For Camden, Overseer Who Knows Drill The Team Leader Heading To The City's Schools Brings Experience.

Posted: June 16, 1999

The man appointed yesterday to lead a review of the Camden school system readily admits that he knows little about the place where, starting this summer, he will spend almost every workday for at least several months.

But there is no question that he knows school systems.

Vito A. Gagliardi, 60, a former Union County schools superintendent, has more than 30 years of experience in New Jersey as a teacher and an administrator. He also was a special education adviser to State Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco (R., Union).

These days, Gagliardi goes into places where he isn't always wanted.

Last summer he was named to lead an ongoing review of finances and operations in the Asbury Park school system, a district bedeviled by allegations of corruption and perjury. Yesterday, state Education Commissioner David Hespe announced that Gagliardi would undertake a similar review in Camden, where the primary concerns are finances and low test scores.

Gagliardi said he was aware that he and the other 20 or 30 state appointees going into Camden must work cooperatively with local officials.

``My personal style is not to rough anyone up,'' Gagliardi said. ``We work to gain their respect. It takes a while sometimes.''

But if necessary, he said, he will make tough choices. The review team will have the authority to restructure curriculum and to conduct a comprehensive review of finances.

``No one likes to be criticized about anything,'' Gagliardi said. ``But in certain situations, you can't have business as usual.''

Gagliardi, a former Marine, received his undergraduate degree in 1964 from Newark State College, now called Kean College, and went on to earn a master's degree from Seton Hall University and a doctorate from Rutgers University.

He began his education career in Westfield, Union County, teaching mathematics, language arts and reading from 1964 to 1967, then moved on to administration. He was schools superintendent for 11 years in Washington Township, Mercer County. He also was the Union County schools superintendent and superintendent of that county's vocational-technical schools.

In Asbury Park late last year, Gagliardi's review team made a preliminary report that faulted the district for outdated policies and a lack of leadership. The report also said the district placed too many high school students in the special-education category.

It also addressed athletics, a sore spot for the district after the football team forfeited eight victories due to the ineligibility of two players. The team's review found that interscholastic sports were ``generally overemphasized and inadequately supervised.''

It is too soon to tell what is in store for Camden, Gagliardi said. The bottom line, he said, is to make sure students are getting the most out of their school.

``We want to be certain that the money is being spent to provide the thorough and efficient education they deserve,'' he said.

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