for hate in Charlottesville, Virginia.

And keynote speaker Chelonnda Seroyer, a noted educator who lives in Alabama and who travels the country speaking to school districts, spoke repeatedly about the difference that school staff – not just teachers – can make in a student’s life by caring.

Seroyer told of meeting Linden High School Principal Yelena Horre at an event at Kean University, where Horre asked Seroyer to come speak in Linden.

“When I saw the passion she had, I knew I had to come,” Seroyer said of Horre.

Seroyer said the best school districts are the ones that are well-managed – not unlike a retail store. She asked the audience to consider the fast food world, and held Chick-fil-A up as a model that is far above its competitors.

“Linden Public Schools is the Chick-Fil-A of school districts!” she said. “I’ve never said that anywhere else before. My usual line is, ‘You, too, can be a Chick-Fil-A.’ ”

She said the culture in the building and great customer service make the difference for Chick-fil-A.

“I feel like they say, ‘If you don’t treat people like this, you don’t work here,’ ” she said. “And I literally just heard your superintendent say that.”

Seroyer was generous in her praise for Dr. Robertozzi and the Linden Public Schools as “a district that gets it.”

“This is by far the best beginning-of-school launch I’ve been to in 12 years. I want you to know how blessed you are,” said Seroyer, who was born and raised in Plainfield. “I want you to give yourself a hand because this is amazing.”

Seroyer told stories from around the country of the impact – good and bad – that school staff can have on students.

She told of one student in Alabama who fell asleep in class every day. When a teacher asked the student about it, he said his parents were on drugs and had disappeared for weeks. He said he had to get a full-time job and only came to school to get lunch.

One day, a lunch server told the student, who received free lunch, that he had too much food and had to put some back or pay for it. The student threw the tray across the room, and never came back to school.

“Never underestimate the impact you have,” she told the rapt audience.

She told another story of a student who fell asleep in class every day. The teacher woke her each day, but did not embarrass her. The teacher told the girl that if she stayed awake, she would pass the class.

It turns out the girl’s mother was suffering with cancer, and the daughter had to stay up all night giving her mother pain medicine. Or she had to sleep in a chair when her mother was admitted to the hospital.

“But the teacher didn’t need to know all the background just to care,” Seroyer said.

Sometime later, the girl’s mother died. The girl had nowhere to go. When someone asked her where she wanted to be taken, she said to the school.

“That girl was me,” Seroyer said, as audience members gasped. “I wanted to be in a building where people loved me.

“Every one of you has the power to affect a child’s life.”



Leading with Love

By Duane Cosby and Barbara Brady


Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

How will you lead your legacy this year?


In projects, in picnics,

In concerts or inspiration

Passion, for teaching

Life lessons each year


In, five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

How, will you plan your, lessons this year


How about love

How about love

How about love

Plan them with love

Teaching with love

Leading with love


Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Journeys to plan

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

Leading your legacy

The best that you can


In things that she learned

Or in times that he cried

The grades that they earned

Or the ways that they tried


It’s time now to sing out

For the job that never ends

Let’s, celebrate

Lead a legacy, in this year my friends


Remember the love

Remember the love


Remember the love

Plan them with love


(Measure, measure your life in love)


Teaching with love

Leading with love