Joseph F. Berenato
Teachers of the year
Board of education, HEF honor educators’ work
HAMMONTON—The 2023 Governor’s Educators of the Year were recognized at the February 9 meeting of the Hammonton Board of Education.
Board President Sam Mento III said that, for him, honoring the educators of the year is one of the highlights of being a board member.
“When you look at these schools, they’re just brick and mortar. But, when you want to talk about the school district, the heart and soul—really, the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the school—it’s our teachers, and we’re really fortunate to have some of the best teachers anywhere. Tonight, we are acknowledging the best of the best,” Mento said.
Dr. Darla Salay, the principal of the Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC), first took to the podium to introduce K-1 special education teacher Stephanie Dooley.
Salay said that Dooley has written numerous grants that were awarded by the Hammonton Education Foundation (HEF) and which have benefited all students at the school.
“This year, Miss Dooley received a grant for a sensory room, which is a quiet place with special materials that help students who may need to decompress,” Salay said.
Salay said that Dooley continues to look for ways to make learning—and life—better for students.
“She helped put together a food bank with her colleagues, which is housed in her classroom, and she’s currently working on another grant. I look forward to seeing what she has planned next,” Salay said.
Dooley said that being named educator of the year is an honor she “honestly did not see coming.”
“There are so many deserving teachers at the ECEC, and knowing my peers voted for me is an overwhelming feeling,” Dooley said.
Dooley said that being a self-contained teacher is “many things.”
“It’s rewarding, and it’s tough. It’s sitting across from a mom who is crying, because she wants to hear her child’s voice. It’s sitting at an IEP meeting in May, and that same mom is crying—and thanking the entire team—because her child is talking now. It’s watching in amazement what a child can accomplish from day one to day 180. It’s wishing you had more advocates for special education. It’s working with a team of therapists, aides and so many others to ensure each child gets what they need,” Dooley said.
Warren E. Sooy Jr. Elementary School (WES) principal Dr. Kristina Tigro then spoke to the board to introduce fourth-grade teacher Renee Clark.
“Throughout her tenure, Mrs. Clark has gone above and beyond for her students, for her colleagues and for our school,” Tigro said.
Tigro said that Clark strives to make her classroom an ideal place for her students to learn.
“She is creative, engaging and highly effective. She makes learning fun. She gets to know all of her students on a personal level. She is a compassionate educator who can adapt to the needs of students from all backgrounds and all abilities to learn,” Tigro said.
Clark spoke about the impact all teachers have had in the district.
“Tonight, I stand before you because of all the amazing colleagues that I work with: my WES family,” Clark said.
Clark said that she was humbled and honored to be nominated by her colleagues.
“I am so grateful for so many mentors, teachers, administrators and friends I’ve met along my educational journey who have pushed me and supported me throughout my tenure,” Clark said.
Next, Hammonton Middle School principal Dr. Kimberly Rudnesky introduced special education teacher Maureen Anderson.
“Maureen’s impact has been felt on the school community for many years with her involvement and contributions in many aspects of the total school program,” Rudnesky said.
Rudnesky said that Anderson “took a chance” when she applied for—and was awarded—a grant from the HEF that resulted in Wally the service dog becoming a part of the middle school team.
“Maureen continues to be a conscientious handler for Wally whenever he visits now, which is a few times a week. She makes sure that he stops to get all his treats throughout the day, and he makes his rounds to make the school community stay a little happier,” Rudnesky said.
Anderson said that being recognized by one’s peers is both humbling and flattering, and she was honored to represent the middle school. She noted her appreciation for the staff and administration for their help and support through the years, and spoke about the numerous projects the she and her colleagues helped bring to fruition.
“Most importantly, we wrote, and were awarded, the HEF to sponsor our therapy dog, Wally—and, honestly, he’s probably the reason I won teacher of the year,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that those who work in the Hammonton school district make “coming to work easy.”
“I have colleagues who have become some of my best friends. I have administrators who are innovative and helpful. Because we spend more waking hours at school than we do at home, I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by people who work hard, but laugh harder,” Anderson said.
Hammonton High School principal Thomas Ramsay spoke about mathematics teacher Kelly Yeats.
“Miss Yeats is very intelligent, knowledgeable, compassionate, professional and an extremely hard worker. Her many contributions to our high school are greatly appreciated,” Ramsay said.
Yeats said that she was both humbled by and deeply appreciative of being named educator of the year.
“It really does mean more than words can express, to know that you’re appreciated by the people that you work with day in and day out,” Yeats said.
Yeats noted amazement at how much has changed in her 31 years of teaching.
“I’m constantly trying to learn, and grow and evolve with the times,” Yeats said.
