Readers of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 work, A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, no doubt appreciated Daniel Day-Lewis’ award-winning performance as our 16th President in the movie “Lincoln,” which I thought was outstanding.

Through a combination of principle and political pragmatism, Lincoln saved the Union at the most critical point of its pre-adolescence.  I use the term “pre-adolescence” because, looking back at Lincoln’s time, one finds that many of the institutions that are now part of our daily lives—including public education—were in their formative years.  Nonetheless, this generally self-taught man from the western frontier prized the value of education and what it meant to the individual, culture and society.

When announcing his intention to seek a seat in the Illinois legislature, for example, he termed education “the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.”  He also noted that the ability to achieve is not limited to a select few: “That some achieve great success, is proof that all others can achieve it as well.”

These words should have a significant meaning for local school board members.  After all, some of our students achieve at high levels; others do not.  Yet, the achievement of all students must remain at the core of the school board’s responsibility. From my own experiences as an educator, I can say unequivocally that there is a direct correlation between the decisions made by a well-functioning school board and the achievement of students.

A decade ago, a study by the Iowa Association of School Boards concluded that school boards in high-achieving districts possessed specific knowledge and beliefs that differed significantly from those in other school systems.  The findings of the Iowa Lighthouse Project have been replicated nationwide and have inspired several NJSBA efforts.

Notable is NJSBA’s March 2 training program, The Board and Student Achievement.  The conference will focus on practice, strategies and techniques designed to produce measurable improvements in student achievement.  Approximately 100 board members will attend the conference in Princeton, which is underwritten by a grant from the Educational Leadership Foundation of New Jersey.

To lead the training program, we have selected Dr. Tracey Severns, Chief Academic Officer for the New Jersey State Department of Education.  Dr. Severns represents everything that an educator should be.  She is dynamic, knowledgeable and engaging…an expert with the ability to light up the room.  Registration for the March 2 program is at capacity, but board members may place themselves on a waiting list by contacting the NJSBA Call Center at callcenter@njsba.org.

Let me assure you that, going forward, the advancement of student achievement will remain at the heart of NJSBA’s efforts.  As a reminder, please note our mission statement:

The New Jersey School Boards Association, a federation of boards of education, provides training, advocacy and support to advance public education and promote the achievement of all students through effective governance.

To their credit, the Board of Directors wanted the phrase “of all students” in the final statement.  Those words emphasize NJSBA’s belief that the educational system’s primary responsibility—to advance academic achievement—must be directed toward each and every one of New Jersey’s almost 1.4 million schoolchildren.

I think Lincoln would have agreed.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at feinsodreflections@njsba.org.

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