Seven Retiring J-DHS Faculty Members Reflect on their Careers

Top row: Julie Burgwin, Andrea Ninestein, Donna Oppedisano. Middle: Paul Gasparini. Bottom row: Clete Gualtieri, James Tuck, Betty Wood. Photo Credits: J-DHS Yearbook. Photo edited by Isaiah Steinberg ('23)

Contributing Writer Malak Aljerari (’23)

Jamesville-DeWitt High School has an amazing group of staff members that work everyday to help the student body through various ways. This school year of 2021-2022 is the last for many of our beloved staff members, including Principal Paul Gasparini, counselor Clete Gualtieri, history teacher Donna Oppedisano, math teacher Betty Wood, math teacher Andrea Ninestein, front entrance monitor James Tuck, and assistant librarian Julie Burgwin. Here are some of their reflections on their time at J-D.

Mrs. Julie Burgwin, Library

Photo Credit: J-DHS Yearbook

How would you describe your experience at J-D?

It has been rewarding and challenging at times. It has been most rewarding the first ten years working with special needs and helping them grow and learn. The last six years have been rewarding because I get to see the students who I have worked with in elementary come up through high school and graduate. I have enjoyed the staff here, I enjoyed working here in the library with Ms. Panek [the head librarian]. She’s taught me so many things! The overall experience has been wonderful!

What is your fondest memory at J-D?

My fondest memory working with special education students is when they grow, they take a piece of your heart. Like I mentioned in my interview with the RamFeed, the first student I ever worked with could not even speak, and then he went to college, and I just adored him! He gave me a necklace in elementary school, and everytime I wore it, his smile just melted my heart. My fondest memory in the library is interacting with the students and the faculty, I’m a talker!

What is your final message to J-D?

In light of everything that has happened in the world these days, just try to be kind to everyone, and give people the benefit of the doubt, and don’t judge them because you don’t know what they’re going through.

What do you hope to leave J-D with?

I hope that I encouraged or inspired someone to do better things.

What are your post-retirement plans?

I want to spend time with my family. My husband has retired; hopefully we can do some traveling. I have three beautiful daughters, two beautiful grandchildren, and [I will] try to fit in some more exercise!

Mrs. Elizabeth (Betty) Wood, Math Department

Photo Credit: J-DHS Yearbook

How would you describe your experience at J-D?

Very positive. COVID learning was not an enjoyable experience, but overall, very positive.

What is your fondest memory at J-D?

Nothing super specific, but I love seeing when all of a sudden, a student who has been working hard to understand a concept finally understands. When the lightbulb finally goes off, it is very satisfying when the connection finally clicks.

How did you get into teaching?

The reason why I got into teaching was because I have always loved math from a really young age. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I always really enjoyed math class, but I had no idea what studying that would be like in college. I then realized after I got my bachelor’s degree in math that I also like working with people/children. That’s when suddenly the light bulb went off and I realized that teaching was my calling. I’d thought that I would get a PhD in math, but that did not happen.

Would you still pursue a PhD in math now?

Not at this point. If I were to earn another degree It would probably be related to something in statistics or data science, but probably not at this point.

How was math different in college from what you expected?

I had no idea what it meant to be a math major — until you are in your college courses, you don’t know what you are going to learn. I think what I really got fascinated by was arithmetic. I had my share of struggles with math, such as long division. I remember coming home from elementary school and asking my mom for help, and she taught it to me in a way that clicked. What I struggled with was geometry proofs in high school, and when I was working on my bachelor’s degree I struggled with the theoretical proof-based math courses. Some of them were very challenging for me, I think it had to do with brain development because when I went back to school to become a teacher, after ten years since I had last taken geometry, my brain development had caught up and proofs clicked finally.”

How was COVID learning?

Covid learning was tough, but what students managed to learn during the disruption still amazes me!

Mr. James Tuck, Front Desk

Photo Credit: J-DHS Yearbook

How would you describe your experience at J-D?

