SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Friends, family, and colleagues gathered at the June 19 board of education meeting to honor those South Plainfield School District teachers, faculty, and staff members who retired during or at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 school year. 

“This evening we have the pleasure to present certificates to our faculty and staff members who spent many years in the South Plainfield School District, supporting the students both in and out of the classroom,” Superintendent Dr. Noreen Lishak told those gathered for the meeting. “Each of these retirees…has played an integral part in the lives of our students and, for that we thank them.” 

The 2018-2019 retirees include: District –Karyn Masterson, Karen Milano, and Carol Wendel; Administration Building –Francisco Jimenez; Transportation – Natalie Cooper and Mark Mogil; South Plainfield High School – Kathleen Wargacki; Riley/Kennedy Schools – Gail Hasbrouck-Merlo; South Plainfield Middle School – Don Panzarella and Gail Kazimir; Riley School –Nicole Zablocki and Margaret Gumina; Grant School – Joan Williams; and Roosevelt School – Linda Bohl. During the meeting, those retirees present were honored by their respective building principals and/or supervisors and presented with a framed certificate recognizing their years of service to the district. 

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Kathy Wargacki began her career in South Plainfield in 1996 and worked as a paraprofessional at Grant, South Plainfield Middle and South Plainfield High schools before going on to serve at Franklin Elementary School in early 2019. 

“…She really is an amazing individual…she is always at the forefront making sure – whether working with someone one-on-one or in a classroom – that their needs are being met and they have what they need to get the best education possible,” said Ronnie Spring, principal of South Plainfield High School Principal, adding, “She is always making sure not just her students, but all the students, have an environment where they thrive academically, socially, and emotionally…”

Roger Vroom, principal of South Plainfield Middle School, then took to the podium and said he had the ‘extreme honor’ of recognizing Don Panzeralla, a physical teacher and softball coach for the district since 1981. ‘Mr. Panz,’ as he has always been affectionately know, retired earlier this year and is the ‘winningest coach in the State of New Jersey.’ Additionally, in 1989, just seven years after he took over as coach of the high school’s girls varsity softball team, Panzeralla was named to the New Jersey Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“So many accolades for this gentleman. It has been an absolute pleasure to have not only been a student, but to then have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Panzeralla,” said Vroom, adding, “This is one of those ‘Wayne’s Worldspots’ where I am not worthy…You have been a cornerstone of the middle school and we truly appreciate your dedication.”

Patrick Sarullo, principal of Grant School, extended best wishes to retiring paraprofessional Joan Williams. Williams, who worked at other schools throughout her career in South Plainfield, spent the last few years at Grant and, according to Sarullo, could always be found at the front door, ready to assist students. 

“We have kids with many special needs and she also thought ahead of time and was there for them,” said Sarullo, adding, “She would say to me ‘whatever you need Pat,’ but it wasn’t whatever I needed; it was always whatever our students needed…”

Over at Riley School, both Margaret Gumina and Nicole Zablocki retired this year and, according to Principal Leo Whalen, the two third grade teacher were always together. “When parents talk about your classes, the theme is always the same; it’s how much the children like Ms. Gumina and Ms. Zablocki and how much they like being in [their] class,” said Whalen, adding, “Ms. Gumina and Ms. Zablocki, after many years in education in the South Plainfield School District, you have certainly left your mark and we certainly appreciate that. We wish you the best of luck in retirement.”

Whalen also recognized Gail Hasbrouck-Merlo, an art teacher who, after years teaching older district students, joined both Riley and Kennedy Schools this past year. “Ms. Merlo, in the short amount of time at Riley School, you’ve made an impression on the students, and I want to thank you for that…We are going to miss you and best of luck in retirement,” said Whalen. 

Robert Diehl, principal of Roosevelt Elementary School, recognized Linda Bohl who retired after 20 years with the district. Bohl worked in healthcare prior to becoming a teacher and, over the course of her tenure with South Plainfield, taught kindergarten, first, second and fourth grade at Riley before joining Roosevelt last September as a kindergarten teacher. 

“As a kindergarten teacher, I can’t tell you how important it is that the children are welcomed and that they feel comfortable,” said Diehl, adding, “Linda is the perfect kindergarten teacher…all the kids feel comfortable and they learn. That is very important.” 

Andrew Brandon, the district’s director of special services, was on hand to congratulate Karen Milano, a social worker, and Carol Wendel, a school psychologist, who together brought over 50 years of experience to South Plainfield High School. 

“Karen is one of the kindest people I have ever met,” said Brandon, adding that Milano, who retired earlier this year after 25 years with the district, has provided him over the past year with a ‘a good perspective on [district] programs and services.’ Brandon said that Wendel, who worked for the district for 26 years and served as a member of the high school’s child study team, was always ‘100-percent committed to the students’ and always held ‘the students needs paramount in all of her decisions.’ “I wish you both the best in your retirement,” said Brandon. 

Members of the South Plainfield Board of Education also extended their thanks and well wishes to the retirees.

“To the retirees, we greatly appreciate all you have done for our school district, especially your commitment to all of our students,” said BOE member Sharon Miller. “I wish you all an enjoyable and healthy retirement; you all deserve it.”

"Congratulations to all of our retirees. You have given the ultimate gift to our students – education, counseling and compassion. Best of wishes as you retire,” said BOE member Debbie Boyle. 

BOE President Doug Chapman also congratulated all the retirees, and commended all those in the district on the a ‘tremendous school year.’ “A lot of great things happened in the schools this year and the teachers really did an excellent job, as they do every year and I want to thank each and every one,” said Chapman, adding, “We really are going in the right direction here…and there are a lot of really good things coming up and that’s really a testament to the teachers, the administrators, the entire educational team, the support staff, the secretaries, the janitors, anybody that has anything to do with the district has done another fabulous job this year and I want to say thank you to them for that.”

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