By GRETCHEN HENKEL
Emotions ran the gamut at the October 19 public meeting of the Secaucus Board of Education as thirty-four students and three teachers were praised for their academic achievements, one young student was mourned, the retirements of two staff members was met with praise tinged by sadness at their leaving, and another staff member was joyfully welcomed to her new position in the district. The regular monthly meeting was held in the gymnasium of Huber Street School in anticipation of a large number of parents and other relatives attending to witness their children being recognized. Traditionally, the meetings are held in the smaller multi-purpose room at Huber Street.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Knops explained that the Showcase of Success for that evening was called “A Celebration of Academic Excellence.” Knops said, “The students being honored, with the exception of one [who was one of only four recipients of an NJCTL Citizen STEM Initiative Award], all received perfect scores on various state assessments including NJ ASK, PARCC, SAT, and the New Jersey Biology Competency Test. In addition, we will also be honoring three teachers, two for obtaining a ‘Facing History and Ourselves Grant,’ and one, Mike Gehm, for earning the Veterans Teacher of the Year Award.” (The other teachers were Allison Cuniff and Amanda Racanati.) Students were called up on the stage by their respective principals to receive their certificates. Photos were then taken of the student, principal, and board president and vice president. Following the presentation to students and teachers, Superintendent Knops dismissed the students (and parents) so they could return home “and do their homework!”
Linda Wilhelm, principal of Huber Street School, gave a touching eulogy for third grader Jason Wang. The youngster passed away on October 14. “Jason just wanted to be treated like any little boy,” she said. “He touched my heart.”
Fran Bialkowski, administrative assistant at the central board office (basically, the board secretary/business administrator’s secretary), was wished well on her retirement effective January 1, 2018. Former board president and current town councilman John Gerbasio offered that Fran showed him the ropes when he was a rookie trustee learning the volunteer job. All the trustees (Norma Hanley was absent) and school principals thanked Bialkowski for her many years of excellent service to the district and wished her the best. Judy Preinfalk, for many years a secretary at Secaucus Middle School, was tagged to fill Fran’s post. She will earn $57,000 in her new position. “It’s an end of an era and the start of an era,” was how board secretary/business administrator Grace Yeo termed the retirement of Bialkowski and the hiring of Preinfalk. Yeo called Fran her “righthand man,” while calling Judy a woman of “quality, perfection, and elegance.” Preinfalk sat with Bialkowski to get a taste of what the latter does at the board meeting. Middle School principal Rob Valente lamented the loss of his longtime secretary, but wished both women well. (Fran Bialkowski is not leaving her position quite yet, however; her last day at her desk will be December 22.)
The October 19 meeting proved to be the last one that Superintendent Knops would preside over as his tenure as interim head of the school district will end on October 31. Accolades were given right and left to Knops by board trustees, district administrators, and audience members; all were in agreement that in the twenty-three months he has served, the school district has reaped many benefits.
Ken Knops was hired by the school board on November 24, 2015, to serve as superintendent until a new permanent superintendent was hired. The previous superintendent, Robert Presuto, abruptly resigned on November 10. Knops was supposed to serve until June 30, 2016, but agreed to stay on when the trustees had not found his replacement by that date. (The board has since hired Jennifer Montesano as its superintendent. She will take over the reins next Wednesday.) An educator for almost forty years when he was hired in 2015, Knops was a teacher, principal, and superintendent in several other districts in New Jersey. When Knops took over, the district was in the middle of the expansion of the middle and high school complex and the sixth grades were incorporated from the elementary schools into the middle school.
“Ken Knops is a true leader,” remarked Principal Wilhelm at the October 19 meeting. “The district has flourished. He has raised the bar in so many ways. He’s led by example. He’s a constant source of energy.” “Have a great second retirement!” urged Principal Valente, referring to Knops’ coming out of retirement to take on the Secaucus post. Huber Street School parent Mary Eccles thanked Knops for his support while Councilman Gerbasio called the retiring superindent a “true gentleman.”
Trustee Lou Giele commented, “I have the deepest respect for Ken. He’s accomplished a lot in a short period of time.” Giele pointed to Knops’ achievement of better communication between parents and the district. Trustee Sharon Dellafave said it felt like “Ken was the actual superintendent for years.” She pointed to his exemplary work ethic and integrity.
Grace Yeo presented Knops with a gift (clock) from the board in deep appreciation of his dedication to the students, faculty and staff.
“I’ve been a superintendent for seventeen years,” noted Kenneth Knops. “I’ll miss it.” And, Ken, we’ll miss you!