Thursday, Jul 14, 2022
Christopher Turnbull is enrolled in Rider's Doctor of Educational Leadership (Ed.D) program
by Keith Fernbach
Christopher Turnbull, a graduate student in Rider University’s Doctor of Educational Leadership (Ed.D) program, has been named Visionary Principal of the Year, Elementary Level, by the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA). Turnbull is the principal of Bear Tavern Elementary School in New Jersey's Hopewell Valley School District.
“This award means a tremendous amount to me because it was made possible by an entire community of teachers and staff, families and great students,” says Turbull. “I trust the people I work with, so I am not afraid to let them run with ideas, share their passions and visions, and do amazing things for our kids.”
In announcing the award, the NJPSA cited a long list of initiatives Turnbull has implemented at Bear Tavern. Many of these focus on increasing awareness of environmental and sustainability issues. For example, he led the transformation of the school’s lobby into a habitat of trout, tropical fish, hydroponic plants and a yellow-bellied slider turtle.
He also formed partnerships with 20 local businesses to help turn the exterior of the building into an outdoor learning area featuring ponds, meadows, greenhouses, decks, walkways and raised beds.
Thanks to these programs, Bear Tavern has been named an EcoSchools USA Green Flag school, a Sustainable Jersey for Schools Bronze Award winner and a River Friendly School by the Stony Brook Watershed Institute.
The accomplishment Turnbull is most proud of involves the school’s morning announcements. Trying to get away from scripted announcements he says felt impersonal, he created a new format that included themes like Mindfulness Monday, We Dance Wednesday and Friendship Friday.
When the COVID-19 pandemic instigated remote learning, Turnbull began recording the announcements using the online platform Touchcast and distributed them electronically. “They became a way to provide consistent check-ins and a foundation for every student and family, regardless of where they were,” he says.
Brianna Sommers '19, a Rider graduate who teaches third and fourth grades at Bear Tavern, says the inspirational messages Turbull delivered at the end of every announcement have resonated with her.
“Last year Mr. Turnbull ended the morning announcements with the quote, ‘We're all in it together at Bear Tavern.’ I have thought about and seen this come to life every day,” she says. “He has created a welcoming, friendly and safe environment for both the students and faculty to learn and grow.”
Shannon Renshaw '21, who graduated from Rider and is now a fourth-grade teacher at Bear Tavern, shares a similar sentiment. “Working under Mr. Turnbull has been such an amazing opportunity,” she says. “Bear Tavern is a magical place where you can take risks, enjoy the outdoors, and have creative freedom in your classroom. This environment stems from his enthusiasm and love for education.”
Turnbull has been in education for 22 years. He started out as a teacher in the Lawrence Township school district, where he worked in a number of classroom roles, before becoming a supervisor of humanities and then principal of the Lawrence Intermediate Lower School and Ben Franklin Elementary School. He’s been in his current role at Bear Tavern since 2015.
In 2020 Turbull decided to pursue his Ed.D. so he could better serve the students in his school. “My main focus and goal is to continue to learn, improve and get better,” he explains. After considering a number of programs, he decided Rider was the best fit. “I loved the structure of the program and the focus on practical scholarship. Everything that we do, learn and study is directly related to teaching and learning and is rooted in authentic educational settings.”
Dr. Leonard Goduto, the director of Rider’s Ed.D. program, says, “Chris is a very thoughtful and dedicated leader. He has expressed a concern for the social emotional well-being of his students and by doing his research on this topic, he’ll be able to make a greater impact in this area."
Turnbull is currently working on his dissertation, and hopes to earn his doctoral degree in the spring of 2023. Thus far, his Rider experience has exceeded his expectations.
“Each professor has been caring and supportive and has pushed us to think about current issues and best practices in a way that helps us in our daily work,” he says. “The readings and assignments have been interesting, relevant and have helped us to think systematically about how to make a positive impact in our current positions. I am part of an amazing cohort and have met many accomplished and aspiring superintendents, professors and leaders.”
While he’s thrilled to have received the award, Turnbull is even more excited about what can still be accomplished. “I believe that when students and staff feel confident, safe and supported, there are truly no limits to what can be achieved regardless of resources, limitations or obstacles.”
As part of the award, Turnbull is also receiving $7,000 to be used by his school, and he’s currently figuring out how to best use these funds. “I plan on doing a lot of listening and planning because $7,000 can make a big impact. I know that we’ll use it to do something very exciting for our students.”