Joseph “Jay” Headman, administrative assistant for the Indian River School District (IRSD), has entered the best three-out-of-four election contest in pursuit of a seat on South Bethany Town Council.
Headman grew up in Palmyra, N.J., a small town, he said, where he went K through 12 with the same classmates (and his mother always heard from someone when he’d done something wrong).
From a family of 10, he said his father had to leave school after the eighth grade when his grandfather died. Headman went on to college (University of Maryland) to study education — he said he’d always wanted to be a teacher.
He met his wife, Mary, in college and they married after she graduated. The Headmans have two daughters — Sara and Katy (now in their 20s).
Headman said they’d rented an apartment for a while, and then moved into their first house, while he taught at various Montgomery County, Md. schools. It was a system with more than 200 schools, and 150,000 students — a drastic change from Palmyra.
“I always wanted to go back to that small town feeling,” he said. “If you’ve lived in Montgomery County, it’s like community after community after community.”
While his oldest daughter was still young (before she entered the school system), they moved to a small town called Poolesville, Md. — still in Montgomery County, but west of the urban sprawl.
He taught for a few years, then went back for his master’s degree (again at the University of Maryland, for geography) and headed up a social studies department after graduation.
After moving through a couple assistant principal posts, Headman became a principal for the first time in 1988.
A few years more, and he’d become a community superintendent, with oversight of 33 schools and 26,000 students.
“The key to the job was working with a community, working with people, identify what the issue was, come up with possible solutions, then select one and go ahead and do it,” he said.
While Headman’s current position with the IRSD involves a much smaller group — 15 schools and 7,700 students — he said the same techniques applied.
For instance, an increasingly older population in this area might suggest fewer parents with school-aged children in the IRSD, but he said the ratio wasn’t much different in Montgomery County. There, only 25 percent of the citizens had children in the schools, he said.
He said they faced the same thing in this district, although there were possibly more extended families (grandchildren the schools). Still, he said they had to get everybody on board — the community, churches and businesses. “You won’t pass any referendum just on parents,” Headman noted.
He’s been with the district for three years now, and said it would likely be his last job before full-time retirement. In that time, he’s has passed into a period of vast capital improvements, and associated turmoil.
Headman said he worked with principals, athletic directors, the school choice program, nurses, transportation and the homeless program (keeping kids at one school for stability, even if they have to move around a lot).
However, he also supervises building and grounds, and much of his responsibility lately has revolved around the slow-out-of-the-gates Sussex Central High School.
“It’s a critical time for us,” he said. “The board and district is trying to figure out — where are our priorities, how are we going to find the funds for those priorities and are these short-term or long-term problems.
“There are some questions about construction, problems with that, and there are some questions about the monetary things, but I don’t think there’s a lot of question about the improvements we’ve made, educationally, and the pride that you see when you go into the schools,” Headman stated.
He characterized the challenge for any organization as never being satisfied, but always striving for improvements, and made parallels with work in progress around South Bethany.
As an example, he noted this year’s addition of an in-house landscaping crew. Headman said the council hadn’t been happy with the results they were getting, so they’d decided to try something different.
Know the goal, consider all the alternatives, stay within budget and keep trying, he recommended.
“You have to listen to your community, and sometimes you have to go out and ask for more money,” Headman said. “But you’d better be real clear about what you’re going to spend it on, that you’ve looked at all the different alternatives and this is the best way to get there.”
He said he was pleased with the beautification efforts around town, the additional gardens and the Christmas lights in the wintertime.
He also applauded council’s focus on building improvements (police department, Town Hall), paving east of Route 1 and new signage.
“I think what they’re saying is, we’ve got to continue to improve on what we’ve got,” Headman said.
He noted his own prior involvement, in Poolesville (parks and planning commission and a beautification project) and earlier, with a pair of neighborhood civic associations. “Wherever I’ve been, I’ve tried to be active,” he said. “I would hope to be able to do the same thing here.”
Headman lives on the Assawoman Canal, and said he did some kayaking on occasion. He and his wife play some tennis at Sea Colony, and regularly ride bikes to the beach.
“It’s just a great community to be in,” he said. “The charm that this town has needs to continue — the quality of life needs to continue.”
Although he spent most of his seaside vacations in New Jersey (at his mother-in-law’s beach house), he said his brother eventually started renting in Bethany Beach. After that, the Headmans frequently took the ferry over to Delaware to visit.
After his brother bought a place, he started looking for one himself.
The Headmans moved to South Bethany in 2000.