LINDEN, NJ - In 1971, Anthony Cataline has just graduated from Newark State College and was a student teacher at Roosevelt School in Rahway. Then he got a phone call that would change his life – and the lives of thousands of students in the Linden Public Schools.
It was A.R. Taranto, who had just taken the helm as superintendent in Cataline’s hometown of Linden, calling with an offer for the young teacher.
“He said, ‘I’ve got a job for you at Soehl Junior High School. Take it or leave it,’ ” Cataline recalled. “I needed a job, so I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ ”
Forty-eight years later, Newark State is Kean University, Soehl Junior High is Soehl Middle School, and Cataline is just wrapping up a career in Linden in which he worked at four different schools under six superintendents. He has been principal at School No. 10, McManus Middle School, and most recently at School No. 4, from which he retired at the end of this school year.
“I am going to miss this terribly,” Cataline said recently in his office at School No. 4, just days before he left for good. “I have made such great friends in the schools and the community. But whether it’s this school or other schools I’ve been at, there’s always a time to move aside and for someone else to take over. We’ve made a number of accomplishments and now it’s just time for someone else to pick up and move us even further along.”
Acting Superintendent Denise Cleary said Linden Public Schools won’t be the same without Cataline.
“I think a lot of us are having a hard timing imagining our district without Mr. Cataline,” she said. “Throughout his long and distinguished career, he helped mentor countless faculty members and had a positive impact on generations of students. But it is because of these personal connections that his legacy will live on in Linden for years to come.”
Cataline spoke with love for the students and staff of School No. 4, as well as the staff and residents of the Linden Housing Authority, which is just across the street on Dill Avenue. He especially praised the parents, who he said have become more participatory since he became principal in 2005. Cataline created a Fathers Club to help ensure the dads get more involved.
“One of the things they appreciated the most is that they felt a sense of belonging,” he said. “Several of them voiced it, saying, ‘We’re kind of like a family.’ And I hear that over and over again. That’s an important thing. We’re looked upon like surrogate parents. There’s a lot of trust that we’ve earned over the years, and that’s a good feeling.”
Cataline couldn’t have guessed what lie ahead when he walked into Soehl on that first day in 1971. “I was very nervous about going into Soehl,” recalled Cataline, who starting out teaching self- contained basic skills. “But what got me through was the teacher next to me was a veteran. She was a tough teacher. This was before we had formal mentors, but she would give me pointers and she would critique my performance. That first year, I got a lot of good, solid training from her. So it didn’t take long before I became more comfortable.”
Cataline taught several core subjects at Soehl over the next 15 years, and was known by students as “Wolfman Jack,” because his thick head of hair and full beard gave him a resemblance to the legendary radio DJ of the ’70s.
He earned his Master’s Degree in Educational Administration from Kean College in 1978, and in 1986 worked with school psychologist Tom Nappa on developing an alternative program for disaffected eighth-graders.
In 1986, he began a run where he worked at two schools he had attended as a student. He became at administrative aide at McManus in 1986, then in 1988, he became principal at School No. 10, where he stayed for 11 years.
While at School No. 10, Cataline introduced calculators and computers to the classrooms, was the first recipient of a family science grant, and supported the arts and the first social work program in Linden Public Schools. He was the first Linden Principal to be appointed to the initial advisory committee for the Merck Institute for Science Education. He returned to McManus as Principal in 1999 and stayed there for six years.
“After 22 years in the middle schools, I came to the realization that elementary was more my thing,” Cataline said. “I enjoy the little kids. They’re very warm and giving and honest – and fun. Participating in the celebrations and observance keeps you young and it’s always been fun for me. Sometimes you get the ones who need a little extra attention, and hopefully you can make a difference for them.”
In 2005, Cataline was named principal of School No. 4. While there, he established community partnerships with the Linden Housing Authority and Infineum in Linden. In addition, he developed the Kiwanis K-Kids program, Safety Patrol, and Student of the Month recognition program. He also revamped the school’s holiday shop, giving all students the opportunity to experience the magic of the holidays without the need for money.
Cataline credits his faculty and staff for implementing many of the advancements he has led.
“I think I’ve been blessed with a very cooperative, hard-working staff,” he said. “You have to be a special person to work at School 4, because as many successes as we have, we have an equal number of challenges. But they rise to the occasion. They are here for the good of the school and the kids and the community. I’m going to miss that camaraderie.”
The feeling from the staff is mutual.
“One of the greatest lessons that Mr. Cataline has shown me is that trust and respect is earned at all levels,” said Vice Principal Suzanne Olivero, who is taking the helm as the school’s new principal. “He was dedicated to his task, sincere to the core, remained calm under pressure, and never yielded to anger. His systematic approach to things made working with him a wonderful experience. He is truly leaving behind a great legacy, and it is my sincere hope that we build upon that legacy in the future.”
After 48 years of coming to work day after day, retirement is a big change. But after turning 70 in May, Cataline says it is clear to him that it’s time to explore other adventures. And he says he never thought about trying to make it to 50 years.
“I don’t know if there’s any magic in 50,” he said. “It’s just a round number. It’s time to do the things that working limits you from doing. Traveling a little more, going to the beach a little more, going on my boat a little more, riding the bicycle a little more.”
He doesn’t have a lot of plans, but he has a lot of options for his new free time. He’s thinking of taking a class to learn Spanish, maybe getting his motorcycle license, or “just spending time on the beach with the binoculars and watching the dolphins.
“I’d like to spend more time living a little more healthy life,” he said. “Getting up and going for a walk, or spending time at the gym, or going on my bicycle. “There are so many opportunities to enrich your life. There’s no limit to what is out there.”
Turning introspective, Cataline asked, “As I’m retiring, I look back and question, did my life mean anything?”
But the outpouring of love and good wishes as he approached retirement helps to make the answer to that question clear.
There’s the teacher from North Carolina who sent Cataline a card saying how much the time she spent with him when she was a student then as a teacher meant to her. “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today,” she wrote.
There’s the Linden police officer who told him that after being disciplined by Cataline at McManus, he never got in trouble again.
There’s the 140 staff members, family, and friends who turned out for his retirement party.
There’s the seventh-grader from Pennsylvania – a former School No. 4 student – who took the time to send him a card to thank him.
“So I guess I can look in the mirror and say I did some good along the way,” Cataline said. “I guess how I lived my life meant something to somebody. So I guess I can leave head held high, feeling good about what I did for the last 48 years. It’s been a nice career. A very nice career. I don’t have one regret.”