Another of the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district’s new supervisors, Susan Totaro, at right, is certainly not new to the district. Totaro, who was promoted to the position of supervisor of curriculum and instruction K-12 last summer, has been a WW-P teacher for nearly 24 years. Totaro replaces Penny Fisher, who is now the supervisor for language arts K-5, and is working alongside Mark Wise, the other supervisor of curriculum and instruction for K-12. Totaro’s primary responsibility is to supervise new K-5 teachers, those who are not yet tenured.
“I am the primary supervisor for all of the new teachers, and so will be doing their first and third observations, as well as their overall evaluations,” said Totaro. “In fact, a large part of this job involves the teacher observations, and working collaboratively with the teachers to see in what areas they are strong, and what they need to focus on improving. Although my title is ‘curriculum and instruction,’ my position is more personnel-based, whereas the content-area supervisors are more curriculum-based. But of course, to be a supervisor, I need to understand the curriculum as well.”
Totaro says that she is thrilled about her new position, the first 12-month position she has held, and is honored that she was chosen for the job. She is also thrilled with the prospect of working with the new administration, all of whom, she believes, put the students before anything else. “The idea of whole child, every child, is truly at the core of this administration, and I am very excited to be working with them as I continue my journey within the district,” she added.
Totaro lives in Ewing with husband Rosario, who is a design engineer for Ingersoll Rand. They have three children: a daughter who is a senior in college, and two sons, one who is a senior in high school and one who is in eighth grade. Totaro holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of New Jersey, and while still a college senior, began studying for her master’s degree, ultimately earning a master of arts and teaching. She is currently completing a second master’s degree from Thomas Edison College and recently earned her supervisory certificate.
Although Totaro’s father had been a high school English teacher and a college professor at Merrimac College in Massachusetts, both parents tried to dissuade her from becoming a teacher. “My father switched careers and became the director of the training and technology learning center for Merrill Lynch and my mother worked at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital as the conduit between the psychiatry department and the criminal justice system. I am one of three girls, and they also wanted us all to be financially independent, and at that time, teachers were not paid well. Also, they both knew how tough teaching can be, and so tried to talk me out of it. Teaching is one of the toughest professions to have — you don’t become a teacher as a career choice; you do it because you love it,” said Totaro.
“While a psych major, I worked with autistic adults and also worked at various camps during the summers, and realized I did love teaching, and decided to pursue it. My first full-time teaching job was as a sixth-grade teacher for a parochial school; then I came to West Windsor-Plainsboro in 1990 and have been here ever since. To a large degree, I grew up here.”
Totaro started teaching sixth grade at Upper Elementary School (now Millstone) in its first year of existence and taught there until 1999, when the third of her three children was born.
She resumed teaching at UEM in 2001 as a fourth grade teacher, and then switched to Village School, also as a fourth grade teacher, when that school became a fourth-fifth grade school.
Totaro then decided to try something new, and for approximately six years was the basic skills math teacher at Village School. “I love math, and love teaching math,” she said, “and when you are a basic skills math teacher, you are facilitating learning in math to a wide variety of students. I really enjoy working with so many students, and so many teachers, in so many classrooms throughout the school.”
Last spring Totaro decided once again to try something new and applied for the supervisory position. “I like working with teachers as much as I like working with students, especially in a professional capacity. The idea of working with the new teachers really appeals to me, because it is a very reflective process. There is a lot of problem-solving involved, which is the ‘math component’ of the position, and it’s about helping teachers to grow and expand their practices, helping them to see what works and what doesn’t, and learning together in a collaborative way. I will be learning from the teachers as well, and I really enjoy learning new things.”
For Totaro, moving from the classroom to being a basic skills teacher, to becoming a supervisor is a natural progression. “As a basic skills teacher, I have been in a lot of classrooms, and have a good perspective on how an entire building works, and what we need to do to get the kids to where they need to be,” she explained.
“I think my background, having been in the WW-P school district for such a long time, gives me an understanding of the community as a whole — the teachers the administrators, the parents and students, and the vision we as a community share. However, I still face many challenges in my new position.”
Totaro faces a learning curve and has had to learn how to navigate the district differently and build relationships as a supervisor rather than as a teacher. “Plus,” she adds, “on a personal level, I feel like now there is a purpose behind all of education I have been subjecting myself to. And this position allows me to refine and better my own practices as a teacher — I will still be teaching; my new ‘students’ (really teachers) are just older than I am used to having.”