Question: What do you call the board member who has only missed one board meeting in the past 13 years and who served the United States of America as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps for 25 years before retiring?

Answer: the New Jersey School Boards Association’s 2023-2024 School Board Member of the Year.

According to a nomination letter filed on behalf of several school board members, the only reason Bernadette Dalesandro, the president of the Netcong Board of Education and also the president of the Morris County School Boards Association, missed that meeting was so she could attend her daughter’s college graduation.

Dalesandro was recognized with one of the NJSBA’s highest honors at a surprise ceremony at a Netcong board of education meeting in Netcong.

“Bernadette Dalesandro is a shining example of what it means to be a great board member,” said Dr. Timothy Purnell, executive director and CEO of NJSBA. “Not only has she faithfully served the Netcong Board of Education, she also has taken a leadership role at the county level, serving as president of the Morris County School Boards Association, where she has done additional work to promote student achievement and the efficiency of individual boards. I congratulate her on being our School Board Member of the Year. I also thank her for her service, not only to our students, but also to our country.”

Not only does Dalesandro serve as president of her local board and her county school boards association, but she has also been her board’s vice president several times and has chaired numerous board committees.

She began her board service at the Lenape Valley School District in 1995 and a few years later joined the Netcong Board of Education, serving on both boards for several years all while being a full-time Marine, according to a nomination letter.

Starting in April 2005, she began serving solely as a Netcong school board member and has played a key role in helping pass and approve many of the district’s key initiatives.

Dalesandro, who has served as a board member for 28 years, helped the district pass a referendum and has been instrumental in enabling the district to integrate technology into the curriculum, in implementing a day preschool program, and ensuring staff get training.

She has served as president of the Netcong Board of Education for many years. A member of the Skyland’s Rotary, she has collaborated with the Netcong Education Foundation on its annual St. Patrick’s Day Italian Style Dinner to raise funds to benefit the students and staff of the Netcong School District.

She has also been involved in advancing board governance at the state level, serving as a delegate to the NJSBA and as vice president and president of the Morris County School Boards Association.

Dalesandro was integral in helping the Netcong Board of Education earn the Carol E. Larsen Master Board Certification in recognition of high performing boards, and she has achieved the distinction of Certified Board Leader through the New Jersey School Boards Association due to her commitment to her own professional development. Furthermore, she was recognized as Volunteer of the Year by the New Jersey Education Foundation Partnership in 2019 for her service and dedication to helping the Netcong Education Foundation advance its mission of enhancing the educational experience of all Netcong schoolchildren by providing financial support and other resources to supplement programs and activities.

Several board members, including numerous members of the Morris County School Boards Association, lauded Dalesandro’s contributions as a board member in a nomination letter. Below is a sampling of their comments.

Lisa Mezik, president of the Rockaway Township Board of Education and a member of MCSBA, said, “When I was a new board member in Rockaway Township … Bernadette Dalesandro served as an invaluable source of information and as a personal mentor for me, emulating the kind of board member I wished to be. I’ve watched her continuously reach out to other board members around the state while advocating the benefits of being a well-trained board member and the effects of board members on the students of New Jersey.”

Peter Dumovic, a member of the Mendham Township Board of Education as well as a member of the MCSBA, said, “Bernadette Dalesandro is an exemplary leader … Bernadette’s passion, enthusiasm, and can-do attitude are infectious. Her positive outlook, with a strong focus on encouraging student success, is palpable. I am honored and privileged that I can continue to work and learn from Bernadette.”

Judy Mayer, a member of the Parsippany Troy Hills Board of Education and a member of the MCSBA  Awards Recognition Committee, said, “Bernadette is a true leader who leads with her heart. She is an innovative and determined person. The Unsung Hero (Awards) is a good example. She is totally invested in recognizing students and assisting them financially. She actively goes out getting sponsors and is so very successful. I respect and admire her commitment to ALL students, not just the students in her district.”

Jennifer Darling, a member of the Boonton Town Board of Education and also a member of the MCSBA, noted how she volunteered to be a founding member of the newly formed Awards Recognition Committee that Dalesandro created as MCSBA president. “She is skilled at bringing people together and making them feel valued as members of the team,” she said. “Bernadette had an exciting vision of how to recognize both students and board members in Morris County… she led us to create the Irene Lefebvre Excellence in Boardsmanship Award to recognize board members in Morris County and the Unsung Heroes Award to celebrate eighth- and twelfth-grade students from the individual school districts in this county. The Awards Recognition Committee seeks to encourage students who might otherwise go unrecognized by traditional scholarship awards. I’m proud to be a founding member of this group Bernadette created.”

Jessica Derienzo-Park, a member of the Netcong Board of Education, said, “On a local level, Bernadette worked with the Netcong Education Foundation to create a St. Patrick’s Day Italian-style dinner fundraiser; this event allowed Netcong to provide a 1:1 Chromebook ratio for the district’s students. She has continued to be an integral participant, and Netcong has been able to ensure the district’s technology initiative continues and is upgraded every two years. She created a mentorship program for incoming board members” she said. Moreover, she has attended training classes with new board members to support and encourage them, she said. “She’s an invaluable member of the Netcong Board of Education,” she said.

In their nomination letter, the school board members observed that Dalesandro has always been “a fierce advocate” for students and her fellow board members. “In 2021, Bernadette became president of the Morris County School Boards Association,” they stated. “In her role as president, Bernadette began a Morris County SBA President and Vice President Forum, allowing county board members an opportunity to meet a few times a year to discuss the challenges specific to those roles. She spotlights high school musicians by providing a lovely accompaniment to county dinner meetings. She ensures that the officers and members have a voice in the county and by extension, to the state.” They added, “Under her leadership, the MCSBA Unsung Heroes Awards Ceremony is quickly becoming known as a can’t-miss event, drawing the county superintendent, board members, families, local dignitaries and politicians to support Morris County students.”

In their letter, the school board members also noted that “recognizing the flaws in the funding formula,” Dalesandro fought hard at the local and state level to ensure her district received “fair funding,” which has allowed it to function efficiently.

The board members noted, “Bernadette has a can-do, no-nonsense spirit; she’s a true leader and very deserving of this recognition.”

Since 2005, the NJSBA has honored a local board of education member who makes significant contributions to public education, exemplifies leadership in the field of education with a strong commitment to the children of New Jersey, demonstrates a strong commitment to their own personal and professional development as a board member and shows active involvement on school governance at the local, county and state levels.

An in-depth interview with Dalesandro will be featured in a future issue of NJSBA’s School Leader magazine.

An independent out-of-state panel reviews the nominations and identifies the individual who will be honored as New Jersey’s Board Member of the Year.

You can learn more about the award and past winners on this webpage.