RANDOLPH, NJ - The Randolph Education Foundation has reached their 10th year of providing scholarships, grants, hosting events, and raising money for the betterment of Randolph Schools. In the ten years since its inception, REF has donated over $300,000 to the district for a variety of efforts. The REF is especially proud of its efforts regarding innovation, school readiness, and community building. 

The foundation commenced in 2009 with Margaret Clark as its president. “We started the foundation when the budget for the district was being cut due to the financial crisis of the late 2000's,” said Clark.  “We believed that bringing the community together to support our schools was critical to ensuring a strong future for our students.”

Over the years, the foundation has remained true to its mission, which is “to harness the power of our community to create opportunities that inspire teachers to innovate and enable our students to thrive.”

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Longtime Randolph Dentist Dr. Anthony Fusco is a board member for the REF. Fusco explained how one of the foundation’s generous donations sparked his interest in joining the board. “I got involved because of the 2nd pair of pants program that donates gift cards to students in our district that need the financial help to get basic clothing needs,” said Fusco. 

Each board member volunteers their time to enrich Randolph’s education system and bring the community together. For example, Clark planned the annual Randolph Rocks 5K, while Monica O’Meara and Elizabeth Olechowski ran the annual Randolph Rocks Stars Celebration. 

Fusco commented on the dedication that the board has displayed, “The board meets once a month, and depending on the committees you are on it can take up a fair amount of time planning events.”

On June 11, Randolph High School held its senior scholarship ceremony. The REF gave out two $1,500 scholarships to seniors who are the first generation of their family to attend college, and six scholarships totaling $10,000 for engineering and health field students.

For the healthcare scholarship, the applicants wrote a short response as to why they wanted to go into healthcare, submit their transcript, GPA, and their acceptance letters.

Maddie DiFusco was one of five winners. “I am thankful that I was able to win such an amazing scholarship, not just because of the money, but because healthcare is such an important profession, so to be acknowledged for that was very humbling,” DiFusco said. 

In addition to the scholarships, the REF’s Next Practices Grants providesup to $10,000 in grants to teachers with innovative ideas for education.  Their Ten Year Celebration included a $54,000 grant for a district-wide STEM program.

The REF’s new president, Paola Heincke stated, “Presenting awards to the recipients of Next Practices Grants is so inspiring. I learn so much from those teachers, their innovative ideas and their energy. The day we present the awards is one of the happiest days of the year for me. We are really lucky to have the faculty and administrators we have in the district.”

The same week, on Thursday June 13, the REF held their annual Randolph Rock Stars Celebration Event. A teacher from each of the six schools in the district is recognized along with a student volunteer, and members of the business community and the Randolph Rotary Club.

This year’s student volunteer of the year was junior Hannah Boyer. “I didn't even know this was something I could win, so it is very rewarding to know that everything I'm doing isn’t going unnoticed,” Boyer explained.

Boyer volunteers with the Students for Environmental Awareness Club, and she visits and plays games with Autistic children in Morristown through a program called SNAP. She thanked Randolph High School’s Mr. Pignaloso for nominating her for this event. 

The event brings the community together, joining teachers from each of the six schools along with Randolph families and student volunteers.   Boyer commented that she was pleased to see teachers she knew from the second grade through high school all sitting in the same room. 

Heincke agreed, stating she believes this event is “the result of bringing together the Randolph community to benefit the teachers and students, and that gives me an incredible sense of accomplishment for the REF and what we are about.”

This year Randolph High School’s teacher of the year is Mrs. Lonie, who past students may know better as Miss Thomas. In 2018, Mrs. Lonie’s husband, Mr. Lonie, won the Teacher of the Year Award.

“I was so incredibly proud of Mr. Lonie when he won Teacher of the Year for 2018. He works so hard and he is an outstanding teacher and person. I did not expect to get nominated the following year, but what motivated me the most to go through the application process was the students who nominated me,” she said. 

Mrs. Lonie teaches English 1 Honors at the high school, AP Capstone, and AP Research, which is the second year of AP Capstone. She also advises two clubs, the Bridges Club - which works with the Bridges Organization to feed the homeless community in Newark, and Rampage, which is the school’s newspaper that produces four issues each year, written for the students by the students. On top of this, she is also a member of the Benchmark Task Force, which is a team that meets to discuss assessments at the high school and what changes, if any, would better serve the students, taking into consideration both education and mental health.

“There are definitely weeks where all of those responsibilities collide, and it absolutely gets hectic, but I'm fortunate enough to have supportive colleagues,” said Mrs. Lonie.  “Especially Ms. Corley who advises Bridges with me, and outstanding executive boards for the clubs; the students care so much about what the club is about and I know I can count on them. While it can be a struggle at times, I know all of it will work out and be worth it.” 

Within her classroom the teacher of the year has adjusted her curriculum to increase the benefits of learning for her students.

“There were several units that I threw out completely and started from scratch because I wanted the students to get more out of it and be better prepared for not only future English classes but also the future in general…  I find that a lot of really great learning happens while communicating with each other, so working silently doesn't typically happen for extended periods of time in my classroom.”

Then, bright and early on June 15, the REF began setting up their annual Randolph Rocks 5K. This event is prominent in bringing the community together because of the age variety in runners and the large numbers for participation; a total of 534 participants this year.

Junior James Keaney ran this race for his seventh time, and placed second overall. “It’s a great race because so many people in the community come out to run it. It also has a great course to run as well as supporting an awesome organization” Keaney commented. 

Finally, the REF is saying farewell to its president of ten years, Margaret Clark, and welcoming Paola Heincke to the position. In terms of stepping down from her position, Clark said, “It was time. Over the last 10 years, we have built a really strong organization and in order for an organization to grow, it needs new people, and new leadership to bring new ideas to its future.” 

On the topic of new leadership to bring new ideas, she knows Heincke will do just that. “I have worked with Paola on the board for several years now and I am very excited that she will be taking over as president of the REF. She brings great enthusiasm, passion and intelligence to the organization. I know I leave the organization in good hands.”

Fusco is proud of his former president’s accomplishments, but also knows success awaits the foundation in the future. “Margaret's spirit is what has made REF as successful as it is. She’s irreplaceable, but Paola is extremely motivated and will lead us into the future in capable hands.”

The new president herself could not have better words to describe the mark Clark has made on the community. “I only have words of gratitude for Clark. She sees potential, and gets the best out of everyone. Her soft touch, tenacious will, and profound commitment has brought the Randolph community together in support of the foundation and has taken it to a level we could have not even dreamed of a few years ago. She is a remarkable, smart, strong, kind woman from whom I have learned so much.”

In the future Heincke promises to “continue to explore the development of partnerships and collaborative opportunities with other organizations.” The REF will also work with the Sustainability and Wellness Program, which brought together administrators and teachers in all schools in the district, members of the community, the REF and the Bosch Community Fund. Heincke explained that the program received $54,000 from the REF this year and has the potential to receive extra funds next year. 

To the readers, Heincke adds “a big THANK YOU to the community who supports us in many ways, whether it is participating in the events, becoming a sponsor, serving as a committee member, being a volunteer, or press covering and disseminating information about our activities. We are very appreciative of every minute and all the talent the community members share with us. We could not do it without them.”