WARREN, NJ – Five Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) staff will retire at the end of the 2018-2019 School Year, Monday, July 1, and three retired Monday, Dec. 31, 2018.
Staff retiring on July 1 are: Terrance MacConnell, Catherine Angelastro, Brian Brown, Laura Dunn, and Susan Obuch.
Terrence MacConnell, Vice Principal
When Terrence MacConnell started as Vice Principal some 17 ½ years ago, he had already spent 21 years in education: As a History teacher at Immaculata High School, Somerville, for 3 ½ years; and as History and Sociology Teacher at North Plainfield High School for 17 ½ years, where he also coached Football and Baseball.
MacConnell had graduated from Plainfield High School, and earned his undergraduate degree in History from Kean College (now known as Kean University), Union. He went on at Kean, to earn his master’s degree in Education.
“I have had the great pleasure of working with some great administrators and outstanding and dedicated educators,” MacConnell said. “I have been able to meet some of the nicest parents and most important, work with thousands of great students over the past 17 ½ years.”
He continued, “I have also had the advantage of seeing my own children every day at school, Jeffrey who graduated in 2006, Jill, who graduated in 2010, and Troy, who will graduate in 2020.”
MacConnell said he doesn’t like to use the term “retirement.”
“Instead, I am just moving on to another chapter in my life,” he said. “I still want to work with kids in some capacity but now I will be able to pick and choose.”
Catherine Angelastro, Director of Guidance
When Catherine Angelastro started at WHRHS 11 years ago, she brought with her some 26 years of experience as a teacher, educational consultant, guidance counselor, guidance director, and coach.
Angelastro is a graduate of Columbia High School, South Orange. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Education from Notre Dame College, Baltimore, Md., and a master’s degree inSpecial Education from Loyola College, Baltimore. She earned an ED.S. in Counseling Psychology from Seton Hall University, South Orange. She also earned a certificate for Director of Pupil Personnel services and she holds New Jersey state licenses as a Marriage and Family Counselor.
For three years, Angelastro taught students who are deaf and communication impaired. For six years, she taught a self-contained Special Education class at New Providence High School, and for three years, she was an educational consultant for Boonton Township Schools.
For 14 years, she served first as a Guidance Counselor and then as Director of Guidance at Randolph High School. While at Randolph, Angelastro was a Cheerleading coach both at Randolph High School and for Randolph Recreation.
In her retirement, Angelastro plans to travel and spend time with her family, especially her grandchildren.
“I also plan to continue with my practice in marriage and family counseling,” she said. “But, I definitely plan to spend this first summer off, sitting on the beach in Belmar.”
Brian Brown, Teacher of Physics
After graduating from West Essex High School, Brown earned a bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and a master’s degree from the University of Santa Barbara (UC-Santa Barbara), majoring in Materials Science and Engineering.
His teaching career began at Columbia High School, South Orange, and during the past 27 years he has taught mostly physics at all levels as well as other sciences and math classes.
“I’ve been at Watchung Hills since 2004 and have taught physics, in addition to being the Robotics and Science League adviser,” he said, as well as coaching the boys and girls tennis teams at the school for many seasons. During the summers, I taught summer school classes, coached tennis at local clubs and ran my own tennis clinics at the high school courts.”
Brown said he enjoyed his career at WHRHS.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with many dedicated and talented students in the classroom and on the tennis courts and had the opportunity to work with inspiring teachers from all departments in the building and administrators, from whom I’ve learned so much,” he said. “I’m grateful for the entire Hills community who have been incredibly supportive and for becoming such close friends while making the school a special place. The daily interaction with wonderful students and colleagues is certainly the part of the job I will miss the most.”
After retiring from teaching, Brown said, he looks forward to spending more time with his wife and two adult children as they too begin the next steps in life.
“We enjoy traveling together to new destinations and are continuously on a quest to find the best vegan food in the country,” he said. “Professionally, I plan on using all the valuable experience gained at WHRHS in my new position as a physics assessment specialist at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton. Hopefully the challenges during the next chapter of my career will be as rewarding as my time teaching and coaching high school students.”
Laura Dunn, guidance counselor
Laura Dunn began working at WHRHS in 2005, after having worked for some 13 1/2 years in education as a Special Education Teacher, Learning Disabilities Specialist, Substitute Teacher and Guidance Counselor.
Dunn graduated from Highland Park High School in Highland Park, Ill., a suburb north of Evanston, Ill. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Special Education from Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y., and her master’s degree in Communication Disorders/ Learning Disabilities from Northwestern University, Evanston.
She earned a second master’s degree in Counseling from Montclair State University, Montclair, and N.J. Certifications for: Teacher of the Handicapped K-12; and Pupil Personnel Services K-12.
Dunn was a Special Education teacher for one year at Buffalo Grove High School in Buffalo Grove, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, Ill. She was a Special Education teacher for seven years at Waukegan East High School in Waukegan, Ill., also just up the Lake Michigan coast from Chicago and Evanston. While at Waukegan, she served as the assistant boys' tennis coach and assistant girls' gymnastics coach. She also earned supervisory certifications in several areas of Special Education.
