Sanger's appointment was seen by many in Union City as a purely political move on ally Brian Stack's part.
But in the month since Sanger officially took over as superintendent, it has become evident that Sanger's style is different than his predecessor's.
A major sign of reform within the Board of Education was a retreat held on August 27 and 28, 2003 at the Trinity Conference Center in West Cornwall, Conn.
According to a press release, the retreat "featured keynote speakers, breakout sessions and various workshops geared towards promoting staff motivation and effective communication, as well as effective leadership techniques and strategies."
But according to Sanger in a recent Board of Education interview, the retreat really had one main aim.
"It was really a way to get people to speak their minds and to get to know each other," he said.
Continued Sanger, "It was the first time, to my knowledge, that we were able to do something like this. We were able to bring together 85 to 90 school administrators and have them spend time together and really get to know each other."
In what came to be affectionately known as "Camp Sanger," Union City administrators mingled, commiserated, and discussed the many issues that are facing the new administration.
The retreat was also an opportunity for Sanger to introduce himself to the slew of new faces at the Board of Education. Sanger and his various assistant superintendents addressed the staff and presented their goals and ideas pertaining to the district's educational plan.
"What I wanted out of this," said Sanger, "were two main goals: one, that the staff left this retreat thinking that it was a worthwhile endeavor, and secondly, that they knew they can address issues that may happen at other schools. When you have a district as big as ours with as many schools as we have, you need this. You need to have open communication."
Union City has been lauded recently for its handling of and adherence to the directives of the Abbott decision. This decision was named after a Camden student who, together with the Education Law Center, sued the State of New Jersey in 1981. The suit claimed that students from poorer districts were being cheated by the way the state paid for public schools. After the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in their favor, guidelines were implemented that radically changed how schools worked and spent in poorer districts.
Union City schools are seen as models of how money should be spent on education. And this, Sanger was quick to point out, is in due in no small part to the previous administrations' efforts.
"I think our styles are different; that's really what it's all about," Sanger said. "Mr. Highton did a wonderful job and served Union City's schools well, but I think now with the demands of the 'No Child Left Behind' act and the age of increased accountability we find ourselves in, it really calls for an administration that has an open-door policy. Open communication is very important. Education is so complex these days."
Clearly, Sanger is trying to distance himself from his predecessor, yet remain magnanimous.
As far as the nuts and bolts of the retreat were concerned, Sanger said, "There really wasn't an 'agenda,' per se. It was people sharing ideas and getting to know each other. We wanted the staff to know, right off the bat, where the administration is coming from. We wanted to set up a vision for the administration."
Continued Sanger, "The goal here is to hopefully have these relationships lead to positive results which will eventually lead to student success."
According to Sanger, some of the administrators and staff grumbled a bit when the date for the retreat was announced - the last week before the beginning of the school year. But, Sanger claimed there was a method to his madness.
"I thought it was important to have it when we had it - a week before school," explained Sanger. "At first people complained but I wanted to reduce the stress that everyone was feeling at that time. And I have heard nothing but good things from people that attended the retreat. Some people were skeptical at first, admittedly."
Added Sanger, "I really want to take Union City schools to another level of successful urban education. We want to make ongoing improvements. One thing I'll never do is rest on my laurels."
According to Emerson High School Math and Science Supervisor Ron Sirianni, the effects of the retreat were overwhelmingly positive. Said Sirianni last week, "This was the first time this was done, and it was a very unique approach. It was held away from the city, which I thought was important. It really took the pressure off. We all know each other basically, but we usually come together at formal meetings in the city. This was a nice diversion. I think it brought us closer to our goals."
Added Sirianni, "We're all on the same page, which is really important with the new administration coming in."
Union Hill High School Principal David Wilcommes, interviewed last week, said, "The new administration will have different ways of doing things, sure, but they're all rock-solid people."