Former district administrator wins 2021 Citizen of the Year award

Serico found meaning and purpose thanks to long career in education.

Although officially recognized with the honor during a Zoom meeting on Jan. 26, longtime Haddonfield resident and former district educator Joe Serico (left) was presented with a plaque recognizing his selection as the Haddonfield Lions’ 2021 Citizen of the Year by Mayor Neal Rochford (right) in front of Borough Hall three days later. This personal connection continues the tradition of Rochford handing the award personally to the winner at the annual Mayor’s Breakfast, which was cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. (Photo credit: Borough of Haddonfield)

If there’s any merit as the pandemic stretches on to believing that unexpected change can be life-affirming, look no further than former district educator and administrator Joe Serico. 

If it weren’t for the budget crisis that hit New York City in the mid-1970s, Haddonfield might never have known him. We might have picked up an item mentioning his name in a regional or national publication about recognition for decades of excellence in teaching, but no more different or special than any other outside information about educators rewarded for a job well done. 

- Advertisement -

But at a time when the New York Daily News printed a memorable headline about then-President Gerald Ford’s reaction to the city’s request for a federal bailout —  “drop dead” — Serico dropped into south Jersey and never left. Since arriving in Haddonfield in 1987, Serico has embarked on a journey of service that was officially honored by the Lions Club with its Citizen of the Year award.

During a presentation in an online meeting on Jan. 26, Serico spoke of wanting to find “purpose and meaning” as he grows older. Perhaps he didn’t realize both were present all along. 

Asked during a Jan. 30 conversation with the Sun whether or not he wanted to fulfill some kind of purpose in becoming a teacher at a young age, he offered: “For sure, because I grew up in New York and thought I would be a public-school teacher all my life.” 

“Part of who we are is also shaped by the people who we meet. I had a mentor who was an amazing person. I wanted to do what he was doing. His name was Don Cody, a professor at City College of New York,” Serico added. 

Serico’s first foray in the region came at Sterling High School, where he taught for 11 years. He moved onto Haddonfield School District, remaining at Haddonfield Memorial High School for three years as assistant principal, followed by 12 years as principal, then four-and-a-half years as district assistant superintendent. 

“I think at least in part, all teachers are driven by a desire to make a piece of the world better than they found it. And that was part of it for me,” he said about a move to administration and how to positively impact students. 

“Can we engage students in a way they can become critical thinkers, better citizens, informed voters, or more caring and empathetic?” 

Serico noted that all educators bring a specific set of values to their jobs, whether innate or learned, and their instruction mode becomes the living embodiment of skills and values they hope students can benefit from in the long haul. He noted that opportunities given to him in a community that was so invested in positive outcomes fueled his desire to improve.

“In a simpler way, I was given extraordinary gifts in coming to this community to work: amazing kids, supportive parents and this talented and creative faculty,” Serico offered. “It’s a perfect storm for anyone who works in that kind of idealized setting. I recognized this early on, that I didn’t want to mess it up.”

Though now teaching at Rutgers-Camden, Serico still keeps a hand in local affairs, serving as president of the Haddonfield Alumni Society and also as trustee of the Haddonfield Educational Trust. In the recent past, Serico acted as chairperson for the beautification committee. There is still time to reflect, and to see how his initial drive to teach has brought so much more to so many. 

“I got so much out of my career, that the ability to give back, it seems like a natural kind of thing to do,” Serico explained. “I don’t think I can ever give back so much as I was given when I came here and (was) offered the opportunities to grow and become a better teacher and parent.” 

“These things go hand in hand. It’s how purpose and meaning ties in for me.”

Above all, the honoree expressed gratitude to his family, for the support they showed over the years as he tackled the ever increasing responsibilities of a dedicated educator. 

“I didn’t miss too much over the years, but there were some times I had to be absent, and I’m still grateful for their support through those times,” Serico added. “And I’m still grateful for the times I had with them, and that I have with them now.” 

For a complete listing of previous COTY winners, visit: https://www.haddonfieldarealions.org/coty

 

BOB HERPEN
BOB HERPEN
Former radio broadcaster, hockey writer, Current: main beat reporter for Haddonfield, Cherry Hill and points beyond.
RELATED ARTICLES
- Advertisment -

Latest