WARREN, NJ - English Teacher Kim Gajewski, who has been employed at Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) since 1980, and Student Assistance Counselor (SAC)Julie Kumpf, at WHRHS since 2002, have been selected by a committee of their peers as the 2017 Teachers of the Year.
Plaques presented to Gajewski and Kumpf by Principal George Alexis included the words: For Gajewski, "For embracing students as individuals, for teaching them to imagine their potential beyond high school, and for inspiring them to engage with the world;" and for Kumpf, “For joyfully promoting a culture of acceptance and wellness, for serving others in times of great need, and for modeling compassion, empathy and resilience.”
WHRHS Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett congratulated Gajewski and Kumpf on their selection as Teachers of the Year.
About her selection as Teacher of the Year, 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.”
Kumpf said about her selection, “The nature of the job involves bonding with students, encouraging them to be their best selves, and guiding them to find the resources they need along the way. I love this job because I get to meet with students individually and really get to know them - to help counsel, coach and cheerlead them through some important years in their lives - it's one of the best jobs in the school!”
With her 37 years on staff at WHRHS, Gajewski is currently the longest-serving teacher.
“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 undergraduatedegree 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 Masters 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 Hills, 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 thatnurturing 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.”
She 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.
Kumpf said she was hired at WHRHS in 2002 when the board and administration anticipated increased enrollment.
“I was hired as a second SAC at the time that the school was preparing to go through the big construction and expansion,” she said. “They knew there would be an influx of more students coming. There have been two SAC's ever since.”
Kumpf is a social worker, who earned her bachelor’s degree and graduate Masters of Social Work degree at Rutgers University. She later received the SAC certification by taking extra classes in substance abuse prevention and intervention.
She said she is a graduate of Columbia High School in Maplewood.
“I am married with two grown children, who went to New Providence High School and Cornell University in Ithaca,” she said. “My son is a data engineer in Austin, Texas, and my daughter is a marketing manager in New York City.”
In her career as a Social Worker prior to coming to WHRHS, Kumpf said she had worked with adolescents in a New York City residential treatment center, in the criminal justice system and in child protection.
“After working in those systems, I decided I wanted to work in a school, where I could interact with students before they were in crisis,” she said. “I wanted to help build resilience, coping and confidence, and help prevent some of the issues that I saw in the agencies in which I had worked.”
She worked as a social worker in the Special Education Department in Summit School District for two years, before coming to WHRHS as a SAC in 2002.
“I pursued the SAC position because of the opportunity to counsel students about a variety of issues, particularly substance abuse prevention, and the flexibility to design prevention and intervention programs and activities, such as Challenge Day,” she said.