Bloomfield’s Public School District employs 1,300 staff to serve more than 6,100 students at Bloomfield’s eight elementary schools and middle and high schools.
Approximately 1 in 9 Bloomfield residents are 5 to 18+ with most enrolled in the public school district’s pre-K to grade 12 programs. Nearly half of local property taxes are dedicated to supporting education for children and young adults living in the district. Thousands of voters elect new school board members every year.
But the more we talked to residents about the schools, the more we heard questions about the basics – who’s in charge? How do things work? How are decisions made?
So Bloomfield Info took those questions to the school district to get answers for students, parents, and community members about how the school district functions from the perspectives of some of its administrators.
First, we spoke to Bloomfield Superintendent of Schools Salvatore Goncalves and Assistant Superintendent Joseph Fleres, both responsible for implementing policy and curriculums across the school district. The interview below is lightly edited for clarity.
Who are Bloomfield schools’ superintendent and assistant superintendent?
Superintendent Salvatore Goncalves has worked in the Bloomfield School District for 47 years beginning as a teacher at Watsessing Elementary School and the former North and South middle schools before they were combined into the district’s current middle school. He became principal of Berkeley Elementary School and then Bloomfield Middle School before becoming director of personnel, and finally superintendent in 2013.
Assistant Superintendent Joseph Fleres has worked in the Bloomfield Public School District for 19 years. He first worked as a sixth-grade teacher at Demarest Elementary School before briefly leaving the district, and then coming back to become Brookdale Elementary School principal. He was the director of elementary education at the school district before becoming assistant superintendent.
What are your general responsibilities and duties as superintendent and assistant superintendent?
“My general responsibilities as assistant superintendent are all of curriculum and instruction. So all of the instruction that goes on, and the state and board approved curriculum that gets written by our staff members, that is my main area of focus,” Fleres said.
“The superintendent of schools answers to the Board of Education. Everyone else in the school district answers to the superintendent. And my responsibilities are the overall functioning of the entire school district,” Goncalves said.
What are your duties as they relate to the Board of Education?
“Two overarching charges for the two of us is – first and foremost – the safety and well-being of all of our students on a daily basis and – overall – is to provide the best possible educational experience for our students day in and day out. Those are our two specific charges that we deal with every day,” Fleres said.
“We have a nine-member board. They’re extremely supportive and a dedicated group. I do sit as a member of the board but as a non-voting member,” Goncalves said.
The board of education and superintendent work together at the beginning of each school year to develop district-wide goals Goncalves said.
The board is structured so that members serve on one of three committees: finance and facilities, personnel, and curriculum instruction. The members of each committee take point on receiving information from members of the administration and make recommendations to the rest of the board, according to Goncalves.
The board conducts a business meeting before each regular board meeting where the agenda, set by the superintendent, is approved by the board. Committees present their recommendations before they are voted on at a regular board meeting, Goncalves said.
What is your process for deciding what is prioritized when making decisions about the district?
“It goes back to what I said, the two things that drive us on a daily basis: the safety and well-being of our students and the educational experience for our kids. So those things are daily reminders to us, “ Fleres said.
“The other thing that guides us is that we are part of a five-year strategic plan that developed with the help of New Jersey School Boards Association, the administration, the board of education and community members,” Goncalves said.
The current five-year plan ends at the end of 2023 and the administration is considering creating another five-year plan with input from community members, educators, administrators, board of education, Goncalves said.
How are policies established for the district?
“Some policies are dictated to us by the federal government, or state government, some from the county government, and then some that is established by the board of education,” Goncalves said.
A policy that can be developed by the board of education goes through the committee structure. It will then go through a first read by the board at a public meeting, and then a second read at the next public meeting where comments can be made by the board and the public. Policies are adopted after they pass a vote by the board, according to Fleres.
What are aspects of your job that parents or the general public might not associate with you as Bloomfield schools’ superintendents?
“I would think more or less the fact that there are large areas of responsibility for the both of us. Bloomfield has about 6,500 students and about 1,300 employees,” Fleres said. “So obviously, the students are the straw that stirs the drink, right, but there are also many other staff members that we have to ensure that their work-life experience is a great one here in Bloomfield, and that we have the best possible facilities, and that everything is being done by being fiscally responsible.”
Goncalves said he and Fleres both deeply care about Bloomfield having spent the majority of their careers in the district and because of that they’ve formed lasting relationships with both employees and the community at large.
“So for Joe and I, there’s a vested interest in the children doing well in the community,[and] succeeding so the relationships that we’ve formed over the years is something very special to the both of us,” Goncalves said.
What parts of your job are the most important to you, what drives your passion?
Goncalves said the passion that drives him every day is working for the children in the Bloomfield school district and ensuring that they receive the best education and can be successful when they leave the district.
“It’s not just the job or a profession. It is a passion and a commitment…we enjoy coming to work every day. We enjoy trying to make the student experience the best it could possibly be on a daily basis. And we’re committed to this for both the present and the future,” Fleres said.
When should parents or the general public reach out to your office?
Fleres and Goncalves recommend that people first reach out to the school the child in their care attends as they will have the most up-to-date information on a particular student.
“Our doors are always open, our phones are reachable, and our emails are accessible,” Fleres said. “So if there’s a broader case or a district issue, we always welcome conversation from the community.”