"We felt it was a nice way of saying we want a new start," said elementary school principal Harris E. Ransom who, in many ways, is the new start here.
Ransom, hired this summer as principal for the kindergarten through eighth- grade students, began his new duties July 31. And compared to the "staid" atmosphere he left at his last school district in Essex Fells, Essex County, the challenges here are awesome.
Last November, the Merchantville Education Association, the teachers' union, presented the borough's school board with a no-confidence vote on two officials, elementary school principal and acting superintendent Roseann Cialella and assistant principal Richard Gair.
Early this year, Cialella resigned and Gair was laid off.
Merchantville's new era began in June when James P. Brown was named school superintendent. Soon after, Ransom was hired as principal.
There will no longer be an assistant principal, Brown said.
Among the challenges facing the new administrators is what school the district's approximately 105 9th through 12th graders should attend.
In November 1987, the school board voted to transfer the high school students from Pennsauken High School to Haddonfield Memorial High School. Depositions are being gathered, and hearings - presided over by a judge from New Jersey's Office of Administrative Law - will take place over a period of about a month between November and December in Mount Holly, school board President Richard Shakarjian said.
The "community goal," as Brown described it, is to move the students to Haddonfield because it is a much smaller district than Pennsauken, closer in scale to Merchantville.
The district also is involved in a five-year, $1.8 million face lift of its only school, where new offices are being built and others are being relocated. Much of the building is being painted in the school colors of maroon and gray, and new carpet is being laid in hallways and administrative offices.
"I'm still living out of my boxes," Ransom, 41, said recently, noting that his office was only ready in mid-August, about two weeks after he started work here.
Ransom talks frequently of the "master plan," and "the big picture," when describing his mission.
"We need to develop a plan," he said recently before he held his first assembly with the school's approximately 360 students. "I've said I need to assess what's been going on here."
The Moorestown native said his main goal is to make sure the motivation of the entire district - students, teachers and administrators - becomes all-for- one in spirit.
"I was worried people were doing excellent jobs all over the place, but they didn't know the big picture," Ransom said when asked what was at the root of Merchantville's problems.
The three largest concerns, he said, are the curriculum, getting a staff in place and the buildings. With the five-year rehabilitation program in place and the recent hirings, two of the three concerns have been solved, he said.
Dealing with the curriculum, he implied, means the most difficult task is being saved for last.
All in all, Ransom said, "the ultimate challenge," is ahead.
"When you walk into something that's not working," he noted, "there's nowhere to go but up."