Joe Cantafio was nervous the morning of Friday, Dec. 18, when he saw Superintendent Dr. Mark J. Crawford and Deputy Superintendent Timothy Oldenburg standing in the doorway of his classroom at West Seneca West Senior High School.
Cantafio, who is the president of the West Seneca Teacher’s Association, was worried there was an issue at hand. To his surprise, he stepped out the door to find smiling faces, balloons and cupcakes.
“We are here because you are this year’s Educator of the Year,” said John Morrison, outgoing president of the West Seneca Chamber of Commerce.
A look of shock appeared on Cantafio’s face as he received praise from Morrison, Oldenburg, Crawford, as well as staff members and his nominator, Jay Brinker, principal of West Senior.
“The reason why I nominated Joe is because he always looks out for kids,” Brinker said. “His top priority is doing what is right for kids. He is also a defender, promoter, advocator and more for public education.”
“I’m honored and humbled,” Cantafio said, still in a state of shock that he won after being nominated for many years.
After some time to reflect, Cantafio said, “I am blessed to have and continue to work with so many tremendous people in our district and community. All of those people have made me a better person and teacher. I have always looked at teaching as an honor to work with the bright, hard-working and compassionate young men and women of West Seneca.”
He added, “I am especially thankful for the support and patience of my wife Karen and three sons. Also, my mother and father who gave me such a solid foundation and taught me the importance of service.”
Cantafio has been teaching at West Senior since 1994. He has taught global 1 and 2, participation in government, economics and sociology, and currently teaches U.S. history and SUPA (Syracuse University Project Advance) sociology 101. According to his website, Cantafio strives “to create a positive, supportive learning environment and educational experience for all students and pledge to respect each of his students as a unique person, not a test score.”
A lover of sports, Cantafio started coaching in West Seneca in 1990. He has coached wrestling (including the first modified team), lacrosse (the East/West combined varsity team and the head coach of the first West varsity team) and football (modified, junior varsity and varsity at East and West, including head coach of West varsity from 2005-14). Now that his triplet sons are at West Senior, he is a volunteer coach for football. He has also been the Varsity W Club advisor since 1999.
Outside of his work in the classroom, Cantafio has been an advocate for the district, standing up against Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. He helped create a rally held in February to push back against Cuomo’s attempts to use school funding as a bargaining chip for changes to teacher evaluations and other education reforms.
At the West Seneca Central School District Board of Education meeting held in December, Cantafio presented a “Resolution for Our Schools” to the board, demanding legislators support local control of education and fully fund their schools. The board approved the resolution 7-0 and the room gave Cantafio a round of applause and a standing ovation.
Cantafio will be honored at the 69th annual West Seneca Community Awards Dinner to be held Thursday, Feb. 11 at Kloc’s Grove, 1245 Seneca Creek Road, West Seneca. Fellow honorees include Business of the Year, Eileen’s Centerview Bakery; Citizen of the Year, Joan Lillis; Community Service Organization of the Year, Kids Escaping Drugs; and Chamber Member of the Year, Carmen’s Catering.