Robertozzi Signs on for Another Five Years in Clifton


photo credit: Alias Ragsdale

Thursday’s Board of Education meeting started with some reassuring news for the district, as the Board approved an Amended Superintendent's Employment Agreement for 2023-2028. This agreement extends Dr. Danny Robertozzi’s contract for another five years, until June 30, 2028. Several speakers from the community addressed the Board before the vote, offering words of praise and gratitude for the work he has already done in the district. In addition to getting Clifton schools through the uncertain and tumultuous years of the Covid-19 pandemic, Robertozzi led the district through a successful bond referendum to update all of the district’s schools and facilities. At the time of the vote, the $168 million referendum was the largest ever to pass in New Jersey.

Paula Raygoza, the PBSIS District Coordinator, had more positivity to bring. She presented certificates to the PBSIS showcase students of the month, Renzo N. Amati and Jaymisson Molina Salaza. Routines established during the school year are carried over to the summer program, she said, and these two students’ exemplary behaviors and positive attitudes demonstrate the power of kindness and camaraderie as they serve as shining examples of the values taught through the PBSIS program.

Janina Kusielewicz gave a state-mandated presentation on the NJGPA assessments. The NJGPA assessment is used to indicate which students are graduation ready and which are still developing those skills, based on recently adopted cut scores. For the Classes of 2024 and 2025, these cut scores will be used to determine if a student has met the state’s requirements for graduation. If they do not, there are alternate routes to graduation.

The graphs Kusielewicz shared clearly showed a large discrepancy in readiness between students who are English Language Learners (ELL) or students with a disability, and the general student population. The district’s ELL population has grown considerably in the last year, increasing from 653 students in 2022 to over 1,000 a year later. The district is taking action to bring those students up to grade level. Reading intervention and online support programs are available for ELL students and those whose formal education has been interrupted at some point. Some students, Kusielewicz said, were not receiving any schooling in their home country and had quite a bit of catching up to do.

Superintendent’s Report

Dr. Robertozzi offered his heartfelt thanks for having his contract renewed for another five years. That stability and consistency at the top allows the district to grow and for initiatives to be seen through, he said. “I will do my best every day and do whatever it takes to not let you down.”

Robertozzi then introduced, with obvious excitement, the school district’s first-ever therapy dog, Chewie. Chewie, who is learning the ropes with Assistant Superintendent Mark Gengaro, wore a tie to the meeting and seemed happy to meet everyone as he quietly thumped his tail on the floor. This furry addition to Clifton Public Schools will be featured in an upcoming story on The Clifton Times where we will learn much more about him.

“Progress doesn’t look pretty sometimes,” Robertozzi said, as he gave a brief update on the various referendum projects. The new HVAC systems are creating a need for upgraded electric lines and transformers but PSE&G is having supply chain issues, which is out of the district’s control. This has stalled some of the biggest projects, which need electricity to operate.

President Jim Smith asked for the public’s help in getting the electricity completed. The new field at WWMS and the soon-to-be-finished weight room are unusable without power, so if anyone has connections to PSE&G, please help if you can.

The Clifton Board of Education accepted the recommendation of the Superintendent of Schools to accept the application of funds from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The total grant amount of Basic funds is $3,190,587 and the Preschool funds total $104,002 to support out-of-district private school tuition and special education-related expenses.

The school district is obligated by law to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to every child with a disability living in Clifton. This is one of the important ways public education differs from private, where certain students can be refused admission or asked to leave. For students with disabilities whose needs cannot be adequately addressed in Clifton schools, the district may have to pay tuition and transportation costs for out-of-district placements. These specialized placements are approved by the state and each student’s enrollment is decided on a case-by-case basis. Out-of-district tuition costs currently total more than six million dollars with several students’ costs not yet calculated.

During commissioners’ comments, the board members took the opportunity to praise Dr. Robertozzi for his leadership. “This district is lucky to have him,” said Fahim Abedrabbo. “You’re a great CEO of the district.”

Judy Bassford talked about her many years of involvement with the Board of Education, starting when her adult children were very young. She spoke about the process of hiring a new superintendent and finding Dr. Robertozzi. “We made the best decision,” she said, as she thanked her colleagues for bringing and keeping him on board.

“Not only are you a great communicator; even more important, you’re a great listener,” said Alan Paris. He said that he hoped the district would have Robertozzi for “a lot longer than five years.”

President Jim Smith spoke at length about the many contributions Robertozzi has made to Clifton Public Schools and how lucky the district is to have him. He also addressed the support Robertozzi has managed to garner from the community and how important that involvement is. “His slogan of One Clifton truly resonates in this town today,” he said.

Following the uncharacteristically celebratory meeting, the Board went into Executive Session for further behind-closed-doors discussion.

You can watch the video of this meeting HERE.

The next Board of Education meeting will be on Thursday, August 24th at 7 pm. The meeting will be held in the BOE building at 745 Clifton Avenue. Parking and the entrance are both in the rear of the building.

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