A Secaucus Board of Education trustee told Hudson County View that the actions to potentially fire former High School Principal Dr. Robert Berckes is contributing to a “negative work environment” in the district after yesterday’s meeting.
At the June meeting, the board voted to approve the transfer of Berckes as principal of Secaucus High School to the same position at Clarendon Elementary School.
As it turns out, the board had already decided in June that it would be bringing tenure charges to fire Berckes but couldn’t reveal that decision publicly, BOE Trustee Sharon Dellafave said at yesterday’s meeting.
We interviewed BOE Trustee Louis Giele about his reaction to the sudden change in decision from appointing Berckes to an elementary school to possibly firing him.
“I just haven’t been in favor of the entire process. I think that if there were things that were done improperly the crime doesn’t meet the punishment, and I’m not saying that he did do anything wrong, ” Giele began.
“But I think this has been a long drawn-out process, and basically it has hurt the district and affected the students, the staff, the board of education and the parents. We have a great deal of instability right now, nobody knows where this is heading and how it’s going to end.”
Back in April, Berckes and an assistant principal were suspended after an incident in which a student was found with a small amount of marijuana and a pocket knife.
Berckes told the board back in May that he and Montesano agreed to a five-day suspension over how Berckes handled the situation – flushing the marijuana down the toilet. But the following day, according to a story by The Jersey Journal, Montesano was upset over the handling and indefinitely suspended Berckes.
We also asked Giele what did he believes happened between the time Montesano and Berckes agreed to a five-day suspension to Berckes’s outright suspension.
“You know just as much as I do. I think what we have here is a situation where there’s been a lot of information not shared, in some cases. Then there’s also been some information that is … I don’t know whether everything that should come out is coming out,” Giele said.
Due to the ongoing dispute between Berckes and the board of education, Giele said he is concerned about the impact upon the staff who may be feeling that if Berckes can be fired, anyone else can too.
“I truly believe that the negativity that’s being created by this situation is going to have a prolonged effect on our faculty and administrators. There’s no way that it can’t,” Giele began.
“Dr. Berckes was a well-respected administrator, and I personally worked with him when I was in the district. When you take a person like that and drag him through everything that he has been through, it doesn’t bode well for everybody else’s belief that they are going to have a good, strong, long career here when this type situation goes on.”
“I’m concerned that the people who are going to work in this district are going to be a little uneasy about their possible future knowing that are we going to create, I’m hoping that we don’t create a negative work environment by doing this.”
Secaucus Superintendent of Schools Jennifer Montesano declined to comment, stating that she “wasn’t allowed ethically” to discuss the matter.