Interim superintendent bids farewell

| 27 Jun 2012 | 03:04

WEST MILFORD — Interim Superintendent John Petrelli attended his final Board of Education meeting in West Milford Tuesday night. Petrelli took the position nearly two years ago upon the resignation of former Superintendent of Schools Bernice Colefield. With a new business administrator, Barbara Francisco, replacing Steve Cea, the district's former business administrator who served for 14 years, the West Milford School District looked to Petrelli as interim superintendent to provide guidance from his experience as they continued their search for a permanent superintendent.

West Milford Board of Education President Dave Richards said that when he began on the board, they had a difficult start with the resignations of Cea and Colefield. Richards said Petrelli “brought something to the board that we were lacking: leadership. He had a drive.” Richards said. “This man here worked every day. I never saw a man work so hard.” Richards said Petrelli “made people accountable to the district.”

Petrelli, together with top district administrators Francisco, Director of Education Iris Wechling, and Director of Special Services Howard Heller, was credited for the passing of the first school budget in many years and then another in succession, a rare occurrence in the township as well as in the state of New Jersey in the face of a difficult economic atmosphere.

Richards said Petrelli’s leadership has made possible the full day kindergarten program that will be implemented in September, as well as the wireless network that is currently being installed.

“It’s important to know that this man had always the best interest of the district, the kids, the staff and the Board,” said Richards. “I’m really sorry to see you go.”

Richards then presented Petrelli with a plaque thanking him for his service.

Petrelli said he previously talked about applying for the position eight years ago and not getting it, but later got a second chance and “sometimes a second chance is better than a first.”

“I came here with the expectation of doing the right thing, but I can say I was only able to do that because of the people that were around me," said Petrelli. "The board, the central office administration, the staff, and even the (West Milford Education) association, we worked together as a team and that’s how we made it work.”

Petrelli thanked everyone for their support and said he truly wished he could stay, but said it’s time for him to move on. As a retired superintendent, he may only serve as an interim for up to two years.

“The future is so bright for you right now, that it’s probably never been brighter before, and now is the real opportunity to take advantage of it," he told the board. "And who will benefit from this? The 4,000 students that reside in this town.”

According to Richards, Petrelli isn't retiring. Instead, he is moving on to a different school district to serve as interim there.

Petrelli was given a standing ovation by the board trustees and members of the public in attendance, with the exception of Trustee Jim Foody who remained seated. Foody and Petrelli were at odds throughout their tenure together.

James McLaughlin, former assistant superintendent of the Cranford School District, officially takes the helm as superintendent of West Milford schools on July 1.