In education, leadership plays a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of institutions, and individuals who dedicate themselves to this cause often leave a lasting impact. One such individual is Bret Kaufmann, who served on the Board of Trustees at Brookdale Community College for eight years, culminating in his role as Vice Chairman. As he embarks on the next chapter of his life, we look back at his journey, highlighting key moments and insights gained during his tenure.

Vice Chair Kaufmann’s journey with Brookdale began in 2015 when he was approached by the county freeholders (now commissioners) to serve as a trustee. His path to the boardroom was unique, stemming from his commitment to addressing community issues in Spring Lake. Faced with flooding challenges in 2011 and 2012, Vice Chair Kaufmann ran for office, positioning himself as a problem solver focused on improving drainage and infrastructure. While he didn’t secure a council position, his commitment to the community led to his election as a Committeeman, setting the stage for his eventual appointment as a trustee.

As Vice Chair, Kaufmann took on significant responsibilities, notably overseeing finance and facilities during a challenging period in 2016. He brought a unique perspective, with a master’s degree in finance and an engineering education from West Point. Though initially hesitant due to his limited experience with very large budgets, he embraced the challenge and, over four years, contributed to putting Brookdale in a much-improved financial position.

Two men in suit and ties sitting at the dais of Board of Trustees meeting.
Vice Chair Bret Kaufmann & President Dr. David M. Stout

“In my eight years, Chairman Paul Crupi, rightly acknowledged that not every moment was a breeze,” said Vice Chair Kaufmann at November’s board meeting. “Yet, amid the challenges, our unwavering commitment to excellence remained steadfast. The faculty’s tireless efforts are the foundation of this institution, shaping our identity, and have a lot to do with who we are and the accolades that the school is receiving.”

“Finance and facilities will never be the same without your presence,” said President Dr. David M. Stout. Your impact was immeasurable; your leadership has transformed the committee, strengthening us and elevating Brookdale Community College to new heights.”

A pivotal moment in Brookdale’s recent history “without a doubt,” said Kaufmann, was the selection of President Stout.

“David Stout’s collaborative approach stands out. The result is a college where opinions matter, building a strong esprit de corps,” Vice Chair Kaufmann said. “During my first four years on the Board, Dr. Stout served as Vice President, and his leadership ensured that amidst all, the faculty remained unwavering in delivering quality education. A testament to his careful stewardship, where the faculty thrives, and the Board can rest assured of the college’s enduring success. He communicates very effectively and keeps us very informed.”

Another notable demonstration of Dr. Stout’s exemplary leadership unfolded during the Chapter 12 Project List deliberations for the FY22 Funding Cycle. “Observing a potential standstill in progress, I voiced my concerns to Dave. True to his decisive nature, Dave promptly appointed Anne Marie Sparaco to spearhead the effort. Under her guidance, she put the whole program in order and implemented it quickly and with a high level of quality. As we reflect on our roles, Dave’s presidency is a catalyst for positive change. While I played my part on the Board, the real narrative is about Dave’s impactful leadership, steering the institution through challenges and ensuring success in the face of adversity. Also, Dave’s staff is strong. The senior executive leadership team is a very talented bunch of people.”

As he looks towards the future of Brookdale, Vice Chair Kaufmann envisions positive developments, including the strategic facilities master plan and the integration of the culinary program on the Lincroft campus. He emphasizes the college’s role as a vital educational institution for Monmouth County residents and underscores the importance of adapting to meet the evolving needs of the community.

“I have learned a lot about education. In general, the community college’s role, more specifically, is to appreciate how beneficial it is for the young people and, well, for all the citizens of Monmouth County,” Vice Chair Kaufmann said. “It is truly a jewel of Monmouth County. And I do not see that changing.”

Vice Chair Kaufmann also touched on diversity, equity, and inclusion, expressing cautious support for initiatives that address socioeconomic challenges without focusing on race. He highlighted a new program called Gear Up, designed to provide additional educational resources to students in need, with an emphasis on socioeconomic factors rather than race.

“Prioritizing equity in education means addressing the complex socio-economic factors contributing to the performance gap. While Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts aim for equal outcomes, I advocate for focusing on the areas of greatest need without excluding individuals based on race. Dr. Stout’s approach aligns with this perspective, urging policies and programs that benefit all students.”

Addressing his successors and future board members, Vice Chair Kaufmann offered valuable advice based on his experiences. He encouraged them to trust their judgment, asserting that the reason they are in leadership roles is because people trust their decision-making abilities. He emphasized the importance of being confident and true to one’s convictions, especially when faced with challenging decisions.

“Upon joining the Board, I found myself amidst highly educated and accomplished individuals. It was a gratifying experience to be surrounded by such talented individuals, and over time, I earned their respect. We were able to unite and make impactful decisions for the school.”

As Vice Chair Kaufmann prepares to retire from the Board of Trustees, his commitment to advocating for Brookdale remains unwavering. While his official role may change, his dedication to promoting the college’s mission and benefits within the community will persist. He not only believes in the educational quality and value of a Brookdale Community College degree but has also experienced it firsthand while his daughter attended and graduated from Brookdale Community College.

“In sharing advice with young individuals, I emphasize the immense opportunities available to them, especially for those between the ages of 19 and 23. At this stage, career paths are not set in stone, and past performance does not dictate future success. Drawing from my own experience, it took me three attempts to gain admission to West Point. Despite being an average student initially, I became determined to pursue my goal. I attended Montclair State College and a prep school, focusing on improving my academic performance and SAT scores. Eventually, through persistence and hard work, I achieved my goal. The message is clear: at a young age, with dedication and effort, one can overcome challenges and achieve anything in this country. My personal inspiration to attend West Point came from family ties, friends and early visits, and despite initial setbacks, I persevered until success was achieved.”

Vice Chair Kaufmann’s journey at Brookdale is a testament to the impact that dedicated individuals can have on educational institutions. His leadership, collaborative spirit, and commitment to excellence have left an indelible mark on the college’s history and have ensured Brookdale’s continued success for our students.