By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
PENNS GROVE – Salem County has forever shaped Anwar Golden and, in turn, he is trying to shape it through its youth at Penns Grove High School in Carneys Point.
From growing up in a two bedroom with eight people in Woodstown after losing both of his parents at a young age, Golden hopes to use his journey from there, going from a part-time substitute teacher to an athletic director whose teams have won three state titles to embrace, inspire and motivate young people.
“I remember talking to the principal when I first interviewed here and I said I believe I was born for this job,” Golden, who serves as an assistant principal as well as athletic director, told Front Runner New Jersey. “I knew the players. I knew the community. I knew the coaches. I knew the challenges. I knew I knew our competition. What we wanted to do was put these kids in a situation to be successful.”
Not only has Penns Grove won two state titles in football and one in basketball on his watch, Penns Grove graduation rate from 72 percent to 88.5 percent from 2017 to 2020 while absenteeism tumbled from 29 percent to 14 percent.
Beyond Athletic Titles
“Under the leadership of Dr. Zenaida Cobian, superintendent of Schools, and Mrs. Lory O’Brien, principal, I have been provided the opportunity to facilitate the PGHS Graduation Committee and the Chronic Absenteeism Committee,” Golden said.
“In addition, I have been privileged to be a part of an administrate team responsible for increasing ELA and math scores on New Jersey State Assessments. From 2017-2019, PGHS English Language Arts scores have increased from 21.2 percent to 34.9% and Math increased from being too low to be identified to 13.5%.”
Golden also pointed out that the 2019 Penns Grove girls soccer team earned the 2019 United Soccer High School Academic Award and Sportsmanship and Ethics Award with a team GPA 3.79; ranked No. 2 in New Jersey and 73rd in the United States.
“I’ve been blessed to work with an amazing group of coworkers and mentors throughout my career,” Golden said.
Cobian spoke highly of Golden and his work at Penns Grove, saying the district feels “honored” to have him as part its administrative team.
“Mr. Golden came from Trenton public school system and he has been in the district since September 2017 handling matters of curriculum, dean of students and athletics,” Cobian said. “Under his leadership our district has won football championships. He is respectful, professional and eager to assist and make the district achieve. Mr. Golden has worked with the governing bodies and the police departments of Penns Grove Borough and Carneys Point township to coordinate events that benefit our students and our community.
“One of the most recent and impacting was the organization of free testing sites for COVID-19 for our community. He has helped create a second free testing date for our staff, students and community. Mr. Golden lives by our mission and he works collaboratively to build a community of leaders and achievers,” she continued.
A mentor who has watched Golden progress as a student in Salem County through his professional career, said the best is yet to come from the Penns Grove administrator.
“Anwar is an excellent young man who has a great future in front of him,” the mentor said. “He’s doing a great job now and got bigger and better things coming in the future. Anwar has a passion about him. He’s always had that passion, whether it was athletics, academics or his interaction with other people.
“He has a heart of gold. He grew up in some very tough times and had to deal with some things that others just couldn’t comprehend. Even then, you could always see he had bigger and better things in front of him. I still feel that way about him and believes he’s going to be doing more positive things in the future. He’s doing a great job now, but he’s going to do even more,” the mentor said.
Golden has a special connection with the students at Penns Grove at Salem County for good reason. In many ways, he says he feels like he has lived their lives – not as star athletes or honor students, but those who are struggling to find his or her way and not sure of their place in the world.
Golden was born in Brooklyn but his family moved to Woodstown as a child after his mother died. He grew up around the corner to Tim Gregory, now a Salem city councilman. The two have been friends ever since.
“My mother died when I was 5 and my father died when I was 11,” Golden said. “My grandmother adopted me and four siblings. We lived in a two-bedroom home, but there was like eight of us. It was tough.”
Golden said growing up poor without parents allows him to get into the head and soul of many of his students facing the same circumstances. He knows how they feel and what they may be going through. He said he hopes it gives them the ability to start to believe in themselves.
“I saw my counterparts as normal,” Golden said. “I didn’t think that I could learn or become intelligent, or everybody was more intelligent than me. You have to learn that your circumstances doesn’t define you. I hope those experiences will help people going through similar issues.”
College was ‘God’s Will’
Golden said it was “God’s will” that allowed him to attend college. Admitting he wasn’t the strongest student in high school, and often the only African American in his class. A handful of teacher and coaches took interest in him.
“I started school a year late and I stood out like a sore thumb,” Golden said. “I just wasn’t comfortable with myself, so I acted out. I didn’t do well academically and I got into a lot of trouble.”
He credited his football coach with helping change his image about him. Golden said mentor, one of the few African American males he encountered at the school, became that positive role model he desperately needed at the time. He was the person and told Golden despite his challenges he had been accepted into William Paterson University in Wayne.
Golden said William Paterson administrator Roland Watts, who died in 2013, and Carmen Ortiz, who is with its Educational Opportunity Fund, allowed him to land on his feet after a slow start.
Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF), created in 1968 in New Jersey to provide students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds with the financial, academic, and personal support they need to achieve a college degree and move on to successful careers.
“I faced a lot of challenges in college,” Golden said. “I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have any food and I didn’t have any clothes. Dean Roland Watts listened to me and the rest is history. He helped me get out of situations and get back on my feet. I became part of a group of friends where performing high academically in college became the cool thing to do. The rest was history after that.”
Golden, who struggled to get grades in high school, has earned two master’s degrees – one in educational leadership and the other in elementary education, both from Wilmington University.
Lure of Educating the Future
After college, Golden said it was his football coach, now a Salem County school administrator, who encouraged him to get into the educational field as a substitute teacher after a job in transportation ended. That would eventually lead to becoming a full-time substitute at Salem Middle School and then a science teacher, working with students from everything to engineering projects to computer LEGO competitions.
Golden worked in the Beverly School District in Burlington County and was a science teacher on track to get an administration job in Trenton when the assistant principal and athletic director job opened up at Penns Grove. Golden said he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to return to the county he grew up in.
“What pushed me to become an administrator was that that wasn’t okay with seeing what was happening to some of the students,” Golden said. “As a teacher, I couldn’t change it. I know I had to put myself at a higher level of support that change. I want to make students stronger, which means I won’t give you anything. You have to earn it because that’s what’s going to make you stronger.
“I just have to use my knowledge and my relationships to ensure that these individuals get the best possible opportunities. Some of these kids when they go home, they have to watch their parents, they watch their siblings because their parents are at work, they may have to feed them or the parent may be in an abusive relationship. Unless you’ve been through some of these challenges, then you can’t fully understand. So I just use my experience as an opportunity to communicate with the staff that work with the students all the time,” he added.
Golden, who cherishes the time he’s able to share with is son, said he wants to continue to connect not only with students, but their parents, the community and his fellow coworkers to build a stronger Penns Grove community and Salem County. It’s a way to make how he grew up pay off for everyone around him.
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