Part of highway dedicated to longtime educator
PICTURE ROCKS — A memorial highway dedication in honor of the late Thomas A. Paternostro was held at George A. Ferrell Elementary on Sunday afternoon, drawing in dozens of people who turned out to celebrate the lifelong educator and former East Lycoming School District superintendent.
Approved by the state General Assembly as a part of Act 159 last November, with the support of Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, and Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, the portion of U.S. Route 220 stretching from the Picture Rocks Borough line to the Hughesville Borough line now will be known as Thomas A. Paternostro Memorial Highway.
“I was thinking about Tom today, and this guy was a fixture ever since I have been around this area,” Yaw said. “Maybe it is appropriate to name part of the highway after him, so he continues to be a fixture.
“I knew Tom since his days at the East Lycoming School District,” Yaw added. “Two of the things that I most remember about him were that he always had a smile and he was always willing to do anything for kids. Kids were the No. 1 issue for him.”
Everett, who defeated Paternostro in the 2006 race for the 84th Legislative District, also looked back fondly on his former political adversary, who he said remained a friend after their campaigns drew to a close.
“This is one of the good parts of the job, to be able to come out and honor folks who have done great things in the community. Tom was certainly one of those,” Everett said.
“I got to know Tom well during that 2006 campaign,” Everett said. “We made a pledge to each other that we were going to focus on the issues in a civil manor, and not get into negative ads. For anyone who knew Tom, he loved to talk about the issues. He had a unique view on things and I always could profit from it.”
Born in Williamsport in 1939, Paternostro was a 1957 graduate of the city’s former St. Mary’s High School before joining the Navy. After his military service concluded, he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Lycoming College in 1964. From there, he acquired a master’s degree in public administration from St. Lawrence University in 1975, setting the stage for a career in education that spanned more than four decades.
Beginning his career as an elementary school and secondary school teacher for several years, Paternostro first made the transition into school administration when he took on the role of principal at an elementary school in Prattsburgh, New York. He later held the title of superintendent for schools in the Oneonta City School District and Clifton-Fine School District, both in New York.
In 1981, Paternostro took his experience as superintendent to the East Lycoming School District, where he held the same designation for 11 years before retiring from public schools in 1992.
“At every turn, at every chance he had, he reminded everyone to never forget about the children,” said Tom’s daughter Krista Paternostro Bower, who was a driving force in having the highway named for her late father. “He believed in the potential of all children and had compassion for all children. This was our dad’s most enduring legacy.”
In telling of the many transformations Paternostro helped pioneer at East Lycoming, Bower emphasized that the biggest thing her father took to the district was a fresh attitude, which brought out the best in those around him.
“Through our dad’s leadership, East Lycoming School District started to believe in itself again. The teachers were reinvigorated about the important role they played in their students’ lives. The students were inspired to do their best and be their best,” she said. “There was a newfound sense of pride for everyone. We went from being a small farming town in the sticks, to a top-notch district that was competitive in academics, arts, sports and community service.”
“(Ferrell Elementary) is a perfect example of that,” Bower added. “Deciding to renovate and fundamentally save this elementary school back in the mid-1980s helped to lay the foundations that propelled it to become the Blue Ribbon School it is today. You cannot have the present without an acknowledgment of the past.”
Bower went on to say how her father became an inspiration for those within the community to expect better things from their schools, as he always had the district’s future in mind.
“People started to demand more of their district, more from their teachers, and more from their children,” she said. “Together, the district transformed.”
After retiring from public education, Paternostro took a position with the Industrial Modernization Center in Montoursville, where he played a huge role in the Pennsylvania School-To-Work Initiative. The great success of that initiative that would become a model for youth apprenticeship across the country, led Paternostro to testify on its behalf in front of a U.S. Senate committee — a testimony which would later be featured in Smithsonian Magazine and replayed on ABC News.
In the early 2000s, Paternostro stayed involved with youth education by serving as director of the Children’s Advocacy Initiative for Lycoming County, earning him the Child Advocate Award in 2004.
Following his involvement in that initiative, he took up a position supervising student teachers at Bloomsburg University, and spent three years as a consultant for the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence, in Washington, D.C.
Paternostro spent six years, from 2005 to 2011, serving as one of Pennsylvania’s first Distinguished Educators, where he helped struggling school districts improve student achievement.
Along with his many years in education, Paternostro also served on the Lycoming County Heroin Drug Task Force, Lycoming County’s School Safety Committee on Homeland Security, the state Legislative Joint Commission Task Force on Children and was a former member of the Picture Rocks Volunteer Fire Department Fire Police.
According to Yaw, who has focused a lot of his own energy on the ever-growing drug problem in Pennsylvania, Paternostro was one of the first people in the area who noticed how big of an epidemic heroin was becoming.
“I remember that Tom was very instrumental in the Heroin Task Force in Lycoming County,” said Yaw. “He was a little clairvoyant to recognize that, unfortunately, we had a serious drug problem in Pennsylvania. That was just the kind of person he was.”
Fittingly, the stretch of highway now named in his honor was a piece of road that Paternostro, who died Sept. 8, 2014, played a big role in having upgraded for safety reasons, as he was a spokesman for a communitywide coalition seeking to get the road straightened out.
“It is unique that Tom was actually involved with this piece of highway, and getting it upgraded from what it used to be,” Everett said. “It is very fitting that his name be on it and that he be remembered for that, and all of the other great things he did in the community over the years.”