NJPSA Announces 2019-2020 Visionary Award Winners

Posted · Add Comment


Christian Paskalides, Principal of Middle Township Elementary School #1, was named Visionary Leader of the Year, Elementary Level Principal; Michael Vinella, Ph.D., Principal of East Brunswick High School, was named Visionary Leader of the Year, Secondary Level Principal; Dena Russo, Assistant Principal of Red Bank Primary School, was named Visionary Leader of the Year, Secondary Level Assistant Principal; and Maria Fabian, Supervisor of Language Arts Literacy for Elizabeth Public Schools, was named Visionary Leader of the Year, Supervisor/Director. Each will receive his/her award during the NJPSA/FEA/NJASCD Fall Conference in October.

Late in the 2018-19 school year, the Middle Township District  received news that it was eligible to apply for a preschool expansion grant. That’s when Christian Paskalides jumped into action to finalize the application and submit by August 1. He quickly put a phased implementation plan into action, calling for using the seven new classrooms and converting three existing classrooms to make them compliant with the Division of Early Childhood Education’s (DECE) regulations for classroom size and facilities. Then they began the construction in the three classrooms to add bathrooms and additional storage. We launched a critical parent communication component to advertise the “potential” full-day program, and recruited at-risk student populations. The remainder of the summer was dedicated to preparing for the “possibility” of expansion including: 45+ interviews for certified staff, 25+ interviews for paraprofessionals, more than two dozen meetings, writing a comprehensive grant application, creating a professional development plan, ordering new preschool classroom furniture and curriculum supplies, scheduling for both half-day and full-day preschool, conducting multiple parent meetings, registering additional students (for full-day), creating a preschool master and lunch/prep coverage schedule, and so much more. On September 3, they learned that the state had approved our preschool expansion. Just four school days later, they welcomed their first full-day preschool class of 140 students, a full 22 days before the state’s deadline. 

As Principal of East Brunswick High School, Mike Vinella ensured that every student and staff member was provided with a Lenovo ThinkPad and every teacher developed an online classroom using Canvas. They also expanded their relationship with Middlesex County College through the Pathways Program. This has allowed hundreds of students to take college level courses at EBHS and MCC with a savings to parents of over $1 Million. Students are able to graduate from EBHS with an associate degree or simply a handful of college credits. Also, through the help of an East Brunswick Education Foundation grant, the multiple disabilities program was able to open a school store run by MD and LLD students with the collaboration of our FBLA and NHS students.

As Assistant Principal of Red Bank Primary School, Dena Russo focused her efforts on the  development of Response to Intervention in Literacy. She systematically constructed a tiered system of support with the Literacy Interventionists and Instructional Coaches over the course of five years, and identified students who are at risk and have provided the support necessary for students to reach grade level reading expectations by the end of third grade. All grade levels attend Professional Learning Communities as part of the RTI process to analyze student data and compile frequencies of support for small group and intervention within the classroom. In addition, students requiring intense tier three support are provided daily reading intervention. Another aspect of RTI is linking community partnerships to provide students with extracurricular activities, so she partnered with Members of the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore to establish an outreach program. Over 120 girls signed up for Girl Scouts. As a result of her efforts, in 2015-2016, 65% percent of students ended third grade requiring tier three support. Through a shared vision with her colleagues and numerous community partnerships, 4% percent of students ended third grade requiring Tier 3 support in 2018-2019. 

Maria Fabiano is the Language Arts Supervisor for Grades 6-12 in Elizabeth Public Schools. As a firm believer in evidence, she ensured that ELA 6-12 curricula including weekly pacing guides, aligned instructional resources, professional development, teacher support, non-negotiables were living entities that were continuously assessed and adjusted in order to provide the best possible instruction to her students. To improve student performance among students in Grade 10 in writing, she created a focused plan that included professional development sessions on the Research Simulation Task; including sessions on close-reading strategies, text-based argumentative writing, interacting with media, vocabulary related to informational text and sessions on the 4-point PARCC Rubric for the Research Simulation Task and inter-rater reliability sessions that had teachers evaluate student text-based argumentative writing. These sessions were conducted in after-school meetings, department meetings, professional development days and on Saturday. We also conducted a six-week intensification plan which directed teachers to hone this type of writing each week. As a result of this collective effort, student improvement in the Research Simulation Task component of the NJSLA exceeded that of the State in 2019. 


In addition to these awards, Christian Paskalides is the New Jersey recipient of the NAESP National Distinguished Principal Award, Michael Vinella is the New Jersey recipient of the NASSP Principal of the Year Award, and Dena Russo is the New Jersey recipient of the NAESP National Outstanding Principal Award.

NJPSA congratulates each of the 2019-2020 Visionary Award Winners and proudly announces that they will receive $7,000 for their school, as well as a personal check for $1,000 at the NJPSA/FEA/NJASCD Fall Conference in October.