WEST ORANGE, NJ — At the Oct. 16 West Orange Board of Education meeting, board member Ron Charles voted twice during the staff appointments section of the night’s agenda — one yes and one “absolutely yes.” The second affirmative vote was to voice his support for Kristin Gogerty as the district’s new director of special services. The board members unanimously approved Gogerty, and they were not the only ones who championed her, as evidenced by the multitude of teachers and administrators who spoke on her behalf during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Gogerty came to West Orange in 2003 as a paraprofessional in an autism classroom at the middle school level. During the last 14 years she has worked as a special education teacher, a learning disabilities teacher-consultant, supervisor of special services and, most recently, as acting director of special services.
“Ever since a young age, I wanted to be a teacher. I had the opportunity to work various programs, including summer camps and even helping at a summer school in the town where I grew up,” Gogerty told the West Orange Chronicle in an email on Oct. 22. “I think wanting to make a difference in the lives of students, especially students with disabilities, is what made me want to pursue special education.”
She has a made a difference in the lives of students, according to Connie Salimbeno, the previous director of special services, who is now principal at the Betty Maddalena Early Learning Center.
“It has given me such great pride to watch her grow into the dedicated administrator that she is today,” Salimbeno, who has worked with Gogerty since 2005, said at the meeting. “Kristin has shown herself to be the consummate professional in each and every position that she has held.
“For the past six weeks I have watched her take on the additional duties of acting director of special services with the same professionalism and dedication,” Salimbeno continued. “As the former director of special services, I can attest to the magnitude of the position and its responsibilities.”
Edison Central Six Middle School Assistant Principal Steven Melendez shares Salimbeno’s opinion that Gogerty is the right person for the job. Melendez has worked with Gogerty for several years.
“I would trust Ms. Gogerty with my children,” he said, adding that he and Edison Principal Xavier Fitzgerald always ask themselves if they would put their own children in a teacher’s classroom. “I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I would do that. She’s professional, she works extremely hard, she’s knowledgeable. She is the perfect person for this position.”
Gogerty said her students are her top priority and the most important part of any educator’s job.
“I feel that the most important part of my job or (any) educator in general, is ensuring that the students we service are the primary focus,” she said. “There come times that disagreements might arise, but I can honestly say that I do my very best to ensure that my decisions are made with the best interest of the students in mind.”
According to Gogerty, patience and an even temperament are qualities that educators need to have in spades. Having worked in the district for her whole career, she said she brings a sense of familiarity to each role she has filled.
“I understand the importance of two-way communication in this role, both as an active listener and being transparent in communicating to others,” Gogerty said. “I bring a sense of understanding to the position both having worked in West Orange for my entire career, as well as in the various positions to which I have fulfilled.
“I am extremely dedicated and will go above and beyond what is expected of me during a typical work day to ensure that I am doing the job to the very best of my ability,” she continued.
Gogerty added that Salimbeno has been a huge source of support to her.
“I have had the opportunity to work with truly dedicated and amazing professionals in West Orange, who have served as wonderful mentors and teachers to me,” she said, also mentioning Dawn Ribeiro, supervisor of special services for grades six through 12; Kelly Elementary School Principal Joanne Pollara; and Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky.
Gogerty also credits her parents for her values, saying, “I have to first give credit to my parents, who instilled strong moral and ethical values in me. It is because of them that I am my own toughest critic in wanting to do the very best I can.”
The members of the BOE also expressed their support for Gogerty.
“It was such a joy to hear the outpouring and acknowledgement of respect, of love, of true appreciation,” board member Mark Robertson said at the meeting. “We have the best special services department anywhere and that’s because we have absolutely wonderful people. Welcome, congrats, and I know you’ll do very well.”