EDISON – There were essentially no hard feelings as Schools Superintendent Bernard F. Bragen Jr. served his last day overseeing the Edison Public School District Nov. 30.
Bragen expressed his gratitude for the experience to serve his alma mater school district at his last Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Nov. 22. He is a 1983 Edison High School graduate.
“As a small child, I went to school here and I remember as a kid looking up to Edison High School football players in the late 70s and say, ‘Hey, maybe one day I can be one of them,’ and I was fortunate that I was,” he said.
That same wonder led him to coach football, become a teacher and eventually superintendent in the district.
“For me to be even considered in the same position of the people I looked up to like Charlie Boyle, and Dr. [Vincent] Capraro, I’ve been very fortunate and grateful for the experience,” Bragen said. “This is a great school district, great people, great community especially when we’re in a crisis, everybody tends to come together and forget our differences. So just wanted to thank everybody. It’s a time of thanks and Thanksgiving. I’m very grateful for having been a part of this and being given that opportunity. It’s my pleasure serve in that capacity.”
The BOE appointed Edward Aldarelli as the acting superintendent at the meeting effective Dec. 1. Aldarelli has been serving as director of human resources for the school district.
Since September, the board has been grappling with the news of Bragen’s ultimate departure.
Bragen had been appointed the new superintendent for Montgomery County Public Schools in Virginia and made the decision to accept the offer after the board failed to heed his request to renew his contract.
A discussion came to head at a meeting in September on whether or not to discuss Bargen’s contract at a public meeting.
Board members Shannon Peng and Mohin Patel moved to discuss the contract in public; however, Board Vice President Shivi Prasad-Madhukar, Kevin Hajduk and Biral Patel decided against discussion.
Board members Brian Rivera and Jerry Shi were not present at the meeting. Board President Douglas Schneider and Virginia White were in conflict and could not vote either way.
Bragen said with his contract expiring in a year and 10 months from the meeting in September, he expressed a concern a period of time ago.
“When I started in the district in 2019, my intent was to stay for 12 years [until] I was 67 God willing and board willing to keep that and really do all I can for this school district and put my best foot forward,” he said. “I think in the short time, I’m here, I’ve done that.”
Bragen was honest and admitted he approached the board to renew his contract on his own personal terms.
“As we approached the time to renew the contracts, which is typically in July … I had, in my mind, wanted to do it this year for one reason and one reason only,” he said. “If you wait until next year, for me personally, only Bernie Bragen, until one year on a contract and it doesn’t work out here as an experienced superintendent, you then look desperate, and no one will want to hire you anywhere else because you are not renewed and you are looking to get somewhere because you are not able to stay where you are. So, I did approach the full board and had a conversation and asked if this was possible.
“At some point I was told, it is not the right time by various people. I understand that and I respect it, but it’s the right time for me and my family.”
Bragen, who previously served as superintendent for the Hazlet Public School District for 10 years, said since superintendents are not tenured, his request gives security and time, which is important to him and his family.
“As everyone knows on the board, in this public, the [board members] change,” he said. “Winds of change come in different elections, different leadership so to have that continuity for me, I asked to do that and that’s what happened. I said if I can’t get that security here, I would seek it elsewhere and I have been offered it elsewhere.”
Bragen said he was not angry or upset.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I’m a big boy, I’ll pull up ‘my big boy pants’ and I’ll go somewhere else. I wish it would have worked out.”
Due to a conflict with Schneider, Prasad-Madhukar assumed duties to move on Bragen’s initial request to discuss renewing his contract.
She said she put out a request to hold a meeting on two occasions; however, in both cases the meetings could not meet a quorum to meet.
Board members, staff members and the public at the November meeting took time to wish Bragen all the best and welcome Aldarelli.
“I’ve worked with nine plus superintendents, some understanding, some not so much,” Board member Virginia White said. “Dr. Bragen was in the outstanding bunch. I have known him since he was just a supervisor, he was incredible then and is incredible now. I am for one am sorry that we are losing him. Virginia is lucky, it’s our loss. I would love to keep him. I know he’s doing what’s best for himself and his family.”
Edison High School Principal Charles Ross said he appreciated everything Bragen has done for the district. He said he looks forward to working with Aldarelli and all of central staff to help the kids of the district continue to have the best education.