In December, the New Jersey School Boards Association asked school board presidents and superintendents to identify board members who went the extra mile to provide service to their communities.
School leaders identified board members who, in addition to their service on boards of education, also contributed countless hours in other volunteer positions.
Over the next two weeks, School Board Notes, as part of the January 2019 School Board Recognition Month, will publish profiles of community servants who continue to give, even after they have met the demands of their local boards of education.
This week’s Spotlight on Service features Albert Alexander of the Passaic County Technical Institute, Marsha B. Wilkerson of the East Orange Board of Education and Robert Silcox, of the Burlington County Special Services School and the Burlington County Institute of Technology.
Spotlight on Service: Albert Alexander, Passaic County Technical Institute
His friends and colleagues use one word to describe Albert Alexander’s incredible success while serving 26 years as president of the Passaic County Technical Institute (PCTI) Board of Education:
“Relentless.” That’s what PCTI superintendent Diana C. Lobosco calls him, praising his tireless efforts, his persistence on behalf of schoolchildren, and his determination to move forward.
In addition to his many responsibilities, Alexander is also the president and founding member of PCTI’s Education Foundation, serving since its inception in 1998.
As chairperson of the Education Foundation’s annual Golf Scholarship Classic for the past 21 years, Alexander brought the school and business community together to raise funds for student scholarships. Through his leadership, the Education Foundation raised more than $1.34 million for student scholarships and teacher program grants to enhance classroom and educational endeavors.
“You’re constantly asking people,” Alexander said. “It’s my friendship, I guess, how I’ve participated with different people — the Knights of Columbus, the Elks club, the Kiwanis, and all the religious chapters I’ve been involved with. Knowing a lot of people, I kept going forward, forward, forward.”
He is proud of his successful record in raising funds and getting things done.
“In my term,” he says, “we put together an athletic center worth $23 million. We just finished building our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) building — that was $27 million. We built an automotive center worth $6.5 million. We just constantly go, go, go.”
Through his work with the foundation, Alexander has positively impacted the overall school culture, according to officials in the district. He helped provide PCTI student scholarships, teacher grants for curriculum enhancement, student and teacher iPads, and LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) program scholarships and awards.
He also helped provide holiday turkey dinners to families of students, helped underwrite performing arts performances and pay for summer dance camp expenditures. He has provided special breakfasts for teachers and staff on Teacher Appreciation Day, and tools for vocational programs.
Alexander was instrumental in sponsoring “The PCTI Alumni Connections Campaign,” which gave alumni an opportunity to give back to their alma mater through involvement and sharing of skills and talents. Other initiatives include the PCTI Annual Car Show and Lincoln of Wayne Test Drive Event.
“Good money gets donated from the graduates,” he said. “They come to a play, and before you know it, they’re donating to the arts.”
Through the years, Alexander has also been influential in the success of many other community organizations. He served as a member of the board of directors of the St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation in Paterson, and was past director of the Passaic County Parks Commission and commissioner of the Board of Recreation. He served on the board of directors of the North Jersey Country Club of Wayne, where he was the vice president and golf chairman. He also was a planning board commissioner for the Borough of Totowa.
He was a trustee of his parish for Our Lady of Pompeii in Paterson for 35 years.
Alexander serves on the board of directors and is a trustee for Hermits of Bethlehem Center for Prayer and Spiritual Growth in Chester, N.J. In 1998, he was appointed by Pope John Paul II to the Knights of St. Gregory, the highest honor bestowed on a lay person in the Catholic Church. He is a member of the Passaic County Hall of Fame, N.J. Softball Hall of Fame, Passaic Valley Elks and Knights of Columbus.
Asked what it felt like to see buildings go up and programs succeed, he pauses for a minute.
It’s a feeling, he said, “that you can’t describe. You’re going to choke me up now. It’s beautiful, that’s what it is.”
Spotlight on Service: Marsha B. Wilkerson, East Orange School District
Marsha B. Wilkerson, an East Orange School District board member, has 35 years of experience in education, and nearly as many years as a volunteer helping children.
“I have always believed in volunteerism,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s just a part of me. Just like breathing.”
