SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Back in 1978, issues within the school district led South Plainfield resident Carol Byrne to seek – and win – a seat on the board of education. One election led to another with Byrne serving numerous consecutive and nonconsecutive terms on the South Plainfield Board of Education over the next 38 years.
Byrne, who served the district for a total of 22 years, chose not to seek re-election last year and ‘retired’ from the volunteer position at the end of December. The longest serving member of anyone to ever sit on the South Plainfield Board of Education, Byrne was honored and presented with a plaque at the district’s Jan. 18 meeting.
“Mrs. Byrne has been a valuable member of the board of education for over 20 years [and] was a member of numerous committees, far too many to name, as well as served as board president and vice president during her tenure,” said South Plainfield’s Superintendent of Schools Dr. Noreen Lishak.
“Although I only worked with Mrs. Byrne for a limited time, her support and guidance were greatly appreciated,” added Dr. Lishak, who took on the district’s head administration role last July. “I consider her not only a colleague but a friend as well and she will be sorely missed. Her dedication and commitment to the students of the South Plainfield School District is something that will always be remembered.”
Bill Seesselberg, current president of the board of education who worked alongside Byrne for seven years, said, “Carol has been a friend, a colleague, a resource, and a fount of knowledge not only with the board and the school district but in the town …”
Byrne and her late husband moved to South Plainfield in 1975, raising their two daughters, Meridith and Kristin, in a home on Orchard Drive. She began attending board meetings and, not happy with the way things were being handled in the district, ran, successfully, for a seat on the board for the first time in 1978.
“I went to board meetings for a few years before running and was very angry back then with the way things were being done,” said Byrne, noting at the attitude of the board at the time, along with issues involving teachers salaries were among the reasons she first ran. “It drove me crazy.”
Byrne, a non-conflicted member during her entire tenure on the board, went on to serve three consecutive terms (1978-1987) and, after losing her bid for re-election to fourth term, took some time off to raise her children and return to work. She remained active in the school district, however, serving as vice president of the Grant Elementary School PTA, and as a member and president of the Franklin, and middle school/high school PTAs.
Then, in 1995, she threw her hat in the ring again and served another three-year term. “Anytime things started to make me mad, I ran again,” Byrne said.
Byrne also served on the board from 2009 to 2012 and, most recently, from 2014 to 2016. Additionally, she served or chaired various committees and was its president (1996-1998) and vice president (1979-1980, 1981-1982; and 1985-1986).
As board member, Byrne saw ‘a long list of superintendents’ and an ‘even longer list of assistant superintendents.’ She was opposed the closing of the old Roosevelt Elementary School along with the subsequent closing and then reopening of Grant Elementary School and was involved with the development. Additionally, she was involved in the ultimate passage of the referendum to build a new Roosevelt Elementary School; the renovations to enclose open space sections of South Plainfield High School; and the implementation of full-day kindergarten. Prior to retiring, Byrne supported the upcoming March referendum.
Over her years, Byrne also attended training classes, first becoming a Certified Board Member then a Master Board Member before ultimately earning the highest rank of Certified Board Leader. Last fall, the New Jersey State School Boards Association recognized Byrne for her 20-plus years of service to the district.
“Carol was always professional, knowledgeable, and dedicated. She always spoke up when she needed to and, since she had such a long tenure on the board, she always knew what we needed and what we could do,” according to Seesselberg. “She always had the best interest of the district - students and staff included – in mind. The knowledge she brought to the district and her passion for all things in education in South Plainfield will be greatly missed.”
Although she 'loved every minute of her time of the board,' Byrne said she chose not to seek re-election last fall because it ‘was time.’ She plans to sell her home later this year and relocate north to be closer to her youngest daughter Meridith who resides in Massachusetts.
“You have to have transition and I feel it was time to pass the baton,” Byrne told TAPinto, adding that she feels better knowing the district is ‘headed in the right direction’ and in ‘really good hands’ with a board comprised of new members and the leadership of a new superintendent.
“Dr. Noreen Lishak is a breath of fresh air in South Plainfield and she has already proven that she is going to be wonderful for the district,” said Byrne.
Getting a bit emotional speaking at the Jan. 18 meeting, Byrne added, “I am entering a new phase in my life and I feel the board is in a stronger position now than it has been for several years. I am sad to leave, but excited by my future endeavors.”
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