Described as a friend, colleague, and leader, Middle School Principal Robert Daniello is bidding farewell to Secaucus after 16 years of service. Colleagues, school board trustees, and educators shared warm remarks during the January school board meeting. The board approved Feb. 18 as his departure date.
Secaucus High School Vice-Principal Frank Costello will step in to serve as the acting Middle School principal until June. The school board plans to advertise for the position in April and the incoming superintendent will select the permanent replacement.
Daniello, 39, will become principal at the Lewis F. Cole Middle School in Fort Lee. With approximately 500 students, he will immediately get to work serving a larger school population on Feb. 19.
“This decision was a personal decision for me and my wife,” said Daniello last week during an interview in his office. A resident of Ridgefield Park where he was born and raised, he has two small sons, ages 3 and 3 months.
“I never woke up in the morning and said I don’t want to go to work,” he said. “I loved my job every single day I was here. People had a lot to do with that. The kids had a lot to do with that.”
He added that he cares deeply about the community and the kids.
Daniello faced a few challenges when he stepped in.
“Sometimes you have to move on and prove that you can do [be successful] elsewhere,” he said. “It makes it a very painful decision because you leave behind a lot of friendships [and] those friendships will be lasting.”
Entering a growing, diversifying town
After college, Daniello worked for the Alpine Learning Group, where he served as a teacher’s assistant for children with autism. He arrived in Secaucus in the fall of 1997 to teach English at the high school on a part-time basis. The following year he became a full-time teacher.
He recalls a smaller school population, and less diversity.
“Your demographics were much, much different,” he said.
He noted that there were fewer Latinos, and students of Western Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian descent than today.
The middle school, which consists of seventh and eighth grades, had approximately 220 students then, compared with almost 340 students today.
Presence outside the classroom
Daniello said it was important to him to be a presence not just in the classroom, but after school as well. He served as a baseball coach for 10 years, a soccer coach for three, as the Key Club advisor for 10 years, and he worked closely with the Kiwanis Club.
He said one of his fondest and earliest memories was of the time he served as the class advisor to the graduating class of 2002.
“I got them to graduation [and] grew a close bond with those kids,” said Daniello. On the wall of his office, he has pictures of the senior trip and a white water rafting trip he took with the students.
It was two students from that class, Alexis Chisari and Jenna Kolar – at the time juniors – who approached Daniello about starting a girls’ soccer team.
“I didn’t know much about soccer, so I studied. I read a lot,” said Daniello. “In the three years we won two games maybe. It was painful but it was fun.”
Eventually Daniello said he passed the role on to a “real soccer guy.”
Road to principal
When Daniello received his Master’s in 2005 in Bilingual, Bicultural Education – his second from Seton Hall University – he was prepared to respond to the growing diversity in the student population. He took over the English as a Second Language (ESL) program for both the middle school and high school. He also began teaching ESL in the middle school. A year later he took on another role as the community education director for the adult school.
“I was working all day [and] at night I would stay here from 5 to 10 Monday through Thursday,” said Daniello. “So it was a second job essentially.”
That ended after two years when the program was eliminated for financial reasons because of a decrease in enrollment, according to Daniello.
In 2009 he became the director of humanities and then stepped into the role of interim Middle School principal when Pat Impreveduto went on a medical leave of absence. This followed a summer in which several principal jobs were shuffled.
Daniello faced a few challenges when he stepped in to serve as interim principal, including learning how to direct faculty members who he had once worked with at the same level.
“When I first took over as interim principal I was only 35 years old,” he said. “You have some teachers that have been teaching for 35 years. Here I am as their boss.”
Daniello also faced a crisis when the town had a series of youth suicides, including the loss of a teen in the middle school.
“You rely on your colleagues,” he said. “You rely on your staff members, your counselors and psychologists. You learn how to mobilize people.”
He added, “You learn quickly one man never makes an organization. That was a strong lesson in realizing I can’t do it all by myself.”
Daniello also has an Ed.S degree from Seton Hall University and will complete his dissertation on technology in the classroom for his Ph.D. by October.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.