She started her career in education in the 1970s, working as a home economics teacher in the Orange school district. She went back to school at Seton Hall University where she received a Master’s degree in educational media. She became a media specialist.
Always interested in a new approach and innovative programming, Wilkerson developed a relationship with the National Football Foundation and was able to successfully implement the “Play It Smart Program” for the Orange school district’s football team.
“It was really a great experience,” she said. Football players committed to athletics worked with Wilkerson and other teacher volunteers to get the extra help they needed to do well in school.
“They had total guidance on the academic side as well as the athletic side,” she said.
Track and field has always been a magnet for Mrs. Wilkerson’s attention in both the East Orange Recreation Department as well as within the East Orange school district with the Jaguars. Her involvement with the Junior Olympics and the East Orange Striders (a running team) extends beyond 30 years.
Wilkerson is very loyal to the city of East Orange, where she grew up. She often volunteers her services within the East Orange community by mentoring and tutoring high school students. She’s a member of the Arts Council of East Orange Board of Directors. She volunteers her time with youth ministry at New Hope Baptist Church located in East Orange. Wilkerson also regularly visits elderly and hospice patients, and she sits on the board for Harrison Park Owners, Inc.
Reflecting her home economics roots, her “happy place,” she says, is at the church, cooking in the kitchen.
“What happens at our particular church,” she said, “we call ourselves the kitchen crew. We serve full meals to all the young people that come.” She is proud of the church’s dance and choir ministries.
“This is a large group of volunteers,” she said. “It’s not just Marsha.”
She hopes to reach young people the way she was mentored by The Leaguers, a well-known nonprofit group in Newark that serves local youth, telling them that education is the path to success.
“The teacher piece, the teacher part of you, just kind of continues throughout your life,” she said. “It’s ingrained. I think teachers always give. It’s just something that comes very natural to me.”
Robert Silcox, President, Burlington County Boards and Long-time Volunteer
Robert Silcox, a 1968 graduate of Moravian College, is president and owner of Terra Associates, a real estate company which is located in Mount Holly, Burlington County. He has an exemplary record of service to his community.
He has served on the Board of Education of the Burlington County Special Services School for the past 14 years and as board president for most of those. He is also president of the board for the Burlington County Institute of Technology for the past six years.
Previously, he served on the Mount Holly Board of Education for 24 years, and as board president for 20 of those years.
“It is very gratifying,” he said in a recent interview, to work with the parents and children served by the Burlington County Special Services School. “I love the parents. They’re some of the best parents in the world. They’re just so loving and so caring.” The school serves special needs and disabled students from pre-kindergarten through age 21.
A long-time member of the Virtua Foundation Board, he is an advocate for ensuring that the best healthcare possible is available to South Jersey residents.
He has served Virtua for 35 years, and has been president of Virtua’s foundation for 14 years.
The hospital currently has facilities in Voorhees, Mount Holly, Camden, Marlton and Berlin, but Silcox said Virtua will continue to grow.
“We’re buying Lourdes hospital (in Camden),” he said. “That’s a very big purchase.” He hopes the deal will be settled in June. “We’re also going to build a new hospital in Westampton. We are going to break ground in 2020. That’s going to be close to a $600 million to 700 million facility, so that’s going to be a big new hospital.”
He is also currently a member of the Mount Holly Rotary Club, having served as president, and he was named a Paul Harris Fellow, which the Rotary bestows as a recognition of service.
Previously, he also served as president of the Children’s Home of Mount Holly.
Silcox and his wife, Marsha, who was a schoolteacher for 30 years, reside in Mount Holly.
“I wanted to give back to education and to children,” said Silcox. “I want to make sure that every child who comes to our schools has the best opportunity to succeed. It’s a constant challenge with budgets and state laws, but somebody has to step up and do it.”
“The world is changing, so you’ve got to adapt to that, but the children are the most important thing,” he said.
“I have no plans to retire. It keeps me going. I enjoy it. There are a lot of meetings, but when you see the other side, it’s very gratifying.” He is proud, he said, to be in a position to give back and help South Jersey’s institutions grow and prosper.