FAIR LAWN, NJ – District Interim Superintendent Ernest Palestis thanked the Fair Lawn Board of Education for “two fabulous years” at a “top-notch school district” during his final board meeting on June 14.
“I didn’t know I was going to be here a second year. That was a pleasant surprise, but you guys are really terrific,” he said. “The whole mark of this Board of Education has been that it takes a while to discussion issues, but every single time with every single decision that we have made we made a decision that is best for students.”
During Palestis’s stint in the district, the community passed the $25 million referendum in March by 783 votes to expand Thomas Jefferson and Memorial Middle Schools to include the fifth grade to tackle safety concerns in those schools as well as the district’s six elementary schools that have been prompted by burgeoning enrollment in the last 10 years. A reported 500 new students are expected in the district in the next five years.
Another one of Palestis’s prided accomplishments under his leadership was the implementation of a nearly $400,000 mental health initiative in the elementary and middle schools with CarePlus NJ and Effective School Solutions, respectively, whose therapists provided 40 weeks of behavioral health care and helped 103 students suffering from mental health issues that were impeding on their academic performance. The partnership was deemed a success by both agencies one day after the Parkland Shooting. Following the success, the board budgeted over $600,000 this year to grow the program in middle and high school.
Before a standing ovation by a dozen residents at Thomas A. Edison School that evening, board members praised Palestis for his leadership. Trustee Jeff Klein thanked him for the “legacy” he leaves behind in the district and laying a “foundation” upon which the community will grow, while Former Board Member Joan Piela noted the “great deal of good” he did for the town and “involving the community.”
Looking forward, Palestis said the district has their work cut out for them.
“I’m so optimistic about the future of the Fair Lawn School District,” he said, adding the new incoming administrators Paul Gorski, past principal of the West Milford district, replacing James Marcella as Principal of Fair Lawn High School, and Palestis’ successor, Assistant Superintendent Nick Norcia.
“As a tribute to the board, the administrators, the teachers, the community… this is an ambitious school district that wants to move forward, that has never slowed down. It’s on the path of continuous improvement and I commend all of you for that…You have a great future ahead.”
Palestis said the action plan for the district’s five-year strategic plan will be completed in two weeks. Included in that plan, feedback for which was given by members of the community, educators and parents, are state-of-the-art STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) labs, a better school/social life balance, outdoor classroom experiences and moving students to address social issues.
Palestis also pointed to a resolution that the board approved that night about the sale of school bonds for the middle school expansion projection, which will be sold in September, according to Board Secretary Brooke Bartley.
Norcia said the board would discuss the possibility of phasing out the soft borders policy in September in preparation of the new middle schools, which are expected to open in the 2020-2021 school year.