JACKSON – Maureen Butler will retire on June 30 after serving as the first and only principal in the history of Jackson Liberty High School. Butler joined the Jackson School District in January 2006 and the high school – Jackson’s second – opened in September with freshman and sophomore classes.
Butler was the assistant principal at Red Bank Regional High School, Little Silver, prior to opening Jackson Liberty. She came to Jackson at the start of 2006 to get to know the community.
“I became knowledgeable of the Jackson community,” she said in an interview last week. “We made sure the building was prepared, made sure the desks were in order, the books were ordered, the curriculum was in order and the building was set and ready to go,”
Butler recalled meeting with the construction crew every week leading up to the school year and making sure the building would have the right number of white boards and all the necessary supplies.
Regarding her impending retirement, Butler said it was “a tough decision, especially when you have such ownership of a building. I always say it was like I am the mother who gave birth to the baby here. It was a tough decision.”
When Jackson Liberty opened with freshman and sophomore classes, one of the biggest challenges was turning would-be Jackson Memorial High School Jaguars into the new Jackson Liberty Lions.
“Our first graduating class, the Class of 2009, were sophomores at the time (the school opened) and they had been moved from Jackson Memorial to Jackson Liberty. The biggest challenge came from the fact that they wanted to be Jaguars,” Butler said.
She said it was difficult trying to convince the students it was “OK to be a Lion.”
“That took a long time. Initially they wanted everything to just be red and black (Jackson Memorial colors). We had to explain to them it was a new school and these were exciting times and that they were forging the way,” Butler said.
Most of the students bought into the idea they were creating a path others would follow by the time they were seniors.
“The first few years we were building tradition, we had to pick out varsity jackets, we had to decorate hallways, we had to make our house a home, we had to make Jackson Liberty a home and fill it with our family,” Butler said.
She said that as the years progressed, especially after the first graduating class, the students only knew about “what it was like to be Lions. Over the years, we became more and more our own personality.”
Butler said adding navy blue to the school’s colors was a big step in the school’s identity.
“We were red and gray and Jackson Memorial was red and black. Gray and white are used in almost everything. The kids put a petition together four or five years ago and asked if they could add navy because ‘Liberty’ sounds like it should be red, white and blue,” Butler said.
She said the decision to add navy blue helped Jackson Liberty further identify as an individual school.
“Two schools, one town, each with their own personalities,” Butler said.
Following her retirement, Butler plans to travel and spend time with her family. Leaving will not be easy as she said she always loved her job, and added, “I am going to cry on my way out because I am sad to go, but I am just moving on to the next chapter.”
Butler said she has not considered her legacy at Jackson Liberty, but said she hopes she has laid the foundation for the Liberty family.
“I do not really think of a legacy, but I would hope I laid the foundation that is about being a family, about living day to day and accepting the challenges. If I laid that as a foundation, you are going to have good times and you are going to have bad times, but we are a family.
“We are here and we are going to have to talk out our differences and accept our differences. Everyone in this building is as equal as can be and that is what I hope continues. When these kids open their yearbook and you read some of the things they say, all of them say the Liberty Family,” Butler said.
She said she believes she has created a culture of acceptance and caring in the school.
“I also hope I did that with strong academics,” Butler said. “When we started here it was a little different academically, we only had two grades. Then we moved onto juniors and seniors. So now we have a tremendous amount of advanced placement courses. We have all levels so that all children are reached.”
In 2018-19, Jackson Liberty will be offering advanced placement courses with Ocean County College credit.
“I feel like the luckiest woman alive, I really do. I know it sounds silly and people say ‘How can she be so happy?’ When you help kids and you teach them, whether it be academically, socially or emotionally, and you teach them, gosh, that is a great place to be,” Butler said.
She said her staff is outstanding and tries every day to do something innovative to instill a love of learning in their students. Butler said she told the faculty that if everyone looks like she will on her last day – crying when they retire – their goal in life will have been achieved because “you love what you did.”
On May 15, the Board of Education appointed Geoffrey Brignola as Jackson Liberty’s new principal. Brignola has worked as the assistant principal of Jackson Liberty for 11 years. Prior to that he was a supervisor of math and science, a teacher of biology, anatomy/physiology, chemistry, and self-contained classroom science, and a basketball, soccer and lacrosse coach in the Red Bank Regional School District for 12 years.