Engravalle Proud of His Accomplishments in Fort Lee, Responds to Critics

Superintendent says that despite his absences, his focus is on the students, teachers and educational quality of Fort Lee's schools.

By all accounts, it would seem that Fort Lee School Superintendent Steven Engravalle is not having a good year, beginning this past summer when his wife, Samantha, died at the age of 40. In an effort to come to terms with that tragedy, he took a two month leave of absence in November.

"Tragedy happened and I needed to get my life back in order," Engravalle said.

However, Engravalle stressed that it was never his intention to be out of touch with the district during those two months.  

"It is my understanding that staff were 'threatened' not to have 'any' contact with me during my leave. As such, I had no idea what was going on for two months. Not a clue," Engravalle said.  

Shortly after his return on Jan. 2, there was another death of a close family member for which he took days off, came down with the flu and now is recuperating from a back injury.

"I'm using my own accrued time for these days off," Engravalle said.

Regarding his time off, Engravalle said that coming into this year he has 71 vacation days due to the fact that he took nearly no time off during his first two years of employment.

"No one remembers all the months I came in at 4 am and left at midnight," he said.

Engravalle said that when he first came on, he was dedicating enormous amounts of time examining every aspect of the district--from the failing infrastructure to the state of the textbooks students were using--so that he could plan the direction he wanted the district to move in.

"We are a great district," he said. "But we have the potential to be so much better--we should be at the top of Bergen County."

Engravalle, who spoke to Patch after the fallout from missing the last two Board of Education meetings, as well as Wednesday's Town Hall meeting on school security, said that he is not letting the school district down.

"Being a school superintendent is like being the head of a large multi-million dollar corporation," he said. "Within the Fort Lee School district I am responsible for 400 employees and a client-base of approximately 10,000 students and parents combined."  

Engravalle said that as with any large organization, he surrounds himself with capable people who can manage things in his absence.

"Business is not being delayed because I'm not here," Engravalle said.

One parent who spoke to Patch on condition of anonymity said that it is the same small group of parents that continually come to the Board of Education meetings and stall the business of the schools from going forward by focusing on Engravalle's personal issues.

"These are the same people that had issues with the other Superintendents that preceded him," they said. "As long as the Board continues to entertain them, our district will never have stability."

Engravalle agreed that there is a relatively small group of parents who take objection to everything that he tries to do.

"They are so focused on finding fault in my personal life during Board of Education meetings that it stalls any real accomplishment," Engravalle said.

"We should be talking about the curriculum, school resources, reviewing programs," he said. "Instead, I'm being asked if I carry a gun to school." A question, he said, asked without context, and one that makes him "hesitant" to re-establish the practice of having student liasons sit at the table during Board of Education meetings.

The purpose of the student liasons, Engravalle said, is to give them an opportunity to see how concensus works. He feels that exposing them to some of the "out-of-control" behaviors and remarks by adults who attend these meetings adds nothing of value to their learning experience.

Engravalle agreed that the decades long lack of stability within the district has done much from keeping the school district from moving forward and reaching its true potential.

"In my heart of hearts I truly believe that the district has achieved as much as it has solely because of the dedication and talent of the teachers and students," Engravalle said.

Engravalle said that having so much consistent turn-over at the top creates instability and a void in leadership. He credits the district's teaching staff with filling that void with creativity, intellect and dedication to make their students successful.

Defending his accomplishments as superintendent, Engravalle said that he is the only superintendent who was able to get the referendum passed, had a $2 million surplus and has started on much needed work on the infrastructure.

Engravalle said that when he first came on as superintendent, the text books were not only outdated, but there was no conformity in what each grade level in each school was learning. As an example, he said that the Language Arts and Math textbooks being used for one grade level at School 1 were completely different from the ones being used in the same grade level at the other schools.

"I updated and conformed the textbooks so that all grade levels in all of the schools were learning the same material," he said.

"Still," he said, "I'm not moving as fast as I'd like to."

Engravalle said that he wants to assure everyone that even in his absence children are still learning, schools are safe and things are getting accomplished.

"I'm trying to do the best job possible for the place that I love--a place that has immeasurable potential," he said.

"I've been absent, I regret it and I'm sorry," Engravalle said. "But sometimes life happens, and I'm trying very hard to deal with it."  

Engravalle invited anyone who wants to speak with him directly to call, email or make an appointment.


