These brothers got law degrees and married teachers. Now both lead South Jersey school districts.
“Education is our family business,” says Stephen Cappello, the Cinnaminson schools chief.
Since they were youngsters, Gregory and Stephen Cappello have done lots of things together.
Their adult lives also took similar paths and today, the brothers are both school superintendents in South Jersey. Both are lawyers. Both married educators and had four children. They followed in the footsteps of their parents, both veteran educators, too.
“Education is our family business,” said Stephen, 42, the schools chief in Cinnaminson in Burlington County. “It’s very rewarding personally and for our family.”
The brothers grew up in Mount Laurel in a large extended family. They excelled at Lenape Regional High School in Medford where Gregory, the older brother, was an athlete and Stephen was a musician.
“We were always close,” said Gregory, superintendent of West Deptford schools in Gloucester County. “We were always up to something.”
They like to say that education was in their blood. Their parents met and fell in love while working at Parkside Elementary School in Camden in 1968. Fred Cappello was a principal and Cecile was a first-grade teacher; she died in 1999. Their maternal grandfather taught middle school for 20 years in Jersey City.
“Not everybody can do it. It’s a tough job,” said Fred Cappello, 80, of Margate.
After graduating from Rowan University with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1997, Gregory began his career as an English teacher at Vineland High School. Stephen, meanwhile, was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in education technology at the College of New Jersey.
The brothers took on another challenge when Stephen decided to apply to law school during his last year as an undergraduate and convinced Gregory to do the same. They were accepted at Rutgers Law School in Camden. They taught during the day and went to law school at night.
“Somehow, he talked me into going with him,” laughed Gregory. “We both liked it.”
To make extra money to support their young families, Stephen talked his brother into adding something else to their hectic lives: a part-time job at Target. Gregory said his brother never showed up for their graveyard shift.
“I’m still not happy with him about that,” laughed Gregory.
Stephen graduated from law school in 2005, and Gregory a year later. They practiced law on the side but said their hearts were not in it. Their law degrees would later come in handy when they became superintendents, helping their respective school boards with legal matters.
“It was not the same as working with kids,” said Gregory, 44.
So, the two focused on their education careers and obtained graduate education degrees. Stephen set his sights on becoming a superintendent, while Gregory aspired to be a vice principal. At one point, both worked at Shawnee High School in Medford teaching technology. Gregory also coached football, wrestling, and track there.
“They were the cool teachers in school,” said former student Andrew Sims, 31, a podcaster and consultant who resides in Las Vegas. “They were the really fun ones to hang out with.”
Sims, who produces a Harry Potter podcast called MuggleCast that he started while in high school, said Stephen Cappello encouraged him to pursue his dreams at a time when podcasts were considered nerdy by some.
“He really believed in me,” said Sims, who also runs a news analysis site, www.hypable.com. “He’s awesome.”
There are some differences between the brothers. Stephen jokes that he’s more handsome and funnier, but says his brother is more outgoing. Although both studied martial arts as children, Gregory stuck with it for 25 years and is a second-degree black belt. He teaches Brazilian jujitsu to adults and children at Ken Brach MMA in Voorhees.
Stephen was the first to become a superintendent, taking over the helm in 2017 in Cinnaminson, which enrolls nearly 2,700 students in K-12. He also had a stint as a principal at Yocum Elementary in Maple Shade.
In his second year as superintendent in West Deptford, Gregory oversees five schools with nearly 3,000 students. He previously was an assistant superintendent in Monroe Township schools and served as the principal and athletic director at Camden County Technical Schools. He maintains his status as an attorney, specializing in harassment and bullying issues in schools.
The brothers speak by phone every day, live near each other, and are raising their children together. With so many educators in the family, the brothers said they have plenty of resources for advice and lots to talk about at family gatherings.
Their circle of educators includes their father, now semiretired, whospent 50 years in the business, and his second wife, who works at Camden County College. Stephen’s wife, Dawn, is a former teacher turned guidance counselor. Gregory’s wife, a former teacher, works for the state Department of Education.
“They’re some fine young men. Definitely, they are chips off the old block,” said Fred’s former coworker Margo Venable, executive dean at Camden County College. “It’s not a job. It’s a real passion for them.”
Asked to pick a favorite son, Fred Cappello replied, “Neither of those two — my grandsons.”
“They’re great guys. I’m so proud of them,” he said. “They really do care about what they do.”