Stafford Leader

Southern Regional’s ‘Irreplaceable’ Cindy Wood Retires

Teacher With ‘The Best Heart’
By DAVID BIGGY | Jun 09, 2017

A video recently surfaced on Facebook showing Southern Regional High School’s Jim McCabe presenting a question to a crowd of 170 in a banquet room at Calloways Restaurant.

“Who fills in for Cindy Wood?” he asked, as he paid tribute to his friend and colleague of 27 years. The entire crowd gave the answer: “Nobody!”

After describing what Wood’s presence at both the middle and high schools meant to the entire Southern community, McCabe went on to say, essentially, that Southern Regional soon would be missing a big piece to a large puzzle.

“There will be an emptiness here,” he concluded. “But the legacy will live on.”

At the conclusion of the school year, Wood will sail off into the sunset – pretty much literally – as she says goodbye to a teaching career marked with compassion, generosity and infectious passion, along with countless lives touched. Morgan Snyder, a 2011 Southern graduate now working in New York City, knows very well the impact Wood has had on many of the students who have walked the halls.

“One of my favorite things while I was at Southern was the show ‘Gossip Girls,’” Snyder said. “And here’s the kind of person Cindy is: She finds out what you like and uses it to find a way to make you smile. Cindy spent a couple hundred bucks to enter me into a contest to win a meeting with the cast of ‘Gossip Girls.’ She didn’t care if she spent some money for something that, now, seems a bit crazy. And I didn’t win. But she just wanted me to be happy. That’s Cindy Wood.”

Wood originally got into teaching simply on the basis that she and her husband, Dave, didn’t have any children of their own and she wanted to be around kids.

“Dave and I were married for a while, and we thought we might have kids, but eventually we decided we weren’t,” Cindy explained. “But I told him, ‘If we’re not going to have any children of our own, I want children in my life somehow. So I’m going to college to be a teacher.’ That was our little compromise.”

Upon graduating from Georgian Court College, Wood completed her student teaching at the Ethel A. Jacobsen School in Surf City and then took on substitute teaching at Southern. During the spring of 1990, former superintendent Bob Daria all but demanded Wood take a full-time teaching role at Southern.

“I was not prepared for high school, at all,” said Wood, an in-class-support special education teacher for ninth- and 10th-grade algebra. “I figured I’d sub for a year, and then I was going to go away and start teaching elementary children. But I remember Bob Daria telling me, pounding on his desk, ‘You’re going to teach at Southern.’ He pursued me and wanted me to interview, so I did and he hired me. I don’t even know why I did that. My mindset was little kids, but everybody kept telling me I’d be good with the older kids, too.”

Twenty-plus years later, Wood’s impact has permeated through every hallway, room and closet in the district. Teacher Adele Berardi, who’s known and worked alongside Wood at various times throughout her career – including the past seven years as co-advisers for the Vintage Hut in-school thrift store – says Wood is an “example to students, colleagues and administrators alike.” And nobody at Southern can light up a room like she can.

“Cindy’s a mixture of Mother Teresa and Santa Claus,” Berardi said. “She pours her heart and soul into everything she does, sometimes to a fault, but there’s not a person in this school right now who doesn’t know the impact she’s made. Unfortunately, the kids in this district four years from now will know of Cindy but they won’t know her. And that’s sad. She’s not like anybody else who’s been here.

“She’s one of a kind.”

Wood and Berardi started the Vintage Hut as a means of helping students in need acquire clothing and other items for an affordable price, in honor of former teacher Michael Lorenzi,  another beloved teacher who often helped students behind the scenes, before retiring in 2005 and dying of cancer in 2008.

“We created a scholarship fund in his honor, but we wanted to do something more and act more like him,” Wood said. “We originally wanted to start a jeans exchange program, and eventually we ended up with a spare classroom. So we developed the Vintage Hut. And it blew up in the best way possible. Everything in the Hut is a dollar, and every dollar goes back to the Lorenzi fund. It’s a win-win. We help kids in need within the school and help students who are graduating, with money for college.”

But beyond the Vintage Hut and the classrooms in which she teaches, along with a dozen or more things with which she’s involved in some way, Wood is one of the loudest cheerleaders for Southern students of all kinds – from musicians to artists to athletes.

“She is just a big ball of energy,” said Snyder, who served as Wood’s student manager for the Vintage Hut during her junior and senior years. “Her passion is infectious, and she has the best heart. She’s always going above and beyond to make your day. She’s always aware of the students and their needs. She connects with students, builds relationships with them and becomes their biggest fan. Her lasting legacy is how she’s empowered every student to believe they can do anything.”

Southern graduate and now teacher and coach Jenna Lombardo, who starred in a humorous video depicting Wood and all she does at the school, summed up Wood in a recent Facebook post as “one of the greatest gifts to ever come to Southern Regional.”

“She is the definition of kind, as well as caring, and would do anything for her students and co-workers,” Lombardo stated. “She is truly irreplaceable, and we will miss her.”

With graduation coming up on June 12, Wood’s days at Southern are numbered to a relative few. Now she’s looking forward to her “next new adventure” – cruising around on a 42-foot Bristol Trawler her husband refurbished.

“I’m retiring at 60. I’m happy and Adele is miserable. But I’m done and I’m going on a big adventure with my husband and our dog,” said Wood, who lives in Barnegat Light. “We’re going to take the boat up and down the Intracoastal Waterway, and we’re going to enjoy life. And I’m going to send everybody pictures with a message ‘Hello! I’m tan!’ It’s going to be great.

“But I’m going to miss the kids. I’m going to miss the feelings I get when that light goes on and they finally get something and learn that algebra skill. I’m going to miss the kids feeling good about themselves.

“I love the kids at Southern. And they’re always going to be in my heart wherever I go!”

biggy@thesandpaper.net

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.