Part I - Board of Education Meeting: Two Principals Announce Retirement

Credits: Chris Harewood
Credits: Chris Harewood

WEST ORANGE, NJ - Emotions were high as longtime Redwood and Mt. Pleasant Principals bid farewell at yesterday’s West Orange Board of Education meeting.

Mt. Pleasant Principal Michael Schiavo and Redwood Principal Barbara Kivlon announced that this would be their final year serving and that they would be retiring at the end of the 2014-2015 school semester. Both gave farewell speeches to a crowd packed with other principals, teachers, students and parents.

Schiavo, who started his career as an assistant at Roosevelt Middle School before becoming principal of Mt. Pleasant, was the honored first. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Education Dr. Donna Rando praised his dedication to the children, using active learning and technology to educate. Kivlon noted how they both started their careers as principals together, would be retiring together, and had many great years working together. Others lauded Schiavo’s “legendary passion” and meticulous focus on doing his best to make sure the children are taken care of.

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“If I can be just half the principal he is, I know my career will be just as successful,” said Edison school Principal Xavier Fitzgerald who thanked Schiavo for his mentorship. 

“It’ll be very hard to fill your shoes,” said Board member Sandra Mordecai. “Every time you’re around—you can just see the passion in you.” 

“It’s been a privilege to know you all these years,” said Board member Michelle Casalino. 

“I’m proud to have my kids attend Mt. Pleasant,” Board member Mark Robertson said. “You always raised the bar. You always tried to make things better and improve things.”

Schiavo was gracious in his speech. “Being on stage a lot and performing, I’m usually not at a loss for words and brevity isn’t one of my strong points,” he said, noting his musical background. 

When explaining his reasoning for retirement, Schiavo rejected the idea of a lack of passion playing a factor.

“This decision is one of the hardest I’ve made in my life,” he said. “I still feel enthused, dedicated, energetic and at the top of my game. You come to a point in your life when you’re healthy enough.” 

Schiavo mentioned those who wait too long to retire and “never had that enjoyment—never had that ability to travel, open new doors, and go on new adventures.”

Schiavo admitted that having served in an education role for 42 years—it will take a while to adjust to a life of retirement. 

“We’ll probably write some agendas we’ll never use,” he joked. He also said that he would not be leaving West Orange and will always be with the students. 

“It’s not the end of the road, but a new beginning.” 

Kivlon was honored next. Kivlon first served as a teacher before becoming a staff developer, and finally principal of Redwood Elementary School 13 years ago.

Michelle Cassalino, who worked closely with Kivlon over the years as a PTA parent, commended how well she handled Redwood’s attendance increasing from 400 to 600 students during her time there, which included Cassalino’s son. 

“My son has such beautiful memories that he cherishes to this day,” she said while holding back tears.

Redwood teachers said they were thankful for her guidance and assured her that they’d uphold the high standard she set during her time. 

Schiavo commented that Kivlon is “such a compassionate and true lady,” and said he was glad he was able to work with her through the years.

Board member Laura Lab marveled on how Kivlon not only navigated an increase in students, but also oversaw two major construction projects. 

“Somehow, you held it all together,” she said.

In her farewell speech, Kivlon focused on how she took advantage of the opportunities given to her, and how she aimed to give kids values that they would carry onward. 

“At Redwood, we always talk about being fine models for our students and tell them that the way we treat others is how they will remember us,” Kivlon said. To embody this, she said she came up with the theme of ‘HEART,’ which stands for Help, Encourage, Affirm, Respect, and Tolerance. 

When discussing her retirement, Kivlon said she was grateful for the time she had on the job. 

“It’s been 13 lucky years,” she said. “I thought this was a good time to move forward with the students I had as kindergarteners in my first year as Principal now being senior graduates.”

Kivlon, who worked in the West Orange school system for 36 years said, “I’m thankful to have had the opportunities and seized them.” She said she was also thankful for the Board of Education, her Vice Principal, and her teachers, who she said worked as her assistants helping her manage a busy school. Lastly, she said that she was most proud of her students, PTA, faculty and family.

Many parents and co-workers were choked up when expressing their appreciation for both retiring principals.

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