HEF trustee—and Hammonton Police Chief—Kevin Friel then addressed the board. Friel said that the foundation was formed in 2004, and its main objective is to raise money to provide grants that “enhance the quality of education for the students in our Hammonton school district.”
“The enormous and continued support that we receive from the Board of Education, the school district, the administration, the faculty, the staff and our entire community has enabled the Hammonton Education Foundation to provide $558,000 in grants so far throughout the years,” Friel said,
Friel said that $38,000 of that total has been awarded to the educators of the year.
Friel, along with HEF President Roseann Struble and Vice-President Lori Calderone, presented each of the recipients with a $500 grant.
“That $500 grant that they get for their classroom that they can spend is over and above what our district provides, so they can come up with some new, wonderful, innovative ideas and things to do to enhance their classroom educationally,” Friel said.
Teachers, Friel said, help to mold and shape children.
“We’re grateful for the dedication and the influence that they provide,” Friel said.
In other business, Mento held a moment of silence for former Hammonton High School band director Anthony Guerere, who died on December 17, 2022.
“When you talk about the winning spirit—and the winning tradition—of the Hammonton band, it kind of coincides with the same time period of the football team and Coach Cacia. If you were talking about the Mt. Rushmore of coaches or directors for the Hammonton school district, those two would absolutely be on the top,” Mento said.
Mento then announced the establishment of a scholarship in Guerere’s name.
“My wife and I will be funding it this year, and we have assurances from the band boosters, and also I think the family is looking to be part of this to continue the tradition,” Mento said.
Mento said that the plan was to make this an annual scholarship presented at the senior awards ceremony.
“It’s our hope to have this molded or framed in a way that it would be set up for someone who is in the band or musically inclined student, or someone who’s going on to study music,” Mento said.
During her report, Superintendent of School Robin Chieco gave a presentation regarding the Student Growth Equivalency Waiver Application. Chieco said that the district is requesting to substitute instruction program indicators four and five under the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum [QSAC], which utilizes data from the 2018-2019 school year, and which, Chieco said, are “not reflective of our current population and growth.”
“The district believes it is in the best interests of its students and staff to measure our level of growth using 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 measures,” Chieco said.
Utilizing data from 2018-2019, Chieco said, misrepresents the current state of academic progress.
“In addition, our academic programs have changed over the past three years to better address the needs of our students,” Chieco said.
Chieco presented slides that compared the 2018-2019 New Jersey Student Learning Assessment student growth percentiles for grades four and five at the elementary school—along with grades six through eight at the middle school—in language arts, and grades four through seven in math, with those of the 2021-2022 LinkIt growth percentiles.
According to the data, the language arts data for fourth and fifth grade students showed the 46th percentile in 2018-2019 compared with the 56th percentile in 2021-2022. The language arts data for students in grades six through eight also showed the 46th percentile in 2018-2019 compared with the 54th percentile in 2021-2022.
The math data for grades four and five showed the 56th percentile in 2018-2019 compared with the 60th percentile in 2021-2022. The math data for grades six and seven showed the 37th percentile in 2018-2019 compared with the 47th percentile in 2021-2022.
“We are proposing this equivalency as a measure to utilize the resulting growth of our current students and staff, as opposed to those who are no longer in our district. Additionally, as we have navigated through a global pandemic, we have devoted a tremendous amount of professional development efforts towards data analysis and instructional plans for targeted skills. With the board’s approval, I will submit this waiver as a representation of our measurement of student growth,” Chieco said.
Under committee reports, Mento detailed several proposed projects to the high school grounds.
“We’re talking about some improvements to be made at the football field—the Robert Capoferri complex. We’re talking about a track improvement review, we’re talking about a scoreboard, and maybe even some other good things that are in store for out there in the near future,” Mento said.
Mento then said that the district will be drafting a sidebar agreement with the teachers in the district.
“We are looking into, and reexamining, the current way our teachers would obtain family coverage,” Mento said.
Mento said that, currently, Hammonton is “one of the few” districts in the state that does not offer full-family coverage for new hires; such coverage is currently reserved for tenured teachers.
“From time to time, you need to reevaluate these things, and we think it might be time to possibly go back and make family care available to our new hires, and those who are in need of it sooner than the four-year tenure period—just to be sure that we are holding and we are attracting the best quality, the best talent,” Mento said.
During her report, board member Kelly Donio said that she attended a recent meeting of the Atlantic County School Boards Association.
“One thing I want to recommend that our board does: I’ve talked about this before in other meetings. One of the things was best practices, and it’s talking a little bit more about the committee reports, and the committees,” Donio said.
Board member Kelli Fallon, while presenting the report from the Solar Committee, talked further about committee structure.
