Brocton bids school board member farewell

Thomas DeJoe.

BROCTON — There is a reason why Thomas DeJoe is affectionately referred to as the “godfather” of the Brocton Central School Board of Education. DeJoe, who has served 37 years on the school board, “was one of the most dedicated board members I have ever encountered in my over 20 years in working for public education,” said Jason Delcamp, Brocton superintendent.

Recently, the board of education formally, perhaps regretfully, accepted the resignation of DeJoe, who was elected to the position of Portland town justice last month. “I am deeply indebted and appreciative of the community for their trust, faith and confidence in me to serve them, their children and grandchildren,” DeJoe read in his letter of resignation at his last meeting. His emotional goodbye was met with a standing ovation.

Because town justice is a publicly-elected office that involves campaigning, DeJoe cannot run for another publicly-elected office, as his seat on the school board is up for re-election in May 2019.

“We are accepting letters of interest from community members interested in finishing out his term for the remainder of this fiscal year,” Delcamp stated. “Letters of interest will be accepted through Dec. 21.”

Over the years, DeJoe has seen many changes and been at the forefront of several, including the transition from half day to full day kindergarten and the initiation of the school breakfast program.

“At the time, New York state was offering breakfast to students, and if you signed up for it, they’d give you $10,000 towards the program,” he explained. At the time, he not only predicted that this would soon become a state requirement, but also recognized the program as meeting a real need in the district.

“Many kids who were part of the district’s high rate of free and reduced lunch weren’t getting fed at home,” said DeJoe. “They were falling asleep in school, and they were hungry. I said to the board, ‘This is a no-brainer. If we feed them, they’re going to be better educated.’ Within five years, the state mandated it, but because we got on board early, we got the money toward the program and really helped our kids.”

Investing in the community, especially its students, has always been a priority for DeJoe, who has a degree in education and worked with youth for several years as a probation officer. DeJoe and his late wife, who taught special needs students for many years, moved to the school district 43 years ago, and he served on the school board for most of that time. “There were times — and I chuckle thinking about it — that my years on the board were more than the other six board members combined,” DeJoe laughed.

For Delcamp, this is exactly what made DeJoe so valuable to the board and to Delcamp.

“Mr. DeJoe has been a valuable asset to me as a new superintendent and was influential in making sure we had a full understanding of historical decisions made by the board of education, hurdles and highlights of successes that the District has faced over his 37 years,”

Delcamp told the OBSERVER. “Mr. DeJoe, with his vast knowledge, has benefited this school district in many ways; most importantly his foundation and purpose was always student oriented.”

Indeed, DeJoe has also served on the Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES board of education for the past 22 years, and will continue to do so, as it is not a publicly-elected position.

“We need to meet the needs of every student, whether it’s special needs, career, CTE or PTECH,” said DeJoe, who has been a strong supporter of BOCES, having had both a son and grandson go on to strong careers after benefiting from its programs. The Chautauqua County School Boards Association has recognized DeJoe’s dedication to students, as he is a past recipient of their Board Member of the Year Award.

DeJoe is confident in the current school board as they move forward in their search for a new member.

“I’ve been with a fantastic board,” DeJoe reflected. “Currently it’s the best we’ve had in a long time, probably ever, actually. We have a phenomenal superintendent that is born and bred in the district, so to speak. His heart and soul is in the school, and that combination is great.”

To DeJoe, the ideal board consists of parents from each education area — “K through five, middle school, high school and special needs” — as well as older members who “bring the aspect of experience and fiscal responsibility to the table.”

“If I can be a catalyst, then I feel I’ve done my job as a person in this community,” said DeJoe. Evidently, the community he has represented for nearly four decades, agrees, as only once in 37 years was DeJoe’s seat on the school board challenged. “Our youth need the best guidance and programs possible,” DeJoe explained. “We have to invest in them, plain and simple. That’s where our future is. If we don’t do right by them, we’re not doing right, period.”

DeJoe is looking forward to serving his community in a different capacity as Portland Town Justice, although he will miss the board. According to Delcamp, he has left big shoes to fill. After all letters of interest are received, “The board will compile the list of interested candidates meeting residency requirements and will interview to select an individual,” Delcamp explained. “The board anticipates filling the vacant position at the Jan. 9 board of education meeting.”

Interested district residents may send a letter to Superintendent Jason C. Delcamp, 138 W. Main St., Brocton NY 14716 until Dec. 21. The next meeting of the Brocton Board of Education is this Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Board Conference Room 189.