No Board member has agreed to comment on Engravalle's absences. 

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William Mays February 18, 2013 at 06:47 AM
Even in most public jobs, sick days do not carry over.
William Mays February 18, 2013 at 06:49 AM
Tracy, you can't get someone back somewhere when they weren't there in the first place. Engravalle views Fort Lee as a place he can put his coffee cup on while hes climbing up to the governor's administration.
William Mays February 18, 2013 at 08:39 AM
110 days over his ex-wife dying?
Bert Sugarman February 18, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Ms. Mattei, having days and using them are two different things. Why would he call-in sick on a Monday and Tuesday, be perfectly fine on a Wednesday to speak at a Charter School panel, then, drive 2 1/2 hours with a bad back to Atlantic City to attend Techspo on Thursday and Friday only to return and call-in sick for the entire following week! And, I am not sure if you have children in the FLSD but if you do, don't you think they are getting shortchanged? His days out are not approved by the BOE, he calls in sick, vacation, personal, bereavement days to the BA, she marks them down and that's the process. 110 DAYS OUT and counting since July, he should be ashamed and you should be embarrassed for defending this, shame on you!
Howard L. Pearl February 18, 2013 at 02:50 PM
Tracy: There reaches a point where the gloves come off. As President of the Steve Engravalle Fan Club and stage door “groupie”, your loyalty apparently has no bounds. You ask what I want. I want true dedication to the children of our district, not his family first always, including his 22 year old cousin. I'm not satisfied with his attention to our district when he gets around to it. (1) Let’s stop pretending. She was not his WIFE, she was his EX-WIFE. Whatever feelings that he may have had, she was not a legal relative and therefore he would not even have had the option of a leave under the Family Leave Act. (2) The BOE approving his leave does not justify how Steve took advantage. He basically abandoned Fort Lee during her illness. (3) If he wants to come back with the dedication that is required, he first owes a whole bunch of apologies. He alienated individuals who previously supported him. I believe he has certain abilities to be a competent superintendent. But he made poor choices! Let him put his ego aside, apologize for his mistakes in judgment, and move forward. Until he does that, there is no door open. (4) Amato is not the issue. Steve Engravalle was nowhere to be found, i.e. incommunicato, during the storm. I was directly involved with members of the BOE, who verified that, including the Mayor. There were major emergencies with two of the schools and the Superintendent needed to be there.
Tracy February 18, 2013 at 05:10 PM
Billy~ I know what he has done for the education and safety of our children. He has done a tremendous amount that is only for the children ~ we have new Math and LA elementary curriculum, the repairs are finally happening, etc etc etc.... what he hasn't done is entertain adults who do not focus on the children, its that simple. As an adult I do not need to be placated or approved of by anyone in the district HOWEVER my expectations are high for the education and safety, and I do not hear anything referencing actual education issues from other adults in the community.
Bert Sugarman February 18, 2013 at 05:21 PM
Ms. Mattei, regardless of who I am, I had children that went through this system when the system was something to be proud of. It is now a system, that in my opinion, is on a downward spiral and unless Mr. Engravalle steps aside, it will crash and burn. I recently signed up for Patch after attending the security town hall and was told that our Superintendent, who is ultimately responsible for the safety of the school children of Fort Lee, chose not to be there, I was appalled! There is no apology he can make to erase the damage. He has lost the confidence of the tax payers, the faculty and most importantly, the children. After reading the devotion and loyalty you personally bestow upon him, I went back, read several of your posts and now realize that you will never be swayed and one can only ask, why? Are you on his payroll? Do you have children in the system and if so, are they receiving some type of special treatment? You state you are an educator, where? Are you eventually looking for a teaching position in Fort Lee? Let's face it, personal favors and gain should be chastised in this School District because all that matters is that the children of Fort Lee are being educated in a system that gives them an advantage as they move on in their education! If you truly are an educator, with a Masters, you know the children are suffering and, if you continue to defend him and his record I again say, shame on you!
Tracy February 18, 2013 at 06:14 PM
