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The Student News Site of Lakeland Regional High School

The Lancer Ledger

The Student News Site of Lakeland Regional High School

The Lancer Ledger

Farewell, Mr. Novak: Nineteen Years at Lakeland

Mr. Novak addressing the Class of 2020 at a drive-in graduation. Now, we honor him as he ‘graduates’ to a new chapter of his life. (Courtesy of the Lakeland Media)

Whether it be in a classroom or hallway, office or auditorium, for the last nineteen years there has been one face that could always be found around Lakeland Regional High School – that of Mr. Michael Novak. From the dawn of his career as a student teacher to his rise to becoming our Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, the last two decades have been defined by Mr. Novak’s diligence, intelligence, ability, and empathy.

Now, as the 2023-24 school year draws to a close, we prepare to say a fond farewell to Mr. Novak as he gets ready to move on to the next stage in his career at a new school district. In investigating the work he has done at Lakeland, it is immensely clear that there is no student, no faculty member, nor a single corner of Lakeland that Mr. Novak has not had a positive impact on.


In the Beginning

Mr. Novak at his graduation from Pompton Lakes High School.
(Courtesy of LRHS Staff)

While today we know Mr. Novak as the face of Lakeland and a wonderful administrator, it’s easy for the student body of the present to forget where it all began.

In his final interview with The Lancer Ledger, Mr. Novak began with a heartfelt truth: “Lakeland has been the only school district that I have ever worked in.” By his own admission, Mr. Novak “slacked off significantly during the second semester of [his] senior year of college” and was on track to be placed for student teaching in Sussex County. While not opposed to this, he “drove an early ‘90s Volvo that was almost old enough to vote” and thus hoped to land a position closer to home. As we now know, however, Sussex County would not be his fate.

“The stars aligned” for Mr. Novak in 2005, when he gained a connection through the mentor and “person that [he has] patterned himself after” Dr. Rich Russo. “LRHS was notoriously down on accepting student teachers, and the area supervisor, Ms. Levinson, was not necessarily open to it,” Mr. Novak explained. Dr. Russo, he continued, “reached out to his sister, Ms. Claudia DeHayes, who was an administrative assistant in the Main Office…I ended up doing my student teaching here in September 2005. I was fortunate enough to take over for a retiring Ms. Vanweezel, and officially came on that year.”

Fortunate indeed for Mr. Novak, and for everyone at Lakeland thereafter, as that connection helped him to begin a nineteen-year era of his career on which the page only now begins to turn.

Mr. Novak (back right) in his coaching days.
(Courtesy of Mr. Conforti)

As the years went on, Mr. Novak never lost his infallible diligence. As put by Mr. Damiano Conforti, “Mr. Novak has always cared and been super supportive of his department. He [is] also a wealth of knowledge in history.” Mr. Conforti went on to share with the Ledger an amusing story: “I will never forget the day,” he began, “Mr. Novak told his class he would shave his head if they all passed the unit test. The kids all passed and he shaved his head. That is Mr. Novak – he will always do the craziest things to get the most out of our students.” That same attitude – committing to the bit, if you will – has bever been broken; current students might not even be aware that Mr. Novak dyed his hair pink during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With more fond memories, Mr. Richard Wiley shared his perspective with the Ledger. “Mr. Novak was my mentor in my first year of teaching,” he began. “We actually shared room 501. He gave me invaluable help and advice when confronting challenges on both the academic and non-academic sides of teaching. We also had to work as a team, as he taught U.S. History 1 Honors to the sophomore APUSHers, and I then taught U.S. 2 AP to the juniors.” (Mr. Wiley now teaches both years of APUSH.) 

Mr. Novak rocking his pink pandemic hair.
(Courtesy of the Lakeland Live Feed)

Mr. Wiley concluded, “Much of my teaching style was heavily influenced by Mr. Novak, and some of my assignments and activities are based on his materials,” which is true – current students at Lakeland might be able to occasionally spot Mr. Novak’s slideshows (in both APUSH and AP Euro) through the distinctive theme that Mr. Novak was known to use. Mr. Novak clearly had a school-wide impact before he was even in an administrative position.


