Two superintendent hopefuls meet public

Candidate eventually selected will lead FRHSD’s six schools and 11,800 students

BY REBECCA MORTON
Staff Writer

Two finalists being considered for the job as superintendent of schools in the Freehold Regional High School District were presented to the community on Nov. 16.

Charles B. Sampson, superintendent of Verona Public Schools in Essex County, and Robert Gratz, superintendent of the Hackettstown Public School District in Warren County, met the public.

According to information posted on the New Jersey Department of Education Internet website, Hackettstown has an estimated enrollment of 1,884 students this school year, while Verona has an estimated enrollment of 2,145 students. Both are pre-kindergarten through grade 12 districts.

The FRHSD has about 11,800 students in the six high schools that make up the district. There are eight sending municipalities in the district.

William Librera and Peter Bastardo of West Hudson Associates, the search firm hired by the FRHSD Board of Education to help find a new superintendent, moderated questions when the floor was opened to the public.

Neither candidate has a doctorate degree, although Sampson said he is about three-quarters of the way toward completing his doctorate degree. Gratz made no reference to any doctoral studies.

Sampson offered an overview of his career, which he started as a social studies teacher in Livingston High School before moving on to the positions of supervisor, assistant principal and principal in different districts. He became the superintendent in Verona in 2008.

His background includes undergraduate degrees in history and criminal justice from Rutgers University, as well as master’s degrees in social studies education and educational administration. Sampson said he currently teaches at Montclair State University.

Discussing his accomplishments in his current position, Sampson said he has saved his school district money through communications with the town, including some shared services. He said this was an area he would look to pursue in the FRHSD.

In a presentation of his goals and what he would try to accomplish in his first 90 days as superintendent, Sampson said he would attempt to be as transparent as possible and meet with stakeholder groups of the district, in addition to creating a strategic plan.

When asked by a FRHSD teacher why he chose to apply for the position, Sampson said it is “an absolute dream job.”

“I put my résumé into this place, and this place only, because you have an unbelievable school community, you have six unbelievable high schools. I am a high school person at heart. I love the high school,” he said.

Gratz expressed similar feelings about becoming superintendent, and he called the FRHSD a premier school district.

Having been in the educational field for 36 years, Gratz said he spent 11 years as a teacher, 10 years as an administrator and 15 years as a superintendent. This is his sixth year as the superintendent in Hackettstown.

His educational background includes a bachelor’s degree from Moravian College and a master’s degree in school administration from Lehigh University.

Gratz said the FRHSD is almost a model district that other school districts in the state should look to. He said that upon coming into the district, he would do an internal and external audit, and meet with all “customers” both inside and outside of the district.

Gratz said one area he would like to advance is to pursue relationships with area colleges so students may exit high school with credits toward their college studies. He spoke about the success these programs have had in districts in which he has worked, including a high school graduate who entered college as a sophomore based on his credit standing.

When prompted by a teacher in the audience, Gratz said that in his school district’s most recent budget, despite tough economic challenges, no academic programs were cut. He said there were reductions made in athletic schedules, coaches and some staff.

While he said he could not make promises about continuing that without knowing what next year’s financial situation will be, Gratz said he would do a cost-benefit analysis for each program.

Through questioning, Gratz said he currently resides in Bethlehem, Pa., and at a peak has had more than a one-hour commute to work in Hackettstown. Gratz said that even with his commute, he never missed a game or event. He said he would relocate if he is offered the position of FRHSD superintendent.

Manalapan resident Butch Budai asked Gratz about his reasons for wanting to come to the FRHSD. Budai estimated by looking at the candidate that Gratz might be nearing retirement age. A published report listed Gratz’s age as 57.

Gratz said he is not ready to retire and said he gets great joy from his position as an educator.

In response to a question about the size of a pension, Gratz said he believes he earns every dollar he is paid. He said moving from Hackettstown to the FRHSD would be an opportunity for advancement, which typically comes with some sort of monetary increase.

Librera said the salary range the board has established for the position of superintendent is not much different from what Gratz said he is currently being paid, $195,000.

Gratz said the FRHSD would offer him advantages and opportunities that make the superintendent’s position appealing and said his pursuit of the job is not only based on monetary considerations.

Librera said about 40 individuals applied for the position of superintendent. Sampson and Gratz are the only two candidates to have come before the public.

Contact staff writer Rebecca Morton at marlboro@gmnews.com.