The Berkeley Heights Public Schools community is mourning the passing of longtime board of education member Helen Kirsch, who passed away June 5 after an illness.
Helen was first elected to the Berkeley Heights Board of Education in 1983 and continuously served the community and its schools as a board member for the past 38 years. During that time, she served as president of the Berkeley Heights Board of Education for over 20 years, from 1989 to 2007 and from 2013 to 2016, and she was a leader in the effort to dissolve the Union County Regional High School District #1 and bring Governor Livingston High School under the control of the local school board.
“I knew Helen, and she was extraordinarily dedicated to the children of Berkeley Heights, and to children throughout the state,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “We had many conversations about the need to keep public schools in New Jersey strong. She will be greatly missed.”
A Berkeley Heights school board member who led her district’s growth and evolution from a K-8 school district to a thriving K-12 district and also served as mentor to countless other local board members, Helen Kirsch was honored by being chosen as the 2015 New Jersey School Board Member of the Year. She earned Master Board Member Certification and served on the NJSBA board of directors.
A 38-year member of the Berkeley Heights board, who served concurrently on the Union County Educational Services Commission board for 18 years, Helen was praised for her service, leadership and contribution to education in Berkeley Heights and the community at large.
When she was named Board Member of the Year in 2015, Helen told the NJSBA that her service was its own reward, and that she loved the time she worked to improve the lives of her district’s students.
“Just seeing the accomplishment on the faces of kids, and their smiles when they go through school and graduate or when they come to board meetings, is very rewarding,” she told School Board Notes. “Being able to be part of giving them the opportunities to succeed is rewarding.”
Helen was presented with the School Board Member of the Year award in a ceremony on the main stage at NJSBA Workshop 2015. Modest and unassuming, she called the honor and ceremonial presentation “kind of overwhelming.”
“Being honored for something that I love to do…I can’t find a word to describe it. It was just overwhelming. It was humbling. It was all of those things,” she told the NJSBA’s School Leader magazine. “It’s quite an honor to be recognized by your peers.”
“We are all greatly saddened by the news of the passing of Helen Kirsch,” said Doug Reinstein, president of the Berkeley Heights Board of Education. “We will always be grateful for her lifelong dedication to the students of Berkeley Heights. Her contributions to our school district are far too many to list. However, suffice it to say that our district wouldn’t be where we are today without her service.
“Mrs. Kirsch’s children and grandchildren were and are being educated in our school district,” Reinstein continued. “They saw firsthand how she was a model of always doing what was in the best interest of children. Our community owes Helen an enormous thank you for a job MORE than well done.”
During her nearly four decades on the Berkeley Heights Board of Education, Mrs. Kirsch was a member of numerous board committees including Negotiations, Long-Range Planning, Athletics/Co-Curricular Activities, Legislative, Personnel, and Curriculum.
She also served as the board of education liaison to the Township Committee, Municipal Alliance, Berkeley Heights Education Foundation, Berkeley Heights Taxpayers Association, Berkeley Heights Senior Citizens, and the Environmental Commission.
Her devoted volunteer service to the education of young people went beyond the borders of Berkeley Heights and Mountainside as well, as proven by her service on the Board of Education of the Union County Educational Services Commission.
“I met Helen a little over two years ago and was impressed with her ability to voice traditions that have been long standing in Berkeley Heights,” shared Dr. Melissa Varley, Berkeley Heights superintendent of schools. “Her desire was to always do what was best for children. She was a dedicated supporter of young people and had an enormous heart. I greatly admired her strength and tenacity. She always checked in with me to make sure I was doing ok, even when things aren’t always going ok. Our community will always owe Mrs. Kirsch a debt of gratitude for everything she did for our schools.”
The NJSBA joins the Berkeley Heights Public School District and Board of Education in extending heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of our dear colleague, Helen Kirsch, at this difficult time.
This story will be updated if further information about services is released to the public.