Thomas Eldridge knew something exciting was happening when a caravan of about 20 cars pulled up in front of his house on Tuesday, May 12.
It wasn’t until his colleagues from the Lawrence Township Public Schools and the N.J. Association of School Business Officials spilled out of the cars wearing face masks and carrying balloons and signs that he realized he had been selected as the NJASBO School Business Administrator of the Year.
“I had no idea what I was seeing when I stepped outside of my door! My wife asked me to come outside, so I went,” said Eldridge, who is the LTPS s business administrator/board secretary.
“I couldn’t process what I was seeing,” he said. “As all the faces came into focus on my lawn and street, home never felt so much like home. I was in great company; dozens of the most kind people I have ever known.”
For Eldridge, winning the award was as much of a surprise as the sudden sight of colleagues on his front lawn—all celebrating at a safe distance, of course.
“My colleagues were very generous in their selection,” Eldridge said. “I have always felt blessed to be in the company of people who share common values and a shared mission. My school district is committed to equipping each student with the skills necessary to find happiness in their lives,.”
He added: “The members of NJASBO are caring educators focused on bringing resources and services to the classroom. I’m honored by their choice and grateful to be one of them.”
Eldridge has been the business administrator/board secretary since 2001. He began his career in school finance as the business administrator/board secretary at the Frenchtown Board of Education in 1995, before joining the Gloucester Township Board of Education as the assistant business administrator in 1997.
He said that as a business administrator, he is “guided by the philosophy that my role is to find ways to deploy resources to help make the educational mission happen and educational dreams come true.”
Eldridge added that he believes that “education’s purpose is to equip students with the knowledge and skills to find happiness in life.”
In recommending Eldridge for the award, LTPS Superintendent Ross Kasun said, “It is clearly evident that his leadership ability, wisdom, integrity, skill set and passion for excellence make him an ideal candidate for this outstanding award.
“He embodies a servant leadership style, which fosters an effective and positive district environment while working with the whole community. His dedication and efforts have cultivated a positive district climate that inspires students and staff.”
Former LTPS superintendent Crystal M. Edwards, who is now superintendent of Lynchburg City Schools in Lynchburg, Virginia, worked with Eldridge for 12 years. She said that although Eldridge exhibited talent in business management, capital improvement, and state regulatory compliance, “his gift was in developing relationships with staff and being a supportive champion of public education.”
She added that Eldridge’s “care and compassion for children and his commitment to public service make him a worthy recipient of this award.”
In addition to being a member of NJASBO, Eldridge has provided professional development instruction in a facilities class for the organization to rave reviews.
One of the business administrators in the class said, “Tom was an amazing teacher for the module. Totally practical and went beyond the expected material covered to make sure the students gain the maximum and useful daily application that will be applied to the responsibilities as school personnel.”
A current member and past president of the Mercer County Association of Business Officials, Eldridge often mentors new business administrators in districts throughout the county and the state, through NJASBO.
He also has provided information and guidance through articles he has written, including, “An Introduction to School Finance” for the New Jersey School Boards Association, Winter 2019, and “How to Read the Board Secretary’s Reports,” published in the May/June 2014 issue of School Leader Magazine.
Eldridge also has been a workshop and conference presenter for NJASBO, NJSBA, MCASBO, and the N.J Association of School Administrators. Additionally, he has been a presenter at the New Jersey Government Management Information Sciences Conference.
A resident of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Eldridge is married and has two children. He has a master’s degree from Rider University and an MBA from Pennsylvania State University.
NJASBO is a professional association that promotes the highest standards of ethics and efficiency, provides its membership with professional development and support, and collaborates with entities that affect public education.
The organization is made up of individuals who administer or supervise a variety of operations within the school district. Examples include accounting, budgeting, data processing, environmental issues, food service management, maintenance, negotiations, payroll, purchasing and transportation.