Dignitaries from across Hudson County, and indeed, from around the state, gathered in the auditorium of West New York School No. 4 to not merely acknowledge the change of school’s name, but to acknowledge the contributions Rep. Albio Sires has made to improving education during his long career as mayor, state Assemblyman, Assembly speaker, and Congressman.
“Albio is the reason we got funding to rebuild our schools,” said WNY Schools Superintendent John Fauta prior to the hour-long event on Oct. 3.
In gratitude for all he did for education, Rep. Albio Sires was on hand as West New York municipal and school officials named School No. 4 in his honor, a school Sires attended after his family came to the United States from Cuba.
Schools in West New York had gone from aging facilities with dilapidated infrastructure to state-of- the-art school buildings. Sires, particularly as speaker of the Assembly a decade ago, managed to bring needed state funding for reconstruction of schools to municipalities throughout his district. This was one reason why so many officials came to mark the renaming of the school after Sires. His handiwork as a legislator had wrought similar improvements in other towns, too.
Sires recalled his early days in School No. 4 when he was one of only three Hispanics, himself, his brother, and a Latina girl.
“She didn’t talk to us because she spoke English,” he said. “Back then, we didn’t have ESL, we had a teacher who held up a card with a word on it and told us to pronounce it.”
The naming of the school was a tribute from Mayor Felix Roque, who lobbied the West New York School Board for it to happen, a tireless Sires advocate, Sires said. Though Sires’ wife is currently president of the West New York School Board, plans for the renaming of the school started prior to her tenure.
Although not born in a log cabin, Sires’ career was compared to that of President Abraham Lincoln, someone who worked hard, sometimes failed, but persistently tried until he achieved success.
“He never forgot his humble beginnings,” Fauta said.
Sires constantly spoke of his roots, growing up in West New York, and even after he was seated in Congress frequently walking the streets of his beloved city, stopping at favorite eateries or local businesses to talk to people.
But his impact on education, said Freeholder Chairman Anthony Romano, went far beyond West New York since nearly every community in the state—especially urban communities in Hudson County—were able to upgrade or replace aging schools thanks to legislation Sires pushed through when Speaker of the Assembly.
“His contribution to education was felt everywhere,” Romano said.
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez interrupted his legislative session to fly back to Hudson County to help honor his friend and colleague. He was among a host of other officials who had come to pay tribute to Sires, including State Senator Ray Lesniak, Assemblyman Joe Cryan, Freeholder Jeff Dublin, Freeholder Junior Maldanado, Harrison Mayor Ray McDonough, Hoboken Councilman Ravinda Bahla (representing Mayor Dawn Zimmer), Brian Platt (aid to the Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop), Kearny Mayor Al Santos, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, Hudson County Clerk Barbara Netchert, Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari and Hudson County Registrar Pam Gardner.
The dignitaries also included West New York commissioners, Carridad Rodriguez, Fior D’Aliza Frias, Ruben Vargas, Dr. County Wiley and Mayor Felix Roque as well as WNY Board of Education members President Adrienne K Sires, Vice President Vilma Reyes, Dr. Christine Piscitelli, Sara Gastanaduri, Nasrin (Rita) Alam, and Angela Duvall.
Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith was scheduled to attend but was in Washington D.C. at a conference on water utilities. He sent a comment later noting that Bayonne benefited significantly from legislation for school construction Sires pushed through the legislature a decade ago.
“The naming of a school for Albio Sores is an altogether fitting and proper tribute to an excellent legislator and a terrific friend,” Smith said. “Albio Sires knows full well the value of education as the great equalizer. He has been a steadfast champion for better schools and real education reform during his time in Trenton and Washington.”
A Cuban native
Born in Cuba, Sires’ family fled Communist Cuba in January 1962. He attended School No. 4 prior to going to Memorial High School where he became a basketball star and received a four-year basketball scholarship to St. Pater’s College. He later received his master’s degree from Middlebury College in Vermont.
He was a teacher and a business owner before taking public office. He served as mayor of West New York from 1995 to 2006 during which time his administration created more affordable housing than any other municipality in the state. He received numerous statewide honors, and was named “Mayor of the Year” in 2004 by the New Jersey Bar Association. Sires also served in the state Assembly, and during his two terms as speaker of the Assembly, he was instrumental in pushing through legislation that helped rebuild aging school facilities throughout the state. Numerous schools in Hudson County were upgraded or replaced as a result of this legislation.
In Washington, Sires served and continues to serve on critical committees that affect Hudson County, including Homeland Security, Transportation, and International Relations.
Roque, who lobbied the school board to rename the school, called the event very exciting.
“I remember when Albio was mayor and I was just a humble little doctor on 60th Street, and West New York was the place to live. The town was clean. The taxes were stable. The streets were safe. There was a sense of pride in saying `I’m from West New York.’ Business was thriving and it was a good place to live.”
Roque said Sires knows education from “the inside out.”
“I can’t think of a better role model for our children,” Roque said. “He has led by example and has shown them what they can make of their lives and how important it is to give back to the community that he was raised in. Albio Sires has always made education a priority in Trenton and in Washington.”
County Executive DeGise said he first heard of Sires as a basketball player in the 1960s but got to know him at St. Peter’s College where they both attended. Sires, DeGise said, used his athletic prowess to get himself a good education.
“And when he got that education he came right back to his hometown as a teacher and coach,” DeGise said.
Senator Menendez said Sires came from another country and worked hard to make his dreams come true, and that the naming of a school after him is a realization of some of those dreams.
“At the end of the day it is about getting a good education and having the opportunity to follow your dreams,” Menendez said. “Albio did it all, he built a career as educator and understands the value of a good education in his own life and in the lives of those he taught. It is the key that opens economic opportunity in our country.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.