The district’s youngest school board member is saying his goodbyes as he embarks on a new journey.
Brandon Pugh was only out of Moorestown High School for one year when he ran for the Moorestown Township Board of Education. He thought his chances of making it onto the board were slim, but undeterred, he set out to knock on every door in Moorestown.
Vying for votes against candidates who were older and more educated in the 2012 election, Pugh told himself even if he didn’t win, he’d at least gotten his name out there, and he’d try again the next year. He didn’t have to. At age 19, Pugh was the youngest candidate ever elected to the Moorestown Board of Education.
Pugh did not seek reelection this November. A recent graduate of Rutgers Law School, Pugh is stepping away to focus on his legal career, but the district’s youngest board member to date said the decision is a bittersweet one.
Pugh’s love for the district inspired him to run in the first place. He said serving seemed like a good way to give back to the school community he held dear. At the time, he questioned some of the decisions the board was making, so he decided to take action.
“I thought, ‘I should run rather than sitting back and complaining. I’ll run and try to do something about it,’” Pugh said.
When he learned he’d been elected, he was thrilled. But the position meant Pugh would have to make a few difficult personal decisions. He said he had planned to attend school in Washington, D.C. Once he was elected, he decided to stay local and attend The College of New Jersey for undergrad.
Looking back, Pugh said he’s proud of the work the board accomplished during his two terms. When he became chair of the policy committee, his first priority was bringing student representatives onto the board.
“We’re in the business of serving students, and if we don’t have an opportunity for students to tell us their concerns and tell us what’s happening in the school district, then what are we doing there?” Pugh said.
He said it was important to him their voices be heard, so the board brought in four student liaisons to provide monthly updates. He said each time he sees the students at the meetings, he feels proud they have a chance to voice their concerns.
When he first stepped into the position, the board was more than year backlogged on its policies, and the bylaws hadn’t been reviewed in about 10 years. He leaves with the board entirely up-to-date on policies and having just completed a review of the bylaws. He also saw a lack of communication coming from the board. So, he took it upon himself to start a column to update the Moorestown community about what the board was working on.
During his time on the board, Pugh got involved with the military and brought recruitment opportunities to Moorestown High School. He said while he recognizes the military is not for every student, it’s an option that should be offered to students who are interested.
One of the most important lessons he’s learned while serving is there are many different paths after school. He said in Moorestown there is a drive for students to get into the top schools, and there’s a false stigma that if you don’t get into an Ivy League school, you won’t be as successful. He said this isn’t everyone’s path.
“We need people to go in trades. We need people to go in the military. Going to a county school is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing,” Pugh said. “It’s our burden to make sure we’re not just going out and helping those high-achieving students, but that every single student that graduates in the school district can go on to whatever path they want to the best ability they can. It’s our duty to make that happen.”
Pugh served two years as the board’s vice-president, four years as president of the Burlington County School Boards Association and nearly two years as vice president for Legislation and Resolutions of the New Jersey School Boards Association. He said during his two terms, he attended one to two school board-related meetings a week, so a week without meetings is going to be a big change starting this January.
In May, Pugh graduated from Rutgers Law School, and in October, he passed the bar exam. He realize there was some uncertainty about where his career might take him, so he decided it wasn’t fair to seek reelection when he wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to serve. He said the decision was difficult, but ultimately it felt like the right time to move forward.
“It is sad to leave the school board.This has been my life; my entire adult life I’ve been on the school board,” Pugh said.
Having focused in cyber law during his legal studies, Pugh is pursuing positions in that legal sector. Having just turned 26, he said now’s the time to focus on his career, but he’s not discounting a return one day.
“Who knows? Maybe I’ll run for the school board again,” Pugh said with a knowing smile.