“The solar project is basically over. We do have a committee for it still, but I’m wondering if we can pivot; look at the needs of our district and see what we might be able to pivot this committee into, or perhaps create other committees based on our needs, based on what’s on the horizon, based on passions of board members,” Fallon said.
Board member Luke Coia said that the Safety Committee discussed several ideas with Friel.
“I can’t really get into the details, but we do have a couple new safety features that will be headed into our school districts pretty soon, hopefully,” Coia said.
During the meeting, the board resolved to approve policy P 0166—Executive Sessions (Revised) for its first reading.
“The Board of Education may meet in a private session only to discuss and act on issues exempted by law from the requirement that all board meetings be public and only after the adoption at a public meeting of a resolution stating the general nature of the subject or subjects to be discussed during such private session and, as precisely as possible, the time when and circumstances under which the discussion conducted in private session can be disclosed to the public,” the policy reads.
The policy also states that, for good cause, including but not limited to “travel or illness, an off-site Board of Education member may attend Board of Education meetings, including the Executive Sessions of such meetings, via an electronic device.”
“They must utilize a confidential and secure line and comply with Bylaw 164.1. No executive sessions should be recorded, regardless of whether a board member is in-person or utilizing technology to appear,” the policy states.
While discussing the resolutions, board solicitor William S. Donio explained further.
“We’ll still record according to your recording policy, but this idea is there’s no recording on an electronic device that’s being used for purposes of remote attendance. I want to make this cleaner and clearer … I don’t want the public to think you were going to stop recording,” Donio said.
The board also notably resolved to:
• Ratify the purchase order lists for December 2022 and January 2023 in the amount of $1,271,845.42
• Approve the bill list for February 2023 in the amount of $821,413.24
• Ratify the check lists for December 2022 and January 2023 in the amount of $1,141,805.12
• Ratify the January 2023 payroll in the amount of $3,839,209.15
• Approve to dispose of a John Deere 513 Brush Cutter; the deck is rotted through and no longer safe to use
• Approve a letter of resignation from Tracy Santo, early childhood center school nurse, effective March 31
• Approve a letter of resignation from Melissa Longwith, an elementary school part-time instructional aide effective February 2
• Approve a new position of WES/ECEC Activities Coordinator with a stipend of $2,500
• Approve a letter of resignation from Carol Capelli, high school part-time personal care aide, effective January 26
• Approve a letter of resignation as middle school girls’ spring track head coach from Julia Ray for the 2022-2023 school year
• Approve the following personnel to be paid at their contractual per diem rate for
participation in a 6-hour CPI Nonviolent Crisis Intervention initial training on February 17: ECEC—Caitlin Fiamingo, Kristin Harrison, David Hearn, Jennifer Bentsen, Jennifer Dear, Daisy Gomez-Grimaldo, Jennifer Lamanteer, Caitlin Rowan, Heather Cundiff and Alivia Vona; WES—Francise Butterline, Kaitlyn Cassetta, Katelyn Cark, Julianny Evangelista, Mandi Fisher, Dena Giacobbe, Shaniqua Gillespie, Michelle Martino, Martha Matro, Tracy Money, Dawn Police and Christine Whitener; HMS—Pete Puentes and Kelly Devine; HHS—Dennis Conway, Molly DeNucci, Lia Gangemi, Marchele McAnney, Anthony Ricca, Colleen Sharkey, Kathy Whitcraft and Marisol Zingrone
• Approve the following personnel as a one-to-one assistant for a high school student with disabilities: Marisol Zingrone, $20 per hour/$100 for the day
• Approve personnel for the high school spring sports for the 2022-2023 school year
• Approve the following personnel and stipend for the high school Flag Football for the 2022-2023 school year: Averi Olive and Tami Schaffer, $1,100 stipend each
• Approve the following personnel as high school spring workers for the 2022-2023 school year at a rate of $50/game and $75 per game for additional time and/or technical skills: Teachers—Lauren Frazier, Rebecca Gillis, Heather Flaim, Melissa Durham, Kaela Melchiorre, Greg Capaccio, Lauren Dragonetti, Rebecca Thompson, Carly Sidone, Jill Cestaro, Kelsey Foster and Ian McCarthy; Staff—Valerie Schirmer, Marchell Conway, Danielle Thornewell (pt), Joe Franchina (pt), Jennifer Palmieri (pt), Jim Eccles (pt), Don Midure (pt), Elba Ortiz (pt), Donna Davison, Dennis Conway (pt), Dawn Police and Linda Scola (pt)
• Approve the following personnel as high school track volunteer coach for the 2022-2023 school year: Alexa Gardner
• Ratify the following personnel for the middle school Journalism Spring Session for the 2021-2022 school year: Alyssa Walsh, $1,689
• Approve the following personnel for the middle school spring coaching stipend for the 2022-2023: Megan Goblirsch, $4,685
• Approve the following personnel for the middle school Journalism Spring Session stipend for the 2022-2023 school year: Alyssa Walsh, $1,689
