No. Branford High art teacher retiring after 32 years

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
April 5, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — After more than 30 years teaching art at the high school, Joe Roberti has seen lots of students come and go, but he said many aspects of the job remain the same.

“(Students are) maybe a little more interested in a diverse type of learning, so we’re getting more kids interested in the arts,” Roberti said. “But art hasn’t changed that much — colors stay the same, principles of art stay the same.”

Now in his 32nd year at North Branford High School, Roberti is planning to retire at the end of this school year. He said he is hoping to focus more on personal art projects.

“I want to get into my own artwork and projects that I put off for a long time,” he said.

Roberti, 60, started at the high school in September 1976, after graduating from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. He was born in Italy and when he was 8 years old, his family moved to Branford, where he grew up.

He has spent his entire teaching career at North Branford High School.

His wife, Sheila, is a teacher at North Branford’s Totoket Valley Elementary School. They live in Guilford and have a daughter, Sarah, who is studying photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.

Roberti said he was attracted to teaching because of his interest in art and sports. He was on the football, basketball and track teams at Branford High School and played football at Yale, and was inducted into the Branford Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

During his first years teaching at North Branford High School, he coached track and football.

“I like the interaction with students. You get a lot of satisfaction when you help somebody, and art is great because you can actually see the tangible results of your work,” he said. “It’s satisfying because you know you’re doing something worthwhile, helping your students.”

Principal Michele Saulis said that one of her first projects when she became principal in 2006 was to showcase more student artwork throughout the school building.

“He was really happy to work with me on that,” Saulis said. “He is just a real champion of promoting the student artwork.”

Saulis said it is apparent in Roberti’s teaching style how much he enjoys working with students.

“He has sort of a soft-spoken interaction with students, but he’s got very high standards and expectations at the same time,” she said. “He really enjoys interacting with each individual student about their individual work rather than sort of standing in the front and presenting information.”

She added that Roberti has kept his teaching up to date. For example, she said, he now assigns students a “junk art” project that can incorporate old electronic equipment.

Along with Roberti, there are several teachers at the high school who have worked there for more than 30 years. Saulis said there may be more retirements in the next few years.

Roberti was the school’s only art teacher for most of his career, he said. Now the school has a part-time teacher in addition to Roberti, and administrators are hoping to increase the number to two full-time positions next school year.

“There is more awareness and support that (the arts are) important. … It’s not just a frill like they used to be,” he said.

“It’s about seeing the realization with students that they’re doing something worthwhile, something they can be proud of, especially when they didn’t think they had enough confidence at first and going through the process, they achieve success.”

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