School board members often tell me that the reward for their service comes in June. It is exemplified by the smiles and handshakes that go with handing out diplomas at graduation. The ceremonies – whether for high school, middle school, elementary school, or even kindergarten –symbolize the mission of local boards of education, and put the countless meetings, hours and decisions into context.
As a district superintendent for more than 32 years, I share this perspective. Each graduation ceremony was special. But for me, some were particularly meaningful.
I’ve often told the story which concludes with my handing a blind girl her high school diploma. Years earlier, the girl’s mother had come to my office with a request that her daughter be placed in a general education setting—something the child study team thought was not possible. It was one of the few times I overruled a child study team, and the student proved to us all that she was more than capable of learning in a general education environment.
This story has a post-script: Last year, the same young woman participated in another commencement exercise, one at which she received her master’s degree.
I also recall handing a diploma to a student who had battled back from near-tragedy, a suicide attempt in her sophomore year. With the support of her family, her teachers, and her counselors, she became a healthy, happy and vibrant young woman, and I will always remember how she looked on the day she celebrated her graduation.
This issue of School Leader celebrates our graduates and the incredible contributions made by school board members across the state. I am sure you will enjoy the article, which begins on page 30. The content – consisting of photos and excerpts from speeches – was provided by school board members. One of my favorite excerpts came from NJSBA President Don Webster at the 2014 Manchester Township High School graduation ceremony:
“Continue to pursue your dreams and ambitions. Remember that you never really stop learning on the journey through life. Never compromise your value system or your integrity.”
Congratulations to the graduates of 2015, and the parents, educators and school board members who contributed to your success!