Anne Gunteski–Principal of Harbor School Retires
A personal perspective from Anne Gunteski, retiring principal of Harbor School
As we begin a new year/new decade and continue to celebrate Harbor’s 50th anniversary I wanted to share my journey which led me to this wonderful Harbor family. I grew up in New York in a close knit family with 7 brothers and sisters where music and teaching were highly valued. Both of my grandmothers were teachers, one taught music and one taught special education in the NYC public schools. Their influences prompted me to pursue a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Marywood University where I was fortunate to meet Monica DeTuro the former Principal of Alpha School.
Monica was a Special Education major and I spent a lot of time volunteering my time alongside her in working with children with special needs. Upon graduating college, I spent 2 years teaching music in a Catholic school in Brooklyn. Although I thoroughly enjoyed this work, my passion for working with those with special needs lead me to enroll in a Master’s degree program in Special Education at Fordham University. At that time I also started working in the NYC Public School system in the Bronx first working with Juvenile offenders teaching reading and writing and the following year working with children with multiple disabilities in a program called Teacher Moms. This was a unique program that had been started in the 1950’s by a group of parents of children with special needs within the NYC Public School system.
In 1981, I got married and moved to New Jersey where Monica DeTuro was working at Alpha School and she connected me with RKS to set up an interview for a teaching position. I was hired and started as a classroom teacher at the Alpha School in September 1981. In 1982 I became the coordinator of the High School Annex program at Alpha and began attending Georgian Court University to pursue a Supervisors certificate and went on to earn my Principal’s certification. In 1983 my husband and I welcomed our first child, Annie, and I then returned to work part time as a music teacher at the Alpha School. We had 4 more children, Kate, Beth, Frank and Paul and during this time I continued to work as a music teacher and as an administrator at both Alpha and Harbor Schools. In February 1993, I became the Principal of the Harbor School.
In 2004, I was accepted into a doctoral program in Special Education at Rutgers University and spent the next 7 years completing this program. My dissertation was a case study of the Harbor School and through focus groups and interviews with staff and parents I looked at the kinds of staff development programming needed to assist special education professionals to best support a collaboration with parents/families of children with special needs. Over the course of my time as a teacher and then Principal I have met hundreds of parents/family members and have come to realize and understand that they are at the heart of all work in this field.
Upon completing my doctorate I was hired by the Rutgers Graduate School of Education to teach a Seminar course for students who are pursuing a degree in Special/Elementary Education. The students are enrolled in a 5 years Master’s degree program and are completing their student teaching and meet once per week for this course. For the past 9 years I have been able to share my background and experience for this course and have also had some of our staff here speak to these beginning teachers.
This experience has broadened my perspective on the field as the main focus for current teacher training in special education is primarily on inclusion so these beginning teachers do not have much exposure to the more complex needs of our students. As more public school district open programs for students with multiple disabilities, I remain concerned that the current teacher training programs are not providing experiences to match these needs.
As I look at my own family, all of my children have worked at the Alpha School as para professionals during summers/winter breaks from college. Two of my daughters are special education teachers and one of my son’s currently works at Alpha as a para professional. I am so grateful that they have had these experiences to help them gain insight into the many daily challenges faced by our students and their families and for them to remain thankful for all they have in their own lives.
My hope is that my own children and that each of you understand and embrace the need to be a voice for these individuals and to be an advocate for all those who are in need. To embrace the idea that we must always reach out to our families in a spirit of compassion/understanding/sensitivity and mutual respect. To recognize that each family’s needs are as unique as their children. We must continue to find ways to help them stay connected to the world around them as the path they are on can be a very isolating one for both for children and families. Our challenge is to keep educating ourselves to learn about different ways to support our students and to assist our parents in their efforts to seek out needed resources and supports to help ease their many challenges.
My family has always been and will always be at the heart of everything I do and have done in my life. Over the past 42 years that I have been working in the field of education, with 38 of those years spent between Alpha and Harbor, I have been trying to balance my two families. As my own family has grown so has their need for my time and energy. So it is with very mixed emotions that I let you that I will be retiring in June.
I want to thank each of you for choosing to undertake one of the most challenging vocation’s in the world. I have a deep respect for each and every one of you for your daily efforts on behalf of our students. Your decision to enter the field of special education speaks to your compassion for those whose needs are different than most other people. Your decision to remain committed to the field of special education will speak to your passion for truly assisting these individuals in achieving their life goals.
The word legacy has many meanings.
I hope that my legacy here is defined as one that supports a sense of family history and a sense of belonging and purpose for generation after generation. The key to this legacy is to continue the work that has been started just as I continued the work of the handful of parents who started Harbor School 50 years ago. I will be entrusting the legacy of the Harbor family to the people who will nurture and treasure it with the utmost care-to each of you.
Although I will not be present here, my work on behalf of these individuals will continue through my work at Rutgers and in support of my children who continue to work in this field.
Harbor School a private special education school in Monmouth County, New Jersey
Our mission at Harbor School is to help all of our special needs students with learning, social, language, behavioral, and other disabilities. Our highly skilled staff are committed daily to helping each student reach their full potential.
We would be more than happy to discuss your child's specific needs and challenges, so please call us at 732.544.9394, or request a tour at Harbor School in Eatontown, NJ. We are located just minutes off of the Garden State Parkway at exit 105 and conveniently located off of Route 35 and Route 36 in Monmouth County, NJ.
Principal-Harbor School, Eatontown, NJ