It’s not often that principal Natalie Lacatena turns down an opportunity to try something new.
“There’s not very many things that I’m going to say ‘no’ to,” said Lacatena, who on a whim after 9/11 agreed to dress as a clown in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and has kept up the gig for the past 11 years. “Why not try things? What’s the worst that could happen?”
Knowing Lacatena, it’s not surprising then that when she was approached about replacing Judith Moran to become the district’s next assistant superintendent she jumped at the offer.
A former special education teacher, Lacatena has worked as a district principal since 2003 -- first at and then for the past two years at Memorial. She’ll replace Moran who had been serving on an interim basis since retiring from the district in 2010.
Board of Education president Michael Rosenberg said Lacatena was the district’s first choice and that he was glad to be able to hire someone from within the district who is familiar with the direction it’s headed.
“Dr. Moran is a real tough act to follow, but we have all the confidence in Miss Lacatena,” Rosenberg said. “She’s proven herself as principal of Radburn and then principal of Memorial, so it’s a natural step for her.”
Lacatena, who’s currently pursuing her doctorate in Teacher Education and Development at Montclair State, said she’s always enjoyed working in an administrative role and is excited about the new opportunity.
“I like being a teacher of teachers and helping teachers continue to grow and develop throughout their careers, which is why [the assistant superintendency] is a very interesting position for me,” she said.
As assistant superintendent, Lacatena will perform a variety of functions including articulating the district’s curriculum, taking charge of state and local testing and reports, and encouraging staff development.
She said it’s the professional development piece that she’s most looking forward to.
“If we don’t continue to help our teachers grow and develop then we’re doing a great disservice to students,” Lacatena said. “Being able to work on those pieces with staff is really exciting for me.”
In particular, she said she’d like to expand the professional learning communities already in place throughout the district that allow teachers to collaborate during the day and enhance their educational approaches.
“Those are fantastic opportunities for our teachers to collaborate with one another, work on topics of interest to them,” Lacatena said. “Those are areas that, just from my own personal work with the teachers here, I’ve just seen tremendous things happening, so I look forward to continuing to grow that.”
Lacatena considers herself fortunate to be overseeing staff development in Fair Lawn, which she said has some of the absolute best teachers around.
“Every time I go into a classroom I continue to be amazed at the depth of their instruction and how engaged the students are,” she said. “Teachers here just really continue to push themselves, adopting new strategies, trying out new things in their classrooms and I’m so impressed with them.”
Lacatena said she was especially impressed with the way the entire community – teachers, students, parents and staff -- rallied around her school this year after by a month and spread its students throughout the district.
“For me, and I think for so many of us, it showed people’s character,” she said. “And not only teachers stepping up to the plate and helping do things that they may never have been required to do before, but the students….They just stepped into the routine and really rose to the occasion.”
As much as she appreciated seeing the community band together for the benefit of its children, however, Lacatena said she’s hoping this summer will be a bit more peaceful.
To get a break from the grind of the school year, she’ll spend a portion of her summer pursuing one of her passions -- traveling.
“There’s so much to see in this world," said Lacatena, who will be visiting Italy, Croatia and Montenegro over the summer. “You think you find your favorite country and then you travel some place else and you gain a new favorite country.”
Moran said she expects her replacement will provide a great asset to the district upon her return.
“It’ll be a different role [for Natalie], but she certainly is a very bright young woman and I think we can expect wonderful things from her,” said Moran, who’s leaving Fair Lawn to become an elementary school principal at a parochial school in Wanaque.
"It'll be hard to leave, but I'm happy," she added. "I love this community...It’s my home. When you’re in a position where you love what you do, it’s never really a job."
Lacatena will assume assistant superintendent duties from Moran on July 1.