The Hopewell Valley Regional School District announced recently that Hopewell Valley Central High School (CHS) Vice Principal Patricia Pinelli will be taking over as CHS principal from Tana Smith, who was promoted to Director of Human Resources and Special Projects earlier this year. However, this announcement comes as no surprise to many, as Pinelli’s knowledge of Hopewell and her credentials as an educator are well-known.
Pinelli’s roots run deep in Hopewell, with her mother, Terry Riley, a regular face in the community who helps deliver meals to those in need, and her father, Mike Riley, a seasoned educator who taught in Hopewell Valley for more than 30 years. Pinelli herself grew up in the area, graduating from CHS in 1996 and has worked for the District since 2008. Her two daughters, Lauren and Kate, are no strangers to Hopewell Valley either; Lauren graduated from CHS in 2016 before attending and graduating from James Madison University. Kate will enter the high school this fall.
“I’m really excited,” Pinelli said in a phone interview about accepting the position. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with the past two principals and I’ve learned a lot from both of them. They’ve given me a lot of opportunities to expand their leadership.”
Pinelli described CHS as “in a great place now” but is seeking to “build on successes.” As principal, Pinelli wants to expand the school’s community service opportunities by offering a “community service pathway” for students to help their school and local community. According to Pinelli, the school has more than 20 student-created clubs that help support local organizations or raise money for nonprofits.
“I would love to broaden that scope a little bit,” Pinelli said. “I want to make sure that every student feels a positive connection to the school in some way.”
However, Pinelli is leading CHS at an unprecedented time, with the novel coronavirus keeping students at home through the remainder of this school year and with students, staff, and administrators unsure how or when schools can be reopened. For Pinelli, in a situation like this, communication is a key component of education that needs to be supported.
“Meeting with students via Google Meet isn’t the same as that face-to-face interaction in the classroom,” Pinelli said. “Everyone is feeling that loss [in communication], but it’s also given us the opportunity to find some creative ways to celebrate.”
Pinelli highlighted some of the school’s efforts to keep students engaged while apart, such as “senior surprises” to celebrate graduation, as well as virtual spirit weeks. Additionally, Pinelli praised the teachers, saying that they’ve “done a tremendous job of transitioning to remote learning” and “a really nice job of implementing blended learning into their classrooms.”
When students do return, Pinelli is confident that CHS will be ready for the challenge. According to Pinelli, there will be a stronger emphasis on health and safety precautions “even more so than ever before.”
Pinelli has had a couple of takeaways from such a dire situation though: students may come to have a better appreciation for in-person education than before and, with technology at the state it is, the communication crisis could be worse.
“We’re lucky to be living in the time we’re living in,” Pinelli said, referencing how she is able to keep constant contact over Google Meets and e-mail.
For Pinelli though, while technology does keep the District and its families connected, communication in the community is still an important part of schooling that needs as much support as it can get.
“I’m going to make it a priority to maintain that sense of community,” Pinelli said. “That’s sort of the unspoken element in education.”