The first Board Of Education (BOE) meeting of the new year brought out more than 50 supporters for former Aldene School principal Charles Costanzo who came before the Board to ask why his name was removed from the Aldene School sign without notice.
“I was devastated,” Mr. Costanzo said during his petitioning of the Board, “With budgets and everything else happening in education that you would go out of your way to have my name removed from a sign that had been there.”
In 1969, Mr. Costanzo began his teaching career in Roselle Park and worked for the district for the next 34 years. He served 23 of those years as the Social Studies teacher and guidance counselor at the Middle School. The last 11 years of his career were as the principal of the Ernest J Finizio Jr. Aldene School. He retired in 2003.
“When I became principal of Aldene, I vowed to be the type of administrator who would foster a sense of pride in the school and reinforce the attributes of caring respect with every child in my building,” Mr. Costanzo stated, reflecting on his credo – Aldene: School With A Heart – which is still on the sign, although his name is not.
Mr. Costanzo spoke on his upbringing and how growing up having to struggle to get an education, which included coping with the death of his father just two (2) months after starting college, impacted his style of teaching which extended beyond the confines of a classroom. His serving the community by making sure families had clothing, food, and support from him and his staff were just some of the reasons parents paid to construct and dedicate a sign in his honor in 2003.
In October of 2010, without any notice from the BOE, Mr. Costanzo received phone calls from friends and residents asking why his name was removed from the sign. Unaware of the action, he contacted the school superintendent, Patrick Spagnoletti. He was notified that the BOE adopted a policy in 2007 stating that this type of sign could be erected but kept standing for just five (5) years.
“The removal of my name from the sign makes no sense to any of us seated here this evening,” Mr. Costanzo stated, “There are many dedications to former educators in this district which have been here forever. There are plaques, there are signs, there are parts of buildings, there’s a baseball field, and even an entire building. I would be hopeful that the Board does not remove any of these. However, I cannot understand why I was singled out and the Board saw fit to have my name removed.”
Mr. Constanzo stated the removal of his name without being notified made him feel as if all his 34 years of service meant absolutely nothing to the BOE. He asked how the time and manpower spent in arranging for the removal of his name benefited the students of Aldene or the people of Roselle Park.
His question was followed by 20 seconds of silence from the entire Board before Roseann Rinaldi, the Board President, responded, “To answer that question is difficult. It’s a simple following of the policy. A policy that is part of the procedure of Roselle Park.”
Mr. Constanzo, who himself had a copy of the policy, pointed out that nowhere in the policy does it state that this would effect signs prior to 2007. Mrs. Rinaldi stated that there was no explicit mention of a grandfather clause of such signs.
“Well, policy normally,” Mrs. Rinaldi said, “If it grandfathered the sign, it would have said that previous signs were grandfathered.”
Mr. Constanzo asked if that meant that, in the future, other signs and plaques and dedications will be coming down as well. He specifically asked about the names of Ernest J. Finizio Jr., Mr. Dragon, and Herm Shaw.
The response from Mrs. Rinadli was, “The policy specifically deals with signs on (BOE) property.”
This was met with comments and outbursts from the audience. When Mr. Costanzo asked if she personally felt if it was appropriate for his name to be taken down, Mrs. Rinaldi simply responded, “I’m simply saying that policy was followed.”
He went on to ask if anyone else could answer why it was necessary to remove his name and to not have been notified from the Board but from residents. After several seconds of silence, BOE member Loren Harms addressed the former principal, “We have a policy. We also hold all our students in our district to policies.”
When members of the audience loudly commented as to the relevance of his statement, Mr. Harms continued, “Okay, you want to say your little comments. If we had policies for our students and we hold them to our policies why wouldn’t we hold the policy? There’s two signs. The one at Aldene and the one at Robert Gordon. You’re not being picked on. You’re not being the only one. Mr. Banya’s name will be coming down next year according to the policy.”
Mr. Costanzo stated that if the sign went up after 2007 it would have made sense or if people knew in 2003 that the sign would only be up for five (5) years, that it would have been up to them to put it up or not but he felt that both he and Mr. Banya were singled out. When Mr. Costanzo spoke of his dedication and service to the school district, he was interrupted by a 36-second impromptu standing ovation from those in attendance.
Mr. Costanzo made a final appeal to the Board, “With all due respect to this Board, I ask that for the sake of myself, all of the students, parents and teachers, many of whom are here tonight who worked so hard together, that the Costanzo name be restored and the sign representing this very, very special school that I called ‘Aldene: The School With A Heart’, that it go back up and that it remain for many years.”
After another standing ovation Mr. Costanzo spoke of how he was touched by the support of the community, “I cannot tell you how much I thank and appreciate every single person seated behind me this evening who took the time to come here tonight to let their feelings be known. I want to thank everyone.”
(Part II will be out Monday)