BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Fairview Elementary School Principal Sal DeSimone will be retiring at the end of this month. He has been principal at Fairview for 18 ½ years, something he acknowledged as unusual in this day and age.
DeSimone grew up in Bloomfield, on Charles Street. He attended Sacred Heart Parochial School and Essex Catholic High School, where he played football.
He received his teaching certification at Seton Hall as well as his master’s in administration and supervision.
DeSimone has been an educator for 44 years. He began as an English and Spanish teacher in Westfield, at Roosevelt Junior High School, where he also was a football coach.
While in Westfield, he became principal of Tamaques Elementary School. On Friday, Jan. 29, 1999, he left that principalship and without skipping a beat began his tenure at Fairview on Monday, Feb. 1.
“Coming back here is the best decision I made in my career,” DeSimone said at his office last week. “I love this place. I cried a lot this past month but I’m not leaving with any regrets.”
He said teaching was all he could see himself ever doing.
“Teachers didn’t make a lot of money,” he said. “It was hard to get by.”
Technology has changed teaching, DeSimone said, but children are the same.
“Technology has changed the way we communicate,” he said. “We didn’t have this 15 years ago. That’s huge. It has streamlined how we teach. But we still use other devices, like shaving cream or sand, to show a child what a letter looks like. The needs of a child are the greatest responsibility of a teacher.”
Although a principal’s responsibilities remain the same, he said the job has changed.
“The NJ Department of Education scrutinizes your every move,” he said. “That complicates things. Teachers do a great job but they are not given the credit.
“Teachers are judged by numbers, not written evaluations,” he continued. “It’s all automatically evaluated. The state can monitor everything you’re doing. I’ve had trouble with that.”
DeSimone said he is evaluated himself by a composite score of every student in the school. But regardless of how technology has altered evaluations, the appreciation an educator receives is everything.
“I never looked for it in a career,” he said. “A principal and teacher can influence hundreds of people. This place has been great to me.”
Financial considerations played some part in his decision to retire. DeSimone said there came a point when figuring the pension and health benefit contributions against the take-home pay became a factor in planning his retirement. He said his health benefits and pension are a blessing. Still he felt it was time to turn the school over to a younger principal. DeSimone helped to screen his successor, something he understood was not ordinarily done in the selection process for the Bloomfield School District.
He started to think about retirement a year ago, he said.
“So many things come into play,” he said. “Forty-four years is a long time. I may branch out and work at Seton Hall or Bloomfield College.”
DeSimone has been an adjunct professor at BC.
“I just applied to Seton Hall and to supervise teachers at Bloomfield College, in their education program,” he said.
He has two grandsons in Bloomfield and is looking to spend more time with them.
“I am in awe every time I enter Fairview,” he said. “People are allowing me to care for their children. And we have kids that came through here that are on the best college campuses in this country.”
He is proud to have included every student and parent in the educational process at the school.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “People say, ‘Oh, it’s a public school.’ But we’ve figured it out. I’ve hired almost 90 percent of this staff.”
When hiring a teacher, DeSimone said, in addition to being smart and creative, he looks for someone with interpersonal skills because they are going to be in front of children.
“They have to meet the needs of the children,” he said. “Easy to say, but hard. What education needs is someone who goes home every night and considers the student,” he said. “That’s dedication; not average.”
And teachers, DeSimone said, should have a willingness to attend extracurricular school activities.
He gives the Fairview Home and School Association a lot of credit for connecting Fairview parents to the school.
“If you have a dedicated teacher and parents that pay attention, you’ll have a successful student,” he said. “With the technology today, it’s impossible not to know what’s going on. There’s no excuses for not paying attention. So, if the teacher says to the parent, ‘This is something we should do,’ do it.”