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Farewell, Tom Valente

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A last goodbye to a fourth-grade class.

Today’s kids will likely remember Tom Valente for the organized mayhem of his kickball games on the blacktop at Forest Avenue School. There aren’t too many principals who do that.

But the children–now adults–of Valente’s first class in Verona 39 years ago remember him for a very different activity: He moved their desks out of the rigid rows that were the norm back then.

“He had us sit in a big U,” recalls Patti DeNicola Rollo, who was in that fourth grade class. “We were amazed. But that was just the beginning. He was so cool that he made us want to come to school every day.”

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Tonight, at the Villa at Mountain Lakes, many of the kids that Tom Valente inspired to come to Verona schools every day will mark the end of his long career here, together with parents and colleagues. Some know Valente from the 23 years he spent as a fourth-grade teacher at F.N. Brown Elementary School, others from his four years at H.B. Whitehorne Middle School, his five years Verona High School, or his final seven at Forest. Many others knew him as “the hippie” who was an unofficial part of Verona’s music program, and the performer and vocalist who inspired more than a few Verona music careers.

Forest Avenue's graduating fourth grade dedicated this painting by Hannah Jo Brandt to Valente.

“Tom gave me my first gig at 13,” says Bobby Lynch, a keyboard player whose band Bobby & The Jets will kick off Verona’s summer concert series next week. “Now he plays with my band. How cool is that?” And all throughout his teaching career, Valente performed with his own group, The Sunrise Band, often at weddings with former students in attendance.

Many of Valente’s colleagues will also be celebrating his accomplishments tonight. “The second most important thing we do in education is building children’s self esteem,” says Laning Avenue Principal Frank Albano, who worked with Valente at HBW. “Tommy is the master of that. He knows how to make people feel good about themselves without being disingenuous. Tommy is the Mount Rushmore of the Verona School district–beard and all.”

The academic and musical sides of Valente’s career will come together in at least one of the tributes tonight. Music teachers Howard Freund and Max Morden; Joni Jasterzbski, the art teacher at F.N. Brown and Brookdale Avenue schools; and Rich Rampolla, Brookdale’s principal, will perform “Teach Your Children Well”. We got this video from their rehearsal two weeks ago at Skyler Fortgang’s benefit concert for epilepsy.

Tom Valente taught Verona’s children very well indeed.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

3 COMMENTS

  1. I will always remember Mr. Valente from F.N. Brown. Such a great teacher!!!

  2. On “Back to School” night, we parents would take bets on when Mr. V would choke up as he talked about “his kids.” We’ll miss you!

  3. Hi,
    I attended F.N. Brown in the later 50’s. I took music lessons from a fantastic teacher named Holk. I may have the spelling incorrrect.
    He was the best teacher I ever had in my life. If it’s possible, I would enjoy getting in touch. I know this is a long shot, but any help is appreciated.
    Sincerely,
    Jerry Polverino
    Trombonist

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