Episode #88: Ensuring that Children Matter Most with Dr. Michael Salvatore

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Dr. Michael Salvatore is Superintendent of Long Branch Public Schools in New Jersey. Mike firmly believes affording children access to modern technology and high-quality content creates learning opportunities far beyond the school walls. In 2014, the Long Branch Public Schools were recognized as the first cohort of innovative schools by the New Jersey Office of Innovation. Mike was selected as New Jersey’s 2019 Superintendent of the Year by the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.
Your background and where you grew up 
I grew up in New Jersey, one of those Jersey shore kids growing up in a small urban community in an underprivileged area. I went onto to college not too far from my home at Monmouth University. It was quite the culture shock from where I grew up to a private school setting with an affluent student body. I did a lot of reflection on why I was there and what I was set out to do. I also work there as a Teaching Fellow on Saturdays working with their doctoral program for Ed Leaders teaching a course called: “Contemporary Issues in Education.”
Here’s a picture of Mike having this conversation with me over Zoom.

What it was like for you as a student
I was an average student through middle grades. I look at my twin boys who are 13 and realize now why I acted as I did as a student in middle school. It is because your body is going through so many different changes, and you’re trying to figure yourself out. The interesting thing for me as a student is that I enjoyed school, but I liked to have a lot of fun, too. That doesn’t always mix well when your mother is the secretary of the school. I had plenty of visits to the principal’s office, and there was my mom sitting right there at the front desk. As a student, I tried to be on my best behavior, but enjoying myself was paramount in middle school. 
High school was a great experience as a student-athlete. I went onto Monmouth and played football there for four years as a wide receiver. Most people don’t know that about me because when they look at me now they don’t see me as a football player. That was an interesting journey in itself because I set out as a math major. 
2019 New Jersey Superintendent of the Year Dr. Michael Salvatore
Why you went into education
I loved math in high school so I went to college with the idea is that I would be an actuary. Being from a humble background, I was looking for a pathway where I could make a decent living. My pathway changed midway through college. I was working on campus as a student helper at a school for children with special needs for very little money. I didn’t know that at the time that would change my entire life. I started having those moments when you realize that you were meant to do something different than play with numbers. There was something about the spark when a child understood a concept and that you helped guide them there. Especially when a child who was nonverbal suddenly learn how to communicate with you or a child who was physically disabled learn to courageously overcome their fear of stepping out of a chair or walking. It was moments like those that changed the course of my college career. Changing my major to special education meant that it would add a full year to my studies, and I would have to pay for it. I realized that I wouldn’t make the same amount of money but it was more important that I was working in a profession where I was making a difference. 
It led to me where I am today. I taught in my city of Long Branch. I wanted to be a high school special ed teacher maybe teach some math. I ended up student teaching in pre-school special ed and, even though I had kids hug me and drool on me, they eventually loved me. That made me want to stay there. I got offered to work as a pre-school teacher in the morning for disabled children who were bilingual and then in the afternoon,