WEST ESSEX, NJ — The members of the West Essex Board of Education and members of the administration recognized four long time educators who are retiring this year who cumulatively have served the district for 116 years during their Board meeting this past Monday.

Speaking on behalf of her colleagues Board President Maryadele Wojtowicz stated: “I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and congratulate our four retiring educators.   Lee Oberg, a wood shop teacher has been in the district for 40 years; Maureen Anzalone who is a member of our Child Study Team for 24 years; Robert Muller, Social Studies teacher for 33 years and Carmella Szpilla who is an paraprofessional and been with the district for 19 years.  We wish you many happy years of retirement and we want to thank you for your dedication to West Essex.  You will be missed.”

Superintendent Damion Macioci remarked that having been in the district for many years he has had the opportunity to work with the retirees on a variety of occasions.  He stated that “when I see these names the following comes to mind.  Dedication, skilled, talented, professional, compassionate, reliable, caring, kind and knowledgeable.  All the types of qualities that you would like to see in your educators.”

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West Essex Middle School principal Dr. Gina Donlevie congratulated Maureen Anzalone and Carmella Szpilla and wished them well in their retirement.  Director of Special Services Tania Symmons also took the opportunity to thank and commend her staff members for their commitment and dedication and commented that Ms. Anzalone has such an “incredible wealth of knowledge about students and that Ms. Szpilla has been a wonderful asset to the district and worked very well with the students and will be greatly missed by all.”

West Essex High School Principal Caesar Diliberto said kind words about Robert Muller and Lee Oberg.  Diliberto said: “Bob speaks very highly of every teacher in the building and I’m certainly going to miss him.” When referencing Lee Oberg, Diliberto reflected that when they did peer observations a few years ago, “literally every teacher wanted to take Lee’s class.  The students that are challenging to every other teacher are completely engaged in Lee’s class.  Crafting everything from guitars to poolside juice bars to row boats.  He is responsible for the gorgeous sets on every drama and musical for decades.  His craftsmanship is evident on everything throughout the building from display cases to our stately podium.

 I can say of both gentlemen they are so serene and poised and understanding.  They are both natural mentors to the entire staff, me included and they are both irreplaceable and I know that I am not alone when I say I will miss you both.”

Laura Drago, Instructional Supervisor of Social Studies had kind words and wished her colleague and former mentor Robert Muller the best in his retirement.  Reflecting on her beginning in the district in 1990 she commented on how Muller was always providing resources and assisting her as she began her teaching career.  Then as she became the supervisor of the department as she thought to consider what she would look for in hiring a new staff member, she came to the conclusion that “everything we would want in a teacher and look for in a teacher Mr. Muller had represented for over 32 years.”

Lisa Swanick, Supervisor of Fine, Performing and Practical Arts stated that on Mr. Oberg’s first day as a novice teacher in 1980 he was given the task to build a program.  She continued noting that “the look of pride on his face when a student has mastered the challenges set before them and emerged victorious was fuel for the soul.”  Swanick reflected that “while sitting here remotely during a global pandemic it is not the way we would like to pay tribute but tonight we celebrate a master artist who has blessed us with 40 years of his time, dedication and service to our school community.  As a three-time nominee and two-time award winner of the Governor’s Educator of the Year Award, Mr. Oberg has literally touched the lives of thousands of students.”

Principal Donlevie reported that on June 3 during a remote ceremony they published their National Junior Honor Induction Ceremony that certified that 105 of the middle school students excelled in the areas of scholarship, service, leadership, character, and citizenship.   The school’s first virtual field day will be held June 10 and she hopes “a lot of the kids will participate” and noted it will be in lieu of instruction for the day. 

Donlevie congratulated the second semester 7 and 8 grade students of the month for March, April, May, and June.  Normally a ceremony is conducted where the students are recognized, and certificates are presented but this year certificates were mailed home.

7 Grade Students-of-the-Month are:   Samuel Boyle, Emily Axelrod, Sophia Della Terza, Luca Leonardis, Katie Cho, Priya Marcus, Emily Dyme, Ashley Projansky, Katie Housel, Lilly Venezia, Brady Phillips, Julia Shamosh, Aidan Liefer, Emily Mansbach, Jessica Metry, Bridie O’Boyle, Brooke Pita, Sophia Sisco and Harrison Tedesco.

8th Grade Students-of-the-Month are: Alyssa Abate, Sergio Maestoso, Sadie Berg, Joey Busciglio, Pingxin Chen, Morgan Perini, Alejandra Munoz, Catherine “KiKi” Farlie, Josie Duva, Madeline Shih, Joey Zarillo, Stephanie Mitchell, Chloe Levine, Chris Nigro, Brianna Perrone, Ethan Saccone, Eric Scalici and Ali Simmons.

Agenda items included appointments of staff for various positions for the new school year in addition to approving all contracts for special education aides who have not resigned for the 2020-2021 school year.

Under curriculum, approval was given for the writing of curriculum for the next school year including previously approved new courses:  AP Seminar, CAD/Engineering/STEM program, Cybersecurity, Freshman Seminar, LLD Lifeskills Course, ELA and Math Remediation in the middle school, Video Game Design and Woods Program.

During public comment Debbie Bornstein questioned plans for instruction noting under the current long-distance learning model it will “not suffice for next year” and asked if there were plans to streamline curriculum.  Bornstein noted the lack of continuity between teaching staff and wondered how the district would assess regression and retention of materials presented.

Ryan Gupta, Director of Curriculum, and Instruction confirmed that there were “significant learning gaps” and confirmed that her concerns were echoed by all administration since the closing of the buildings. The district plans to make “dramatic increases in the amount of live instruction, level of accountability and increasing the level of support.” 

As the districts across the state await directives from the DOE,  West Essex is planning for multiple scenarios that include continuation of long-distance learning, in school with safety guidelines and a hybrid of both.  He assured the public that the “level of rigor with be upping to say the least.”  He confirmed that more detail will be provided at the next board meeting for the fall semester as well as summer assignments.  The districts across the state have received no guidance from the DOE as it relates to school’s opening in the fall and specifically no directives from the Commission of Education who has resigned effective June 30th

Board Member Jann Skelton took the opportunity to address her concerns about the Culture and Climate Survey and its results that were presented at the last meeting.  Stating that some of the results were not “accurately interpreted” she specifically noted in the Community and School Morale domain the results indicated that it was a “strength” that 41% of the students would chose to go to another school.  She noted that “is not a strength in any interpretation.”    She asked that her colleagues consider comprehensive diversity training for themselves and the administration with a specific focus on “unconscious bias”.  She also requested that the administration engage in an “increased level of transparency around the frequency and scope of racial bias”.  The board did not respond to Skelton’s statement or requests during the meeting.

The next board of education meeting will be June 24th.