Leadership Changes in Livingston Public Schools


LIVINGSTON, NJ — With a new interim Superintendent, and principals promoted to Assistant Superintendent posts, Livingston Public Schools will have a new look come September.

Dr. Ernest Palestis, a veteran administrator and educator, will join the district before the first day of school as interim Superintendent of Schools.

He will be supported by the promotions of two key Livingston educators: Pat Boland, formerly the principal of Heritage Middle School, who became Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction this summer; and Lisa Capone-Steiger, formerly the principal of Burnet Hill Elementary, who is the new Assistant Superintendent for Student Services.

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Additionally, Natalie Topylko, formerly the principal at Mt. Pleasant Elementary, has been named coordinator of a newly created position for Testing, Data Assessment and Accountability.

These well-respected Livingston educators “know the community, they know the climate and culture that makes our schools successful,” said Jim O’Neill, the interim Superintendent of Schools who is retiring from a 40-year career in public education at summer’s end.

With the changes, the three schools will have new principals, all approved at the Aug. 12 Livingston Board of Education meeting.

“Even though this may seem like a great deal of change as we approach the opening of school, we are fortunate to have talented people filling all these roles,” said O’Neill.

Dr. Jennifer Wirt will become the new Heritage Middle School principal. With 12 years of experience as an assistant principal in the district, Wirt is familiar with the culture and expectations in Livingston.

“Her six years at Mount Pleasant Middle and her six years at Livingston High School give her a unique perspective about the students who enter Heritage and what will be expected of eighth graders when they arrive at Livingston High School,” said Mr. O’Neill.

Dan Calligaro, a 30-year veteran of Livingston Public Schools and supervisor of science for Grades K-7, will join the new administrative team at Heritage as Assistant Principal. Erika Gomez, an experienced administrator and teacher, will take over as principal at Burnet Hill Elementary School.

“[Gomez] offers a wealth of information and resources for all areas of elementary curriculum, from programs for students who require remedial services to those who need to be challenged by enrichment activities,” said O’Neill. “She has 19 years of experience, in both classroom and administrative roles. She comes to Livingston from the South Orange-Maplewood School District after spending most of her career in the Passaic School District.”

Dr. Emily Codey will become the new principal at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School after the start of the new school year. She is currently the Principal of Demarest Middle School.

“Dr. Codey brings a depth of knowledge about special education to complement her knowledge about both elementary and middle school students and curriculum,” said O’Neill.

In Demarest, Codey developed a comprehensive STEM program for all students, a yoga initiative, geometry and advanced math offerings, as well as expanded upon the gifted and talented opportunities.

“This combination of talent and expertise (of all the new principals) make for an exciting start to the school year,” O’Neill said.

More than 100 new hires have taken place over the summer, Mr. O’Neill said. “This was a very unusual year in that we had a significant number of vacancies to fill as a result of retirements, resignations, relocations, and leaves of absence.”

The new staff for the 2015/16 school year begin their orientation on Monday, Aug. 17 with a full agenda that includes everything first-year teachers in Livingston need to know to be successful in the district. This includes being prepped on the challenging issues in education, including elements of effective instruction, academic demands, evaluations, laws surrounding special education, and a variety of policies. Teachers will also attend workshops that focus on the effective use of technology for instruction, creating an environment to engage all students, 21st century skills, best practices for parent communication, and teaching English language learners.

“We have a number of new people in key positions who will look at our practices through a different lens and bring their previous expertise to Livingston,” O’Neill said.

These new hires include newly appointed Supervisors, the educators who oversee curriculum in specific areas of instruction.

Dr. Dorian Gemellaro, this past year’s Teacher of the Year at Burnet Hill, where she has taught both third and fifth grades and created inquiry-based science curriculum, was promoted to Supervisor of Science Grades Pre-K-6.

Marybeth Kopacz was hired from the Sparta Township School District, where she served as Curriculum Supervisor, to be Livingston’s Supervisor of English Language Arts (ELA). In Sparta, she was responsible for all professional development and curriculum writing. Her previous experience includes teaching in Chatham.

Dr. Blair Rosenthal-Skowronek was hired to become Supervisor of Special Education. She joins Todd Mitchell and Mrs. Steiger on the Special Services team. Dr. Rosenthal grew up in Livingston and currently works as a training and consultant specialist for Rutgers University in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Education – Office of Special Education Programs. She has also practiced as a school psychologist for special education on the child study team in South Hackensack Public Schools and a behaviorist through the South Bergen Jointure Commission.

Previously, the board approved the promotion of LHS teacher Carmen Michael to Supervisor of World Language.

They join a Supervisory team who includes Kevin Witmaack, ELA; Andrew Krupa, Health and Physical Education; Karen Seiferheld and Antonio Matheus, Mathematics; Christopher Bickel and Scott Kercher, Social Studies; James Novotny, Technology and Business; Robert Wirth, Visual and Performing Arts; and Brian Carey Supervisor of Science at the high school.

Monica Cohen is on special assignment this coming school year as the district’s Educational Consultant. 

“They will not be engaging in any changes for the sake of change,” Mr. O’Neill said, “but will accept that change is the norm in our world, our nation, our community, and necessarily in our education system.”

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