Board of Education Honors Its Educators and Celebrates Its Graduates


The Clifton Board of Education honored educators of the year from each of the district schools.

The Board of Education met on Thursday, June 22, in the Clifton High School auditorium with an unusually large crowd in attendance. It was a night to highlight and celebrate the very people who most closely work with the thousands of children who attend Clifton’s public schools.

Jessica Tremble, Supervisor of Counseling and Student Services, and Jennifer Bergmann, Supervisor of Counseling and Student Services for grades 9-12, presented awards to five district staff members who completed comprehensive training as instructors for the teen Mental Health First Aid program in March and April.

This important program taught the tenth graders how to “identify and understand and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health, substance use challenges, and crises among their friends and peers.”

The honored staff members included:

  • Angela Basanese, District Social Worker
  • Laura Byrnes, School Counselor
  • Sarah Lodato, School Counselor
  • Dena Guadalupe-Ray, School Counselor
  • Courtney Terry, Student Assistance Counselor (SAC)

Paula Raygoza, PBSIS District Coordinator, presented an award to School 11's PBSIS Showcase Staff of the Month Amanda Rhodes. Raygoza said that Rhodes has done many incredible things as she lead her team through the PBSIS framework at her school. “Her school has been chosen over and over to represent the PBSIS framework,” Raygoza said, “not just locally but also nationally.” Raygoza shared a video that highlighted some of the wonderful things her colleagues and students had to say about Rhodes.

President Jim Smith read a resolution to acknowledge and celebrate the Clifton Teachers and Educational Service Professionals selected as recipients of the 2022-2023 Governor’s Educator of the Year Award. “This is where we recognize our outstanding educators,” Dr. Robertozzi said. Each school throughout the state nominates, by committee, candidates for this honor. This year, Clifton has the great honor of celebrating 18 Teachers of the Year, one from each school, and 17 Educational Support Professionals:



Educational Service Professional


Kristin Gallagher

Lauren Cognetti


Joan Testa


Tara Sieradzki

Constance Firstmeyer


Lauren Kuebler

Angela Valeri


Talise Gaynor

Lisa Salvatoriello


Nicole Bais

Daniel Quinn


Maura Porter

Jennifer Fruit


Victoria Majerczak

Jessica Mueller


Amanda Rhodes

Theresa Gonci


Martha Andrea Orrok

Kimberly Green


Catia Guerra

Gihan Armanious


Nicole Sinko

Lorraine Dunich


Erin Saba

Theresa Gonci


Laura Sabagh

Eileen Parker


Melissa McCarron

Jennifer Zack-Kokora


James Giblin

Danielle Liebi


Kristy Wilson

Elise Dunbabin


Eftihia Kelso

Michael Carofine

Dr. Robertozzi spoke briefly about the important impact of paraprofessionals on their students’ lives. Paraprofessionals work alongside teachers to provide additional support for students in their classrooms. School #2’s Ana Martinez was named Clifton’s Paraprofessional of the Year.

The greatest honor Clifton gives, awarded by the Clifton Education Association, went to Mark Bigica, a Social Studies Teacher at WWMS. Bigica was named Clifton’s Educator of the Year for his outstanding commitment to education and to his students. “The amount of excellence in this auditorium right now is beyond measure,” Bigica said, as he thanked the Board, his colleagues, and everyone present for the honor.

President Smith next acknowledged the large group of students and their adult mentors who make up CAST, the club responsible for handling the audio/visual equipment and capturing meetings, concerts, and other recorded events for the community.

During Public Recognition the topic of possibly lowering the passing grade in Clifton from the current 70 to 65 came up with four different speakers; two who were opposed to the change and two who spoke in favor.

Donna Testa, a teacher from Clifton High School, asked, “Why are we poised to follow instead of lead,” referring to the comparison to neighboring towns, who already use the lower score. She said that some students take advantage of the existing rule that says no student can be given a grade lower than 50 in the first or second marking periods, which was intended to be a supportive measure. A “pervasive shift in student priorities” has pushed academic achievement lower and lower and she is concerned that Clifton is on the wrong path by capitulating to that.

John Lessler, another CHS teacher, also opposes the proposed lowering of the passing grade. He is concerned that by comparing our policies to neighboring districts, we are “looking down” instead of other schools looking up to Clifton. The survey that was distributed to CHS teachers, he said, was not even filled out by 30% of the staff, giving a false picture of what teachers want. “Great organizations continually challenge their people.”

Lori Lalama, the CEA president, supports the initiative to lower the passing grade to 65. She said that only a very small handful of districts in New Jersey use 70 as the cutoff score; most are at 65 or 60. Lalama talked about the importance of equity and clarified the distinction between that and equality. “Equality is we all have a pair of shoes. Equity is that you have the shoes that fit your feet.”

