BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- Thursday night, Dec. 4, was the last meeting of the year for the Board of Education and the chance to say good bye to two board members, Robert Cianciulli and Denis Smalley.
Members of the Columbia Middle School Orchestra Jenny Zhu, Allyson Wang, Ayush Kayal, and Bryan Ly played during the reception and meeting. Family members, scores of friends, neighbors and educators filled the multipurpose room to honor the departing members for their service and to celebrate their contributions to the school board.
Board President Doug Reinstein read resolutions from the board for each of the two men and described each man’s assignments on the board before presenting them with the framed resolution.
Cianciulli told the audience a bit about three people who work with the school board, Board Secretary and Business Administrator Donna Felezolla, Assistant Superintendent Scott McKinney and Superintendent Melissa Varley.
He described Felezolla as someone who worked hard and, after speaking with her, is one of those people “who you remember how you felt when you left.”
McKinney “seems to know the answer to questions before we ask,” especially those questions that come out of nowhere. “He does that really well.”
As for Dr. Varley, “She is whip smart and has an amazing spark that will come in handy,” in the years to come, he said, adding “We’re in good hands” with her at the helm.
Cianciullli said he enjoyed his tenure on the board and “learned something every minute … I got back more than I contributed.” He served one term on the board, narrowly losing his bid to return to the board in a crowded field this November. Before leaving the microphone and returning to the table, he announced he would be running for the board again in 2020.
Honoring Smalley for his 15 years on the board were Reinstein and three other people -- Smalley’s son Justin, former Superintendent of Schools Judith Rattner, and fellow board member Dr. Gerard Crisonino. Each shared stories -- including Rattner’s and Crisonino’s pre-Berkeley Heights association with Smalley -- all three grew up in Hudson County. They also shared memories of his volunteer work with the Boy Scouts of America, the recreation program, his many years giving play-by-play coverage of basketball games and the many contributions he made to the school district while serving as chairman of the Facilities Committee -- the Governor Livingston High School Auditorium, the turf athletic field at GLHS, solar panels at schools, contributions to creating the budget and always asking the one question at budget time. “What are our insurance rates?”
Smalley thanked everyone for their kind words, then said he would take “a few minutes to bid you all ‘farewell’ from this lovely multipurpose room I’ve sat in or the past 15 years on this wonderful comfortable metal chair you are all sitting on as well.”
He said he has “congratulated over 1,500 graduates,” during his tenure on his board, will miss serving on the board and is “thrilled that Angela Penna and Michael D’Aquila have joined the board.”
Check out the video to find out what his main regret is -- hint, it has something to do with temporary rather than permanent outdoor lights.
“I think we should be proud, there is something unique about Berkeley Heights, I think it has a lot to do with the culture of our staff.” He called the teachers, administrators and parents “true professionals. They go way beyond the call of duty and look to do what is best for students.”
Throughout his 15 years on the board, Smalley said, “most of the people have come to the table open-minded, willing to listen, share their perspective, and seeking to do what is best for our kids.” He praised the board members and the district’s past and current superintendents for showing “passion" for the district, the students, and the mission.
One of Smalley’s monthly tasks throughout his tenure on the board was to review the bills and approve them for payment. He expressed his appreciation for the work of the business office, then looked over at Felllezola and said when it was time to do the October bills “in my 15 years it was probably the most bills I’ve ever reviewed and approved. It took me over three hours to go through them. I think Alicia, Kathy, and Donna set me up for my last hurrah! I’m telling you, it was huge.” The laughter from the board and audience was equally huge.
When Smalley finished his remarks, board members and the audience gave him a standing ovation. A reception with crumb cake, cookies and brownies wrapped up the festivities, then it was back to business as usual, as the board wrapped up its official work for 2019.
The next meeting of the board will be Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. at Columbia Middle School, in the Multi Purpose Room. This will be the organization meeting and two new members of the board, Angela Penna and Michael D’Aquila will be sworn in to the board along with long time Board Member Helen Kirsch.