Dr. Joe Flynn has been part of the Warren County Special Services School District (WCSSSD) family for eight years. Retiring at the end of 2020, Flynn looks back at his time in education and how he got started in what the special services community refers to as “the business of changing lives.”
Flynn has long subscribed to the idea “when one door closes, another opens.” A licensed architect, he was working for a firm in the late 80s when, suddenly, he learned he was out of a job. “They took us out to lunch and told us they were closing up shop,” he recalls. Newly married, Flynn was pressed to figure out his next move. He answered an ad to help market programs at Lincoln Technical Institute, a vocational college, which unbeknownst to him, would be the door that opened to a whole new career in education.
The job started with Flynn recruiting high school students, but quickly segued into teaching, with Flynn creating and implementing an Architectural Drafting Program. Enjoying this new opportunity, Flynn decided to obtain his teaching certification through the state’s alternate route program. He then went on to teach and coach at Project Excel, a county-wide alternative high school managed by Warren Hills Regional School District. That job had a profound impact on him.
“I’ve always had a special place in my heart for those students who needed a voice,” he explains. “I just gravitated towards them. They needed an advocate, and I knew I could be that person for them.”
He obtained his master’s in educational leadership and later his doctorate; he moved up the career ladder with assistant principal and principal positions at the Harmony and Belvidere School Districts. In 2012, he accepted the role of superintendent of Warren County Special Services School District.
One of Flynn’s most significant accomplishments at WCSSSD has been the launch of The H.I.L.L.S. House in partnership with Centenary University. Short for “Helping Individuals Learn Life Skills,” the program teaches students with special needs important life skills so they can reach their highest level of independence.
“You have to focus on their abilities, not disabilities,” says Flynn. “We want to give our students the best opportunities they can possibly have, and that’s part of what the H.I.L.L.S. House is all about. I know we’ve made a real difference in the lives of our students and their families. I really believe those in special services are truly special special education teachers and staff. I’ve been so lucky to work with some of the absolute best.”
Even though Flynn has spent decades in the education sector, he’s always maintained his architecture license, saying that one day he would like to return to his roots. A goal-oriented person, he was trying to figure out his next steps in life when a senior architect position fell into his lap. “I wasn’t looking,” says Flynn, “I just happened to come across -H2M architects + engineers through an email, and I was drawn in by their core values, many of which I believe in as an educator: respect, teamwork, dedication, community, and integrity.”
This new position will allow Flynn to blend both his passions: architecture and education. His new role will involve architectural planning and engineering behind school projects. “I really think all my experiences will come together to benefit other school districts and other communities based on my wide range of experiences,” he explains.
While Flynn is excited to move on to this new venture, he knows his experiences at WCSSSD will stay with him forever. “What I will miss most is being able to get up from my desk when I’m having a bad moment and walking down to a classroom and seeing a student have an ‘ah-ha’ moment; it is just such an incredible feeling. You see the students working for days, weeks, sometimes even months, to accomplish something, and when it happens, that joy and pride you see in them is indescribable,” he says. “The students are who I’m going to miss most. I love working with my staff and the community, but we come in the front door every day because of the kids.”
“Joe has been an incredible asset to Warren County Special Services, and he will be sorely missed by all of us in the special education sector,” said Dr. Howard Lerner, superintendent of Bergen County Special Services School District and chairman of the New Jersey Joint Council of County Special Services School Districts. “While Joe may be moving on in a different direction, I know the work that he’s accomplished in his district will continue to benefit students with special needs for many years to come. We wish him luck in his new role.”
As of January 1, 2021, Dr. Tim Frederiks is the interim superintendent of WCSSSD. Currently an education department chair at Centenary University, Frederiks has more than 35 years of public school experience, most recently serving as superintendent of schools for Allamuchy Township and Great Meadows Regional School District.