WARREN, NJ - The notorious nor'easter that swept through NJ on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018 created some transportation obstacles for Warren Township Schools. Many Warren Township Schools staff members stepped up to provide assistance in ways large and small to ensure that every student was transported home safely that afternoon.
As schools were dismissed and road conditions worsened, several school busses got stuck on the side of the road. Immediately, the elementary school principals and secretarial staff communicated with the parents of those students. Dr. Matthew Mingle, Superintendent of Schools along with Patricia Leonhardt, Business Administrator, Candie Hengemuhle, Director of Special Services, Alison Tugya, Central School Principal, Christine Smith, Angelo L. Tomaso School Principal and Sandra Dodd, Secretary to the Superintendent, established an incident command center at the Board of Education Office where communications were facilitated as well as operational decisions made. “Understandably, families felt anxious during this situation and were eager for information. It was a priority to keep parents and guardians updated via email and respond to phone inquiries as new details became available about the progress of the buses. Most importantly, we wanted to continuously provide reassurance that all students were safe, warm, and cared for.” - Alison Tugya, Central School Principal.
Director of Transportation Jan Donlay, Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds Michael Pate and Mechanic Donald Strickland served as liaisons between DealamanBus and the district, keeping both parties informed of developments by way of phone, email and two-way radio.
As swiftly as the snow came in, the district’s Buildings and Grounds staff members quickly dispatched to the locations of the stranded busses. Chris Bacia, Maintenance Worker, Ronald Budis, Maintenance Mechanic, Michael Gonnella, Groundskeeper and Kevin Potter, Maintenance Foreman, braved the dangerous storm conditions armed with four district plow and salter vehicles. Michael Gonnella took the lead in the field coordinating with Township resources, exercising his expertise and capitalizing on his community relationships. Gonnella was the go-to point person of contact for the district and Warren Township Police Department. Not only did Gonnella salt, plow and lead the busses to safety, he also boarded the busses to assure the drivers and students of their own safety. “Once it was confirmed that children were still on the buses, I knew I had to help to get them home safe.” - Gonnella.
The drivers from Dealaman Bus and their leader, Scott Dealaman, rose to the challenge by remaining calm, keeping the students safe and executing established emergency protocols. The final Warren Township student was delivered home safely at 4:15pm by retired Warren Township Schools Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds, Tyler Tribelhorn.
“The Warren Township Schools operate a large transportation network to transport students to and from schools in the Township and to out-of-district placements throughout the region each and every day. The individuals who make this happen deserve a great deal of credit every day and even more so when reflecting on the challenging conditions encountered last month. I am so grateful for their professionalism and skill in responding well to changing conditions to care for our students until they could be safely returned to their parents.” - Dr. Matthew Mingle, Superintendent of Warren Township School.
In reflecting on the events of the day, Business Administrator Patricia Leonhardt noted, “In my seven years working in Warren, I have always been proud to be a member of this highly functioning district. This was never more true than when witnessing and being part of the district’s efforts on Nov. 15.”
As of 9:30pm, on Thursday, November 15 all members of the Leadership team reported being home safe and sound. Many thanks to David Brezee, Warren Township Schools Board President, who was able to provide food and drinks to district staff who were snowed into the Board Office for several hours.
On Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 7pm several district staff members, Warren Township Police Officers and Dealaman Drivers who exemplified what it means to “Shine Brighter Every Day” have been invited to attend the Warren Township Board of Education meeting to be recognized for their efforts, in going above and beyond the call of duty, to ensure the safety of each Warren student!