Four Teachers to Retire this Year from Watchung Hills

Four Teachers to Retire this Year from Watchung Hills

WARREN, NJ - Four teachers will be retiring this year from Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS).

The retirees are: Physics Teacher Dr. Georgia Fisanick, who started at WHRHS in 2004; English Teacher Kim Gajewski, who started at WHRHS in 1980; Family and Consumer Sciences Teacher Julie Jaran, who started at WHRHS in 2009; and Guidance Counselor and Coach Marlene Milkosky, who started at WHRHS in 1992.

Georgia Fisanick

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Physics Teacher Georgia Fisanick, who holds a doctoral degree in Theoretical Chemistry, said she is a woman who has always loved science, despite the fact that she started at a time when there were few role models for women in science. 

Fisanick graduated as valedictorian from Bayside High School in Queens, N.Y. in 1966. Her mother was clear that her daughter should be a teacher, a suitable job for a woman, Fisanick said.Her father, George, a mathematician, encouraged her dreams of science and choice of college.

She majored in Chemistry at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science in 1970, as one of only four female students in her graduating class. 

Fisanick attended graduate school at Princeton University, and received her doctoral degree in Theoretical Chemistry in 1975. She was in the second class in the university’s graduate school that admitted women. She was the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellow at Princeton.

In November 1974, Fisanick began her career as a research scientist. Later she was a supervisor in the Materials Science Laboratory in the Basic Research Area at AT&T Bell Labs in Murray Hill, specializing in materials interfaces research and characterization. 

She also worked with Arno Penzias to establish the first affirmative action committee to address the needs of women and minorities at Bell Labs. The committee went on to develop summer mentorship programs to help women and minorities receive higher degrees in science. 

After having her daughter, Kate, in 1989, Fisanick moved to a solid state laser start-up company where she was Vice President for Business Development. She worked on numerous small business innovation research grants and won the first Advanced Technology Program award from the National Science Foundation for developing tunable solid state lasers. 

From 1995 to 2003, Fisanick took time out for family, raising her daughter and caring for her mother while trading stocks for a living. During that time, she said, she became smitten with the experience of working with children and seeing them learn and develop intellectually. 

“My mother’s dream for me finally came true,” she said. “I became a teacher, first teaching middle school science at Our Lady of Peace School in New Providence, and then, starting in 2004, at Watchung Hills. I earned my teaching certification through alternate route courses.”

At WHRHS, Fisanick taught integrated science, chemistry and physics, and developed the forensic science elective which introduced more than 600 kids to the real science behind CSI (Crime Scene Investigation). 

“I am very proud that I have had students who have made forensic science their careers, including one student now working at the FBI,” she said. “Forensics allowed me to use all my knowledge of materials analysis from Bell Labs on a new area of science, and to be able to give students a sense of relevance about what they were learning, and how quickly cutting edge research can be used for practical things.” 

She said she also loved that forensics helped develop students’ critical thinking skills and skepticism, including that there could be a lot of “bad science” in the world.

Fisanick said she loves technology and has often been the first teacher to tinker with and then adopt new technology -- for example, “Teacherease,” a gradebook with parent access that was developed years before WHRHS adopted Genesis. 

“My goal was to make it easier for parents of students with IEPs (Individual Education Programs) to know how their children were doing and what they could do to help,” she explained.

Fisanick also was active as the union representative to the professional development committee. She developed professional development programs at WHRHS about the “Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS),” and volunteered with the N.J. Department of Education to revise the N.J. Science Standards to align with NGSS. 

She plans to move to Alexandria, Va., to be closer to her daughter, Kate. 

“I am looking forward to becoming an advocate for science education and research funding in Washington D.C., writing crime fiction, and enjoying my beloved but extremely devilish dog, Gizmo.”

Kim Gajewski

Kim Gajewski, an English Teacher who has been employed at Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) since 1980, was named as one of two Teachers of the year for the 2016-2017 school year.

About her selection, Gajewski said, “Without sounding too cliché, and repetitious, my job is who I am,” she said. “I could never have continued in the classroom for as long as I have if I didn't love what I do.”

Her Teacher of the Year plaque included the reason for her selection: "For embracing students as individuals, for teaching them to imagine their potential beyond high school, and for inspiring them to engage with the world." 

About her selection, Gajewski said, “Without sounding too cliché, and repetitious, my job is who I am,” she said. “I could never have continued in the classroom for as long as I have if I didn't love what I do.”

With her 37 years on staff at WHRHS, Gajewski retired as the currently longest-serving teacher on the faculty. 

“I am often heard saying ‘This was my first and only job,’" she said. “Truth be told, it was. I was hired as a full-year maternity leave replacement and never left. Even though the woman who I was hired to replace returned the following year, my supervisor at the time found me a ‘new home’ as not only an English teacher, but also one who taught Dramatic Arts and Speech. As it turned out, I was certified in Drama because my undergraduate degree was in Communications.”

Gajewski received her Bachelor of Arts from Seton Hall University, South Orange. When she completed her coursework and graduated, she began working at a local community organization handling public relations. 

“I did not like it at all,” she said. “As an alternate job, I began substituting at my old high school - Union High School in Union. As it turned out, this job I liked a great deal.  Luckily, I had very generous parents who suggested I return to school to become a teacher. Additional advice I received along the way was to return as a graduate student since I already had my BA. I completed my certification and master’s degree - an MAT  (Masters of Arts in Teaching) -- also from Seton Hall University. Once I finished my certification, I landed the job a WHRHS and the rest - as they say is history."

