Making the numbers work for students 

Meet 2023 Middlesex County ESP of the Year Arlene Baum 

Arlene Baum loves numbers, accounting and budgeting. She uses those skills to benefit the students who attend North Brunswick Township Public Schools. As the special education secretary and office manager for the district for the past eight years, she brings a variety of skills and experiences in and outside of education to her current position. Her ability to use the funds available to support the students and staff ensures the needs of all are covered. 

Baum recalls growing up in Old Bridge Township and planning to become a teacher. But the early loss of her father changed the family’s finances.  

“I was one of three children and my father died when I was three years old,” Baum remembers. “Going to college was not in the cards for me.” 

Instead, Baum attended travel school and learned about car rentals and flight attendants. After graduating, she worked at a car rental business in Newark but after the commute became too much, she moved into the secretarial field.  

For 20 years, she worked in corporate America until the company moved to Texas—and took her job with it.  

Education always tugged at her heart  

Now the mother of two young daughters, Baum worked as a paraprofessional and instructional aide in Monroe Township. Once her daughters went to college, she moved back to the corporate world, but education always tugged at her heart.  

“I missed the school culture,” Baum says. “Corporate America is so spread out. I didn’t have the connection that you get in schools.” 

But her return to education was disrupted when she was one of 17 Spotswood Public School employees who received a reduction-in-force (RIF) notice.  

“I was the very last person RIFed,” Baum remembers. “I got my notice at 3:59 p.m. on the day they had to notify you by law.” 

Baum received encouragement from her colleagues in Spotswood who urged her to stay in education. They suggested she apply for a position in North Brunswick. 

“People saw the potential in me,” Baum says. “They felt I had the qualifications and ability to take on the position of special services secretary. I can multitask, I love being busy and I talk to everyone! It makes the day go better, and I’ve achieved so much. It’s important to me that I feel like I’m doing good work for the department and the students. They need so much and the only way they’re going to get it is by people stepping up and helping them.”  

There are almost 1,000 classified students in the North Brunswick School District. Their needs range from learning disabilities to autism to multiples-disabled to behavior disabled.  

“We have increased programs in the district to keep our students here so they can attend school with their neighbors and family members,” Baum says. “We’re trying to give them more of a family unit.” 

Baum takes great pride in her work and uses her love of numbers to help her advocate for her students.  

“During COVID, we really thought about how to help our youngest students succeed,” Baum says. “I made sure we had the funding to get touch-screen computers for our preschool students and others who needed it. Being home was hard enough, but working on devices that allow students to touch the screen to get the work done is a lot easier for them and their parents.” 

A team approach 

Baum credits the whole team with the success of the special education program in North Brunswick. As she says, “Teamwork equals results and results equal productive students.” 

“It takes a really special soul to work with children who are unique in their learning,” Baum says. “It’s not just teaching them their ABCs, it’s working with a child day in and day out and helping them achieve their goals, whether it is a relatively small task, like feeding themselves or harder, such as tying shoes. It takes a lot of patience and time.” 

Baum was overwhelmed when she found out that she had been named the Middlesex County Education Support Professional of the Year.  

“I was so honored to receive recognition for what I was able to do for the students and it warmed my heart to know I had a large part in making a positive change for the students,” Baum says. “There are so many ESPs who go above and beyond and connect with children who no one else has been able to reach. The work we all do is so powerful, and it’s amazing to be recognized for something that I love to do. I feel so flattered, and I share this award with everyone else who is doing this work.” 

Baum is proud that both her daughters have gone into education as a career. Jessica teaches preschool disabled students in Old Bridge and Jennifer teaches special education in Monroe Township.  

“While it’s so important to honor the work that teachers do, I believe it’s also important that ESPs get the recognition they deserve,” Baum says. “It’s important to acknowledge the work that secretaries, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, technicians, and so many more are doing in the schools every day. We do our job, but a little recognition goes a long way! 

“Whatever we can do to make learning easier for the student and the teacher, we’re going to do it!”