Natakie Chestnut-Lee

Natakie Chestnut-Lee, of Egg Harbor Township, seen here in her office, is the new superintendent of the Pleasantville School District, appointed July 7.

PLEASANTVILLE — The city’s school district welcomed an optimistic new superintendent this month, replacing an interim school leader who stepped in last summer after the district’s previous superintendent resigned unceremoniously amid a budget shortfall and the appointment of a second state monitor.

“We’re turning the tide,” newly appointed Superintendent Natakie Chestnut-Lee said Tuesday.

The Pleasantville Board of Education, during a special meeting July 7, unanimously approved a three-year, $167,500 annual contract with Chestnut-Lee to serve as the district’s superintendent, replacing outgoing interim Superintendent Dennis Anderson.

The Pleasantville School District has had a long list of school leaders over the past two decades. Prior to Chestnut-Lee, the previous full-time superintendent was Clarence Alston, who was appointed in 2017 and resigned in June 2019. Alston was replaced in the interim by Anderson.

Alston previously served as superintendent from 2006-09, followed by Gloria Grantham until 2010, then Garnell Bailey until 2014, Leonard Fitts for two years, Bailey again for a year and then Anderson until June 2017.

“I’m looking forward to working with Dr. Chestnut-Lee. She is skilled in her respective role and is ready to lead our district in a way that supports our community to excellence and equity for every student,” school board President Carla Thomas said.

Chestnut-Lee, 41, of Egg Harbor Township, is the former chief school administrator for the Principle Academy Charter School in Egg Harbor Township, formerly the International Academy of Atlantic City Charter School. She helped establish the K-8 school from its inception in 2015 and oversaw the school’s transition from an old church building in Pleasantville to its current location in the Cardiff Power Center shopping plaza.

“I fell in love with Pleasantville,” she said. “When I saw this opportunity, I felt it was the right time.”

Chestnut-Lee said she has been active in the Pleasantville community for several years, frequenting many of the businesses and becoming active in civic organizations in the city, which she came to know well during her time at the charter school.

She said that although Pleasantville often gets a bad reputation for its low standardized test scores and graduation rates, she sees potential in the district.

“We realize we inherited all of this, but it doesn’t mean we have to be one of the lowest-performing schools in New Jersey,” Chestnut-Lee said.

In addition to Chestnut-Lee, the school board recently hired a new assistant superintendent, Christiana Otuwa, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, at $145,000 a year with a one-year contract.

Chestnut-Lee said one of the things that impressed her about Otuwa was her experience in restorative justice practices and closing achievement gaps, which she hopes will benefit Pleasantville.

She said she sees herself as not only an advocate for the students but also the employees, and that one of her first acts as the new school leader was to meet with every principal and department head in the district’s high school, middle school and four elementary schools, to find out what resources they need.

Another goal, she said, is to realign the curriculum so it is consistent across school buildings.

Noting her spirituality, Chestnut-Lee said she felt she was sent to Pleasantville for a reason.

“This is what I am supposed to do,” she said, adding she already feels like the atmosphere is turning more positive.

Chestnut-Lee has a doctorate in educational leadership from Walden University. She has also worked in the Trenton Public School district as a culture and climate leader, as well as the Philadelphia School District, according to her LinkedIn profile.

During her time at Principle Academy Charter School, the school was granted Tier I, or high-performing, status by the New Jersey Department of Education.

Since leaving the charter school in June 2018 as the school underwent a name change, Chestnut-Lee started her own educational consulting firm and ran for a seat on the Egg Harbor Township Board of Education. Her bid was unsuccessful.

Chestnut-Lee also owns a puppy party planning business and recently started the Pleasantville/Egg Harbor Township chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Contact: 609-272-7251

Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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