At WHRHS, she has taught all grade levels, she said. 

“For probably the last 15 years however, I have only taught seniors. Seniors are where my heart lies,” she said. “I think for this reason I have been able to continue for as long as I have - I truly love what I do. Seniors are at a different place than most students. They think they are ready to move on, and in many cases they are. There are those though, who still long for that nurturing, caring and concern they benefited from when they were younger.” 

Besides the academics, Gajewski said, she believes that nurturing is what she has provided to her students. 

“I love to advise them regarding college choices as well as share with them what life will (potentially) be like once they leave here,” she said. “They see me more maternally and I think that is why a great deal of what I share has credibility with them.” 

As a side note, she said, presently there are about 10 employees of Watchung Hills that she had as students. 

“I think that also speaks volumes about my career,” she said, proudly.

Personally, Gajewski said she is married to “a wonderful man named Rick. We have a daughter – Brittany, who has also chosen education as her career.”

Brittany graduated from Rider University, Lawrence Township, as a Secondary Education major with a Psychology minor and completed graduate school at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, with a master’s degree in School Counseling. She is finishing her second year as a teacher at Pequannock Township High School.

“Like they often say, ‘An apple doesn't fall from the tree,’” she said, smiling.

Julie Jaran

Julie Jaran graduated from Cicero High School which was one of two high schools in her home district, North Syracuse Central School District, Syracuse, N.Y. 

From there she attended SUNY (State University of New York) Oneonta and received a bachelor’s degree in Home Economics Education, which is known today as Family and Consumer Sciences.

“I then attended Syracuse University and received a master’s degree in Home Economics Education,” she said. “Since graduating, I married, had three amazing children, worked as a teacher in three different states, been a cafeteria lady, subbed in Mount Olive where I live, run several home businesses, helped my husband start a consulting firm and home schooled my oldest child.”

Eight years ago Jaran applied for the position in Family and Consumer Sciences at Watchung Hills, she said.

“I was offered the position and happily accepted,” Jaran said. “The first year I split my time between Culinary Arts and Child Development. With the retirement of Irene Mortko, I was able to move full time to Child Development. I have been honored to be part of the Child Development and D'Elia Preschool Programs, continuing a 40 year tradition.” 

Teaching Child Development theory and best practices to the high school students has been “a challenging yet incredible opportunity for me,” she said. 

“I have loved working with the high school students,” Jaransaid. “I love  watching them arrive as level one students and being able to watch them as they grow and mature as people but also as teachers of young children. I am privileged to be part of this. Being able to work with the preschool children and their parents has been one of the joys of my life. All my favorite memories revolve around the child development family. My greatest achievement is when I hear from past students that they were well-prepared for their college classes related to education training. It makes me very happy when I am told that they are the ones who teach their peers how to write lesson plans, especially when the others they are helping are upper level students. I also love to hear about how my students have fallen in love with working with children. That makes me very happy.”

In the future, Jaran said, she plans on sleeping past 4 a.m., cleaning her house, getting back to gardening, traveling a bit, reading books that have piled up, and helping her daughter plan her wedding.

Ever the educator, she adds, “I may do some tutoring.”

Marlene Milkosky

Marlene Milkosky grew up in Clark, and attended Arthur L. Johnson Regional High school. 

“I was always athletic and loved participating in sports,” said Milkosky. “I knew since I was young that I wanted to be a teacher and athletic coach. I have now been in Education for more than 32 years. A few years after receiving my bachelor’s degree in Health and Physical Education from West Chester State University, my career began at Mount St. Mary Academy in Watchung in 1985, where I spent seven years as a Health and Physical Education teacher and coach.”

Milkosky started working at WHRHS in September 1992, and began by teaching Health and Physical Education. After eight years, she became a Guidance Counselor which is what she has been doing for the past 17 years. She received her master’s degree in School Counseling from Kean University in 1996.

“As a guidance counselor, I have enjoyed the relationships I have had with my students and their families,” she said. “It has been very rewarding assisting them through their high school years and playing an active part in their college search.”

She has also coached several sports at WHRHS, assisting in Basketball, Softball and Soccer. 

“My most success and achievements came as Head Girls Varsity Tennis coach from the fall of 1997 to 2006, she said.

During those 10 seasons, her teams captured five consecutive Somerset County Tournament titles, seven Skyland Conference championships, and four State Sectional championships. WHRHS also had two appearances at the Tournament of Champions. Twice Milkosky was named Coach of the Year and was named by the NJSIAA as the 2004 Women’s Coach of the Year.

“It is hard to believe 25 years have passed, but I have so many wonderful memories that I will take with me,” she said. “My greatest enjoyment has always been working with the students whether it be as a guidance counselor, teacher or coach. I have had so many opportunities to work with and get to know the students in so many different ways.”

Milkosky said she is looking forward to the new challenges.

“While I will miss Watchung Hills, I look forward to the next chapter of my life and a new journey ahead,” she said. “I plan on playing more golf which has become a passion over the years, continue to run 5K’s, and spend more time with family and friends. I also plan on doing more traveling. Visiting National parks and hiking will be high on the priority list.”

She added she is grateful for everything she has learned so much from working at WHRHS.

“I have gained a lot personally and professionally in my years at Watchung Hills,” she said. “I am thankful and grateful for the many fond relationships I have formed over the years. I was very lucky to work with a great group of colleagues. WatchungHills has always strived for excellence and I am very proud and happy to have spent 25 years in this school system.”


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