By Anne Forline
Gloucester City News
He dedicated his entire 39-year career to educating the children in the city where he lived and raised his own family.
“It’s been an honor to work and live in this community,” he said.
Reflecting back on his long career, Mr. O’Connor spoke first not of any accomplishments and ac-hievements that had occurred during his tenure, but instead spoke prominently and gratefully of the support and kindness shown to him from the whole Gloucester City community.
He was especially moved by the outpouring of well wishes and kind regards extended to him by parents, students, staff and the congregation of St. Mary’s when he announced his retirement back in December, 2010.
For Mr. O’Connor, it’s been like one long goodbye.
He hopes he created a welcoming school environment at Mary Ethel Costello and Cold Springs schools for all students, staff and parents. He had desired to create a pleasant atmosphere for student learning.
However, he recalls one incident – in particular – that could certainly be characterized as unpleasant.
Back in 1998, when Mr. O’Connor was principal of Mary Ethel Costello, asbestos was found throughout the school. Obviously, the students and staff could not stay in the building, so arrangements were made for the students to go to another school in town.
It was decided that the Costello students would go on a split session over at the high school.
Mr. O’Connor recalled that uneasy time because busing was involved.
“That was a pretty challenging time, but the whole process went off without a hitch. We didn’t lose one student,” he said, shaking his head.
He immediately credited the whole staff for working together during that time and for keeping everything running smoothly.
One program Mr. O’-Connor was happy to see brought to fruition was the expansion of pre-school for three and four year olds, and recalled how that program began with 18 trailers.
In 2004 the Early Childhood Center had opened and James Lavender, currently the superintendent of Kingsway Public School District, was the director.
“I was privileged to have worked with Marty O’-Connor. As a new administrator at the time, I benefitted greatly from his support, guidance and friendship. Marty is a thoughtful and compassionate principal who selflessly led with the benefit of others in mind,” Dr. Lavender said.
“Over his long and distinguished career, Marty has enriched the lives of many students, teachers and faculty members and his retirement will undoubtedly leave a large void in the Gloucester City School District and the Cold Springs family,” he said.
Superintendent Paul Spaventa agreed that Mr. O'Connor’s presence will be missed throughout the district.
“Marty has been a pleasure to work with during my tenure at Gloucester City. His manner of leadership has been inspiring. He allowed his staff to work to their potential and bey-ond,” Spaventa said.
“The staff worked willingly and enthusiastically for the students, but especially for Mr. O'Connor. He is truly a beloved administrator and will be sorely missed,” he said.
Cold Springs third graders Jazzlyne Soto and Cianni Crain are both sad Mr. O’Connor has retired.
They remember him as being a principal who always listened to students and wanted them to try their best.
Jazzlyne said, “We could always talk to him if there was a problem. He was a good principal because he worked hard every day. He tried his best to make us work hard and have fun in school and in New Jersey After 3.”
Cianni said, “Mr. O’-Connor handled things really well if there was a problem. He always gave us the chance to tell the truth. If there was ever a problem, he would let us go and talk to him. He always got along with all the kids. I will miss him.”
Longtime friend and colleague of Mr. O’Connor’s, Sr. Nora Foley, also recently retired from Cold Springs and had worked with Mr. O’Connor at Cold Springs since 2004.
Sister emphatically declared Mr. O’Connor “a great father, a great teacher and an excellent administrator. He is so caring about his whole staff and treats everyone alike.”
She said that no matter what the situation was, Mr. O’Connor always remained calm and never raised his voice.
As for his retirement plans, Mr. O’Connor said he’ll be down the shore with his family for the summer, and hopes to spend lots of time with his two grandchildren, Charlotte, 4, and Jack, 3.
After that, he will continue his daily swimming workouts and pursue volunteer work.
When asked if his retirement coincided with Jack’s impending arrival at Cold Springs’ Pre-K 3 program in September, Mr. O’-Connor chuckled and conceded, “It probably would-not be good if Jack saw ‘Poppy’ in the halls every day. He wouldn’t understand why he couldn’t run up to me and stay with me instead of staying with his class.”