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 named board members who, in addition to their service on boards of education, also contributed countless hours in other important positions.
In the Jan. 23 and Jan. 29 editions of School Board Notes, as part of the 2019 School Board Recognition Month, the NJSBA is profiling community servants who continue to give, even after they have met the demands of their local boards of education.
The board members identified below have served their communities in uniform. A companion story in this week’s School Board Notes features board members Lisa Marshall and Ed Barrett.
Spotlight on Service: Tom Sicola, Watchung Borough Board of Education
The Watchung Borough Board of Education has many members who, over the course of time, volunteer tirelessly to help the community they live in. Board member Tom Sicola is no exception.
Sicola went the extra mile to volunteer in the community by recently becoming a certified firefighter and volunteer with the Watchung Fire Department – an all-volunteer department. He graduated in July and continues to go to classes to broaden his knowledge of the work he is passionate about doing.
Sicola wrote about being a firefighter in a story he posted online.
“October is Fire Prevention month,” he wrote, “and this year I got to participate at my town’s school assemblies. The highlight was at my daughter’s preschool. At the assembly, the head of the preschool introduced our town’s fire official and together they talked to the children and they went through the basics of fire safety such as ‘stop, drop, and roll.’
“The school director then called my daughter up to the stage to introduce me so the children could see that I ‘was someone’s daddy.’ The kids saw my daughter run up and hug me before I dressed up in my gear, and then watched as I put on each piece of safety equipment. Some kids were brave from the start, and ran up to give me a high five and take their picture with a firefighter as soon as it was offered.
“However, to many three-year-olds, a grown man wearing full gear and breathing compressed air can seem one step away from Darth Vader.
“Those who weren’t so sure about me sat quietly with looks of trepidation as I slowly walked from the stage to the middle of the area where they sat on the floor. I knelt down in front of a little girl. ‘That’s a beautiful bow in your hair,’ I told her through my mask and breathing apparatus. ‘I love that color.’
“She could see the smile in my eyes behind my mask and slowly smiled back. I reached out my hand and she gently gave me a high five followed by an even bigger smile. After that, almost every kid was brave enough to come up to me and slap my hand.”
Sicola returned to the school the next day.
“The next day as I was dropping my daughter off at school, I recognized the same little girl with the bow as her mom was bringing her to her classroom and gave her a little wave. Before I knew it, the little girl ran across the room and was giving me a big hug. I made certain to introduce myself to her mom to let her know I was the firefighter who met her daughter the day before at the school assembly. The girl’s mom told me she was shocked because her daughter was typically so shy.
“As firefighters,” he wrote, “we never lose focus of the fact that the job is dangerous. We are always professional and emphasize safety, but a small part of me gets to feel like a kid again when I ride in the engine to whatever emergency we are called to respond. I volunteer with the fire department quite simply because I love doing it. There are times, however, when getting an unexpected hug from a little girl is the greatest possible reward.”
Sicola also has served in the Navy and in his local church. He is a father of five with a wife who is also active in the PTO of the schools and the community they have lived in together for many years.
Board Secretary Tina Kelly writes, “We are very honored to have Tom Sicola be a part of our Watchung Board of Education and thank him and his family for the hours of service and dedication.”
Spotlight on Service: Larry Williams, Point Pleasant Borough Board of Education
Since 1976, Point Pleasant Borough Board of Education member Larry Williams has faithfully served the Point Pleasant Community, beginning when he embarked on the start of his law enforcement career with the Point Pleasant Police Department, a career that spanned nearly four decades and saw him ascend to the force’s highest ranks.
In 1985, Mr. Williams achieved the rank of sergeant; in 2000, he became a lieutenant. He was promoted to captain in 2004. In 2009, he was named chief of police, a position he held until he retired in 2014.
During his law enforcement career, Chief Williams decided to further serve the community, specifically the community’s children, by becoming a member of the Point Pleasant Board of Education.
Elected to the Board in 1988, he served three years. He returned to the board in 1994, serving until 2010.
In 2010, citing time constraints, the chief reluctantly resigned from the board of education; however, after a six-year hiatus, Chief Williams, having recently retired from the police department, decided he wanted to continue to serve the Point Pleasant community and ran for reelection to the board.
In 2016, Chief Williams was reelected and resumed his place on the dais, where he continues to serve as the immediate past president.
During his original tenure as well as his current term, Chief Williams has served as board member, vice-president and president.
Throughout his time as a board member and with the police department, Chief Williams has truly exemplified community service.
He has been instrumental to the success of countless initiatives and improvements to the Point Pleasant School District while he has tirelessly worked to ensure the safety and security of the entire Point Pleasant community.
“I attended and graduated from the Point Pleasant School District,” Williams said.
“I was very lucky to have wonderful teachers who instilled a sense of community in me. I have been extremely fortunate in my life to find people who have supported my every step,” he said.
“My wife, Debbie, has been my biggest supporter and the reason that I have been able to accomplish what I have. We have had outstanding board members and administrators to make my time on the board so very enjoyable. Point Pleasant is a great place to live, work and raise a family.”