He considers it to already be a great school, but for , who was appointed March 13 as the new principal, his goal is to make it the best school.
“I’m honored to be chosen principal of such a great school and wonderful community,” he said.
Charleston will be taking over from current principal Lew Ludwig, who served as interim principal this year after the retirement of in 2011.
Charleston comes to Bridgewater from Egg Harbor Township High School, where he has served as principal since 2009, taking over when the former principal there retired.
For Charleston, it has been a bit of an unconventional ride to the principal position. He began his teaching career at East Brunswick High School where he taught social studies from 1995 to 1999. From there, he moved to teaching social studies in the West Windsor Plainsboro school district.
“That morphed into being a coach and advisors for clubs and the model UN, which was one of the most enjoyable activities,” he said.
Charleston said he initially got into teaching after being inspired by his own teachers at East Brunswick High School.
“I enjoy working with students, and I’ve always wanted to do that,” he said. “[Two of my teachers] really inspired me, and it was something I wanted to do when I graduated high school.”
“Watching children grow and learn to be successful is very rewarding,” he added.
But working as a teacher and coach eventually led to more involvement in sports, when Charleston was hired as the athletic director at Egg Harbor Township in 2006.
Charleston said he accomplished a lot by the time he left West Windsor, including taking the girls basketball program to the state sectional finals and earning top delegation awards through the model UN from Rutgers and Harvard universities.
“I felt like I had achieved a lot of things I had set out to do and I really enjoyed athletics,” he said. “I always coached three seasons, and did some volleyball, so I always had a hand in the sports.”
“When the Egg Harbor ad came up, I felt ready to move,” he added. “Egg Harbor offers every sport imaginable."
And then, in 2009, Charleston applied for the principal position when the then-principal opted to retire.
Charleston said he was one of several candidates for the position, but was in an unusual track because he was the athletic director and not one of the teachers. Still, he said, maintaining a hand in education was always important to him.
“I had kept my nose in education and academics, and I presented myself that way,” he said. “I was also a teacher first and a coach second, and the academic piece was really important to me.”
As an athletic director, Charleston said he was on the periphery of the academic track for three years, but he was able to see changes that he could make to the school.
“I presented a five-year plan, with the things I would implement,” he said. “I said, ‘here’s my vision,’ and we’ve reformed the high school here.”
Since he took over as principal, Charleston said he has doubled advanced placement enrollment from about 400 to about 800, changed the grading scale to a 10-point scale like Bridgewater has and made a change to the bell schedule.
“That was the most significant,” he said. “We had eight periods, and it felt like the teachers were rushed, so we went to a rotating schedule to have longer instructional periods.”
“That was a big change, because the school had had the same schedule since 1983,” he added. “They were cautious and there was some resistance, but after going through it, about 85 percent of the staff were very much in favor.”
In addition, Charleston said the school started a medical science academy, and will be opening a business law one in the fall.
But when he saw the news of the opening in Bridgewater, Charleston knew it would be a good fit.
“Leaving for Egg Harbor had to be the right fit for me,” he said. “That’s why I’m leaving now, it’s a good fit, different community and everyone I’ve met has shared the same values and morals as me.”
Charleston said he had actually been looking to move more toward Central Jersey because of his family. His wife works in Manhattan, and they had originally tried being in South Jersey, but wanted to try and move back to this area to make it easier on his family.
“We felt it was best for the family to start looking to move back where we came from,” he said. “But I had to find a school district that shared my same morals and values.”
“In terms of teaching, I come from high performing districts, and that would define me as a teacher,” he added.
Charleston said the move is bittersweet because he has enjoyed his time in Egg Harbor, but he is looking forward to moving from a school of about 2,700 to a larger one of about 2,900.
His goals when he arrives, Charleston said, include forming a leadership team with a teacher from every department to help with the transition and gauge the culture of the building and community.
“I will get to know people, and let them see what I stand for,” he said. “Philosophically, all students learn, so that one simple statement drives everything I look to do.”
Charleston said he knows the changes he has made at Egg Harbor may not necessarily work in Bridgewater, but he will be doing all he can to make sure all students are successful.
“All students learn, and everything stems from that,” he said. “I will take input from staff, the community and everyone.”
Charleston said he is even used to the campus-like feel of Bridgewater-Raritan High School, which is not unlike what he saw growing up in Arizona.
“The outside piece of the campus is neat, that’s what we had,” he said. “It has a west coast feel.”
Overall, Charleston said, he is just proud to be coming to Bridgewater and can’t wait for the year to begin.
“I am tickled to death, and very very happy,” he said. “It probably hasn’t settled in yet, but I thank everyone for the opportunity.”