Some Background and Stories On Our New Schools Superintendent, Robert Bolandi

Starting on Wednesday, there’s a new Sheriff in town. Robert Bolandi will be serving as the interim Superintendent, and replacing Penny MacCormack. A retired superintendent, Bolandi has served as interim superintendent in the Bedminster, Kearny, and Edison Township school districts. We decided to pull together some stories from his previous gigs to help get a sense of what he might bring to town. This was mostly for our own interest, but we figured we’d share it.

Bolandi became interim superintendent for Edison Township during a time when the district lost its state aid and the Township Council ordered further cuts, resulting in many staff reductions.

“My first job is to reach out to your association leadership [the Edison Township Education Association] and have an open dialogue. I want to revisit the issue and see what we can come up with,” he said. “I want to also find out what happened regarding the paraprofessionals. I don’t know what happened, but I know that they are key players in the classroom.”

Bolandi said he does not know what he will be able to accomplish yet, but vowed that he would try to resolve the issues.

“I am not a miracle worker, but I will work and talk to your business administrator and get to a bottom line. The last thing I like to see is people out of work. If I do not succeed, I will at least tell you why, and I promise you that because you all deserve that explanation.”

The Edison Board of Education had to later decide whether to restore its 137 paraprofessionals and teacher aides or privatize their services. Bolandi said he was not a “big proponent” of privatization and said the board would likely “try to work around it.” As the August 2010 deadline approached, the BOE and Edison Township Education Association reached an agreement that would restore a majority of the teaching positions. Bolandi said: “A lot of hours were spent. We hunkered down and we did what we had to do.”

With the cuts on everyone’s minds still, Bolandi said there would be bumps in the road but was assured that the district would be back on track:

“Nothing is going to be usual in these next couple of months,” said interim Schools Superintendent Ronald Bolandi . “There are going to be bumps in the road. The only thing usual is going to be the staff [that was here] coming back and working.”

Despite the cuts and changes, which include a new interim director of curriculum, Bolandi said the start of the school year was well planned, partly through regular meetings with the school principals.

“We are prepared and fully staffed,” he said. “We are working well together. … The principals and teachers are making the best out of a bad situation. It is best that the drama goes away so we can move our district forward. When drama is created, it does affect the kids.”

While interim superintendent at Kearny, Bolandi dealt with low test scores.

Kearny students last year posted weak scores on the math and language arts portions of the NJ ASK standardized test, prompting local educators to call for a more focused approach to teaching in those subjects.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Ronald Bolandi said that while the state recommends schools have no more than 30 percent of students classified as “low growth” over two years on the test, most Kearny schools exceed that percentage.

Roosevelt School faired the best among the test results presented by Bolandi at a school budget hearing last week, beating the state standard in fourth and sixth grades, but still falling short in fifth grade, where 33.8 percent of students were classified as low growth in language arts and 64.6 percent in math.

Student performance across the board improved in the district’s four grade seven and eight schools, with Lincoln School exceeding the state standard in seventh grade language arts and math and Schuyler School exceeding the standards in both subject areas among eighth graders.

“The state says we should be below 30 percent low growth,” said Bolandi. “We can’t ignore this. We can’t let it go away, because if it goes away Kearny kids will do poorly. We need to support our teachers and not get into blaming. I could care less about politics in Kearny . . . There are kids attached to those scores.”

To improve the districts scores, Bolandi recommended workshops to examine the best practices going forward.

Next year, the district plans to launch a new math series in grades kindergarten through five, and Bolandi said administrators and teachers will begin to explore options for improving the language arts curriculum.

Bolandi has also proposed a series of district in-service workshops to examine what he called best practices in education around the state. “I believe in solutions, not blame, so I’m not here today to say who didn’t do what,” he said, adding that he plans to host an information night for the community to review the test data.

“We have to own the data and move forward. We have to change the way we do instruction here . . . Our staff is ready to go, they really are. As a board, as a community and as administrators, we need to provide our staff with the tools to make it better.”

From our perspective, Bolandi has served as interim superintendent during difficult times. As he recently told the Montclair Times, he intends to remain objective, keeping an open dialogue—one that is desperately here needed in Montclair.

“I am objective, I don’t represent any group. My job has been to change the dialogue wherever I have worked,” Bolandi said. “Montclair has always been a great school system. My job is to get these adult groups to stop bickering and focus on the kids.”

It looks like Bolandi might be just the no-nonsense kind of guy we need heading our schools right now. In particular, we hear from friends that he’s not the sort of person who will stand by when lies and misinformation are spouted during board meetings, and given the amount of misinformation we’ve seen in the last year – especially from the MCAS / MEA crowd – we’re hoping that’s true, because it would be a welcome change.

“My job is very simple. It’s to work with the people at the dais, work with you to bring us together, no matter what our thoughts are, no matter what our opinions are,” said Bolandi during the meeting. “I’m here to help you to get back to the dialogue of student achievement and what’s good for students and staff.”

As Bolandi has said in the past, he believes in solutions and not engaging in the blame game. Let’s hope he’s able to get some work done before he becomes the subject of the same sort of attacks that slandered our previous administration.

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