Hi H! I asked for reason not this drama again! The whys and how's are being spewed about as IF the are truth . Its simple, he had the time, needed the time and used the time, the BoE approved it---he has admitted and apologized for it. What else do you want? Would it make yo feel beter if he had cancer himself? should we start that rumor? I must be the head of Bandlow's fan club by way of your reasoning. I spoke to him during Sandy, and simply do not beleive those who are touting that he was not available. He was in the same situation everyone else was. He was also the only one who can call school off, so how did that happen? The BoE president should not have been annoicing things via private citizens either! Tell me a reason why he needed to be here, just cuz isn't going to do it! Amato and the BOE members keep coming up as if they provided you with information, personnell information, they are being linked to 'facts'' too easily. Stop posting that kind of information here. I would like to see him recommit. Recommitting and forging ahead is the only thing that will work! I suppose he could leave but why? He has done nothing wrong to warrant a dismissal. I also have high and great expectations for the Superintendant in the EDUCATION of our children. I still would like to hear logical reasons, void of personal judgement and emotion, can you do that?
Tracy February 18, 2013 at 06:25 PM
Mr. Sugarman, I am not ashamed of trying to protect our children by pointing out that a few rouge and highly vocal parents wish to continually use their energy in a negative fashion. The facts are: the contracts entitled an employee to benefit time, the employee needed the benefit time, the employee used the benfit timethere are no policies against using the time, so where did the employee go wrong? If you take away the all the hoopla and rumors and judgements about the whys and hows, FL cannot complain. This is what our BoE did. The presumptions of the why's and 'and how's are ridiculous. And I am growing more concerned about where this information is coming from and very concerned that someone threatening employees not to have contact with the Superintendant. You did not answer my question: How do you leap from a taking time off to not caring about children?
Tracy February 18, 2013 at 06:25 PM
@lone ranger, weren't you the one who posted the picture where Engravalle dressed up in costumes to entertain the kids? I thought they were GREAT! Thanks you for demonstrating what he will do for children!
Tracy February 18, 2013 at 06:30 PM
Billy-- you have proven my argument.
Patrick Won February 18, 2013 at 06:36 PM
He needs to just leave. He cannot take credit for anything that happened this year because he hasn't been there. If a teacher was out this much in one year, they would be fired. Does he have doctors notes for each one of his absences after his leave? While I do feel bad for him for the loss of his ex wife - was she the one that bankrupted him before he started in Fort Lee - he needs to do his job. If we cannot do his job, he needs to quit. If he needs to focus on his mental health, then do that and let someone else do it. What he has done and what he will do is irrelevant. The fact is that he is getting paid a huge salary and doesn't show up to work. The reason things get done is because he has good people working below him. The teachers, supervisors, principals, vice principals, guidance councilors, and office staff are the reasons things get done in this district. They can do it with or without him, but they do need a leader who does what is best for the district and works with everyone; teachers and staff. Not someone who fires people because of 1 parents complaints and then in turn says that parents are bullying him. If he wasn't so arrogant we would feel bad for him. Do your job and stop finding every loophole to get out of it.
William Mays February 18, 2013 at 07:02 PM
Well, I have no problem with family first, but 110 days is very excessive for family related issues. The facts are that he wasn't even with his family, he was attending conventions.
Thomas A Bennett February 18, 2013 at 07:43 PM
Well well well, Steve Engravelle has at least one major accomplishment to add to his self glowing record of accomplishments. He has single -handedly gotten the majority of people in Fort Lee together. Unfortunately for Stevie they think his job skills and performance stinks.
Bert Sugarman February 18, 2013 at 11:55 PM
Ms. Mattei, I will disengage now because your obsessive, fanaticism of Mr. Engravalle is frightening. But, to answer your question, if being out of our School district for over 110 days in a 6 month span does not equal him not caring about the children of Fort Lee, you are sadly mistaken. The deflection and smoke and mirrors PR campaign your are on on behalf of Mr. Engravalle is sad and I hope you are getting well compensated for it.
Tracy February 19, 2013 at 01:45 AM
Good idea. I will disengage to, I can't be bothered with trying to converse with the same few AKA's commenters. I truly just wanted one person who could engage in a civil, objective, reasonable exchange of opinion. Not in Ft Lee!
Keith Jensen February 19, 2013 at 03:38 AM