Moving Up

Mr. Novak planned to be a history teacher and coach for his entire career – but life often has intentions that we simply can’t foresee. “Like many teachers,” he explained, “I wanted to go back to get my master’s degree to move on the pay scale.” Soon, though, his plans were forced to shift.

Mr. Novak formally began in Lakeland administration on February 1, 2015 – over nine years ago. “What prompted the move [to administration] was – candidly – the fact that our daughter was born at 26 weeks and spent 113 days in the Morristown NICU,” Mr. Novak began. “It was touch and go for a long while and she had to have an experimental surgery to remove a granuloma from her vocal cord that was obstructing her airway. Insurance was great, but, unfortunately, did not cover everything – so the [transition] was necessitated by finances.” While the circumstances of Mr. Novak’s shift away from teaching are unfortunate, we are all grateful that things worked out in the end.

Transitions are never easy, and for a still-young teacher and coach who thought that his career path was headed in a certain direction for life, going from history teacher to school administrator was not as simple as a change in responsibilities. Of course, it is common among both students and faculty for there to be a stigma against administrators due to the nature of their roles. Mr. Novak told the Ledger, “I was amazed how quickly (literally overnight) I went from being one of ‘us’ to one of ‘them’ in some people’s eyes. It took me a little while to learn that regardless of what I did, there were some people who I was never going to win over simply because of the fact that it was the mentality that had been ingrained in them.” Shifting so suddenly from being a beloved history teacher to being ‘just another administrator’ was surely somewhat of a shock.

Even with that start, Mr. Novak very often seems to rise above the ‘just another admin’ perception. He is a beloved figure in our school community by students and faculty alike. Asked what tactics he employs to ensure that he builds positive relationships with both groups, Mr. Novak shared his insights. “My mentors and good friends Brian Chinni and Matt Murphy always talked about relationship building. How relationships can be built in 30-second intervals. During the course of an eight hour work day, we have 860 30-second opportunities.” Mr. Novak requested that the Ledger check this math, and in checking, the Ledger can now report a newfound understanding of why he is not the supervisor of the mathematics department.

Mr. Novak made sure to get know the students of LRHS, even though he left the classroom in 2015.
(Courtesy of the Lakeland Live Feed)

Mr. Novak continued, “I tried to take four of those opportunities every day to have meaningful interactions with people, to get to know them, to get to understand them and to make them feel valued.” This mindset is routinely evident in Mr. Novak’s day-to-day; he can often be spotted having quick but meaningful engagements with teachers, staff, and Lakeland’s students.

As Ms. Amy Saco described of Mr. Novak’s administrative style, “He changed the vibe for the better in multiple ways. He has been a great boss and has always been very understanding. That will surely be missed.” Senior Ilmi Kaba had similar things to say from the student perspective: “Mr. Novak seems to never run out of energy and always spreads positivity throughout Lakeland,” he stated. “He cared about students enough to interact with us in a meaningful and impactful way.”

Indeed, Mr. Novak knows, understands, and cares about everyone – whether he is in the hallway walking past the longest-serving teacher or the newest freshman, Mr. Novak will be sure to have a meaningful interaction every single time.


Administrative Style

In investigating what exactly makes Mr. Novak so special, Ms. Jessica Geyer shared with the Ledger something known as the ‘Golden Circle in Leadership.’ She explained, “Mike is so clear about understanding and embracing your WHY. Why do teachers become educators? Tapping into your why allows any organization to function towards a common goal, and the common goal at Lakeland is the students. We do what we do because we love this rewarding work. Mike is a leader I hope to emulate in my future career someday as a school leader myself. I will complete my Masters in Educational Leadership in August, and Mike truly inspired me to take on this new journey. I can’t thank him enough for all that he has done for me!”

Mr. Novak helped LRHS stay connected during COVID through his daily videos.
(Courtesy of Lakeland Media)

As Ms. Geyer will be stepping up into one of the two enormous shoes Mr. Novak currently fills, optimism certainly abounds in hearing about the true care she puts into leadership. She told the Ledger, “I’ve been inspired by his leadership skills for the last 19 years of my life. Mr. Novak has embraced my own leadership journey, and we’ve discussed books we enjoy such as Start with Why by Simon Sinek” (from whom the aforementioned Golden Circle comes.)

