As part of a continuing celebration of School Board Member Recognition Month in New Jersey, School Board Notes will publish brief profiles and photographs of board members who contribute to their communities in addition to their service as board members.
Board members were nominated by their board presidents or superintendents in response to two email invitations sent by the NJSBA in December. For the full list of honorees, see the Jan. 14 School Board Notes article here.
All school board members are dedicated volunteers, but many are committed to service in addition to the valuable time they spend with their boards of education. Through this recognition, the NJSBA seeks to acknowledge board members who go the extra mile, by giving their time and talent to other organizations in addition to their board service.
This is not a contest, but it is a celebration of the spirit of service. The honorees this week are Joan Speroni, of Point Pleasant Borough, Ocean County and Margie Long of Maple Shade, Burlington County. The others who were selected will have their profiles and pictures published in the weeks ahead, as time and interview schedules permit.
Spotlight on Service: Margie Long, Maple Shade Board of Education
Margie Long knows that to truly help people at a deeper level, you have to know them, understand them, and learn what they care about. It takes time, patience and love.
She cared for hundreds of students throughout her 26 years as a classroom teacher and middle school assistant principal, and she has raised two adopted children in her home as her own.
Retired now from the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District, Long serves as vice president of the Maple Shade Board of Education, where she lives and is raising a 10-year-old boy, Shane.
“As the assistant principal, I was very involved with my kids. I was very hands on,” she said in a recent interview with School Board Notes. “The counselor and I would meet with them, and we would talk, we would try to find what the problem really was. Because students don’t just do something. There’s a reason behind it.”
She didn’t like to discipline students without first thoroughly understanding a situation.
“I don’t like to just hand out consequences,” she said. “You’re trying to effect change. So, that’s why I spent more time than I probably should, but that was what was always important to me. That was one of the reasons I never wanted to become a principal, because I didn’t want to leave my kids.”
Today, Long is a certified trainer for Ian Hockley’s “Wingman” program, supported by the Dylan’s Wings of Change foundation. Given Long’s philosophy of dealing with children, she was a natural to work with the Wingman initiative. Wingman is a social-emotional learning program that is inspiring thousands of students across New Jersey to learn how to respect and help each other.
In an interview published in the NJSBA’s task force report, Building a Foundation for Hope, Hockley explained why his program is necessary. Hockley’s six-year-old son, Dylan, was one of 26 people shot and killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.
The Wingman program is necessary, he said, “because isolation, and exclusion, is leading to people hurting themselves, through drugs and suicide, or it is leading them to hurt others because it is their way of dealing with what has been done to them.”
Long said she was proud to be working with Hockley’s program.
“I believe in it,” she said. “It’s not a program. It’s really a movement. This is the direction that we need to be going. I’m so glad that schools are recognizing the pendulum is swinging back to social-emotional learning.
“With my students, I always spent time, developing the classroom as our home. We were all together. You need that level of trust.”
When she’s not serving as vice president of the Maple Shade Board of Education, Long spends time planting flowers for the Main Street Maple Shade business association. She hands out fliers for sidewalk sales and helps Santa speak with children at Christmas.
She also works with the Maple Shade Community Alliance, helping the group reach out to parents to teach them how to speak to their children about the dangers of involvement with drugs.
But the loves of her life are her adopted children, Jocelyn, who’s now 30 and lives nearby, and 10-year-old Shane.
“I’m 56 with a 10-year-old,” she says. “He keeps me young.”
Her son, she says, wants to be a storm chaser.
When there are bad storms, Long and Shane get dressed in their headgear and head out to her car.
“It’s a blast!” she says. “He gets in the back seat. He’s got a little computer. It’s not even a working one, and he sits there and says, ‘I’m getting data now. I sent out a probe!’ He’s got such a great imagination!”
With her work around town, with the Wingman program and with her children, Long keeps busy.
“I want to be a role model for my kids,” she says, “to say this is what you do. You always give back…If I can make someone else’s day a little bit better, it makes me happy. It doesn’t take much for someone to be down on their luck. It could just as easily be me. That’s why I do what I do.”
Spotlight on Service: Joan Speroni, Point Pleasant Borough School District
Not much stops Joan Speroni from helping people and having a good time doing it. Not snow, not ice. Not cancer.
For years, Speroni collected money for the Special Olympics by participating in the Seaside Heights Polar Bear Plunge (scheduled to take place on Feb. 22 this year).
“At Seaside, there are tens of thousands of people there. “It’s one of the largest Polar Bear Plunges for Special Olympics in the country. There are a lot of police officers, state troopers … You’ll see people from all walks of life, educators, and of course the special needs people get involved, too.
“You’ll see a lot of characters,” she said. “A lot of people with crazy costumes on… We just wear silly hats and colorful outfits… whatever we can wear to be noticed…
“A couple years ago, the sand was so cold, it was like ice… And when you got close to the water, it felt like walking on glass… I wasn’t smart enough at the time to wear sand shoes, so I actually fell,” she said, remembering the event and laughing. “I looked like a turtle upside down that couldn’t get up.”
That was about five or six years ago. Soon after, she developed breast cancer. So, she made a compromise. She decided that she wouldn’t enter the water. But she continued to raise funds to help other people and still attended the event.
Ironically, before she developed cancer, she was a regular participant in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Wall Township. In five years, she estimates her team raised about $40,000. The event was held at a high school track. Team members kept walking in circles, trying to stay awake long enough to keep going and raise more funds.
“The idea was that cancer doesn’t sleep, so neither should you,” she said. Team members were required to keep at least one member of the team on the track throughout the night.
With students and teachers at Greenville Elementary School, where she works as a secretary, Speroni helped raise $6,000 in 2014 to benefit the cancer-fighting organization, Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
She’s feeling fine now. She recently had a check up with her oncologist and was given a clean bill of health.
Speroni is the president of the Point Pleasant Borough Board of Education, where she has served since 1997. She has worked to support the borough’s performing arts department, was involved in the Panther Band Parents Boosters as a member and a band crew member. She has also been a member of the parent-teacher organizations at every school in the district.
But of all the events with which she’s been involved, the most meaningful, she says, was being a part of the Big Apple Honor Flight, where she accompanied her father, a World War II veteran, on a flight to Washington, D.C.
“It’s probably the most awesome thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said.
The mission of the “honor flights” is to get every World War II veteran to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., so that they can know that “we appreciate what they’ve done,” she said.
“My dad served in Pearl Harbor. He was part of the recovery and rebuilding, probably about four years after the (Dec. 7, 1941) attacks. He was 17 years old when he joined the navy.”
In the spring of 2017, her father, Edward Rogers, went with Speroni on a flight from New York to Washington, D.C. In both cities, there were bands. A motorcycle group escorted them. Landing in Washington, D.C., they were greeted with fanfares – “a welcome home kind of thing that every veteran should have,” she said.
“About 50 other veterans were with us. I was really moved. My dad was really moved by it as well,” she remembered.
Asked why she keeps a full calendar, Speroni said, “It’s easier to give. Even when I was sick, as much as I appreciated what people were doing for me, I felt like I needed to do for others.”
She quotes Anne Frank, who wrote a diary of her struggles to survive during World War II.
“No one has ever become poor by giving,” Speroni says. “I believe that completely, and I live it.”