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  • Writer's pictureKristin Guglietti

Sam Mento III reflects on time as BOE President


Sam Mento III

HAMMONTON—Board of Education President Sam Mento III will be leaving the school district as president after being a part of the school board for 12 years.


Mento joked that Christmas comes early for him because Dec. 14 will be his last school board meeting.


“The 12 years really went fast. I was elected in my 30s. Here I am now 52,” Mento said.

He originally ran because he thought the kids in the school district deserved more because the district was spending the least amount per pupil in the state.


At the time, Mento had a strong campaign for county freeholder, however, after coming up a little short he was approached by a couple school board members and asked to be a part of the team.


Mento said he thought he’d be a board member for a year or so, but in 2012 when people asked him to run for freeholder, he declined.


“I told them, ‘I want to stay here. I have more work to do.’ I’m really proud of our accomplishments,” Mento said.


Mento said he declined because he loves Hammonton and more importantly, he cares about the children.


When Mento first came to the school district, he said the teachers were without a contract for over a year.


“When I came there, the teachers were without a contract for over a year. They were at work to rule. They were refusing to chaperone. Extracurricular activities—they would not work the football games. They would not do college references. It was a disaster. The school board was at war with the municipal government at the time, and like I said we were grossly underfunded by the state, so I knew what I had to do,” Mento said.


Through compromise, the board came up with a healthcare reform which enabled them to do a self-funding contract that kept the teachers happy, he said.


“It restored that feeling of cooperation in the district and from then we really hit our stride and kept on going. I eventually became president after that contract deal,” Mento said.


One of his accomplishments Mento is proud of is organizing a senators round table with John Thomas from Folsom.


Three senators were brought to the district and were shown what was happening.


“We showed how the state was not keeping their end of the bargain, and little by little our money started to increase,” Mento said. “We were able to increase programs, extracurricular activities, kids are graduating now with nearly 30 college credits.”


Mento said he will be leaving the district in a fantastic financial situation and if the board plays their cards right, he doesn’t see an additional tax increase for the next five years.


“When I first got on our budget, it was $28 million. We’re at $60 million with maybe a $1 million increase in local taxpayers’ revenue base, and most of that is because the town grew in value. The rest is the state doing its job, so it’s a big difference. It’s a lot of money,” Mento said.


During his time as school board president, one of the toughest challenges was leading the district during COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.


“Looking back at a very dark time for education in the school children back in COVID, I’m very proud of the fact we were the first district in South Jersey to get our kids back into the classroom. Obviously, are hands were tied about the masks by the state, but we came up with a brilliant solution,” Mento said.


The solution was hiring as many permanent substitutes as possible to make sure classrooms could continue if teachers were to get sick.


“By bringing in those additional half dozen teachers, enables us to keep the doors open, and I’m very proud of that because in hindsight I don’t know if that was the right call. Closing the schools obviously wasn’t our decision, but I feel very comfortable saying that will never happen again because I’ve seen how it has negatively affected some of the education and learning with our students,” Mento said.


According to Mento, Superintendent of Schools Robin Chieco and Assistant Superintendent Tammy Leonard are being proactive with grant money to get the resources the students need.


“It’s going to take a year or two but fortunately we have a fantastic superintendent who is totally curriculum oriented. We have an assistant superintendent who is so proactive with grant money. We’re getting our kids the proper mental health resources that they need.

Bringing in counselors, working with them. We’re giving them additional tutoring,” Mento said.


Another thing Mento is proud of is how the district utilized money during the pandemic.


“We purchased 15 additional buses with air conditioning, and we took advantage of the $4.7 million. And now we’re providing, which is one of the best accomplishments of the board in the last five years, we’re providing full day pre-K. And everyone knows the sooner you get them in, the better they are,” Mento said.


After the relationship between the school board and municipal government was mended, they were able to accomplish a lot together.


“Mending the relationship between the school board and municipal government was huge, and when I was president that was a high priority to me. And look at it now what we’ve accomplished together. Look at the Hawks field down there. I mean what an addition to our uptown. Take a look at the beautiful tennis courts and pickleball courts we were able to accomplish together,” Mento said.


During his time as school board president, Mento saw both his daughter Sarah and his son Samuel graduate Hammonton High School.


“As you guys know and I’m still a little embarrassed, I got choked up this year with my son. It was just hard—it wasn’t hard. It was so fulfilling I should say especially after he was salutatorian. I came up right after him. It was emotional for me,” Mento said.


Sarah graduated during the COVID-19 pandemic.


“She had a tough senior year with COVID, but it was fulfilling to see her walk in the top 1 percent of her class as well,” Mento said.


Currently, Mento’s daughter is studying at Pennsylvania State University to be a speech therapist, and his son is at the University of Florida double majoring in accounting and pre-law.


After serving the school board for 12 years, Mento said he is going to relax.


“I’m going to relax. I’m going to focus on my farm and family and my own personal, physical and mental wellbeing,” Mento said.


Reflecting back, Mento said he has no major regrets during his time as a board member and president.


“I don’t really have any major regrets. There’s always things in your life that you reflect upon that I could’ve done differently. Maybe I could’ve been a little nicer about that, but for the most part I don’t have many regrets,” Mento said.


Mento thanked everyone over the years who showed their support.


“I’ve been one of the longest serving consecutive president for the last century. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity,” Mento said.


He also thanked voters in the community for giving their support and giving him the opportunity to lead the district for the last nine years.


Lastly, Mento thanked his wife Kathy and his family for the support and strength through the years.


“It gives me a great feeling of satisfaction knowing that I’m leaving the district in a much better place than where it was 12 and a half years ago when I first became a member of the board of education,” Mento said.

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