On that note, the other teacher who will be moving up next year to fulfill the responsibilities held by Mr. Novak is Ms. Jamie Cawley, who had much to say regarding Mr. Novak’s leadership. She began by telling the Ledger, “One of the things that makes Mr. Novak such a great leader is his willingness to do anything for any member of the Lakeland community. No task is too big or too small for Mr. Novak. He handles some of the most major responsibilities of the district, but also fills in for secretaries, answering phones in their absence.” This certainly helps paint a picture of just how far above and beyond his defined role Mr. Novak goes.

“He develops and audits all of our curricula,” continued Ms. Cawley, “but also stops what he is doing to help a student find a lost necklace in the grass outside. Mr. Novak has taught me that all of these things matter in creating a positive learning environment where students feel safe, challenged, and loved.” As the administrator most responsible for the management of Lakeland’s curriculum, it is clear that Mr. Novak has a deep care for our students, and an even deeper understanding of the why of himself and those around him. Furthermore, in interviewing teachers, it’s quite clear that this same level of care will flourish in Ms. Cawley and Ms. Geyer next year.

Mr. Novak and Mr. Conforti reporting for the Morning Show back in the day.
(Courtesy of Lakeland Media)

Senior Kylen Trossman reinforced the overarching truths of Mr. Novak’s distinctive day-to-day style. “Mr. Novak’s positive attitude and dedication as Assistant Superintendent have been invaluable assets to Lakeland,” she began. “His comical morning announcements, filled with jokes that brightened even the earliest hours, will be fondly remembered. Above all, his genuine care for the students truly made him a moving force behind the school’s success.” Whether he’s making announcements from his office, observing a teacher, or meeting with a student, Mr. Novak’s sense of humor, kindness, positivity, and desire to do what is good and right always prevail.

Senior Diya Kumrah gave a neat conclusion to the many wonderful things about Mr. Novak’s administrative style. “During my time at Lakeland, Mr. Novak has been nothing short of supportive and encouraging,” she began. “He has always tried his hardest to guarantee I could have the best opportunities to challenge myself academically.” This is routinely proven during course scheduling every year – while Lakeland technically limits students to four AP classes per year, Mr. Novak is the line of contact for an appeal, and he routinely gives the ‘O.K.’ to guidance for academically motivated students to exceed the limit – just this year, students had as many as seven of eight total class blocks in their schedule filled with AP classes – the maximum possible, since one block is reserved for Phys Ed.

Kumrah continued, “I am so incredibly grateful for everything he has done for me as a student and as an individual. Whether it was passing each other in the hallways or listening to his morning announcements, he never failed to put a smile on my face. I have never met someone who cares so deeply about the Lakeland school community. Everything he has done for the school does not go unappreciated. I wish him all the best with everything he aims to accomplish!”.

While Mr. Novak’s leadership skills endured throughout his time at Lakeland, there was perhaps no time where they shined through more apparently than during COVID-19.


Unique Perspectives

Mr. Novak always made sure to support LRHS students and staff in their accomplishments.
(Courtesy of the LRHS Live Feed)

In her interview with the Ledger, Ms. Cawley had much to say about Mr. Novak. “I’ve known Mr. Novak since I was 13,” she aptly began. “I’ve always looked up to him as a mentor and consider myself lucky to call him my boss and my friend. I’ve never met anyone more ambitious, hardworking, and motivated. He has a genuine passion for education and he imparts that enthusiasm and wisdom to those who work for him. I’m really proud of everything he has accomplished at Lakeland and happy for him to have the opportunity to do great things at another deserving district.”

Ms. Rachel Chybicki, a Lakeland graduate well into Mr. Novak’s career, is in the unique situation to give both student-oriented and faculty-oriented perspectives. She told the Ledger, “When I was a student here, Mr. Novak just began his administrative career, so I was unlucky and never got to have him as a teacher. But seeing him do amazing things as a supervisor inspired my decision to pursue secondary education and even get into the administrative side. When I was in college, Mr. Novak was gracious enough to participate in my final project for my capstone education course. I hadn’t seen him in years at that point, and he had no hesitation to participate. That’s what he does.”

