A packed Mendham High School library was full of emotion Monday night during the first West Morris Regional School Board meeting following the abrupt .
The board approved di Battista’s retirement, but not before residents, former board members and district faculty members–both current and retired–spoke their minds about the kind of person and educator di Battista is, in addition to the “unfortunate” way his tenure in the district has come to a close.
“The resignation of Dr. Anthony di Battista is the final verse in an ugly chapter of this district,” said former board member and Washington Township resident Jeff Emery. “[The district] has become a political war zone, and this behavior needs to stop.”
di Battista’s retirement announcement stated that there were no political motivations behind his decision. of di Battista’s phone records and work travel documents, among other queries.
Arrington is a member of Citizens for Better Schools (CBS), a small group of residents from the Chesters and Mendhams seeking a change in the high school district’s funding formula.
Arrington was not present at Monday night’s board meeting.
Former board president John Notte, of Washington Township, was behind three superintendent hires in the district, including di Battista. Notte said he didn’t believe di Battista’s reason for retirement.
“You said politics weren’t a part of your decision,” Notte said. “But I don’t believe politics aren’t involved here.”
Colleagues express sentiments
di Battista, a history teacher at Mendham High School before becoming an administrator, was used as the gold standard for new educators in the district.
“When I came to this district 17 years ago,” said Phil Nicolosi, a history teacher at , “everyone told me, ‘If you want to be a great teacher, go see Anthony di Battista.’”
Dr. Michael Reilly, former principal of West Morris Central and New Jersey’s Principal of the Year in 2001, recollected his experience working with the superintendent up until his retirement in 2009.
“My 20 years of experience in this district and working with Anthony were filled with growth,” Reilly said. “His heart and soul goes into his everyday actions, and he always had a willingness to give his time and energy to this district.
“I couldn’t have been the principal I am without men like Anthony,” Reilly continued. “I am forever grateful to you. You inspire me.”
Mendham High School science teacher Michael Scoblete reached back into history to make his point to the crowd, and received a standing ovation for his thoughts.
Scoblete referred to Britain’s former Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his role in World War II. Scoblete explained that the prime minister helped lead his country to victory, but was defeated in the 1945 election due to politics.
“No leader is so great they cannot be defeated by politics,” Scoblete said. “Going forward, I hope that this community can be better than some of its members.”
di Battista addressed the crowd and the board as the meeting drew to a close, explaining his history and his happiness with his career.
“I wouldn’t be alive if not for public education,” di Battista said about his upbringing. “My father was a mason and my mother was illiterate in two different languages. How lucky was I to be doing what I was doing?”
di Battista explained that he was prepared to retire in June, and this decision only pushes his date ahead a few months earlier.
“But I am an educator, and not a politician,” the superintendent said. “Over the past few months I have been unable to achieve certain things professionally and personally.”
After the meeting, di Battista lamented that it was an emotional time for him.
“I’m humbled by the support,” he said. “I have to thank the district for allowing me to be a steward of education. This district took a chance on a long-haired kid in 1978, and I’m very thankful for that.”