Saying goodbye to Mr. Brown

A final interview with the retiring principal, Mr. Brown.

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Saying goodbye to Mr. Brown

Jessica Stochel and Kavita Parasuraman

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Principal James Brown has been working hard at managing Sayreville War Memorial High School for almost 20 years and gave his final farewells on the last school day of 2018. After dedicating nearly two decades in creating a better environment for staff and students, his imprint on this school will be cherished endlessly. We sat down with Mr. Brown as he reminisced about his years at the high school.

While he wanted to be a carpenter at first, he ended up going to William Paterson University and Jersey City State to become a teacher to pursue his coaching passion. As a result, he started off teaching PE and later became a high school math teacher.

Though he never taught at Sayreville, it didn’t stop him from becoming principal. From his position in the administration, he has seen and implemented major changes in the high school community.  “[W]e are a lot more structured in what we do daily, like we have a student code of conduct, while before things were much looser.”

While it is clear that Mr. Brown is a family man, parallel to that are his accomplishments as a principal. “I am very proud of the fact that many kids feel a connection to me as I feel to them.” However, his imprint on the students is also a balance between kindness and sternness, something he is not upset by. “If you are not doing what you should be doing, that’s how I want to be but if you are doing what you should be, I want to help,” he said.   It is this ability to discipline when needed that primarily keeps the school community stable.

His connection with his students is certainly admirable. In fact, many of us know that he spends every morning greeting the staff and students before the school day starts. It is the strong relationship he builds with the kids that he’ll miss the most after his retirement. For example, a quadriplegic student, Carly Hewitt, had a strong friendship with Mr. Brown. During one of the senior trips, Mr. Brown even granted her a trip down to Disney World through the Make a Wish program. However, his memorable moments also expand beyond just this one instance. He mentions that “each moment is different, but equally as impactful,” pertaining to the fact that students are accomplishing something every day during and after their high school years.

His pride also extends to the staff as well. “I feel like a big father here…I’ve seen them go from when they were freshmen to coming up, and now…they’re grown adults, married, and having children.” Some former students have even started working in the high school as well, as seen with the vice principals Mrs. Zurowski and Mr. Salem.

As principal, Mr. Brown has also seen how Sayreville War Memorial High School changed from when he first started his job, to now. “[We have] a pretty good path forward, the school is seen as a positive school because there are no diversity issues.” On a daily basis he sees lunch tables “mixed with everybody” and in the hallways “kids of all origins and religions are hand-in-hand.” He has also witnessed how inclusive students at SWMHS are, since the MD kids “are welcomed and encouraged to be part of everything.” He notices that the students here “accept everyone for who they are and continue to move forward.”  

Mr. Brown also anticipates the changes after he’s no longer principal, especially pertaining to social media. “When I came here, cell phones were non-existent and look where we are now…social media, as good as it is, is a double-edged sword.”  While it certainly advances some parts of our education, it will definitely complicate manners in terms of discipline and consequence.

In the years after retirement, Mr. Brown jokes, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up”. In truth, he knows he wants to spend the next 6 months relaxing by traveling with family and working on his new house, which he helped build. Of course, he will always be a part of the high school in terms of keeping contact with the school staff. With hobbies that include riding his motorcycle, spending time with his four grandchildren, gardening, cooking, and building houses, he will certainly keep himself busy in the years to come.

As a final message to the students, he wants to let them know that they can “do and be anything they want to be, and I really believe that” and that owning up to our actions is important. With the new year, let’s appreciate the new chapters ahead, and the imprint Mr. Brown has left in all of us and the school community.