After 33 years, Klemt to retire from West Orange schools

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — It is the end of an era, as the West Orange School District bids farewell to longtime educator Robert Klemt, who is retiring before the start of the 2022-23 school year.

Klemt, who has worked in West Orange schools for the past 33 years, is retiring as principal of Liberty Middle School, where he led students and staff for the past 14 years. Prior to serving as principal, Klemt was appointed assistant principal at LMS in 2005, when the school opened. In this role, in which he served for three years, Klemt gained his first administrative experience.

While he didn’t always want to be a principal, he knew since he was a teenager that he wanted a career in education.

“Since high school I have had a great interest in the field of education and attended Trenton State College, now The College of New Jersey, for my Bachelor of Science in education,” Klemt told the West Orange Chronicle. “Several family members were educators and helped influence my career path.”

According to Klemt, he spent the first seven years of his teaching career in Bergen County, before moving to the West Orange School District. In West Orange, he started as an industrial arts/technology education teacher at Edison Middle School, a position he stayed in for eight years; he then moved on to West Orange High School for four years as an electronics and technology education teacher, in addition to spending nine years as a junior varsity boys soccer coach and four years as the freshman baseball coach for the Mountaineers during those years. In 2001, he changed his career path to become a school counselor; he stayed at Roosevelt Middle School in the role for four years — and then he headed to his home of 17 years, Liberty.

Having spent 33 years in the WOSD, Klemt has many accomplishments and good memories, especially, he said, “the long list of individuals that I have taught, counseled, coached and mentored, including a former student from my Edison years that has become a faculty member at Liberty.”

“My second favorite memory, saying that now from hindsight, was working through the ‘Snowmageddon’ November 2018 sleepover at Liberty with over 300 students and roughly 25 or so staff due to the paralyzing snowstorm in the Northeast,” Klemt said. “All worked out extremely well, and the students and staff had a very memorable school activity.”

On Nov. 15, 2018, an unexpectedly intense snowstorm hit northern New Jersey. It caused havoc as resources were overtaxed, commuters were trapped inside their cars for hours, and students were stranded at school or inside school buses. Essex County saw 6 to 8 inches of snow in various areas — far more than the 1 to 4 inches originally predicted. West Orange was one of the hardest-hit areas in Essex County due to accidents on the Garden State Parkway and I-280 near township exits. With limited entry and exit points, gridlock closed most main roads in town, stranding motorists and buses. Commutes that typically take 15 minutes instead took 10 or more hours. At LMS, Klemt and his staff stayed overnight at the school with more than 300 students, keeping them safe, fed and busy.

Though the situation was far less than ideal, Klemt still fondly remembers spending that time with his students and seeing the West Orange community work together to overcome the day’s struggles. It is this community spirit and the people who engender it that Klemt will miss most.

“On any single day you come across countless people who you try to encourage, inspire, guide and manage,” Klemt said, explaining that he will miss “the daily interactions, whether those are with staff, students or parents,” of being a school principal.

Being an active part of the Liberty community was not only a source of joy for Klemt, but an important component to his work with students and staff. He advises the next principal, whoever that may be, to be similarly immersed.

“Become a part of the Liberty culture and school environment, whether that is dressing up on Character Day, participating in physical education class activities, pie-in-the-face fundraising, playing in student-faculty volleyball or performing in the yearly school play, all of which I have done, and much more to embrace student life and enhance our school spirit,” Klemt said. “Leading by doing is the best way to develop relationships among all stakeholders and to best promote your message and goals.”

Photos Courtesy of Robert Klemt