Both districts will welcome new superintendents, with Robert Dandorph taking over the task of running the North Bergen school district, replacing the retired Peter Fischbach, and Tom Roberts becoming the new head of the Guttenberg district, replacing the retired Robert Tholen.
In the case of Dandorph, it's a familiar face with a 40-year history in the North Bergen schools. For the last 28 years, Dandorph served as an elementary school principal, the last 18 at Kennedy School. Dandorph is a North Bergen native and a product of the North Bergen school system. His elevation to the top role was long anticipated once Fischbach finally decided to step down.
While Roberts may be an outsider to some, he also has local roots. Roberts was raised in neighboring West New York, attended elementary school there and was a graduate of St. Joseph of the Palisades High School.
Roberts also began his teaching career at Memorial High School in 1962, before moving on to a career as an administrator. Roberts was formerly the principal at both Ridgefield and Dumont High Schools and served as the superintendent of schools in the Dumont district in Bergen County from 1987 through 2000.
At that time, Roberts retired, concentrating on a role as a part-time teacher and consultant.
But last year, Roberts got the bug to get involved again. When Tholen decided to retire, Roberts answered Guttenberg's call.
"It's a challenging position for a lot of reasons," Roberts said. "It's an urban school with a needy population. The students are basically bilingual all the way through. There are special needs students. I've never really been in an urban setting before, so that intrigues me. I know that they have a lot of good things already in place. I've met a lot of the people already and that has really re-energized me. I know we can make Klein School a top-flight school."
Anna L. Klein School is Guttenberg's lone elementary school, with a little less than 1,000 students. The students of high school age in Guttenberg attend North Bergen High School.
For the last 18 months, predecessor Tholen handled a dual role as superintendent and principal of Klein School, but Roberts will solely handle the superintendent's duties. Long-time vice-principal Pedro Garrido will serve as Klein's new principal.
"I had other opportunities to be an interim superintendent with some good districts," Roberts said. "But I came here, looked at the situation, and realized that this is a great new challenge for me. I turned down the other opportunities to come to Guttenberg, because I knew this was a chance for me to be involved."
Roberts knows he's walking into a school that is extremely overcrowded. It's perhaps the biggest obstacle he faces as he takes over.
"There's no room in the school to hang up a broom," Roberts said. "We had to make some changes with the facility. Sometimes, a new set of eyes can look at things differently. I had faith and confidence to initiate some change. I have 30 years of administrative experience, so I know what I'm doing. I can look at things from a different perspective."
As in Guttenberg, the North Bergen students will have full-day sessions beginning Wednesday, even with the Early Childhood Pre-Kindergarten classes.
Dandorph is eager to slide into his new position.
"So far, so good," Dandorph said. "I think we're right on target. I can't begin to tell you how exciting it is. I always believed that fall, rather than spring, is a season for renewal, and this is clearly an example of that."
Dandorph said that 90 percent of the school district's curriculum has already been aligned with the new core curriculum standards established by the state Department of Education.
He also said that there will be an expanded emphasis on technology this year, with 200 new computers having been installed in the district's high school and eight elementary schools.
"We've also hired three new full-time staff members to work with the computers, which is a first for us," Dandorph said. "We're working continually to integrate technology into the curriculum. By the end of the next three years, we hope to have 600 new computers in our classrooms, and double the amount of computer teachers as well. It's become a fundamental necessity in today's times."
Part of the technology implemented this year will help teachers get instant results on how their students are preparing for the state-mandated achievement tests.
Languages in the elementary schools
Dandorph said that the North Bergen elementary schools will feature a new world language curriculum this fall, with students from first through eighth grades learning a foreign language.
"We've also purchased all new language arts textbooks as well," Dandorph said. "We're trying to build a staff development program that reinforces what's being taught and maintains excellence." Dandorph said that he has a simple motto as he takes over the reins as superintendent.
"It's all about the kids," Dandorph said. "It's as simple as that. I really am excited. I love the job already and I think we're going to have a phenomenal year."
With the hiring of Dandorph as superintendent, it left two vacancies as principals in the elementary schools. Mike Guasconi, who has been the vice-principal at Horace Mann School for the last decade, has been tabbed to replace Dandorph at Kennedy School. Arlene McGowan, a long-time vice-principal at Robert Fulton, has been named as the permanent principal at Lincoln School.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org