SPOTSWOOD, NJ - "Make it a good day, or not. The choice is yours," was Karen Boyle's credo throughout the majority of her time as principal at the Appleby Elementary School. On August 31, she pulled into the school's parking lot for the final time. Boyle announced her retirement after the conclusion of the 2016-17 school year in June after 39 years in the district, beginning her career as a history teacher.
With covert operations that would make the CIA proud, the Spotswood PTA surprised the longtime educator with a Kindness Garden that will stand as a monument to her commitment to altruism for years to come.
The garden was the brainchild of Spotswood PTA President, Melissa Hallerman, who has worked with Boyle for the past ten years.
"Aside from being the principal here at Appleby," Hallerman said. "She's just a huge part of the Spotswood community and that's why we wanted to do the rock garden. In my opinion, that's her legacy."
Hallerman began planning the rock garden along with Denise Spicuzzo and members of the Spotswood PTA shortly after learning about Boyle's decision to retire as of September 1. The PTA organized rock painting parties throughout the summer, holding one at National Night Out. Helmetta mayor and Appleby Drama Director, Chris Slavicek opened the Helmetta Community Center for a rock decorating endeavor as well.
The community was alerted about the undertaking through social media, picking sites like Facebook that Boyle isn't on to assure complete secrecy. Even the district's central office staff was involved, taking care to make sure Boyle was not included in mass emails that provided details for rock painting outings.
Then, on the evening before the principal's last day, the PTA along with many students past and present planted the more than 350 hand-painted rocks that expressed sentiments about Boyle's time in the district. Rocks were created by kids, staff members, parents and former students.
When Boyle arrived for her final day, she was greeted by the colorful, handmade garden. The gesture moved her to tears.
"I don't know what to say," Boyle said, clearly touched by the outpouring of caring from the school and community. "It's really beautiful. It's just perfect."
Boyle was met by hugs, well wishes and thank you's from Spotswood Superintendent Graham Peabody and former Appleby teacher and newly-apppointed Schoenly School principal, Jennifer Asprocolas along with Hallerman, Spicuzzo and countless others that had arrived at the school bright and early to mark her final day in the district.
"Looking at how much she's encompassed, how many lives she's touched here," Asprocolas said. "It's unbelievable. She always said it's not a bad day. It's a bad moment. She was all about positivity."
"Being a good person," Hallerman added. 'That's the bigger lesson that she has taught."
Smile. Live, laugh, love. Hope. Caring. Sunshine. Dream. These are just some of the inspirational words forever etched in Ms. Boyle's Kindness Garden that now takes center stage at the school's main entrance. In the center is a rock with her motto, "Make it a good day, or not. The choice is yours."
"I will read them all," Boyle said before going inside with her staff. "You guys are the best."