Ask the Mayor and Council and let them describe the complex ratio of our property taxes. In all towns the municipal budget is separate from the school budget. It should be easy to find out how much each one is, just ask them on the record. The school budget is much larger than the town budget, its just that most of our school taxes do not remain in Ft.Lee, rather they are sent by way of Trenton to Abbott Districts like Hoboken. The other thing for people to remember is that school aid (and municipal aid) comes back from the state from monies collected via income and sale taxes. These are paid but not equated by the people in how things are funded. The state constitution says that ALL revenue that comes from the income tax must be used for property tax relief, in the form of school aid. As far as the percentages, ask the Mayor and Council, 75% does sound a little too high, but when many school districts receive no aid from the state (or a joke like $1 per student), anything over 50% sounds right. On topic, Mr. Engravale and the School Board spoke out to bring our tax dollars home for the schools, yet the Mayor and Council still remain silent and will not fight for us, because I presume they won't butt heads with the political machines that placed them where in their positions. Challenge the Mayor and Council to support fair school funding, and ask the BOE to revisit the resolution the last board had already executed.
Fort Lee Truth February 19, 2013 at 04:43 AM
@Tracy, Has it occurred to you that the reason why you cannot find that one person who shares the same exact opinion you do on this topic for a simple reason.....which is because you are wrong? You sincerely mean well for the kids in town and have donated many hours of your time to the community which is commendable. However, It's possible that because you see the same old folks with the pitchforks who look for reasons to complain and gripe at BOE meetings, pop up again because of Engravalle, it has shrouded your opinion on this. This time they're right as the guys actions cannot be defended. Lastly, I believe your post that Colabro was done in by people hurts your cause. This person was way in over her head, unqualified to be the Superintendent and another of a long list of examples of poor decisions by the BOE over the years.
Howard L. Pearl February 19, 2013 at 01:30 PM
To Keith: That's a good boy. Keep pounding away at the Abbott Decision. Even if no one listens, you are 100% correct. To Tracy: If you truly believe that you are the only one propounding intelligent commentary in Fort Lee, you might need some a serious wake up call. Bias ≠ intelligence.
Martha Cohen February 19, 2013 at 09:54 PM
My question is if we had "a $2 million surplus", then why are we paying an $150 activity fee per high school student and 10 cent a copy for tests (if the teacher lets you take it home)? Can someone please explain this to me, I would be most appreciative.
Howard L. Pearl February 20, 2013 at 03:08 PM
Martha: There is no surplus, in truth, our budget does not even cover the educational expenses each year. It is a numbers game that involves having a balanced budget. FYI: The $ 150 activity fee has now been replaced with endless fundraising by the team members. Inevitable, the parents of the athletes foot the bulk of the bill. As for copies of tests costing ten cents a copy, I believe it is safe to say that this fee is a method of discouraging parents from requesting copies.
Stefanie Stuart February 20, 2013 at 04:41 PM
Tracy – every time you so vehemently defend Mr Engravalle I can’t help but be reminded …"The lady doth protest too much, methinks." I would have loved nothing more than to have spent the last 8 months eating humble pie at what an outstanding job Mr. Engravalle had done as Superintendent. I would have made it a point to publicly thank him for rising above the fray. Unfortunately I was not afforded that opportunity. According to the District’s Policy #1230 that outlines the Superintendent’s Duties, Clause H states “In the discharge of his/her responsibility as liaison officer to the public, the Superintendent shall: 1. Strive to interpret the needs of the school to the public and the concerns of the public to the Board; 2. As appropriate, involve members of the public in the review of district needs, community needs, and the operation of the school programs; 3. Keep the public informed about the accomplishments and problems of the school district; 4. Cooperate with the news media; and 5. Work effectively with municipal government officials and public agencies concerned with the welfare of pupils.” Let’s just ignore 2012, because as Howard pointed out, there is enough blame to go around. Nevertheless, Mr. Engravalle is still not meeting these requirements!
Stefanie Stuart February 20, 2013 at 04:43 PM
By the way, Tracy, you have a blog here on Patch. If we are all so ignorant of Mr. Engravalle’s myriad virtues and accomplishments, feel free to extol them there. Perhaps if you refrain from being derogatory and flippant about Fort Lee community members with opinions different to yours, you could engender a civil, objective, reasonable exchange of opinion. A parting thought: An elderly gentleman is driving down the highway when he hears an announcement on the radio “Beware a vehicle driving the wrong direction!” His immediate response is “Not one … many!!!” I sincerely hope you don’t have a head-on collision!
Tracy February 20, 2013 at 11:56 PM
