By Cheryl Conway
With his retirement date fast approaching, the principal of the Brookdale Avenue Elementary School in Verona is facing some mixed emotions as he steps away from his lifelong career.
Richard Rampolla has spent 40 years working in the Verona School district, starting out as a teacher and finishing his last 15 years as principal at Brookdale elementary. He announced his retirement in Jan. 2016 and will help transition the newly hired principal, Nicole Stuto, through the end of June.
To celebrate and recognize his retirement, a recent reception was held at the Essex Fells Country Club and a retirement party was held Fri., June 3, at the Barnyard in Totowa.
“Now that it’s getting close, it’s feeling very strange stepping away from something that I’ve loved so much for so many years,” says Rampolla. “I’m incredibly fortunate to have spent my entire career in the Verona public schools.”
Rampolla began his career in the Verona School district in 1975 when he was hired as a fifth grade teacher at F.N. Brown School. Teaching was a career path he decided to explore while enrolled in college as a liberal arts major.
“I started doing volunteer work with children,” for a recreation program while in college, explains Rampolla. His volunteering consisted of helping underprivileged kids with arts and crafts and reading.
“I enjoyed it,” says Rampolla and “kids enjoyed working with me and it all changed from there,” as he switched out of liberal arts to focus on a degree in education. He earned his teaching degree from William Paterson and a degree in administration from Montclair State University.
When fifth grade moved over to the H.B. Whitehorne Middle School in 1995, Rampolla merged too and stayed on as a fifth grade teacher until he became assistant principal at the middle school, a role her served for three years.
In 2001, Rampolla was appointed to principal at Brookdale elementary school.
After seeing what it was like being assistant principal, Rampolla says he was ready to take on responsibilities at Brookdale.
One of four elementary schools, “We’ve always been the smallest of the elementary schools in Verona,” says Rampolla. With currently 114 students in grades kindergarten through fourth, enrollment has fluctuated over the years from 110 to 150 students.
Looking back at his career in the district, Rampolla says “it’s all good memories.”
At Brookdale, he enjoyed the Star Lab lessons, a portable planetarium that provides a “mini astronomy lesson” to students in grades kindergarten through four. Constellations are projected onto a dome so students can learn about the stars and various constellations from different cultures such as Greek, Native American and Chinese.
In fifth grade, he mostly enjoyed coordinating and attending environmental trips to Stokes State Forest in Sussex County.
“I always enjoyed the opportunity to teach,” he says, “while working with teachers and helping them develop their skills.”
Staying in the Verona School district for four decades has been appealing to Rampolla as “I’ve enjoyed being able to see so many of my former students grow up and be successful” and seeing former students’ children grow up at Brookdale. Four current students at Brookdale are children of parents that he taught years ago.
Rampolla gave his notice in Jan. as he wanted to allow enough time for the board to find a candidate and also help to transition the incoming principal, he says. Rampolla started in June to meet with his replacement, Stuto, to put her “in a good place,” when he leaves.
Deciding it was time to retire, “was a difficult decision but I felt it was the right time,” says Rampolla. “As much as I love this job, it was the right time to step away from it.”
While “change is a necessary part in the education process,” Rampolla admits that changes are often a challenge to keep up with. “It’s been a little difficult to keep up with all of it,” he says.
As he retires, Rampolla is “exploring options outside of education,” he says. He is looking forward to having some shared vacation time with his wife, Danusia, who works as a learning consultant in the Livingston Public Schools.
School leaders tip their hat to the longtime administrator/educator for a job well done.
John Quattrocchi, president of the Verona Board of Education says, “Mr. Rampolla has had a long and successful career in Verona. He has served in many capacities over his years, culminating with the leadership of Brookdale Avenue School. Our school community has the upmost respect and regard for his work, his leadership, and the impact he has had on the students he interacted with. After so many years, there are thousands of lives he has touched – and his effect on those people is the best testimonial there can be.”
He tells his students and staff: “I’m the luckiest principal in the world because I have the best students and staff,” says Rampolla. “Students success is a team effort. The parents have been incredibly supportive.” The relationship he has had with the students has made his work so worthwhile.
“The love I’ve gotten from them has sustained me every day that I’ve been here,” says Rampolla, who has two grown children. “My second family has also been my staff.
“Now Ms. Stuto will become the luckiest principal in the world.”