CHS president Ahmad Hamdeh said that 85% of his staff who responded to the survey, were in favor. “I make every decision through the lens of what’s best for our kids,” he said, and he clarified that he worked with administration, his staff, and other districts to come to this decision. The state of New Jersey does not mandate a passing grade but does mandate standards by which all students are measured. Wayne has a passing grade of just 60, as do some other Passaic County districts. He said that Clifton is the only district in the county with a passing score of 70. In order for Clifton students to have a fair shot, we need to level the playing field so that our students have the same opportunity as everyone else to be successful.

Commissioner Judy Bassford read the district’s resolution declaring June as Pride Month:

WHEREAS, it is the right of every child, regardless of gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation, to access a free public K-12 education and the District welcomes and supports all students; and

WHEREAS, the District recognizes that there are employees and educators of the highest caliber who are LGBTQ+ and that all employees are valued members of the school community regardless of their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation; and

WHEREAS, New Jersey law prohibits discrimination, including discrimination based on transgender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation; and

WHEREAS, the District is committed to maintaining safe, healthy and welcoming learning environments for all members of our community including the LGBTQ+ community or those who may be perceived as such; and

WHEREAS, LGBTQ+ youth who find their school to be affirming reported lower rates of suicidal thoughts; and

WHEREAS, the month of June is an opportunity to celebrate the identities and contributions of the LGBTQ+ community; and

WHEREAS, the first Gay Pride March was held in June 1969 to commemorate the Stonewall Riots; and

WHEREAS, the celebration of Pride Month is rooted in that history of resistance and struggle for equal rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution; and

WHEREAS, by recognizing Pride Month we affirm that supportive school environments substantially improve the mental health and school engagement of LGBTQ+ students; and

WHEREAS, by recognizing Pride Month, we support policies, practices, and curriculum that honor and respect LGBTQ+ students, staff, and families; and

WHEREAS, by recognizing Pride Month we reaffirm our commitment to a supportive environment that promotes trust, growth, and achievement for all students.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Clifton Public Schools Board of Education proclaims the month of June 2023 as “Pride Month.”

Commissioner Mark Brunciak read a resolution marking June as National Men’s Health Month:

WHEREAS, 2023 marks the 29th year of “National Men’s Health Month;” and

WHEREAS, this month serves to help educate men and their families about the importance of positive health attitudes and preventative health practices;

WHEREAS, despite advances in medical technology and research, men continue to live an average of more than 5 years less than women, and American Indian/Alaska Native and African-American men have the lowest life expectancy; and

WHEREAS, educating the public and health care providers about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and early detection of male health problems will result in reducing rates of mortality from disease; and

WHEREAS, men who are educated about the value of preventative health practices will be more likely to participate in health screenings; and

WHEREAS, New Jersey Men’s Health Month focuses on a broad range of men’s health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and prostate, testicular, and colon cancer; and

WHEREAS, by recognizing Men’s Health Month, the students, staff, and residents of the District are encouraged to increase the importance of a healthier lifestyle, regular exercise, and medical check-ups.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Clifton Public Schools Board of Education proclaims the month of June 2023 as “Men’s Health Month.”

Superintendent Robertozzi said that he anticipated graduating nearly 700 CHS seniors on the field on Friday at 3 pm. If it rains, that would not disrupt these plans. If there’s lightning or any other potentially dangerous weather, the time might be changed to work around the weather. On Friday morning the district announced that commencement would proceed as scheduled.

Comm. Bassford reported that a Dress Code Policy Committee is being formed, including various stakeholders from the community, to address the existing dress code policies and discuss possible recommendations for updates. The Board of Education has the ultimate authority to make changes to this and other policies.

During commissioner comments, a common theme revolved around congratulating the many educators who were honored at the meeting and the 2023 senior class who will be graduating on Friday, June 23 at 3 pm. Many comments included recognition of the different next steps for the graduates - college, military, trade schools, and careers. Commissioner Mark Brunciak said that, no matter what path the graduates take, “Our world will change as a result of your contributions.” Comm. Bassford reminded everyone to “remember your roots” and advised that students remember the lessons learned from CASA and to “call an Uber” if needed.

To the Class of 2023 and their families, congratulations, and have a happy graduation day!

You can watch the full meeting HERE.

The next meeting will be on Thursday, July 27th at 7 pm at the Board of Education building at 745 Clifton Avenue. Parking is in the back (with an additional small lot on the side), and that is also where you will enter the building. Go through the back doors and downstairs. The meeting room is down the hall a short way and on the left.


All photos were screen-captured and credited to CAST of the Clifton Public Schools District

I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified