The Changing of the Guard

Dr. Melleby reflects on his forty-five year career in education

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It all started with an accident.

   At first, Dr. Melleby’s primary interest growing up was in legal studies — he was certain he wanted to pursue a career as a lawyer.

    However, that all changed when he began substitute teaching while an undergraduate student at Saint Joseph’s University. His true passion, he learned, was in education.

“From that moment on, I decided that I was going to be a teacher,” Dr. Melleby recalled.

   That passion has carried him through his 45 year career as a teacher, mentor, and administrator — a career that is coming to an end this upcoming July and will mark the beginning of Dr. Melleby’s retirement.

   He began his career in education as an eighth grade social studies teacher at Brainerd Junior School, better known these days as Carusi Middle School on the west side of Cherry Hill. Having previously been a student teacher there during his senior year of college, Dr. Melleby received a job at the middle school — the very job that his cooperating teacher had before getting promoted — and his love for education was only heightened, as he worked there as a history teacher for six years before moving from the west to the east.

   “I moved over to the east side and was a social studies teacher and supervisor of the history department at Beck Middle School. From there, I became Vice Principal of Cherry Hill West.”

  As a history teacher at Beck, he recalled his vibrant classroom environment and his initiatives to create an active curriculum.

  “When I taught the judicial branch, I was in a gown and banged the gavel!” he said emphatically.

   But Dr. Melleby did not move up the ranks from student to teacher to administrator without some hard work. After his years as Vice Principal, he pursued his Doctorate of Education at the University of Pennsylvania while Principal of the Malberg School’s Alternative High School.

   He left Cherry Hill after working in the district for 19 years, moving onto a position as Principal at Cinnaminson High School from 1990 to 1993 and then at Triton from 1996 to 2000.

   Dr. Melleby finally found a home at Eastern in 2000 as the Intermediate High School Principal along with his Senior High School counterpart Ms. Gongol (infamously the namesake for the Gongol Learning Center in the now combined Eastern Regional High School).

   As Ms. Gongol retired in 2005, Dr. Melleby began his career as Superintendent and has been at Eastern ever since.

   But even as an administrator, Dr. Melleby often took the lessons he learned from teaching with him (which he admitted he misses at times) and applied them to his district leadership role.

   “I’ve always been a strong student advocate,” Dr. Melleby said. “If I’m going to err, I’m always going to err on the side of the student.”

   Additionally, as the father of two sons, Dr. Melleby knows when to put his “parent hat” on when speaking to concerned mothers and fathers about their students.

   “I can see through a different lens,” he explained.

   Despite his 19 years in education at Eastern and countless others around the South Jersey area, Dr. Melleby admits that his retirement is bittersweet — he hasn’t been counting down the days or waiting for the end of the year; he knows he will miss his career.

   “I love my job,” he said fondly. “I don’t know how many people can work for 45 years and still look forward to coming here everyday.”

   While he will miss Eastern, he is looking forward to retirement, although his plans are not exactly what he had anticipated.

   Dr. Melleby’s youngest son, a first year teacher in Cherry Hill, passed away in December of 2017. In his honor, the Melleby family formed the Dan Melleby Foundation.

   “My son loved children, and he was always for the disadvantaged,” Dr. Melleby explained, tearing up.

   The foundation is focused on helping the education and growth of local youth as well as mental health issues and suicide awareness. Dr. Melleby hopes that he will be able to assume a greater role in the nonprofit, taking much of the weight off of the shoulders of his older son.

   The events that he hopes to expand are a 5K Walk/Run at Cooper River (which had over 700 participants and raised over $30,000 this past spring) and a mid-October birthday bash, which will raise money for a Cherry Hill East scholarship fund, where his son was a star athlete.

   Alongside his leadership of the foundation, Dr. Melleby will be working closely with the New Jersey Department of Education as a mentor for new superintendents.

   “It keeps my hand in education — I’ll still be in schools,” Dr. Melleby said, beaming. “What’s nice is that I can control my schedule; I won’t have to be in everyday.”

   While Dr. Melleby is sad to be leaving, he is excited for the next superintendent, Mr. Cloutier, to assume the position and continue to improve the district.

   “I feel good walking away knowing that this district is going to be in great hands,” Dr. Melleby said. “He’s a wonderful educator and human being.”

   As for Dr. Melleby. his move onto the next chapter of his life has prompted him to think about his legacy as an educator — one that he knows he could not have without the help of others.

   “Quite honestly, much of what has been accomplished here — and this is a high performing school — is the result of a collaborative effort. The board of education, the teaching staff, the entire administrative team…I couldn’t have implemented any of the initiatives without the support of the community.”

   And as for that career in law? Dr. Melleby has no regrets — in fact, he’s thankful for the path that he’s taken.

   “In a career in education, you really have the opportunity to impact people’s lives for eternity. Nothing is more rewarding for me than receiving a note from a student that says ‘Thank you for believing in me.’ It’s an amazing feeling.”