Superintendent Dr. Bernard Bragen—Who?

The Edison School District has been without an official superintendent for this past school year. Since October 2018, Mr. Paul J. Saxton was the interim superintendent, but he was on temporary leave due to health reasons since last June. To fill his place, Ms. Margaret Contaldi assumed the responsibilities. Finally, as of December 9, 2019, Superintendent Dr. Bernard F. Bragen became the Edison Board of Education’s official superintendent since Dr. Richard O’Malley. 

Superintendent Dr. Bernard Bragen with students at Washington Elementary School
Photo Credit: Dr. Bragen

On Tuesday, December 17, The Eagle’s Eye newspaper held a press conference with Dr. Bragen during Periods 4 and 5. 

Dr. Bragen began by discussing his history with Edison Township and his career. He explained that he graduated from this very Edison High School with the Class of 1983. He has previously worked as an assistant principal at J. P. Stevens and then was the superintendent for Hazlet Township Public Schools, among other positions.

Having been previously associated with both North and South Edison, Dr. Bragen was questioned as to whether or not he saw an educational gap between the two. He explained that he feels that Edison High School and J. P. Stevens “are different but both great schools.” Growing up in South Edison, he recognizes that this side of town is older and used to serve factory workers. Historically, South Edison consists of more middle class families while North Edison has always been more affluent, thus explaining why J.P. Stevens’ students may seem to have economic advantages over Edison High. However, in spite of societal differences and claims of unequal curriculum, Dr. Bragen believes both schools offer equal educational opportunities for their students.

In order to counteract this perception of an educational gap, Dr. Bragen believes that Edison High School students should have the opportunity to graduate as a senior with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from Middlesex County College. He has observed that other middle-class schools such as Raritan High School have had immense success in a program that integrates the local county college with high schoolers.

Dr. Bragen was then questioned about his plans for passing the referendum after the first failed vote. The initial referendum, proposed in early December, was rejected by voters consisting of the parents of students in the Edison community. Bragen explained, “We need to build, to adjust— I don’t think split sessions are the answer.” He plans to release a new referendum in March. Dr. Bragen also expressed that building a new high school is not an option, due to a lack of space and high cost of land in Edison Township. 

Dr. Bragen believes that, although many current high school students will be unable to see the referendum’s impact themselves, they should support it to help their community grow and develop (Read more about the referendum here).

As a result of his high school experience at EHS, Bragen shared his opinion on the value of homework. He believes that the dynamic of assigning homework is more significant than the system of the no-homework policy. The most popular student complaint regarding this policy is that the no-homework weekend means all work is crammed into the same day and the effect of the policy is just moving the due date by one day. Additionally, some students find that their teachers do not abide by the policy and still get assignments during a designated no-homework weekend. 

In response to the complaint, Dr. Bragen joked, “Teachers are pretty savvy as a group, aren’t they?” He did acknowledge that teachers could easily find loopholes with this system. He explained how, as a student, he was more familiar with the traditional system of reviewing a lesson at home, and doing what students would refer to as “homework” for classwork. He firmly believes that doing practice for understanding a topic should be done in school, where students can ask others for help. He mentioned how he, despite being unaware of the current policy, felt this prior system helped him understand the information taught in class better. 

Although Dr. Bragen admitted that the system of schoolwork when he was a student is highly unlikely to make a comeback in schools today, students agree that no-homework weekends help them take a much-needed break and reorganize themselves.

In addition to his high school experience, students asked his opinion on the vaping/e-cigarette epidemic. The superintendent admitted that he never knew how vast this issue was until recently. He asked his daughter, a junior, how many students she believed vaped and was shocked at her answer of eighty percent. He condemned e-cigarette companies for marketing their products towards younger generations and articulated the extent of vaping being lethal to a person’s health. He also suggested emphasizing the zero-tolerance policy to the student body so that students are more cautious and aware of their decision-making in relation to Edison District policies.

Overall, The Eagle’s Eye got to see firsthand Dr. Bragen’s appreciation for the Edison Township School District as our new superintendent. His desire to have more student representation will potentially increase overall awareness in regards to changes in the schools. He added the possibility of having a student representative on the Board of Education, articulating that “The voice least heard is the voice of the students.” The Eagle’s Eye is looking forward to the changes Dr. Bragen can bring.

Photo Credit: Dr. Bernard Bragen