Jason Fekete, a longtime coach and physical education teacher in Linden, took over this summer as a vice principal at Linden High School.
By Gary Miller
Jason Fekete has been a teacher in Linden Public Schools for 14 years. But first, he was a coach for the Tigers.
He started as a volunteer assistant for the boys basketball program for two years. When he got hired as a health and physical education teacher, he moved on to JV boys basketball, JV girls volleyball, middle school baseball and basketball, varsity girls volleyball, varsity girls basketball. And eventually he founded a boys volleyball program in 2015 and led it to two state tournament appearances.
But that all comes to an end now. Fekete has taken a role as a different kind of coach: LHS vice principal.
“Giving up coaching is one of the most difficult things in taking this position,” said Fekete, who is VP for the 10th grade. “Everything you get from coaching has helped prepare me as a school leader. Being organized, being prepared, motivating staff, motivating student-athletes – it all translates to this administrative role.
“So it has prepared me, but I’m going to miss it. I already do.”
This summer, Fekete moved into his new office on the first floor of LHS. Appropriately, hanging on the wall is a painting of Edward R. Cooper, Linden’s legendary football, basketball, baseball and track coach for whom Cooper Field is named. Cooper also moved on to the administrative side, serving as athletic director, assistant principal and principal before his retirement in 1969 after 45 years as a Linden educator.
It’s a career path that Fekete aspires to.
“Growing up here, and being a part of this school and community, and having a chance to be a position like this where it’s a larger role – it’s humbling,” he said. “But it’s extremely exciting. I have a great deal of pride in this city, in this school system, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Principal Yelena Horré said she is “delighted” about having Fekete join the administrative team at LHS.
“As a teacher, Mr. Fekete consistently went above and beyond, taking a leadership role in events such as the Pink Out fundraiser, school dances, our first ever bonfire, and more. Students always come first to Mr. Fekete,” she said. “I know he is committed to continuing to advance the vision of LHS. Together, we will work to maintain a positive, engaging school environment and support students and staff as we strive for educational excellence.”
Fekete graduated from LHS in 1999, after having attended School No. 4, School No. 8, and both Soehl and McManus middle schools. He went on to major in health and physical education at Kean University, and got his master’s degree in educational leadership from Montclair State University.
“I’ve been in education for 14 years, and about five to six years in I started to think about administration as an option,” he said. “Whether it would become a reality, I wasn’t sure at first. But when I started taking classes in administration, I thought I could be very good at this. I think I can help the district.”
Fekete said the transition to his new role was eased by the fact that he’s been a part of the LHS family for so long. He also credited Horré and his fellow vice principals Lizzie Ortiz, Frank Bandinelli, and Kevin Thurston with helping him.
“I have a great mentor here in Mrs. Horré, and I’m completely grateful for that,” he said. “Also, having three other vice principals to work with and show me the ropes helps ease my transition. They’ve been great this summer. They’ve been very welcoming and completely supportive.”
Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi said Fekete was a natural choice to fill the vacancy at vice principal.
“Mr. Fekete has earned the love and respect of students and faculty at Linden High School in so many ways that it’s hard to count them all,” he said. “As a teacher, a coach, a mentor, he has always been there for the students, and that will only be elevated in his new position as an administrator.”
Besides his roles as a coach and teacher, Fekete has gone out of his way to teach students about service and community outreach. He was the advisor to the Student Educational Support Team, which brings questions and concerns to the Board of Education each month.
As head coach of the girls volleyball team, he founded the Pink Out event, where the team wears pink uniforms and decorates the gym in pink while it raises money to fight breast cancer and honors local survivors.
This past school year, Fekete and the girls basketball team hosted “Alley-Oop for Autism,” a basketball tournament that featured teams from the Linden Public Schools, Linden Police Department, Linden First Department and Linden Department of Public Property and Community Services. It raised $1,200 for the Union County Spectrum All-Stars.
“I think philanthropy is so important,” he said. “It is a great experience for the students. It’s just something that I’ve always enjoyed. It’s very gratifying to be able to give back.”
Fekete wants to carry over that emphasis on school culture and environment to his role as VP.
“Dating back to when I went to high school here, I had a great experience,” he said. “I was very involved in the school and the community. I want our students to have that same experience. Things like bonfires and homecoming dances – that’s what high school should be like.
“Obviously, we want them to get the best education possible and move on to have success in life, but we also want them to enjoy themselves here, feel safe here, and feel welcome and have a great experience. Hopefully that’s what I can help to try to provide.”
Though his transition has been smooth, “it’s early yet,” he said. He said that it may be the students who will have trouble adjusting.
“I think a lot of kids may have an adjustment from seeing me wearing shorts all year, to coming in wearing a tie,” he joked.
The real test will come when his former teams hit the court without him. He’s already had to adjust to a summer without team workouts.
“At 8 o’clock in the morning we’d be down at Cooper Field, then we’d transition to the gym at the high school, working out basketball, volleyball,” he said. “I was always very busy throughout the summer. And I missed it this summer.
“And I’m sure that once the seasons start and I start attending the games watching from the bleachers, it’s going to hit me.”
DID YOU KNOW?: Fekete is taking over as vice principal from David Walker, who is the new principal at School No. 10, taking over for the retiring Sandra Coglianese. All three have the same birthday of Sept. 23.