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Hackensack schools Superintendent Karen Lewis has been suspended with pay, and Assistant Superintendent Joseph Cic­chel­li is stepping in as acting district chief, a decision announced by the Board of Education on Tuesday night that drew loud applause from...

Acting Hackensack schools chief named after superintendent suspended

Hackensack schools Superintendent Karen Lewis has been suspended with pay, and Assistant Superintendent Joseph Cic­chel­li is stepping in as acting district chief, a decision announced by the Board of Education on Tuesday night that drew loud applause from...

Acting Hackensack schools chief named after superintendent suspended

Hackensack schools Superintendent Karen Lewis has been suspended with pay, and Assistant Superintendent Joseph Cic­chel­li is stepping in as acting district chief, a decision announced by the Board of Education on Tuesday night that drew loud applause from an audience heavily peopled with district employees.

Lewis was suspended with pay Monday, board President Jason Nunnermacker said at the meeting at Hackensack High School auditorium. “State law prohibits me from discussing the reasons,” he said, citing her suspension as a personnel matter.

Many in the audience of more than 100 people applauded when the board president said Cicchelli would replace Lewis. Another round of enthusiastic clapping greeted his announcement that he and board Vice President Lara Rodriguez had instructed Cicchelli to “review the non-renewal of each staff member” and to “postpone any transfer of any school member … between any school.”

Five teachers’ contracts were not renewed, and whether to renew their contracts now would be Cicchelli’s decision, Nunnermacker said. In an interview after the board meeting, he said the staffing issues had “no connection” to Lewis’ suspension.

The teachers had been notified on Friday about the non-renewal and were told the reason was “downsizing and restructuring,” said Michael DeOrio, the Hackensack Education Association president.

“Myself and the association are in full support of this appointment,” he said.

Parents interviewed before the meeting said they didn’t know anything about Lewis’ removal and didn’t have opinions on her tenure. Many in the audience declined to speak with a reporter, saying they were district employees.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Nunnermacker said he and Rodriguez informed Lewis on Monday morning about her suspension, which he said was a unanimous decision by the board. He described a five-minute meeting with Lewis before her departure as “courteous.” Shortly after, he and Rodriguez asked Cicchelli to serve as acting superintendent, he said.

The board on Tuesday voted to appoint Cicchelli acting superintendent with eight affirmative votes and one abstention. “He is the captain of the ship,” Nunnermacker said.

He said in an interview earlier Tuesday: “Under the applicable New Jersey statutes [Lewis] has to be suspended with pay like any other school employee when there’s a disciplinary suspension.”

Other school officials declined to comment in advance of the board meeting. Lewis could not be reached. She was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

The board had hired Lewis for the position effective Dec. 1, 2013, with a five-year contract under which she earned a $167,500 salary. She was preceded by two interim superintendents and before that by Edward Kliszus, who left in June 2011. Lewis had been assistant superintendent in Highland Park for five years. The board voted unanimously in support of her hiring.

Cicchelli has served 40 years in the district as a teacher, vice principal, principal and assistant superintendent, Nunnermacker said.

“I appreciate the support,” Cicchelli said before delivering the superintendent’s report. “I just hope I can live up to your expectations. I will try, believe me. I’ve been here long enough. I think I know the way to do it.”

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