Continuing further, Ms. Chybicki explained, “I am beyond grateful for Mr. Novak’s time at Lakeland because I could always tell he genuinely cared for the students and staff of this school. He always goes above and beyond for Lakeland, making sure that this is a great place to work, learn, and cultivate relationships. Even when he moved from the classroom to the office, he took the time to know the students in this school. During my time here as a staff member at Lakeland, Mr. Novak has just inspired me even more. I tell people all the time that ’when I grow up’ I want to be Mr. Novak. He is the best of the best, and I hope one day I am as great of an educator/administrator as him.”


Mr. Novak Today

Today, we know Mr. Novak as the seemingly jack-of-all-trades face of Lakeland. Senior Ilmi Kaba declared: “I feel like he did every job in the school himself!”

In his nineteen years, Mr. Novak has done a great deal for Lakeland…but he is not one to boast about accomplishments. He told the Ledger, “I am most proud of the relationships that I have developed with faculty and students over the course of the last 19 years.”

Probing further, the Ledger asked Mr. Novak whether there was a policy or practice implemented during his time at Lakeland that he is grateful to have had a hand in facilitating. He went on to state, “I think I saw the value very early on of developing a school community, because our students come from three different areas. I grew up in Pompton Lakes, where there’s pride and tradition. From K to 12, you’re a Pompton Cardinal. I think there’s a value in bringing our students together, not just in-district but out-of-district too. If there’s one thing I’m very proud of, it’s the changing of the perception of the district through developing our relationships with students and faculty members both in person and on social media.”


The Next Chapter

Mr. Novak and Stephan Schwab, the article’s reporter, during this year’s Change of Teacher Day.
(Courtesy of the LRHS Live Feed)

Mr. Novak will transition over the summer to Northern Highlands Regional High School as their Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (CIA.) The Ledger was unable to ascertain whether this was a position-abbreviation-motivated transition.

Asked about what the future holds, Mr. Novak shared, “I look forward to having a far less overreaching workload where I can really focus on what I am passionate about – teaching and learning. The Highland’s superintendent, BOE, faculty, staff, and school community have made me feel very, very welcome and seem to be excited to have me come aboard.”

One thing is incredibly certain – Northern Highlands is immensely lucky to be gaining Mr. Novak, and Lakeland will miss him dearly.

With the concurrent retirements of Dr. Dave Niedosik and Ms. Rita Mazza, Mr. Novak is not unaware of the significant administrative rotation coming next year. But he leaves us with a note of optimism: “Change is scary, but I am confident in the new crop of administrators that are taking over. Some really incredible people will take this district to even better places.”

As senior Kevin Bruenjes exclaimed, “I’m happy to hear he is moving on to better things! Thank you and good luck Mr. Novak!”

Ms. Linda Dietz notes: “It won’t be the same without you. I will especially miss you stopping by with a quick, ¡Hola! and ¡Todos Juntos! All the best.”

Mr. Joseph Cervino concluded: “The thing I will miss most about Mr. Novak is his positive and enthusiastic attitude on a daily basis. He truly made Lakeland a great place to work! I not only consider him to be a great colleague but also a great friend and he will be missed.”


“The long and winding road

That leads to your door

Will never disappear

I’ve seen that road before

It always leads me here

Lead me to your door”

Farewell, Mr. Novak.

From students, teachers, faculty, support staff, and from myself: Thank you.

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About the Contributor
Stephan Schwab
Stephan Schwab, Editor-in-Chief
Stephan Schwab is a senior at LRHS and this is his third year writing for The Lancer Ledger. He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Ledger and President of the Journalism Club. Schwab looks forward to continuing to write for The Ledger on various topics and hopes to further his journalistic experience this year.

Comments (2)

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  • G

    GM MieleJun 13, 2024 at 10:22 am

    Beautiful tribute to Mr. Novak!! And farewell & good luck to Ledger editor Stephan Schwab – we’ll greatly miss reading your articles!

  • C

    Christina SchwabJun 12, 2024 at 1:43 pm

    Awesome article!