When school starts Sept. 5, four new faces will be greeting students as principals of Hamilton Township School District schools.
The new administrators are Nicole Dickens-Simon at Greenwood Elementary School, Roxann Clarke-Holmes at Crockett Middle School, James Sterenczak at Yardville Heights Elementary School and Earl Tankard at Kisthardt Elementary School. (Nate Webber is also a semi-new face; he returns to Steinert High School after a year in the district office.) Each of the principals held meet-and-greets with their school communities during the summer, and said they look forward to the new year.
A bit more about each of them:
Nicole Dickens-Simon is the new principal of Greenwood Elementary School. She has been a part of the Hamilton school district as a Spanish teacher and World Languages Department Chair at Nottingham High School for five years and vice principal at Hamilton High School West for five years.
Originally from Scotch Plains, Dickens-Simon moved to Connecticut while in high school. For two years, she studied abroad in Burgos, Spain, and upon returning to the United States, she attended the University of Connecticut with a double major in Spanish and journalism. After working as a bilingual social worker for Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families for four years, Dickens-Simon taught Spanish at Abraham Clark High School in Roselle. She completed her master’s in educational leadership at Rider and continued teaching at Union County Magnet High School and Somerville Middle School.
“It was incredible because I was able to have a direct impact on children’s social and emotional growth,” Dickens-Simon said. “By transitioning to administration, however, I have even more of an impact.”
As principal, she is a strong advocate for student safety, stellar academics and nurturing the whole child. She hopes to foster lifelong learners who look forward to school. Likewise, she plans on working with parents and staff to improve the educational structure. Dickens-Simon was scheduled to have a meet-and-greet at her new school Aug. 29 at 6 p.m., after this edition went to press.
Roxann Clarke-Holmes is the new principal of Crockett Middle School. Although new to the Hamilton school district, she has had an extensive career as both a teacher and administrator. She has taught history, science and English, working at middle schools and high schools in New York City, Robbinsville and South Brunswick.
After teaching for more than 15 years, she transitioned into an administrative position as vice principal at Robbinsville’s Pond Road Middle School and dean of students at South Brunswick High School. With the ability to help teachers and students beyond her classroom, she organized a student support committee for struggling learners. The effective strategies she once employed as a teacher, she realized, could benefit a larger community.
Clarke-Holmes has two masters: one in education from the State University of Albany and the other in educational administration from Rider University. She had always wanted to pursue teaching, however.
“I didn’t choose teaching,” Clarke-Holmes said. “Teaching chose me because it was something I was destined to do.”
For the upcoming year, she plans on promoting culture and highlighting Hamilton’s strengths as a school district. At her meet-and-greet, she had families write on a block what they believed these strengths were. Among the responses: collaborative teachers and a unified staff. Whether it is aligning instruction or encouraging unity, Clarke-Holmes is excited to push forward projects which everyone can support.
“Just the opportunity to explore and solidify the best when it comes to learning and growing, having the opportunity to work with a diverse community excites me,” she said.
James Sterenczak is the new principal of Yardville Heights Elementary School. He attended school in Linden, but moved to Monmouth County after high school. He has taught for 11 years; first, spending a year as a kindergarten teacher and a year as a first-grade teacher at Plainfield, and then nine years as a fifth grade teacher at Wall Township.
“Getting to know a new group of students and grow with them is one of the greatest things that someone could do in life,” Sterenczak said.
Even with an administration supervision degree from Georgia Court University, Sterenczak wanted to teach for the rest of his career. When he realized he could help more students by assuming an administrative role, however, he considered a job as principal. Collectively, he spent four years in the Lakewood school district as vice principal for two years, and as principal for another two.
Although new to Hamilton, Sterenczak plans to finally settle down.
“Everyone here is so friendly,” Sterenczak said. “You hear stories of people who grew up in Hamilton, who stay in Hamilton and have kids who live in Hamilton. That was a draw to me, and I hope to find out what makes [Hamilton] so special.”
At the top of Sterenczak’s agenda: to make the connection between home and school even closer than it already is. With the help of an active PTA and reliable teachers, he hopes to create a safe environment both socially and emotionally. By enhancing the welcoming climate at Yardville Heights, Sterenczak believes students will learn better and academics will come naturally.
Sterenczak was scheduled to have a meet-and-greet at Yardville Heights Aug. 28 at 6 p.m., after this edition had gone to press.
Earl Tankard is the new principal of Kisthardt Elementary School. The eighth out of nine children, Tankard learned responsibilities from a young age and the importance of collaboration. He had a natural propensity to work with others, and throughout high school, he liked to take on roles as a leader and a team player.
With an interest in education, Tankard received his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers and master’s in administration and supervision from Kean University. Afterward, he taught at Plainfield for three years and at Westfield for six years, before transitioning to vice principal his seventh year at the district. He was also a vice principal at Marlboro township for 10 years and principal for four years.
Although it was by chance that Tankard filled out the application for principal at Kisthardt, after speaking with new superintendent Dr. Scott Rocco at an interview, he was compelled to be a part of Hamilton’s future. He said he was drawn by the camaraderie of the students, by the respect, everyone had for each other, and by the welcoming staff.
“The mantra, ‘The future is ours to build together,’ is something I believe in,” Tankard said.
With his experience with technology, Tankard hopes to arm teachers with computers, which will help students become positive and productive members of modern society. Technology has become increasingly crucial in the world and in the classroom, and Tankard believes that familiarity with computers is critical in a child’s education.
“I am a huge proponent of developing the whole child-academically, socially, emotionally, civilly—and with a staff that has a similar mindset, I look forward to developing our children,” Tankard said.
Tankard held a meet-and-greet with the community Aug. 22 at Kisthardt Elementary.