In a recent meeting of the Saddle Brook School Board, the board and Superintendent Toni Violetti delved into discussions ranging from graduation data and school renovations to the introduction of innovative programs and addressing community concerns.
A focal point of the meeting was the presentation of the high school graduation data by Superintendent Violetti. The preliminary graduation rate for the class of 2023 was reported as 94.6%, a figure contested due to the inclusion of special education students and English language learners who stay in the system until 21. Violetti acknowledged the inaccuracies, stating, “This is wrong. And what you do is you do an appeal.” The appeal, pending approval, showed a promising increase from the previous year’s 91%.
The board also outlined the district’s strategic plan and the Board of Education goals, emphasizing social-emotional support, data-informed instructional programming, and the formation of a threat assessment team mandated by the governor. The goals also focused on increased visibility at events, more presentations by students and staff, and regular community updates on referendum projects and strategic initiatives.
Superintendent Violetti provided updates on completed referendum projects, including renovations at various schools and security upgrades. She emphasized, “Every single school right now has a vestibule area where the visitors do not need to enter the building.” The anticipation of completing the turf field in time for high school graduation and ongoing work with architects for the Coolidge School renovations were also highlighted.
The board detailed plans to move offices out of the middle/high school to create more classroom space and discussed renovations at Coolidge School, including creating a conference room in the basement. The relocation of directors to central office was also on the agenda, with the possibility of creating additional classroom space.
In a bid to retain students who might otherwise leave for schools like Bergen Tech, the board is exploring various ideas, including steam labs and aviation labs, and is in the early stages of implementing an after-school culinary program. The superintendent shared updates on a therapy dog program being piloted at Smith School, which has been well-received by students.
Community member Omar Rodriguez-Outenbruck raised several concerns during the public comment section, questioning the financial logic behind acquiring a 29-passenger bus for $97,670 and leasing a smaller 20-passenger bus for over $100,000. He also expressed concerns about the field’s drainage system and the use of Coolidge School for administrative offices instead of as a technology center for students. The board listened to the concerns but did not provide immediate responses to all the points raised.
Rodriguez voiced strong concerns about the school system, claiming it to be one of the worst in New Jersey. He criticized the leadership for resisting change and expressed frustration with the difficulty in obtaining information about employee salaries through an OPRA request. Rodriguez emphasized the need for transparency and efficiency, stating, “Public deserves respect.” He also highlighted local issues such as increased traffic and littering near Franklin School, suggesting the need for a crossing guard and addressing parking problems.
Board members addressed Rodriguez’s concerns, emphasizing that there had been no change with Coolidge School’s designation as office space and that the specific offices to be moved there were still under discussion. They defended the need for secretaries for the district to run efficiently and clarified the nature of OPRA requests. The board also discussed the transparency of salaries and the nature of longevity in contracts, defending its presence as a reward for years of service.
The meeting kicked off with student representatives Julia Corcoran and Olivia Lash sharing positive updates on the start of the school year across elementary schools and high school. Lash noted, “All three elementary schools had a great start to the school year,” setting a hopeful tone for the discussions to follow.
The meeting concluded with various school PTO updates, discussions on old business, and a motion to adjourn.