Home E/M Sentinel E/M Sentinel News MHS principal opened high school to community, set to retire

MHS principal opened high school to community, set to retire

By Gloria Stravelli
Correspondent

METUCHEN – When Bruce Peragallo became the principal of Metuchen High School, he
had a radical vision in mind.

“I guess the best way to say it is, I just wanted to knock the walls of the school down,
open it up for the community to come into the school and for our kids to go out
into the community,” said Peragallo, who will retire on July 30.

“I think a couple of things probably could best identify what happened here,” he
said. “One of the things I tried to do is, I tried to … invite more of the community into
the high school to see all of the good things that were going on here.

“People could see what was going on through the athletic programs, but they didn’t
really have a chance to see some of what was happening on the inside through some
of our co-curricular programs; all the good things our kids were doing, not only in the building, but also out in the community.

“And I wanted our kids to feel that bond with the borough so they knew that part of
their responsibility wasn’t just to do well in school and the classroom, but also
take their learning and their involvement in clubs and different programs and
become an active part of the community, an important part of the community,” said
the Metuchen resident.

Peragallo, who became the principal of Metuchen High School in 2007, said he “plans on
being here right up to the very end” of his tenure, capping a 44-year career in
education.

“I want to finish strong, I want to make sure I leave the place in a good position
for Ed Porowski,” he added.

Currently principal of Campbell Elementary School, Porowski will take over as
principal at Metuchen High School on Aug. 1.

“I want the transition to be as smooth as it can be,” Peragallo said. “It’s very difficult
coming up from the elementary school to the high school and I want to do everything I can to make sure it’s seamless for Ed and that he has everything in place that he needs for a smooth opening. Not just for Ed, but for our students and faculty who are at the high school.”

Peragallo began his career in education in 1977 as a teacher in the Woodbridge
Township schools teaching elementary school students who had special needs.

He also taught in several other districts, before serving as assistant principal at the high school from 1985-89.

“I learned a lot from John Novak, who at that time was the principal, and Fred Butler,
who was the vice principal at that time,” he said.

“I really liked their style, I liked the way the two of them worked together at
Metuchen High School and the culture they created in the building was very
inviting,” he said. “I always enjoyed it and always remembered Metuchen and when
the opportunity came up to come back here and work with John Novak for a couple
of years before he retired I jumped at that opportunity.”

Prior to coming to Metuchen High School as assistant principal, Peragallo was the supervisor of health and physical education in the West Orange schools, as well as the athletic director.

As for the experience of leading the high school during an unprecedented pandemic,
Peragallo credits the resilience of the members of the school community.

“I have to give a lot of credit to our teachers,” he said, “who within a very short
period of time, really just in a matter of days, had to go from a classroom setting
environment to a virtual environment with their instruction.

“I need to commend them for the job they did, and not only at the high school, but
in schools throughout our district, the middle school, the elementary school and
Moss [School], because that to me was amazing in what they did and were able to do
and to do it so effectively.

“The second group I have to commend is our students for their ability to adapt
to an ever-changing environment and to go from a classroom setting to a virtual
setting when we really never prepared for something like that. And they adapted
extremely well. Our teachers kind of led the way.

“And I have to commend the school district for having the foresight to have the
proper technology in place to be able to handle that, such as bandwidth and those
kinds of things, so our technology would work. Whatever wasn’t in place was
put in place pretty quickly.

“So there are a lot of people, teachers first, secondly students, lastly our board of
education having the foresight to have the technology needed to support the kind of
learning that we switched to in March 2020.”

Peragallo said he foresees several permanent changes resulting from the experience
gained through navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think there will be some changes that come out of the pandemic, probably
professional development will take on a different focus in that districts will see that a lot of professional development can be done by way of virtual platforms,” he
predicted.

He added a fact highlighted by the isolation imposed by the pandemic is the
importance of school as a setting for social interaction.

“I think another thing we see, our schools are social places and I think our
kids still need that social interaction with their friends and also to have teachers in
the classrooms so they can have that human contact with teachers as far as
instruction is concerned,” he said.

“I think the one thing I have learned more than anything is that we are all social beings,
obviously, and school is a very important part of that.

“Kids will adapt, they can learn under any kind of platform, but I think the thing we
probably missed more than anything in school was the social interactions and not
having the co-curriculars, the clubs, and last year, from March through the end of the
school year, not having athletics.

“All of those things were extremely important and I think what kind of brought our
schools back to a sense of normalcy was being able to get back to our athletics this
past school year, being able to get back involved with some of our music programs
and our co-curricular programs,” he said. “And I think those are vital to what kids
need.

“I think the thing that began to turn things around for us this year was the ability
for our kids to participate in co-curriculars and sports again. Being hybrid, allowing
students to come back into the building even though I didn’t have large numbers in
the building, that socialization of being around their friends again was important.”

As for lessons drawn from the experience of the pandemic, Peragallo cited several.

“I think there will be opportunities now for virtual learning, but I also still think
social interaction and having that teacher in the classroom and being able to have
contact with the teacher is still vital to education.

“I think probably the biggest thing that came out of this for me was just seeing how
much being in this building plays into a student’s social interactions. Our kids lost
that social interaction that is so important and something school buildings do
and that, I think, our kids miss more than anything else.

“Just seeing our kids pass each other in the hallway and seeing their faces light up
when they see someone was good to see.

“I would like to commend all of the teachers in the Metuchen School District for really
doing an outstanding job,” he added, “our students as well as parents who adapted to these difficult times. And the last thing I just want to commend our board of
education for providing the support and resources we needed to be successful.

“I guess the last thing I would like to say is that I would like to thank the Metuchen
community for giving me the opportunity to serve as the high school principal for
the last 12 years. I really enjoyed it and it’s been a tremendous honor and privilege.”

Capping off 44 years as an educator, Peragallo said what he learned most from
students is the depth of their potential.

“I guess what I learned from them is that they have enormous talent, that they are
very talented in their own unique ways, and the thing I also appreciated is the fact
that you can ask them to do almost anything and they would do it.

“I think we built a level of trust and kind of a family atmosphere in the school
and the kids felt comfortable talking to me and I felt very comfortable talking with
them. I just feel good that my kids here at the high school felt comfortable talking to
me and we always had very positive conversations.”

As for future plans, Peragallo said, “I’m not the kind who is not going to do
something. I haven’t quite sorted it all out yet, but I am sure I’m going to find
something because I want to stay active. I want to continue to do some different
things and I know education better than anything. I’ve been doing it for the last 44
years.”

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