John DiNicola

Margate Superintendent John DiNicola has announced his retirement, effective June 30, 2018.

NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY Staff Writer

MARGATE — Seeing the Eugene A. Tighe Middle School receive the National Blue Ribbon Award was the highlight of John DiNicola’s 35-year career in education, he said last month.

“It’s always nice to be recognized, especially since we are not a school starting from nothing and getting better. We were already good, but we made ourselves better because we have high expectations and are hard on ourselves,” the Margate schools superintendent said.

DiNicola, 62, will retire June 30, though his future could include consulting or mentoring.

The Board of Education is looking for an interim superintendent to provide the board with “a fresh set of eyes,” DiNicola said. 

An interim superintendent could serve up to two years and give the board time to decide the future makeup of the district.

“We are going to examine that approach to see what’s available,” board President Jim Olivo said in a telephone interview Dec. 27. “Although it’s not a long-term commitment, the person could be more objective and give us an honest opinion on what we should do.”

Olivo said the district is “in a good place” after settling a three-year contract with the teachers, and because of the professionalism of the current administration.

One of the benefits of having an interim superintendent is that he or she could provide the board with a full assessment of where the district should go, Olivo said. That could include an opinion on consolidating the position with a principal or perhaps another district.

“The board members have their ideas, but having an interim with years of experience can provide the input we need to make our decision,” he said.

DiNicola was born in Brooklyn, New York, and received a degree in communication from St. John’s University. His love of teaching began during his senior year in high school coaching youth sports. His first teaching job was at his alma mater, Xaverian High School for boys in Brooklyn, where he taught high school English.

In 1984, he married a woman from Bergen County and they settled in the Lanoka Harbor section of Lacey Township, where they still live. He taught at St. Joseph Regional High School and coached and taught at Christian Brothers Academy until he started thinking public education would offer more financial benefits, including a pension.

The switch landed him in the Freehold Regional School District, where he continued his education and obtained a supervisory certificate. He eventually became a supervisor of English at the Clayton schools in Gloucester County, where he worked for four years, “until the drive wore me out,” he said.

After obtaining a principal’s certificate at Georgian Court University, DiNicola got a job closer to home in the Galloway Township School District, in the newly created position of director of special projects. 

His involvement with a federal programs administrative group led to his meeting Margate Superintendent Dominick A. Potena during construction of the William H. Ross School. Potena hired DiNicola as principal of the Union Avenue school in 2000, where his job responsibilities included starting an inclusive preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds.

DiNicola oversaw the closing of the Union Avenue School and became principal at Ross, where he worked until Potena retired and the board hired Theresa DeFranco for the top spot. DiNicola was principal at the Tighe School for a few months before being hired to take DeFranco’s position after she took a job in Absecon in 2013. He is the only principal to have worked in all three of the district's schools.

He said the district has not increased taxes in 10 years, and that Margate is one of the lowest-taxed districts in the county.

“Yet some people think we are doing something wrong. The parents are happy, we are able to meet our expenses, Margate has high ratables and we have high expectations and always look to do better,” he said.

“I dedicated my career to closing the gap between perception and reality,” DiNicola said. “People think one thing, but they don’t know why things are the way they are.”

Ross School Principal Michelle CarneyRay Yoder said she is grateful for his leadership and his caring demeanor.

"I appreciate his kindness as a colleague and as a superintendent. He is passionate about the children and what is best for them and he inspires me to be a better leader," she said.

DiNicola's community involvement includes heading up the Margate-Longport Municipal Alliance and serving on the advisory board for the LEAD drug abuse prevention program.

“Even though he doesn’t live here, John is close to the community,” Olivo said. “He is sensitive to the needs of our community, and he puts the kids first. He has maintained a good relationship with the staff, and they respect him because he came up through the ranks.”

One of the most rewarding experiences he had in the community was speaking to the Margate Concerned Citizens group, DiNicola said.

“I hit all their concerns, and we were able to clear the air,” he said.

DiNicola said he is retiring to “go to something,” not to get away from anything.

“I’m running to less responsibility, and flexibility in my schedule,” he said.

His future could include teaching college, “and there will definitely be a road trip in July to see family in Tennessee and Oklahoma,” he said.

He is looking forward to spending more time with his wife of 34 years, Barbara, his two grown children, and his two grandchildren, ages 13 and 10.

He had words of appreciation for the staff he supervises.

“They are extremely self-motivated,” he said. “I like to think that I empower them, and they never, ever, disappoint me. That goes for the administrators, teachers, support staff, office staff and custodians.”

Former Margate Education Association Presdient, teacher Tracy Magel said DiNicola was supportive and allowed teachers to explore the best ways to education students. 

And, during negotiations, "We were able to communicate the needs of our respective sides and come to a compromise that benefited all," she said.

DiNicola said the secret to his success is surrounding himself with smart people, “not so I can tell them what to do, but so they can tell me what to do. And we have some very smart people working here.”

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