Pretty amazing, I actually went to J-D, and I started coaching in 1985. I came here full-time in 2001. I met some amazing students and staff, who I am friends with and who I am still friends with to this day. It really feels like a home. It’s a tight knit community where everyone is on the lookout for everybody else and everyone wants each other to succeed. It’s a great place.

What is your fondest memory at J-D?

I don’t think I can give you the best memory because there have been so many of them. I think it’s all the kids, seeing their smiley faces. I think it’s pretty cool that I have seen them grow up and become young adults. It feels like family. I coached varsity girls volleyball for 25 years, and I have coached softball for about 20. I have always looked at everyone of my players as an extension of my family, like my daughters.

What final message do you have for J-D?

I would like [the J-D community] to realize that they were safe while they were here and that I was here to offer wisdom and and I hope that they know I’d always have their back. I tell everybody that if you’re ever in a situation, call me and I will come to help you.

Mrs. Andrea Ninestein, Math Department

Photo Credit: J-DHS Yearbook

How did you start working at J-D? 

I started working at J-D in fall of 2001 as a middle school math teacher and department chair.  I had recently gotten married and moved into the area. In 2014, I transferred up to the high school to teach geometry.

What has been your overall experience like in JD?  

It has been a positive experience for me. 

What is your fondest memory at J-D? 

Watching the varsity girls swim team meets.

What do you like the most about J-D?  

The staff and the students.

What impact do you hope to leave on JD? 

 I hope that students knew that I cared about them and remembered that they can do anything if they put their minds to it.

What final message do you have for JD?

 Believe in yourselves. You can all achieve great things with a little effort. 

Mr. Clete Gualtieri, Counseling Center

Photo Credit: J-DHS Yearbook

How would you describe your experience at J-D?

Awesome! It’s been 28 years, it’s great seeing the students’ growth. The teachers are great and it’s amazing to be a part of that many people’s lives.

What has been your most rewarding experience?

Seeing people I had as students that are now adults with families, a job, and [who have] found a way to be happy and successful!

What’s the backstory behind dressing up as Mario for Halloween?

I didn’t know I looked like Mario, and when Mario was getting popular I would walk into class and kids would hum the Mario theme, and so one day I walked in dressed like him and everyone’s reaction was great! It’s been a tradition ever since! One time I did a birthday party for a five-year-old kid and he was so happy because he really thought I was Mario!

What’s your final message to J-D?

Everyone has the potential to be happy and to be successful. High school is not always everyone’s best time. We have lots of good times and bad times. In the midst of bad times I hope people find a sense of hope in the potential for their happiness!

Mrs. Donna Oppedisano, History Department

Photo Credit: J-DHS Yearbook

How would you describe your experience at J-D?

It was amazing, I had so many great experiences with great faculty members and students!

What was your fondest memory at J-D?

When some kid brought a frozen possum and dropped it right outside my classroom door! I called the custodian who came around the corner, then screamed and ran the other way! I just think it’s such a funny story. Who brings a dead possum to school!? I have really fond memories of all of the events I have been a part of. I helped start Umoja, and the kente celebrations. We did this really cool game show night to raise money for a classroom I helped build at a classroom in Sudan and we did Hoops for Haiti. Millions of people were homeless and tens of thousands had died, and we did this really big event and we raised eight thousand dollars. Those events and those things that we have been able to do that were fun but for the benefit of others have been some of my best memories, and of course Model United Nations and all the terrific kids that I have had over the years in Model United Nations.

What do you want J-D to remember about you?

I hope that I can be remembered as a person that has high expectations for herself and others but promotes those expectations and hopes for change in a positive way. That I brought some support, some joy, and motivation.

We are unbelievably lucky to have had Principal Gasparini, Mr. Gualtieri, Mrs. Oppedisano, Mrs. Wood, Mrs. Ninestein, Mr. Tuck, and Mrs. Burgwin as part of our Jamesville-DeWitt Community. Principal Gasparini’s RamPage retirement interview can be found here. Farewell, and happy retirement!

All JDHS students, faculty, clubs, organizations, teams, classes, and activities are invited to contribute their voices and content to RamPage. Click Submit under the About tab at the top of any page for guidelines. We look forward to hearing from you and sharing your voice and vision with our community.