By Dr. Larry Feinsod

Welcome back to a new school year! May it be productive and, above all else, student-focused.

That’s critical because the welfare of our students must always be front and center for the entire education team—teachers, principals, administrators, parents and, of course, school board members. For board members, it’s particularly important that the challenges of the moment do not distract from our mission.

After all, crises that require our full attention can emanate from within the district (a number of our schools had delayed openings this year due to mold infestation) or from outside (a number of school boards experienced last-minute, and unacceptable, cuts in state aid). As the community’s trustees for its schools—the education program, district finances and facilities—addressing challenges like these, asking the right questions and providing due deliberation are key responsibilities. But the foundation of school board members’ efforts, whether exigent or routine, should be the educational, physical and emotional well-being of our students, and nothing less.

No other public official makes decisions that have a greater impact on children’s lives than the school board member.

Two years ago, during my visits to each of New Jersey’s county school boards associations, I made a presentation on the positive impact that a school board can have on student growth and learning. I referenced studies that identified the characteristics of school boards in districts with high levels of student achievement. The Center for Public Education, the research arm of the National School Boards Association, summarized the results of these studies as the “Eight characteristics of effective school boards.”  The top two:

  • A vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction, and clear goals toward that vision, and
  • Strong beliefs about what is possible for students to achieve and their ability to learn, as well as the capability of the school system to teach all children at high levels.

Research also shows that effective boards see the schools’ job as releasing each student’s potential.

Simply stated, at the conclusion of each meeting, board members should ask themselves, “Will my decisions help children and their education?” For, the prize at the end of the day is an educated child.

[NOTE: You can read more about the school board’s positive impact on student learning in Chapter 3 of the 2017 Final Report of the NJSBA Task Force on Student Achievement.]

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For my first “Reflections” column of the school year, I wanted to conclude with an inspirational quote. I considered one attributed to Albert Einstein. (“Education is not the learning of the facts, but the training of the mind to think.”) Another came from former First Lady Barbara Bush, a literacy advocate, who passed away earlier this year. (“If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather than dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities.”) Finally, I focused on the following statement, which a group of outstanding New Jersey school board members identified as the vision for NJSBA’s 2018-2020 Strategic Plan:

Student growth and learning are at the heart of all activities of the New Jersey School Boards Association. By advancing effective school district governance, our Association empowers local boards of education to ensure the well-being and success of every child.

That philosophy should not only guide our Association, but should also be taken to heart by every board of education in our state.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected]. Follow me on Twitter: @DrLarryFeinsod

September 21, 2018