Hopewell Valley Board of Education Honors Governor’s Award Winners, Talks Reopening and Staff Changes

The Hopewell Valley Board of Education announced a number of staffing changes, discussed potential reopening plans, and honored the District’s teachers and staff virtually with the Governor’s Teacher and Educational Services Professional Recognition Award and during their mid-May meeting.

The Board announced via e-mail a number of new administrative changes, notably Tana Smith will be moving from her role as principal at Central High School to be the District’s Director of Human Resources and Special Projects, replacing longtime Assistant Superintendent Anthony Suozzo, who has taken a job as Superintendent in another school district. A formal search is ongoing for a new principal at the high school.

Dr. Rosetta Treece, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, will now be the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, expanding her responsibilities to other areas, according to the Board.

Robert Colavita will be acting as the Assistant Superintendent for Finance, moving from his previous role as the School Business Administrator and Secretary.

Superintendent Dr. Thomas Smith additionally gave an update on remote learning in the District, as well as some potential plans for reopening schools.

According to Dr. Smith, since March 13, 4,250 Chromebooks, connected on average at three and a half hours a day, have been used. 495 Chromebooks and 20 internet hotspots have been delivered to families as well.

“As of today, to our knowledge, all District families have internet service and a Chromebook to connect with,” Dr. Smith said.

Potential reopening plans were also discussed by Dr. Smith, who noted that plans are “just discussion topics at this point.” 

Potential plans discussed include synchronous learning, or having classes taught at the same time with some students at home and some in the classroom, a grade band phase-in, with elementary, then middle, and then high school students being phased-in while continuing remote learning before their reintroduction to schools. Rotating schedules, whether it be on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, as well as split schedules that divide students into morning and afternoon sessions, are other possibilities.

Following state guidance, Dr. Smith said that the District “needs to have a plan in stone, or close to in stone, in August,” although ideally a plan would be formulated before the end of the school year.

The Board also honored District staff with the Governor’s Award, which, according to Suozzo, “honors teachers and educational service professionals throughout the State whose contributions to their students are exceptional.” One educator from each of the District’s six schools was honored with the award, as well as three support professionals.

Tina Overman, the STEM facilitator at Bear Tavern, was recognized by school principal Christopher Turnbull, who described her as “one of the smartest people you will ever know if you sit and talk to her, but she mixes that with the kindness and the warmth of a kindergarten teacher.” Turnbull also said Overman has the “tenacity of a honey badger,” saying “when she sets her mind on a goal there’s no way we’re not going to achieve it.”

Audrey Fiscor, a social worker at Toll Gate Grammar School, was honored by school principal, Jane-Ellen Lennon. “Mrs. Fiscor has been constantly professional, positive, caring, and concerned for us all here at Tollgate,” Lennon said. Additionally, Lennon shared quotes from students about Fiscor, with one student saying “her voice sounds good and makes me happy, it sounds like angels talking.”

Sharon Cohen, a teacher at Hopewell Elementary, was honored by school principal, David Friedrich, who shared quotes from parents about her. Cohen, or “Ms. Sharon” as her students call her, was described as having “care and kindness exude from her very being,” “a gifted and magical educator,” and “the type of teacher you hope your child has at least once in their school career.”

Stony Brook Elementary honored teacher Basheer Khan, who transitioned from a fourth grade teaching role in Hamilton to a kindergarten teaching role in Hopewell Valley when she started. Principal Steve Wilfing described her transition to this role as “seamless,” with Khan soon moving to a new position as a pre-kindergarten teacher in Texas. “Her genuine concern and caring nature should be celebrated, and here we are celebrating her today,” Wilfing said.

Special education teacher Stephanie Capasso was honored by Timberlane Principal Nicole Gianfredi, who described her as “the definition of dedication, inspiring and continuing to make a difference with every student she teaches.” Gianfredi additionally praised Capasso for her leadership in the Practical and Academic Learning Program (PAL), which Gianfredi described as being “fully integrated” into the school under Capasso’s guidance, previously starting in a small classroom.

Karen Lucci, a science teacher at Central High School, received the award from Principal Tana Smith, who said Lucci is “known by colleagues, administrators, students, and community members alike for her dedication and commitment to professionalism and to those she teaches.” Additionally, Tana Smith noted that this is the second time Lucci has received the Governor’s Award, with Lucci receiving a fond farewell as she retires this year.

Three support professionals were additionally honored: Timberlane campus security officer Ken Warner, transportation dispatcher Talaia Owens, and Central High School paraprofessional Julie Beck-Lowe.

Gianfredi discussed Warner’s impact on Timberlane, noting that he willl go above and beyond, assisting staff with car troubles, exterminating mice, water plants, playing basketball with students, or even making brownies for a student’s birthday.

“He’s an integral part of our staff, knowing everyone in our school from staff to students,” Gianfredi said.

Owens, who was honored by transportation director, Heather Van Mater, was described as constantly improving herself by taking transportation supervisor classes.

“She’s always available to make sure the department runs smoothly, even if that takes place after hours,” Van Mater said. “She’s always patient and completes tasks with a smile on her face.”

Beck-Lowe was described by Tana Smith as “one of the most hardworking and dedicated colleagues I have ever had the pleasure working with in an academic essentials program.”

“You will never hear her complain,” Tana Smith said.

The Board’s next meeting is scheduled for June 15.

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