Chris Taylor Returns to Southern Regional School Board for Brief Stay

Oct 17, 2018

Even before Southern Regional Board of Education member Kevin Lyons made the motion to accept the appointment of the man to his left at the start of the board’s meeting on Oct. 10, the jokes were flying around the Ram Room inside Southern headquarters. But the one which drew the biggest laugh came from Chris Taylor, the man who was the subject of them.

After board President Steve Berkheiser asked for the all-in-favor vote, to which all but Taylor replied “aye,” he then asked the next natural question, “Opposed?” Taylor’s voice muttered off to the side of the room – “One” – prompting laughter throughout the room. He was kidding, of course.

Taylor has returned to the board for what will be a brief stint following the recent resignation of Keith Weidenhof, who stepped down from his spot on the board due to the district’s hiring of a family member last month. Taylor, who previously had served on the board for 19 years, will occupy the seat through the end of the year, according to Southern Business Administrator Steve Terhune.

“Chris, thank you for agreeing to come back on board,” said Superintendent Craig Henry. “We’ve got the band back together again.”

Along with Berkheiser, Scott Waters and R. Scott Zoladz, Weidenhof is up for re-election on the November ballot. He could reclaim his seat on the board should he be re-elected, or he could forfeit the seat to somebody else appointed by the board. Terhune said nothing legally prohibits Weidenhof from returning to the board despite his recent resignation, but Taylor’s term will expire on Dec. 31 unless the board approves an extension and he accepts it.

Besides the initial light-hearted moments, the most exciting report from the Oct. 10 meeting came from Ocean County Teacher of the Year Bill Smith.

“You’re been hearing, since the spring, about our Teacher of the Year being recommended as the Ocean County Teacher of the Year, and then in the summertime we were informed that he was one of six finalists for the state Teacher of the Year,” Henry said as he introduced Smith to the board. “I thought, now that you’ve heard about Bill Smith, that it was time to meet Bill Smith and have him give an overview of his experience so far.”

Smith, a Southern Middle School social studies teacher, described as “one of the best experiences of my life” the process of being selected as Ocean County Teacher of the Year and subsequently being vetted as one of the state’s leading candidates – starting with the moment Henry and county officials gathered outside his classroom to surprise him with the news about being selected as the county’s Teacher of the Year recipient.

“When they surprised me at my third-period class, it was quite a roller coaster of emotions,” Smith said. “You see so many important people at your door and one of your students says, ‘Hey, Mr. Smith, are you getting fired?’ The only answer is ‘God, I hope not.’ It was incredible, and since then, it’s just been awesome.”

After being nominated for the state’s Teacher of the Year, Smith initially believed he had no shot at even making the slate of finalists “because these teachers were all absolutely incredible.” But he made the finals ,and then the real roller coaster began.

“I got to interview in front of the state committee, which is the full state Legislature and the president of the NJEA and a lot of other very important people,” Smith explained. “It was pretty intimidating, but it was a really cool experience.”

Afterward, Smith was recognized at a Trenton Thunder baseball game, during which he threw out a ceremonial first pitch, as well as at a Rutgers University football game. He also has been asked to speak at various locations and meet with state officials to discuss education policy, among other things.

“This has been an absolutely awesome journey,” he said. “And I can’t wait to see where it all takes me.”

Henry, of course, had to remind Smith of his true loyalties.

“These are some well-deserved honors,” Henry said to Smith jokingly. “But don’t let them give you too much work for free. This is where your paycheck come from. Give them a little bit, but not too much.”

Once Smith had finished and left the room, the board commenced with typical business – perhaps the most exciting of which, to many students most likely, was the approvals of a few new clubs, including a Dungeons & Dragons Club and an Amateur Radio Club.

— David Biggy

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