• Approve the following personnel for the middle school Set Design stipend for the 2022-2023 school year: Karen Ferrigno, $482
• Approve the following STEM Academy salary to be paid from the Learning Acceleration Grant: Alison Fedga, Spring Session—Building Robotics (STEM) (replaces Megan Goblirsch)
• Approve a salary adjustment for the following personnel retroactive January 20: Adam Preim, from BA+15—$62,605 to MA (not in field)—$65,381
• Approve a salary adjustment for the following personnel retroactive to January 23: Karen Ferrigno, clerk typist—$49,930 ($47,430+$2,500 long) to secretary—$52,743 ($50,243+$2,500)
• Approve the following personnel pending receipt of all necessary paperwork (current substitute pay schedule approved by the Board January 20, 2022: Regular County Substitute Certificate—$125 per day, Regular Standard State Teaching Certificate—$150 per day; substitute nurse pay schedule approved by the Board October 14, 2021: School Nurse—$225 per day):
-- Kiara Rivera Munoz, elementary school (replacement E.R.) part-time receptionist
-- Gretchen Wilhelm, middle school part-time instructional aide effective February 10
-- Raymond Aquino, early childhood center (replacement P.O.) part-time instructional aide
-- Substitute teacher(s) who have a teaching certificate: Emily Rowe
-- Substitute teacher(s) who have a New Jersey substitute certificate: Dina Messner
-- Substitute teacher(s) who is applying for a New Jersey substitute certificate: Jacob Orem
• Approve the field experience placement for Tyler Dorton-Beck, a student from Grand Canyon University, in the high school
• Approve a guidance field experience for Stephanie Calderon, a student from Wilmington University, in the high school
• Approve the submission of the New Jersey Department of Education Equivalency Application for the NJQSAC process
• Approve the health and safety evaluation of school buildings checklist statement of assurance for the 2022-2023 school year
The resolutions were approved en masse.
Board members Thomas Attanasi, Barbara Berenato and Roe Hunter were absent from the meeting.
During the second public comment portion of the meeting, Eva Suriani of Atco addressed the board. Suriani said that her daughter is a senior at Hammonton High School.
“On January 26, my daughter was going into the gym locker room to change and to attend gym, and she was attacked from behind by someone who grabbed her by the hair, banged her head into the locker, to where she passed out. When she woke up—when she came to—the girl was standing behind her, still holding her hair, and punching her in the face. She passed out again. When she came to, the girl was behind her, choking her until she started to pass out again,” Suriani said.
According to Suriani, it was at that point that an educator intervened to stop the matter.
“Two other girls were present at the time, videotaping this,” Suriani said.
Suriani said that she received a text from her daughter about the event, but never received a call from the school—nor was an ambulance called.
“When I asked why these things happened—why I was contacted—I was told it’s going to be looked into,” Suriani said.
Suriani said that she took her daughter to urgent care and to the emergency room, then to the police station the following morning.
“The police automatically said this is definitely a charge; this is not something that can be pressed under the rug. It’s a charge against the girl who did this. Yet, when I speak with the policeman here, it’s not a charge,” Suriani said.
Suriani asked the board what can be done to stop and prevent such things from occurring.
“I’m asking for your help to set up something where children who are attacked can be made to feel safe again to come back,” Suriani said.
Suriani said that she looked through the district’s website for safety information, and the most recent she could find was a document created on March 7, 2016 that dealt with threats to the school.
“I’m asking you to update your files on what can happen. I’m asking you to come up with a better solution,” Suriani said.
William S. Donio said that the board could comment about a specific incident, nor a specific student, and “doesn’t normally address this.”
“The board’s policies, as they are being updated, do reflect a lot of the things that you’ve raised. The handbook gets revised every year, and Hammonton does have a great reputation as a safe school. We want the community to know that; it’s generally considered a very safe school with a very aggressive administration with regards to student discipline,” William S. Donio said.
William S. Donio said that there are problems in many districts with not only interactions between students but also the recording of those interactions.
“I’m sad to hear that has made it here to Hammonton, that that is occurring. That is not an excuse, and that doesn’t mean it should. I just don’t know if the rest of the non-school world realize how disruptive the influence of social media platforms like TikTok and others are with regards to interactions between students. It’s a new pandemic; it really is,” William S. Donio said.
The next meeting of the Hammonton Board of Education will be held at 7 p.m. on March 16.