NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Ed Spencer uses the word family to describe the bond he shares with the other eight members of the New Brunswick Board of Education.
It's a bond he says is born out of their shared dedication to the city's students and strengthen by years of working together.
The family honored one of their own at the Sept. 17 meeting when Spencer was recognized for 25 years of service to the board.
It has been a time for Spencer to reflect on all the work by the board over those 25 years - the curriculum changes, the policy additions, the capital improvements, etc.
Spencer is most proud of the innovations the board has helped introduce to the school district, whether it was helping partner with George Street Playhouse and other cultural groups around the city on arts programs or the creation of the P-TECH school that's helping 40 students simultaneously earn high school diplomas and associate's degrees.
"We are always looking for new ways, fresh ways, to improve the schools," Spencer told TAPinto New Brunswick. "We are dedicated to giving each child the best education possible."
Perhaps the innovative program that resonates most with Spencer is the AVID program.
The Advancement Via Individual Determination is a widespread program that prepares students for success in high school, college and a career, especially students traditionally underrepresented in higher education.
"The board went to a national conference about the program and we were able to get the information and bring it back to the school," Spencer said. 'The superintendent at the time accepted it and ran with it. At the time, we were ahead of the curve in focusing on the midrange student. As a result, we saw a lot of the AVID students, some of them valedictorian and salutatorian and many of them went to college. That program was ideal for midrange performers like myself."
Spencer didn't always work up to potential in school, but he had two things going for him: his mom and his dad. His mom was active in the PTA and was always involved in his education.
"I have always felt I could do better, but I always did just enough," he said. "It worked out well for me anyway because I reached all the goals I wanted to reach. At that time, there weren't many opportunities to go to college. You worked manufacturing or civil service. Or, since this was the time of the Vietnam War, you got drafted. To have the opportunity to go to school and finish in the four years I was there, that was my accomplishment."
His parents also impressed upon him the importance of service and Mayor Jim Cahill gave him the chance to serve his community. Spencer was promoted to the position of Superintendent of Recreation in 2015 by Cahill. Before that, Spencer was the director of the HUB Teen Center. In all, he worked in the city's social services department since 1999.
When asked where his enthusiasm for serving the city stems from, he said, "Knowing that I'm going to make a difference in someone's life, that's what motivates me. Always thinking about how I can improve our school and our community. That's been my biggest thing. I love it. I love it. I really do love it. I love every day that I can get up and be involved in education or recreation."
Spencer and his wife, Renee, have been married for 42 years. They have two sons.