Robert DeCicco, president of the Eastern Camden County Regional High School District, will retire at the end of the year after more than 45 years of board service
He was first elected to the board in April 1977, and perhaps the only thing more remarkable than his long tenure of service is that he’s served as president since 1987.
“That’s more amazing to me anyway,” he said. “I say that because we are a combined district, serving students from Voorhees Township, Berlin Borough and Gibbsboro. I’m from Berlin, which has two votes and Voorhees has six votes. They nominate me and elect me every year. They seem more than happy to have me serve – and I’m happy to do that.”
Although he retired after 35 years working with Johnson Matthey, a British multinational specialty chemicals and sustainable technologies company, he still does consulting work for the company. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Rutgers University and served as a plant engineer and in various other production management positions.
We recently caught up with DeCicco and asked him to share some insights on his long record of service.
Why did you first run for a spot on the local board of education?
There was an open seat on the board. In a conversation with one of the then current board members, he encouraged me to run to fill the seat. At the time I had two daughters nearing high school age, so I felt this would be a good opportunity to get involved and give back to the community.
When you first joined, did you ever think you’d serve for 45 years?
I never considered that possibility. It seemed that whenever I did think about leaving the board there was also a new project on the horizon where I felt I could make a positive contribution. In 1990, we needed to expand the school, so we built our “intermediate” high school, more than doubling the existing size. Then we added additional classrooms to that building. We developed an athletic complex where we now have three turf fields for football/field hockey, baseball and softball. Our roofs are covered with solar panels. Two final projects, which should have been completed this past summer, but were held up due to supply problems, were to provide air conditioning and improved ventilation to all classrooms plus adding solar panels on car ports to offset the electric usage.
Why are you retiring?
I am proud of what we have accomplished, but it’s time for new eyes and new ideas to take over. I still plan to stay active and help out wherever I can. My wife and I enjoy traveling, and hopefully now that COVID-19 is over – or almost over – we can get back to that.
What makes the Eastern Camden County Regional High School District special?
We have about 2,000 students in our district. Over the years, Eastern has continued to achieve high academic achievements and has remained a top school in South Jersey and the state. We have always provided a balance between academics, athletics and the arts and give all students an opportunity to excel.
What have been some of the biggest changes in your school district throughout the years?
I would have to say technology. We have gone from chalkboards to smartboards. The use of iPads and computers has changed the way we teach and learn. Giving the students this knowledge will better prepare them for the world beyond high school.
What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment as a board member?
There is not one accomplishment that I can point to as the biggest. The accomplishments discussed above were achieved by my fellow board members and a super administration and staff. I have been fortunate during my entire term to have terrific board members by my side. We have always been a cohesive group, no one came with a personal agenda, and we have never been political. We have very low turnover of membership – average longevity is about 20 years of service. The overall success of the district is really due to the many dedicated professionals, administrators, teaching staff and support staff who have worked very hard to give Eastern the reputation it enjoys today.
What do you think the public often doesn’t understand about what it means to serve on a board of education?
I believe most people have the perception that the board runs the school. I often need to remind parents, and sometimes board members, that we set policy and oversee the school’s operations. The day-to-day operations are the superintendent’s responsibilities.
What was the biggest issue for you as a board member serving during a pandemic?
The transition to remote learning was for me the biggest issue we faced. While all our students are issued iPads, what seemed like an easy overnight transition from in-person learning to remote learning required many hours of hard work by our staff to achieve. Also, the lack of clear direction for many aspects of the pandemic was frustrating.
How has the New Jersey School Boards Association helped you as a board member?
The NJSBA has been very good. The conventions are great, and they offer many training sessions at the convention and throughout the year that are very worthwhile. The conventions are always well attended by our board.
What advice would you give to new board members?
Always remember the primary roles of the board member and that the finest education you can provide for the students is the ultimate goal.