Forming the Future: Family matters at East Boston Central Catholic School

EAST BOSTON -- "When you go home, do you send Principal Casaletto to his room?"

That is the question that East Boston Central Catholic School students always have for school librarian Roberta Casaletto. Her son Bobby is the school principal, and therefore, her boss. Principal Casaletto is quick to explain that he's only her boss during the day. When they go home, she's the boss.

"It has really been an amazing experience," Roberta said about working for her son. "He is very supportive. He's very honest with his evaluations even though I'm his mom. He holds nothing back."

At EBCCS, family reunions and staff meetings are basically the same thing. Not only is Principal Casaletto's mother the librarian, but his assistant Duber Gutierrez's mother, Maria Norena, works in the cafeteria. Business Manager Carol Baglio's sister, Sharon Rozzi, teaches fifth grade. Sharon's daughter, Lauryn Rozzi, teaches first grade. Baglio's neighbor is MaryAnn Manfredonia, the former principal. Manfredonia's niece, June Comeau, teaches fourth grade.

"It goes on and on," Bobby Casaletto said.

Walking through the halls on Oct. 31, Principal Casaletto wove an increasingly complex web of nephews, nieces, in-laws, and close friendships that connect him with virtually every student and faculty member he saw. He said that if he explained every relationship he has with people in the school, "your head would spin."

"For us in this building, everybody truly enjoys being together," he said. "They don't feel like they go to work every day. They go to school. Everybody's willing to pitch in for each other, have each other's backs."

To him, the family atmosphere at EBCCS goes deeper than blood. He treats every student and faculty member like family. On Oct. 31, he comforted a girl who was distraught at having mistakenly offended her teacher (she licked her lips, and the teacher thought she stuck her tongue out at her). Recently, a boy cried when Principal Casaletto spoke on the intercom during a lockdown drill. He discovered that the boy was traumatized after being involved in a tragic car accident. After that, Principal Casaletto would tell jokes on the intercom so the boy wouldn't be afraid of his voice. On multiple occasions, he spoke to the boy in person to make him smile and laugh.

Parents often tell Principal Casaletto that when they drop their kids off at EBCCS, it feels like they're leaving their kids with relatives rather than taking them to school.

"It's a family affair here," Baglio said. "But the priority is all students."

To her, all students are "angels."

"For me, it makes me feel like my kids are safe here," said Baglio's niece-in-law Vittoria Rozzi, who has four children enrolled in the school. "You know that they're loved."

Many EBCCS students are children of Boston Public Schools employees.

"That speaks volumes about what they believe about our education," Principal Casaletto said.

Like East Boston itself, EBCCS is a close-knit community, made up of 196 students from pre-K to eighth grade. So many of the students and faculty members are related because enrollment and employment in the school are through word of mouth. At a time when many Catholic schools are understaffed, extended families are a reliable labor pool. When the school needed a librarian, Roberta Casaletto, formerly a preschool teacher and administrator, came out of retirement.

"I think it's the best thing that could possibly happen," she said, "because it tells parents that this is truly a family."

When the school needed help in the kitchen, nobody seemed interested. Gutierrez realized that her mother had experience, and recruited her for the job.

"Seeing her every day, it makes me happy," Gutierrez said. "If I need her, I know that she's here."

That being said, Principal Casaletto tries his best to keep a fine line between personal and professional. When his children went to EBCCS, he wasn't dad; he was Mr. Casaletto. He and his mother seldom discuss school life after work -- although she does enjoy sending him to his room at the end of the day.

"Outside of school is family time," he said. "We try to leave that here."

In Sharon Rozzi's classroom, there is a Boston Globe newspaper clipping from 2009, when Principal Casaletto saved a six-year-old student's life by performing CPR.

"We are a family of teachers," she said. "I have been blessed to be a teacher for 36 years. It has always been a place where we feel like a family. We do love each other."

She has four grandchildren in the school, and one of her students is Guttierez's nephew.

Outside her classroom, she posts pictures of her former students who are serving in the military. She still keeps in touch with them, and many other alumni visit her to tell her about what they have done with their lives.

When she was tasked with writing the school song with lyrics sung to the tune of "Camelot," she made sure to include the words "it's like a family."

"It gives me the shivers," she said. "It's an atmosphere that you feel when you walk into the building. That Jesus is present, that he's part of our school, and we're part of our family."