NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — The West Essex Board of Education recognized the middle school students of the month during its mid-year recognition ceremony and the Governor’s Educator of the Year recognitions for both middle and high school staff during the board meeting held on Monday evening.

“It is always nice to honor our students and teachers for the excellent work they do,” said Superintendent of Schools Barbara Longo. “It is a great night for our district.”

West Essex Middle School principal Vee Popat began the ceremony by explaining that the awards for student of the month are “achieved by character, resilience and hard work and not just by grades.” Popat thanked Longo and the board for expanding the criteria for the student of the month recognitions, allowing more students to be recognized for their achievements.

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Approximately 150 family members were present as the board recognized the students. Popat presented the following students with certificates:

October students of the month for 7th grade:  JJ Rella (team A), Simoni Patel (team B), Alex Chen (team C). 

October students of the month for 8th grade: Anthony Lombardi (team A), Lucas Pastor (team B), Julia DiGiovanni (team C).

November students of the month for 7th grade: Nicole Campolattaro (team A), Anna Wilcomes (team B), Frankie Mansfield (team C), Marcus Wojcik (cross team).  

November students of the month for 8th grade: Madison Carnahan (team A), Renee Deuer (team B), Jonah Ng (team C), Dominic Vitulli (cross team).

December students of the month for 7th grade: Owen Covello (band), Marc Rhodes (orchestra), Eliana Rosen (chorus), Derek Jeczo (STEM), Matthew Leichter (art), Michael Friedman (Spanish), Victoria Pero (Italian), Molly Wolf (French) and Evan Krichman (computer science). 

December students of the month for 8th grade: Lucas Sabol (band), Aanika Patel (orchestra), Claudia Marino (chorus), Leo Mazzola (STEM) Priya Shah (art), Logan Bogumil (Spanish), Alessandra Palumbo (Italian), Gianna Lodato (French), Cielle Mcinerney (PE/Health) and Lindsey Leitner (computer science).

January students of the month for 7th grade: VJ Demirdijan (team A), Gino Romano (team B), Alinia Kolenovic (team C) and Ali Simmons (cross team).

January students of the month for 8th grade: Brynn Degnan (team A), Jacob Projansky (team B) and Olivia Weiss (team C).

February students of the month for 7th grade: Lauren Hain (team A), Riley Friedman (team B), Brennan Cunningham (team C) and Aaron Blanco (cross team). 

February students of the month for 8th grade:  Tyler Kostick (team A), Joey Macrino (team B), Julian Martin (team C) and Maria Holevas (cross team).

Four staff members were presented with the Governor’s Educator of the Year award. Popat noted that it is “always difficult and invigorating to read all of the applications presented by the staff.”

Maureen Anzalone, a 20-year veteran of the district, was the first staff member to be recognized as the Educational Services Professional of the Year. Since Anzalone began in the district as a special education teacher 20 years ago, ultimately becoming a Learning Consultant, Popat remarked that he was “absolutely confident she made an impact on the students.” 

Popat further praised Anzalone’s “pedological knowledge,” noting how she works tirelessly and diligently and is such a “successful ambassador for our district in her role as she connects with sending districts.” 

“There is no one more articulate under fire and there is no one I would rather go into battle with,” said Popat.

Greg Ruggiero, a physical education/health teacher was honored as the Educator of the Year for the middle school. Popat introduced Ruggiero, stating he is “an inspiration to the students and colleagues alike.”

“He has clear expectations and pushes students out of their comfort zone,” said Popat. “He covers the ‘awkward topics’ in health class for middle school students and provides opportunities for students to ask the questions they need to regarding the subject matter. His work ethic is above reproach, never complains and makes the best out of every situation.”

High school principal Caesar Diliberto announced that the nominees in his building to be considered for the Educator of the Year awards included: Dina Bechtold, Caroline DaCosta, Lorna Danckwerth, Jody Dolce, Ginny Dunphy, Amanda Fernicola, Margie Jameson, Deanna Lippi, Jeanette Mackesy and Jenny Thom-Carroll.

Diliberto then introduced substance abuse counselor Anthony Emering as the Educational Service Professional of the Year, noting that Emering “goes above and beyond every day to assist and support our students.” Diliberto thanked the entire staff and faculty for their “relentless and unending support.”

Diliberto announced physical education/health instructor Toni-Anne Cavallo as the recipient of the Educator of the Year award after she was nominated from multiple staff members. 

“[Cavallo] is loyal and trustworthy,” said Diliberto. “Her altruism, positivity and persistence ought to be the fundamental characteristics of any aspiring teacher.”

In other news, Ryan Gupta, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, presented the 2018 ACT results in English, Math, Reading and Science, noting that the district’s scores have been consistently above the state average in all categories.

Members of the board unanimously suspended Robert’s Rules of Order and passed on first and second reading 14 policies and regulations for health and safety reasons. These were inclusive of policies regarding: transgender students, school district security, student discipline/code of conduct, athletic competition, unsafe school choice option, eligibility of resident/non-residents students and removal of students for firearm offenses, amongst other policies.

Policies approved on first reading included: Practice and Pre-Season Heat-Acclimation for School Sponsored Athletics and Extra-Curricular Activities, Service Animals, School Clearance Following Crisis Situation and Memorials.

Board member Dawn Smith provided an update on the negotiation process with the administrators union, noting that the teams met on Feb. 6.

Board member Tony Rubinich reported that he recently attended a New Jersey School Boards symposium on school safety and noted that the district must put an emphasis on the training of staff to help to make the schools as safe as possible. 

Reflecting on the importance of the phrase, “if you see something—say something,” Rubinich commented that the shooter in the high school massacre in Parkland “took an Uber to the school and stood outside for five minutes assembling his weapons.”

The next board of education meeting is scheduled for March 4.