Ugh! Well I tried to stay away but sometime this is too much fun! (?) I will come after your arguments when its emotional rhetoric, calling names or just posting angry assumptions of another's character when you have no personal knowledge of them. I need fact, not fantasy, the whole story not partial interprteatations or rumor. ie-- why an employee is out is not important when they have the benfit time. Plain and simple but it works. All we have done here is argue in a circle,and although entertaining, its gone too far - my concern is the education of the children in this community and all too often I see and hear powerful citizens using their platforms for other things.My interest is that our kids are receiving a curricula of 'missed opportunity' for learning, but they sure know how to take standardized test; our kids are attending school in not so safe and extremely overcrowded bldgs, and we are fully dependant on some really great teachers, when we should be supporting them with more. We, as the community of Ft Lee have gone through too many leaders in the same manner and that needs to stop. Our BoE needs to understand its own role in policy making and allow the adminstration to manage education. The politics needs to stop. There are children involved who end up being vicitimized because we are all too busy maligning every superintendant.So, I ask that we stop this ever convoluted and refocus on education. PS my real opinion will never be posted here about the super!
Robert February 21, 2013 at 01:53 PM
Insanity reigns in this town. Plain and simple. They do not understand that contracts in the government sector offer leave and sick benefits far superior to the private sector . I think changes in those areas are way over due , however if the leave is lawful there is nothing you can do about it. The fact remains that any new super you get will have about a three month honeymoon and then they will feel the Ft Lee wrath . People talk about how great Sugarman was , but if they loved him so why did they vote down his referendum ? They loved him after he left. Good luck finding anyone who has seen the vitriol of this community apply here.
Bert Sugarman February 21, 2013 at 01:56 PM
Tracy, facts are simple, he's now been out of OUR district for 115+ days and counting. Over 15 of those days are not approved/authorized because he is being docked pay for those dates. Those are FACTS! He has abandoned OUR school district by being an absentee administrator, repeatedly threw our teachers under the bus by constantly wanting to break their union and put them under a fine microscope so he can fire them at will, disrespected our Mayor, Council and Police Chief by contradicting their security approach and, most disgustingly, he has disregarded OUR children through his selfishness! I once again say, SHAME ON YOU for supportint this behavior, dredging up the past BS and blaming a BOE who has 4 new members! Let's remember, the BOE you so quickly trash that gave us Mr Engravalle and "approved" all this comp time was the previous BOE made up of mostly Engravalle "followers" like yourself.
Howard L. Pearl February 21, 2013 at 02:07 PM
The assumption that you are the only one who cares about the education of our children is totally delusional and ludicrous. Many of us have fought to improve the conditions of the schools and to support our fine teachers and will continue to do so. Your statement, “why an employee is out in not important”, shows a lack of basic knowledge regarding business. True professionals often do not even use their accrued time, while working long hours of dedicated service. True professionals do not abuse that privilege, clearly the case here. The BOE has failed in its responsibilities over the years. Hopefully, the current Board will perform better. As for maligning superintendents, criticism comes with the territory. Several superintendents performed poorly and/or made poor choices, Mr. Engravalle included. His political and other inappropriate tweeting was offensive to the residents of Fort Lee. There were opportunities for him to reach out to the community, but he failed to do so. He could have proved his critics wrong with a stellar performance. Instead he chose the path of resistance and indifference, e.g. failure to attend BOE meetings. If you want to prevail in a debate, you need facts and statistics. Your opponents have 110+ days absent as a fact; failure during a crisis as a fact; failure to reply to e-mails and to schedule meetings as a fact. He did accomplish certain positives, but his total performance was sub-par.
William Mays February 21, 2013 at 09:22 PM
We can stop going after every superintendent when they finally hire one that has a brain and doesn't neglect his job duties by skipping work. If I acted like this at work, I'd probably be looking for a job at PNC right now.
Lone Ranger February 21, 2013 at 10:29 PM
@Tracy. Well thank you for your concern of my welfare, but we are all doing much better now that the Loser is gone. I do not know a soul in Fort Lee, however I felt it was my civic duty to warn the people there what they really have in this Superintendent I can see by your blogs that you have become enthralled with him. I pitty you as I have seen this soooo many times before. But have no fear, it wears off after a while, LOL
Patrick Won February 25, 2013 at 04:00 PM
"Eighty percent of success is showing up" - Woody Allen


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