Nicholas Sacco remembered how he felt as he packed his items for the last time at the North Bergen School District headquarters on June 30. It happened to be the very last day of his 49th year in education.
“It was a good emotional feeling,” Sacco, who has been a school administrator in town for decades, said of the day. “I knew it was time to retire. I feel I accomplished what I needed.”
Sacco, who is North Bergen’s mayor and the state Senator for the 32nd legislative district, began his teaching journey in 1968 when he became a teacher in Bogata High School.
From 1969 to 1974, he taught in Cresskill as a high school teacher and football coach. But it wasn’t until 1974 that the mayor rooted himself in North Bergen. That year, he became a teacher and later vice principal at the Horace Mann Elementary School. In 1977, Sacco became Horace Mann’s principal. Seven years later, he took over as principal for Lincoln Elementary School until 1999, when he became assistant superintendent of schools until a board office reorganization moved him into the director of elementary and secondary education position in 2014.
“Fifty years of being in the educational field, it was over,” he said. “I enjoyed the job and I’m giving it up for all time. I knew my time had come.”
Another impetus for Sacco’s retirement in 2017 stemmed from his success at combating overcrowding in the district’s schools.
Under a reconfiguration plan, North Bergen High School will move into the High Tech High School Campus on 85th Street and Tonnelle Ave. Around that time, High-Tech will move into a new $160M campus in Secaucus. A new junior high school, serving grades 7 through 9, is planned to take over the original NBHS campus around the same time. Sacco was a driving force behind the reconfiguration.
This decision allowed the township to avoid paying millions to construct a new high school.
“We solved the high school issue, the junior high school issue, and the overcrowding,” Sacco added. “In a few years, we’ll have all these issues done, and we did it cost-effectively.”
“I feel I accomplished what I needed.” – Nicholas Sacco
Lessons learned and catching up
The mayor said his greatest lesson during his career was learning “how to deal with people and their needs. There were so many students I dealt with over the years. It was challenging, dealing with them and their parents.”
Many of his former pupils have become prominent in town. Freeholder Anthony Vainieri Jr., who some consider Sacco’s political heir apparent, once called Sacco his teacher.
“I’m so happy he retired,” Vainieri said. “I think he deserves it. It’s a new life for him, and he’s still in the [town hall] office.”
Sacco playfully refused to discuss how Vainieri was as a student.
But he did discuss a recent Facebook message from a former student. The student had been his quarterback in Cresskill and wanted to play catch up. “Are you the same Nick Sacco that coached us in football?” the student asked.
“Yes, I left after your Jr. year,” Sacco responded. He takes pride in seeing where his students have gone since leaving his guidance.
“It has been an overall sense of accomplishment, seeing the kids grow up and become big.”
Superintendent of Schools George Solter Jr. was in the building on Sacco’s final day. He took pictures of him as he departed with items in tow.
“It was kind of anti-climactic,” Solter reflected. “He goes, ‘I just knew it was time for me to go,’ and he just walked out the door.”
Solter said that Sacco was always hands-on with the district’s children, especially the much younger ones. “In the fall, he was always there to greet the Pre-K kids in Braddock Park on the first day,” he said.
“He always gave that feeling that everyone’s welcome in the schools. He loves to go into the schools and visit the classrooms and just be around children.” Sacco also proved instrumental in assisting Solter in his position. “Personally, he’s really helped me in this job as someone I can bounce ideas off of,” Solter said. “He was always someone I could have a conversation with.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org