Staff Spotlight: Tom Gambardella
Tom joined Turnaround in 2008 as an Instructional Coach in New York City In 2016, Thomas was promoted to Program Director and now leads a team in the successful implementation of Turnaround’s model, helping schools build safe, positive environments.
THE 180: What brought you to Turnaround for Children?
TOM GAMBARDELLA: I’ve worked in education for the past thirty years. My wife, Ronni Gambardella, interviewed with Turnaround for Children first. A few years later, I interviewed at the organization and was offered a position as an instructional coach. I knew this was a good fit and I would be a great asset to this organization.
Prior to assuming the role as a Program Director, I was an Instructional Coach at Turnaround for nine years. For my first assignment, I worked alongside a social worker at a school for students who have been suspended for behavioral infractions in the Bronx, supporting students who truly needed the help that we offer. This was right up my alley because I’m a good listener and pride myself on building great, trusting relationships with children. Plus, I have my Master’s in special education and a history of dealing with students facing adversities. This assignment gave me an opportunity to utilize all of my strategies, all my tricks of the trade. And I knew from this first experience that Turnaround could definitely be a place where I could settle in.
THE 180: What is unique about the way Turnaround partners with schools?
TOM GAMBARDELLA: We bring our vision to them, we share ideas and collaborate in a trustful manner. Plus, we have the same end goal – to see children succeed. Turnaround’s staff excels at developing relationships and building trust. We stand behind what we do and work hand-in-hand with staff to implement strategies properly. We motivate and really care about the staff at our partner schools.
THE 180: How is your new role as program director going and how does it differ from your previous role as an instructional coach?
TOM GAMBARDELLA: Whereas my role as an instructional coach was more action-oriented, my new role as program director is more team-oriented. I already have great working relationships with the social work consultants and instructional coaches on my team because we’ve worked together for many years. We have an established set of norms and know that we can count on one another. My team immediately supported me as Program Director and believes in my leadership both in and out of crisis. They know that I am dedicated, and I make them feel comfortable and happy.
THE 180: We understand you have some history with one of the partner schools you manage, Queens United Middle School. Can you talk about that?
TOM GAMBARDELLA: I didn’t actually learn what schools I would be working in until a few weeks after I assumed the Program Director position. When I looked up the location of Queens United Middle School, I realized it was housed in the old PS156 building. That building holds a lot of memories for me. Both my sisters and I attended kindergarten in that building and later when I became a teacher, I ran an 8-week vacation day camp program in the school’s yard for six consecutive summers.
The most amazing memory about that building is that my mother was a paraprofessional there for 25 years. Back then, a lot of schools didn’t have formal library programs so she kind of assumed the role of the school librarian. She ran a reading program and helped students check out books. On my first day at Queens United, I went to visit the old library. When I flipped through some of the books, I was astonished to find Rose Gambardella, my mother’s name, signed in some of them. There was still a record of when she used to check books out to students from all those years ago. I was overcome with emotion; it was just amazing to find her presence still there.
THE 180: What motivates you?
TOM GAMBARDELLA: Successful people and ideas. Seeing smiles on children’s faces. Seeing teachers coming into the classroom happy, willing to accept challenges, listen to suggestions and trusting in us.
And once I am motivated, I use a theory of “peek-to-peak.” I am always seeking to grow and change. And once I achieve a goal, I “peek” upwards to the next “peak” in my path to success. Growth and ambition are central components of my sense of motivation.
THE 180: What do you think is the most important thing that students need to succeed?
TOM GAMBARDELLA: Children have great vision – they can see through us and they can see into us. They need caring, thoughtful, considerate, kind, supportive and loving teachers. And they need to feel like they are an integral part of a strong family. Children need their voices heard in their families and in their classrooms.
THE 180: What do you enjoy most about working at Turnaround?
Tom: You’re not going to believe this, but it is working with my wife, Ronnie. I am at a point now where I lean on her for her expertise as she has been very successful in the Program Director role. She has opened the doors to let me in on her success secrets: her impeccable organization, her ability to motivate teams and her finesse in working with principals. Working with principals and teachers is a forte of mine due to my previous administrative experience, but my wife has a way of thinking things through via different lenses. She showed me that to be successful, I need to consider the roles of a social work consultant, instructional coach and program director simultaneously.
THE 180: Is there anything else you would like to share about working at Turnaround?
TOM GAMBARDELLA: I want Turnaround to get it right. And I’m dedicated to helping us do so. I believe in our organization, our mission and our vision. I also know that change is difficult at times but often necessary. Change is an avenue through which we can become successful and we learn through our past to move forward in the future.
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