While they say that everyone can be replaced, finding someone with the compassion, knowledge and personality of physical education teacher Carmen Del Plato certainly will be a tall order for the Batavia City School District.
Del Plato, who grew up as part of a large and close-knit Italian-American family on Batavia’s southside, retired on Tuesday after 23 years with the district – 13 at Jackson Primary and the last 10 at John Kennedy Intermediate.
About 100 friends, family and colleagues celebrated his career last night at Eli Fish Brewing Company on Main Street.
JK Principal Brian Sutton said the Vine Street school won’t be the same without the energetic and resourceful Del Plato in the classroom.
“Mr. Del Plato is borderline irreplaceable. He's one of a kind,” Sutton said. “There is nothing that Mr. Del Plato wouldn't do for the kids here at John Kennedy.
“I tell everyone he almost flies under the radar because he does all the little things. He walks through the cafeteria, helps kids with their lunch. He talks to students about more than just PE (physical education) when they're in the gymnasium. He really connects with the kids and holds them to a high expectation and high standard -- and they meet it.”
Sutton, in his second year as principal, said he leaned on Del Plato and admired his approach to teaching.
“Mr. Del Plato has a wealth of experience in Batavia and knowledge … I really turned to him a lot to get a feel for the building and things that he's seen and tried to learn from his experiences, while also just observing him and the way he conducts himself as a professional,” he offered. “It’s really unfortunate (he’s retiring) although I'm very happy for him that he has taken this next step and he will definitely be missed.”
Fellow physical education teacher Dan Geiger, who worked with Del Plato for the past decade, called him “a tremendous assets to our district and our community.”
“Carmen can still name all the families in the neighborhoods from the time he grew up and it is just going to be a huge loss for the district,” Geiger said. “He’s got such great connection to the kids and to the families. The excitement he brings -- the great level of discipline and respect that kids have for him. It's just a sad day for our district, but I can't be more happy for him.”
Del Plato, in acknowledging his well-wishers, revealed a spirit of thankfulness as he looked back on his time with the school district – recalling the inauspicious beginning that almost didn’t happen.
“I have a lot to be thankful for. First of all, I am thankful for my job,” he said. “Back in 1998, I was coaching three sports and Pep Johnson was retiring and Buddy (Brasky) was moving from Jackson to the high school and a job came open. And I applied for the job. And I'm was at the blind school (New York State School for the Blind) doing summer school, and I called to see if they were calling for interviews.”
Del Plato said he was told that calls for interviews were made, but his phone wasn't ringing.
“I didn't even get a call for an interview. And I was so distraught. I mean, I was coaching three sports. I was kissing everybody's butt. And I didn't get an interview,” he said, drawing a big laugh. “That very same day (former Athletic Director) Nancy Viola called my wife and said, ‘Why didn't Carm apply for the job?’
“And my wife (Debra, a teacher at Williamson Middle School) said, ‘He did apply for the job; he hand delivered the application.’ She (Viola) goes, ‘I’ll call you right back.’ So, Nancy did some of her magic and I get an interview, I think the next day. Thank goodness, Skip Bonacquisti was on the interviewing committee and I got hired. It was that close, and I might not have gotten the job. I’ll never forget that. Thank you, Nancy Viola.”
Del Plato said he was thankful that his first job was at Jackson school – a block away from his home – and that he was able to work with one of his buddies, Val Zinni, a longtime custodian in the district.
He mentioned that it was a thrill to see the kids grow from kindergarten to fifth grade. Included in that group were his son and daughter.
“I got the chance to teach my son, Joey, and my daughter, Marcella, and I didn’t give anybody any extra special treatment,” he said. “If I had your son or daughter, they had to be able to tow the line, especially my kids. They couldn’t call me daddy at work.”
He shared that one day his son forgot his sneakers and had to sit in timeout.
“I sent his mother a nasty letter,” he joked, again to the delight of his audience. “And my daughter knew the rule that she couldn’t call me daddy. One day … she was at the end of the line and as she was walking out, she whispered, ‘Hi daddy.’ I said get out of here.”
Del Plato thanked his aides and spoke about his “partner in crime” Geiger.
“Dan likes to take risks. I don't like to take risks. So, when I want to do balloons with the kids, he wanted to do dog sled racing with the kids. When I want to do ribbons with the kids, he wanted to put a zip line across the gym. But I think we both made each other better teachers,” he said.
Geiger said he learned a lot from Del Plato, including how to pronounce every vowel (in the names) of Batavia’s southside residents.
“I learned a lot about the Italian background,” Geiger said. “I do know a few Italian words but I’m not sure if I should say them because he really never tells me the true (meaning), so I could get in trouble. But I can't thank Carm enough for all the time spent together. He's really helped me develop as a teacher and as a person.”
Del Plato actually has 35 years in the New York State retirement system, starting in 1986 at Genesee Valley BOCES' alternative education program and moving to the NYSSB in 1988, where he served for five years as a childcare and teachers' assistant. He worked at Geneseo Central School, Geneseo State College and St. Anthony's School in Batavia from 1993 to 1998.
Photos by Steve Ognibene
Physical education teacher Dan Geiger presents Del Plato with a gift.
Mike Bromley, Batavia City School District director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics, gives Del Plato a special ball that he ordered for his gym classes.
Bromley recognizes Del Plato's contributions with a Blue Devil Forever plaque. "In grateful appreciation of your outstanding dedication and mentoring and nurturing the many, many students in the Batavia City School District from 1998 to 2021."
Del Plato and Val Zinni performing as Elwood and Jake -- The Blues Brothers, which has been a hit in Batavia for many years.