By Daniel Higgins
On October 13, Dr. Margaret Holzer, a science teacher from Chatham High School and aspiring NJPSA member, posted a notice for the Fulbright Leaders for Global Schools Program on the Leadership Connection, NJPSA’s private, members only online community. Dr Joanne Negrin promptly replied, “Thank you so much for posting this. I am submitting my application for Singapore 2021.”
Four months later, the Vineland Supervisor of ESL, World Languages, and Bilingual Education was winding down at the end of a long day and glanced at her email one more time before turning in for the night when she spotted a preview from the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board beginning with the word “Congratulations!”
“I guess I was really tired, because it didn’t register enough with me to open the email,” Negrin confessed. “When I woke up the next morning, I thought I had dreamt about it. I went downstairs and opened my inbox to satisfy my curiosity, and there it was! It’s still a year away, so it doesn’t quite feel real yet, but wow, I am so amazed and humbled that I have been given this opportunity!”
In all, 20 applicants throughout the nation earned this prestigious fellowship, including the five-person cohort that will travel to Singapore together in Spring 2021. Through a 10-day intensive program, they will exchange best educational practices to enhance student learning, prepare them for careers and citizenship in a global economy, and develop 21st century skills.
Other Fulbright fellows will travel to Finland in 2020 for a similar program, but Negrin was drawn to the opportunity in Singapore, which she described as a much more multilingual and multicultural environment than Finland. “Because of my emphasis on ESL and Bilingual Education, I was curious about how they do it there,” she said. “Singapore is a city-state with four official languages, English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay. I would like to see how their educational system helps citizens to understand and function in multiple languages. I want to see how being multilingual and multicultural informs their culture and identity as a nation. Furthermore, because they receive immigrants from all over the world, I would like to see how those languages are incorporated as well.”
Before pursuing her career as an educational leader, Negrin was previously an International Relations student and an expat who spent nine years living in five countries, and those experiences have formed her outlook on her role. “I think that in order to educate effectively, you need to have an understanding and an appreciation of the larger context in which you operate,” she said. “During the day to day, it’s easy to get so immersed in the operation of your local system that you lose sight of where you fit into the big picture.”
Negrin takes a broad-view approach to her work in ESL and World Languages and has been instrumental in sharing her expertise with educators throughout the state. “My hope is that the insights I gain by studying the Singaporean system of language education will enhance my practice and make me a more flexible thinker when it comes to meeting the challenges posed by an increasingly diverse student population,” she said. “I also hope to share those insights with my colleagues around the state through forums such as those offered through NJPSA.” Negrin offered one final piece of advice to all NJPSA members. “Keep your eye on the Leadership Connection! You never know what’s going to be posted.”
Winning the Fulbright is simply the latest in a string of notable awards for Negrin. In October, Negrin received the NJPSA Visionary Award as Supervisor/Director of the Year for promoting best practices for English Language Learners and bringing program changes in Vineland to ensure rigorous expectations and equal access to curriculum for bilingual students. Through her leadership, Vineland’s K-5 Bilingual Program has become a NJDOE Model Program for 2016-2018, and four other programs were designated NJDOE Model Programs for 2018-2020.
Indeed, this has been quite an extraordinary year for Dr. Negrin. More exciting than earning the visionary leadership award and more thrilling than securing a Fulbright fellowship was the overwhelming jubilation of holding her first grandson, Calvin John Gregor, who was born on January 16, 2020. “As I am sure any grandparent will tell you, it is such an indescribable and amazing feeling,” she gushed. “He and my nephew focus me on the future that they will inherit, and I will do my part to ensure that they are positioned to appreciate, and to do both well and good, in this beautiful, multifaceted world. And, of course, I’ll be speaking to my grandson in Spanish.”