Borough bids farewell to public school leader

Photo by Ron Leir/ Richard Corbett



The administrator of East Newark’s single public school is calling it quits.

Richard R. Corbett, 51, superintendent/ principal of the borough’s elementary school, has sent members of the East Newark Board of Education notice of his pending retirement, effective Aug. 31.

Corbett told The Observer he’s accepted an offer of employment from the Hardyston Township Board of Education in rural Sussex County, as chief school administrator, starting Sept. 1.

Although Hardyston, like East Newark, has no high school, it has nearly four times as many students – 780 – spread between a K-to-grade 5 elementary school and a grades 6-to-8 middle school, supported by an annual budget of about $12 million, as compared with East Newark’s $5 million outlay.

Corbett said he’s leaving reluctantly. “My heart is in East Newark,” he said. “It may sound trite but, in fact, over the past five years, the town has become like family to me. … I’ve had a very good relationship with the board and the mayor and have only the highest regard for both.”

However, he added, “I have to make a decision in the best interest of my family. After being here for five years, it’s actually a good time for me to consider other options, and for the district, also. We as a team – teachers, staff and students – here have accomplished a lot and now they’re in a good position to continue, to move on.”

Mayor Joseph Smith said that Corbett “has been doing an excellent job” and that while he’d have preferred to see him stay, “we can’t pay what the going rate is out there. … A lot of superintendents (in New Jersey) are retiring or leaving to go to Pennsylvania or New York. … It’s like ballplayers when they become free agents. I don’t blame anybody for trying to better themselves.”

Corbett, whose contract was up for renewal as of June 30, said the school board had offered him very generous terms: “a new five-year contract at $125,000 a year,” which, he said, is the most he could be paid for a district with East Newark’s enrollment as fixed by state Department of Education rules.

With Hardyston, Corbett will be making a bit more but he said “it’s not the salary at all” as to why he’s decided to go. “It’s a bigger district, with more responsibility so it makes sense for me to take this next step in my career as an educator,” he said.

Looking back on his tenure in East Newark, Corbett said that “perhaps my most significant accomplishment” was shifting the district’s approach “to a middle school model” by “departmentalizing” grades 6 to 8 – bringing in teachers with specialization in certain subject areas – which, he said, was “instrumental in improving academics.”

Other actions that he said he initiated to bolster the district’s performance level were upgrading technology “so that it’s now very much a part of our curriculum,” and working with teachers to develop “a climate of respect” within the school.

The result, Corbett said, is “a school that’s well run … with well-behaved students. We just negotiated a teachers’ contract this year; and this summer, we’re installing a new air-conditioning system in the school. I give all the credit in the world to the mayor and the school board for their efforts to update an outdated facility as much as possible.”

– Ron Leir

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