By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Hammonton is one of those magical towns, a little slice of Americana right here in the middle of South Jersey. Many families in town can trace their lineage in the area back to the time before automobiles were even invented. It has a quaint downtown, great schools and is surrounded by blueberry farms, earning the moniker “The Blueberry Capital of the World.”
It’s an ideal place to live, work and play, and Steve Cappuccio couldn’t be happier that he is finally back home.
The Head of School for St. Joseph Academy — which was launched in 2020 to replace the former St. Joseph High School when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden pulled its funding — grew up attending St. Joseph schools, and even though he spent nearly two decades working in education at parochial rival St. Augustine Prep in Richland, his heart has always been in Hammonton.
Cappuccio was brought on in the fall of 2021 to lead the all-new St. Joseph Academy into what many hope will be an exciting future for the school, which has about 200 students and is located right in the heart of Hammonton. He has strong ties to the school, as not only did he spend from kindergarten until 10th grade at St. Joseph, all his siblings and both of his parents attended St. Joe’s. Still, he said it wasn’t easy to leave St. Augustine Prep, one of the premier all-boys college preparatory schools in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“This was the hardest decision of my life because I love St. Augustine. To leave something you love and something you loved as a kid and spent more than 20 years of your life — the bonds of that brotherhood are strong. Part of me says that when you’re in a leadership position and you’re at a place too long, you don’t have the ability to see over the wall anymore. I thought this was the next step in my progression as a school leader. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and it just so happened to be less than five minutes away from my home,” he said. “What really attracted me was I walked into this building and saw the chance to build something. St. Augustine is such an established school, and it was wonderful to be part of that school. It was great to see that school grow. I graduated with 40 boys and now there are more than 650 students there. (St. Augustine Prep) will always be near and dear to my heart, seeing the campus go through all those changes.”
Cappuccio certainly did take over a blank slate at St. Joseph Academy. In the beginning, there wasn’t even a slate, as the new academy was short on space, desks, supplies, you name it. The administration had to start from scratch after the Catholic Diocese pulled out in 2019.
But that hasn’t discouraged anyone involved in St. Joseph Academy, and Cappuccio believes the groundwork is being laid for big things to come in the future.
“Programatically, we’re going to revamp almost our entire curriculum. We’re moving to what is called a ‘skills-based’ curriculum, which is a little different than what a lot of folks are doing. You have this intersection of how much content do you teach vs. is the skill you’re trying to teach them more important? I’m a believer — and my philosophy on education — is that the skill is something that needs to stay with the student the rest of their life. Education skills, interpersonal skills, critical writing, reading comprehension. All those skills they’ll need for college and beyond as they enter the workplace. To me, content is just a vehicle for kids to have those skills and master them. That’s one component of our curriculum,” Cappuccio said. “We’re also going to experiment with a different style of scheduling than most schools. We’re going to add some new athletic programs, and I’m excited about that, and we’ll have some auxiliary programs as well that will help bolster student life. We’re pretty excited about what’s coming.
“One of the questions I get asked is, ‘are you just going to make this just like St. Augustine Prep?’ I say, ‘this is not St. Augustine Prep.’ I’ll take some of what I learned there, but we’re going to tailor programs that have to make sense for St. Joe Academy,” he added. “You can’t take everything St. Augustine was doing because it’s an all-boys school, and it’s also a different tuition price point. So, we have to do things that make us a good, solid program but that also meet the needs of our students and faculty. We just want to make St. Joe’s the best version of itself.”
Cappuccio said he believes St. Joseph Academy will be successful because of the passion of the people involved, from the administration to the students, and even the parents.
“The school community in general can be summed up in one word — passionate. And that goes from the Board on down. The community as a whole is a passionate community, and the teachers fall into suit with that as well. We can work with that,” Cappuccio said. “The parents have been very supportive. This is a very passionate community. They are passionate about their school, passionate about their sports. The kids have also been great. After the first week, I went home and my wife asked, ‘so, what do you think?’ And I said, ‘the kids are great.’ She said, ‘well, you’ll be alright then.’ That’s why we do what we do — to work with kids and try to get them ready for life.”
While there are big plans in the future for St. Joseph Academy, Cappuccio said the focus right now is continuing to build a solid foundation so that the school will be in position to implement the changes necessary to be competitive in the years to come.
“This group of Board members and the people who saved this school started from square one. I admire them for that. In regards to where that leaves us now — there are a lot of changes I want to bring to this school, but changes take time. You can’t make a 180-degree turn that quickly. My biggest thing is making sure the foundation is solid. I think of St. Joseph Academy like building a house or a skyscraper for the future. Our job right now is foundational. We have to make sure the foundation is intact before we build this beautiful house that is going to be St. Joseph Academy. But, change is hard and sometimes I’m looked at like I have three heads,” Cappuccio said. “If your mindset is that you are student driven, and you’re going to make decisions that are best for the students — if every decision you make is based on what is best for the students, if you think that way, it’s hard to be wrong. That’s where we’re at right now. There have been some bumps along the way, but it’s going well so far. I’m enjoying my time here. I want to give St. Joseph Academy students as many opportunities as possible to be great.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org;
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MEET YOUR SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR: Steve Cappuccio, Head of School, St. Joseph Academy in Hammonton
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN