It was no ordinary day for the staff and students of Wayside Elementary School, especially for Wayside Principal Denise Palaia. Principal Palaia lost her father Joseph Palaia in August.  Joseph Palaia wore many hats during his career; he was a senator, assemblyman, mayor and freeholder.

February 3rd marks Senator Palaia’s birthday and to remember Senator Palaia, Senator Jennifer Beck will declare February 3rd of each year “Senator Joseph Palaia Day"  to honor their beloved Monmouth County legislator and educator.

Official Proclamation Document for Joseph Palaia Day (Photo Credit: Chris Scali)

Denise Palaia was a little choked up; her father was a role model and gave her the tools to success.  I asked Denise when she’s performing her duties as Waysides Principal if she feels her father’s presence in the building.

“Absolutely, he told me when I was in the classroom that, I was in charge of what happened everyday, things happen a little bit. He was a principal for 33 years and he said to me when you become a principal; you never know what’s going to happen.  Everyday is different and he was absolutely 100% right, so everyday when I am here, I think of him, when things happen and when I am not following the routine I thought I would, I think about him everyday.”

Denise Palaia came from a family full of administrators, so it was a natural progression for Palaia to dive right into the profession.  She'd followed her father’s footsteps on the athletic side as well. Senator Palaia was a basketball referee and Denise also has  experience on the hardwood. Denise Palaia says she wants to hopefully make her own path but under her fathers legacy.

Denise and Joseph shared the same style of leadership, but she also took different styles from other leaders she’s been with. She mentioned Billy Galatro and Barbara Villapiano who were both principals at Ocean Townships School districts.  Principal Palaia said they all brought something to the table but of course her father was her biggest influence.

Principal Palaia told me the story when she moved up from Vice Principal to Principal at Wayside Elementary School.  During our interview, she gave a celebratory fist pump at her desk when she explained that memorable moment in her life.

Joseph Palaia Day at Wayside Elementary School. (Photo Credit: Chris Scali)

“The day was named, he was of course at home and he knew about this, but I was announced to the staff and they gave me a standing ovation, which was very special.”

Principal Palaia mentions how much she loves the Wayside Elementary staff.

“They see it in me all the time, they’re hugging me, knowing that it’s going to be hard, but also being apart of what this day is really about, which is celebration.”

A video was showed in front of staff members and of course the children; Palaia would like the children to put a face to the name, the children don’t really know who Senator Joseph Palaia was. Of course they know about the park and their Principal. She wants the children to understand the importance and why today is special.

“So hopefully, the pictures and the music bring to them a sense of who the man was and what he did for all the people, the children of Ocean Township and just creating this legacy that people are remembering today.”

Joseph Palaia’s is remembered as inspirational person who wore many hats throughout is career. Hard work was mentioned to the children during the ceremony, many of Joseph’s coworkers were there. They told the young minds of Wayside Elementary, with hard work you can be whatever you want to be in life.

Joseph Palaia Day at Wayside Elementary School. (Photo Credit: Chris Scali)

“I have a very diverse school here and the kids all know this, is to keep them safe but also to have aspired who they want to be. If it’s a chef, if it’s an engineer, whatever you want to be. I think that what we try here at Wayside and throughout Ocean Township to instill upon the children.”

To continue Joseph’s Palaia’s legacy, an Ivy lilac tree will planted near the kindergarten playground.  The ivy lilac tree has a beautiful scent and color. When the tree blooms during the warmer months it will permeate a beautiful sent around the playground. Senator Jennifer Beck said that Senator Palaia always gave you a feel good vibe every time you met him.

“He was just a warm, lovely, kind person and I think it’s a nice tribute that he lives on in a happy and positive way.”

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