After Waukegan, she was a Learning Disabilities Specialist for two years at a private psychiatric day school in Chicago. There, she worked with children ages 5 -11 years, in one classroom.
Later, she was a Substitute Teacher for two years in various high schools in the suburbs of Detroit, Mich., before working as a Guidance Counselor for 1 ½ years at Wayne Valley High School, Wayne, N.J.
Dunn has been a School Counselor at WHRHS for 14 years. During eight of those years, she was co-adviser of the National Honor Society.
"I was on the editorial staff of the 2016-2018 edition of the "ABCs of College Planning" guide from the New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling,” she added.
Dunn thanked the people she met and worked with at WHRHS.
"I will be always grateful for the opportunity to have worked with and gotten to know so many wonderful faculty and staff, as well as, so many memorable students from whom I have learned a lot," she said.
And, what’s next?
“In retirement I plan to travel with my husband,” she said. “We love to take cruises. And, I want to continue horseback riding lessons, become more involved as a citizen lobbyist in Florida and Washington, D.C., take fun enrichment courses at a local college, and explore the state of Florida, among other things.”
Susan Obuch, Administrative Assistant to the Principal
Susan Obuch has been employed at WHRHS since August, 2002. Her three children, Jessica, Justin and Joshua, are all graduates of Watchung Hills (1989, 1999, and 2002, respectively).
She was born and raised in Westfield. After graduation from Westfield Senior High School in 1964, she attended Essex College of Business where she earned her degree as a Certified Court Reporter. She worked in the court system for four years, than as a private secretary for a large insurance company.
Obuch said she then moved onto her next and most challenging career choice as a stay-at-home mom.
“Having moved to Warren in 1977, I quickly became involved in volunteering at the Warren schools as well as PTO (Parent Teacher Organization), Project Graduation, book fairs, and was President of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Mount Horeb Fire Department for 19 years,” she said.
After her children were grown she was eager to go back to work and was given the opportunity to take an administrative position at Watchung Hills.
“I was so happy to be able to continue being a part of the school system in Warren, and my boss’s (past and present) and colleagues could not have been more fantastic to work beside,” she said.
Upon retirement, Obuch said she is looking forward to “so many things.”
“I will be spending more time with her grandchildren, Theodore, Markus, Lukas, and Tilde, here and in Denmark,” she said. “Resumed piano lessons are in my future, and I have already joined the community book club and have returned to volunteering my time in the community where I am living. I am most excited that I will be able to really enjoy all of the beautiful blessings in my life!”
Staff retiring on Dec. 31, 2018 were: Bonnie Burgdorf, Nancy Koppel, and Chris Beckert.
Bonnie Burgdorf, Security Aide and former Music Department band assistant
Bonnie Burgdorf began her career at WHRHS in 1997 as the Assistant WHRHS Marching Band Director. She continued her musical expertise as a Marching Band Assistant, began the Brass in Black Ensemble and occasionally augmented some student performances by adding her talent as an experienced musician on Trumpet. She supported school musicals and concerts as a musician and role model for student musicians, a role she continued through to the 2018 Instrumental Music Concert and her retirement at the end of December 2018.
She added her expertise in security concerns, and began working as a security aide in 2002, a role she continued through to her retirement in 2018.
Burgdorf became known to the entire WHRHS community for her concern for the lives of teenagers, her cooperative nature,her ready sense of humor, her knowledge of all students, her willingness to extend a hand to support all in need, and her ability to ensure the safety of all members of the learning community. She served the students, staff and parents of WHRHS for 21 years.
Nancy Koppel, History teacher
Nancy Koppel began her career at WHRHS in September 2001, after having taught in North Plainfield for 10 years.
She taught several Social Studies courses over the years, including United States, European and World History, in addition to numerous elective courses. Koppel remained a lifelong learner, herself, taking online courses and attending professional conferences to increase her knowledge base and to keep fresh on methodology and pedagogy. She also kept up with the proliferation of technology-based learning tools, which she infused into the classroom experiences for her students.
Koppel also shared her experience and expertise as a valuable and integral part of the school community by leading new teacher mentoring programs, participating in the SCIP Committee and being involved in the National Honors Society.
She was known for her thoughtfulness for both students and teaching peers, providing individual attention to students. She brought to the school, the Social Studies Department, and the classroom a smile, a laugh and a happiness that was evident on a daily basis.
Koppel remained passionate about her subject matter, and eager to engage students to become mature lifelong learners, and remained steady as a role model for students to always exhibit characteristics as a cherished colleague and loyal friend.
Chris Beckert, Support Staff
Chris Beckert was first employed at WHRHS as a substitute secretary in 2001. She professionally served the district as the Administrative Assistant to the Director of Guidance until 2010, at which time she advanced to become the Database Systems Administrator.
She broadened her skills and knowledge through many webinars and training to become a master in the use of the Genesis, the powerful student data tool. She successfully taught staff on all aspects of the Student Information System.
Beckert was known for her determination to meet and decipher challenges and puzzles to find solutions to support students. Likewise, she always remained a professional, and a mentor to all she worked with and for.