Among the more than 6,000 students bustling across TCNJ’s campus, Brandon Pugh may look like any other kid. A nice guy with a positive personality, his head of red hair and a large smile characterize his young, almost boyish, appearance. Yet after a 40-minute commute back to his Moorestown, NJ, home, the confident college sophomore dons a suit, swaps his book bag for a suitcase, and transforms from student to school board member. Pugh is the picture of professionalism, investing his infectious energy and astounding motivation into bettering a school system from which he graduated just two years ago. As one of nine school board members, he plans to “ensure what [he] received continues,” as he is dedicated to not only upholding but progressing the quality of Moorestown.
Despite concerns that naivety may accompany his youth, the fresh-faced undergraduate is far from inexperienced. His close relationship with education improvement began at the age of 14, when he accompanied his sister, Brittany, to Argentina to teach at a boarding school. “I love to volunteer,” says Pugh, lightly reminiscing, “and I love to travel, so I decided to do work oversees…. Teaching in Argentina was my first, and favorite, trip.”
As a first-grade teacher, Pugh experienced firsthand the role of reformation in education. Unhappy with the school’s current curriculum, he began an initiative to revamp it. As the director of a curriculum development program, Pugh worked alongside other faculty members to create more current and effective classes for children grades one through six. After several extended stays in Argentina, the longest being about three months, Pugh came home to Moorestown with a teacher’s perspective, as well as an undying motivation to directly improve the school district and community of his hometown. Five years and 6,000 election pamphlets later, he’s gotten his chance.
Now, only months since swearing in in January, the 20-year-old political science major has already been making changes. Seeking to sculpt a school district more connected to the community, Pugh published “Education Monthly,” a monthly online column dedicated to keeping the community informed of recent school board changes, while at the same time providing a venue for citizens to voice their opinions. In addition, Pugh has begun seeking “fiscal alternatives,” looking to generate money through creative strategies such as school building sponsorships and advertisements on busses. Emphasizing a cut on what he describes as “frivolous spending,” Pugh believes the schools can thrive without large tax increases simply by making small changes that create revenue. His drive to increase communication and decrease spending rides on his prevailing philosophy of unremitting servitude: “We work for them [the citizens], not the other way around.”
As a past member of the Governor’s Office of Volunteerism and a current instructor for the NJ Division of Fire Safety, New Jersey Office of Emergency Medical Services, and the Department of Homeland Security, Pugh is no stranger to this attitude of service. In fact, his community service while in high school (he logged more than 6,000 hours in four years) led to his receipt of recognition letters from Congressman Jon Runyan, President George W. Bush, and President Barack Obama, and his work with the Governor’s Office of Volunteerism during Hurricane Irene brought recognition from Governor Chris Christie.
Today, Brandon uses his passion for helping others to better his own hometown, and he is looking forward to the next three years as a time of improvement. He calls the job an “expected challenge,” stating that certain board members are sometimes “unsure of how to take him” because of his age. However, Pugh sees his recent graduation from Moorestown as an asset and trusts other’s soon will as well. “I think the fact that I just graduated helped me get elected. I know what does and what doesn’t work. And I have a lot I want to accomplish.”