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Hopatcong Schools' Newest Faces

Six new teachers, school nurse and principal tell why they came on board.

Out of the nine new teachers and staff members joining the  this fall, six are returning and three are new. Superintendent Dr. Charles Maranzano called it “a testament.”

“Economic times have put far more qualified candidates into the pool,” Maranzano said. “One of maybe six people are actually new from outside, and the others are all people who were either recalled or had worked for us in a different capacity, and given a different job assignment." 

The new team members are Michael Landshof, math; Andrea Woconish, science; David Campagna, social studies; Gloria Silva, kindergarten; Craig Vallaro, social studies; Brook Ganguzza, physical education; Mary Nee, kindergarten; Lillian MacRae, school nurse; and Noreen Lazariuk, principal.

Marazano said the principal search involved hundreds of hours of administrative time reviewing applications, rounds of screenings and developing an interview protocol. A hiring committee was formed that included educators, an administrative team, a teacher union representative and two school board members sitting in a passive capacity.

“Because the responsibility for hiring, by statute, rests with your superintendent, you have to be very careful when you construct those committees so that you are completely consistent, comply with EEOC regulations, and then there’s no undue influence by any school board member per se, to protect the school board. The superintendent will recommend, and the school board will hopefully approve the recommendation or discard the recommendation,” Marazano said.

Here's more on each new hire's background, expectations and goals for students. 

Michael Landshof, math teacher, is a 2007 Hopatcong High School graduate. He student taught in Hopatcong last year and filled in during spring semester. Landshof said he has some typical first-year jitters, but knows he will connect with the kids through humor and "just being himself."

“I want to bring some new spunk and excitement to the table," Landshof said. "I’m close in age and connecting with [students] on a different level that they can’t necessarily get with some of the teachers that have been here for awhile."

Andrea Woconish, middle school science teacher, has been teaching for approximately 15 years and lives in Morris County. This is her second time teaching in the district. 

“I’ve worked here before. I taught science here a couple of years ago,” she said.

Dave Campagna, high school social studies teacher and football coach, grew up in Oneonta, a small town in upstate New York. He taught for seven years in a rural district in Virginia with a high poverty rate. He met his wife there, and they have a 4-month-old son. He wanted to move closer to his family, and was thrilled to land a job in Hopatcong. 

“I feel real excited," Campagna said. "I'm transplanted here and it's nice. It reminds me Oneonta, which is a similar demographic to here, with mountains, so it’s great. We’ve been doing football for the last couple of weeks.” 

Gloria Silva, kindergarten teacher, lives in Succasunna. She taught enrichment kindergarten in Roxbury for the past two years. She was originally a systems programmer. When her job was outsourced after 12 years, Silva decided to become a teacher. She said she is excited about being in Hopatcong. 

“I chose to do something I wanted to do," Silva said. "I went back to College of St. Elizabeth for certification and continued for my masters. I’m excited. My first house was actually in Hopatcong, so it’s nice to be back.” 

Craig Vallaro, social studies teacher, was born and raised in Hopatcong. He graduated in 2004 and went to Montclair State University. Right out of college, he got a job doing in-school suspension in Hopatcong. When a teaching position opened up this year, he applied and got it. Vallaro said he is "more than ecstatic."

"I planned to be a teacher, and everyone knows the market was bad, so I'm absolutely thrilled to be back teaching here," Vallaro said. "I built a solid rapport with the student body and they know who I am. I could probably name almost every kid in that school, for the most part." 

Brook Ganguzza, physical education teacher and football coach, taught in Hopatcong Middle School from 2007-09. Originally from Sparta, he had just bought a house there and was about to get married when he lost his job. He went into sales while searching for a teaching position. When Gary Widdoss retired in June from his position, Ganguzza got in. He says he has a full plate, and a baby due in two weeks. 

“I haven’t taught high school phys ed, so it’s going to be new,” Ganguzza said. “It’s been quite some time, but if I can handle the middle schoolers, I can handle the high schoolers. I’m going to rely on what worked for me in the past, and that’s my personality.”

Ganguzza wants students to know the value of individual sports and fitness.  

“I want them to understand that physical activity in general is important to take beyond high school, because I can sit here and preach all about basketball, but when you’re 30, 40 years old and you don’t have a team to play with or against, it’s so important to be out there doing things on your own,” Ganguzza said.

Mary Nee, kindergarten teacher, lives in Hopatcong. She has 15 years of teaching experience, and this is her sixth year teaching in Hopatcong. She is very happy to be back. She said the half-day kindergarten requires a lot of material to be covered in a short time. 

“We’re very busy," Nee said. "We work from the minute [the students] get in to the minute they leave. Ideally, the longer I can spend with them would be beneficial to them, as well as myself, but we really do make the most of the time we have together and we cover a lot of material in that amount of time.” 

Lillian Macrae, certified school nurse, started in February as a substitute, and then replaced the retiring nurse at Tulsa Trail. Macrae has been a school nurse for almost ten years.

“I’m anxious to get in there. I want my office to be a safe place for [the kids] to come when they need to download from the classroom," Macrae said. "Sometimes all it takes is a Band-Aid, and sometimes I put a smile face on the Band-Aid for them. It takes a lot of TLC.

Noreen Lazariuk, high school principal, grew up in Lincoln Park as one of eight children. She attended Catholic school through eighth grade, graduated from Boonton High School in 1985, and got her bachelors and masters degrees from Montclair State University. She and her husband live in Rockaway with their daughter Cassidy9, and dog, Enzo. 

Lazariuk has been in education for 22 years as a physical education teacher and coach in East Orange, Holmdel and Mountain Lakes, vice principal at Montgomery High School, and principal at Hoboken High School. She said her experience and skills are a good fit for Hopatcong.

“While every experience I’ve had has been very different, I also think there’s some parallels," Lazariuk said. "As much as schools are different, they’re also the same. I think Hopatcong fits my skill set and all my experiences. I think it’s gonna be a good fit as far as what Hopatcong needs in a principal. 

"I keep an open-door policy. If somebody has a concern, they can not only email me or pick up the phone and call me, but they can stop in to the school. They might have to wait a few minutes if I’m in with another parent or student, but they can come to me."

Observer August 29, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Craig, you've paid your dues and deserve the position. Best wishes!
Abe Lincoln August 29, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Welcome and best wishes to all!
michele perrotti August 30, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Love, Love, LOVE the bios... Fantastic way to to introduce everyone!
Mom Average August 30, 2012 at 10:40 AM
Yes - this is what we need! Welcome.....
Give It Up August 30, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Students are lucky to have Craig Vallaro onboard. He is a great and enthusiastic guy.

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