By Dr. Larry Feinsod
On Saturday, after an NJSBA County Association Leadership meeting, President Dan Sinclair and I had the pleasure of welcoming new neighbors on West State Street in Trenton. The Smith Family Foundation conducted the grand opening of its new offices, next door to NJSBA headquarters. The foundation recently renovated the property, which had been vacant for several years.
Founded last year, the organization established a mission to improve the lives of the people of Trenton by funding projects that advance community leadership, education, neighborhood development, and services for youth and families.
A worthy mission, made even more powerful by the story behind the foundation. In May 2016, the head of the family, Pearlie Smith, and her seven children won the Powerball lottery, totaling over $280 million. The family’s response: Give back to the community.
On Saturday, I enjoyed meeting Mrs. Smith, a former paraprofessional in the Trenton Public Schools, who with her husband, Seamon, instilled the values of hard work, education and community service in their children. Those values are clearly evident in the course that the family has charted for the foundation.
Improving the quality of life in our communities doesn’t require winning the lottery. In fact, I saw countless examples of this attribute during the presentations of milestone awards for long-term board of education service at the county school boards association meetings this spring.
I was particularly impressed by the presentations at the Cape May County School Boards Association in May:
- We honored Calvin Back, a board member in Middle Township with 55 years of service. (He became a school board member when John F. Kennedy was in the White House.)
- At the same meeting, we presented a milestone award to Ralph Bakley, a Lower Township board member, for his 50 years of board membership. (He began school board service while I was still in college.)
- In addition, we honored a member with 30 years of service, one who has served on a school board for 25 years, and another with 20 years of board membership, as well as 17 members with 10 or 15 years of service—all at the same county school boards association meeting.
Imagine over 400 years of school board service in one room! It was truly phenomenal.
Equally phenomenal are the amount of time and the level of dedication of our state’s 5,000 local board of education members. While it would be impossible to calculate all of the hours our state’s board members contribute to their communities within a year, it is easy to gauge their sincere belief in public education.
During my visits to the 21 county school boards associations this year, my presentation focused on the school board’s role in advancing student achievement, including best practices in governance. The message was received with enthusiasm, for good reason: Research clearly shows that a local board of education can have a distinct and impactful role on teaching and learning.
This validates what I’ve always believed during my 40-plus years in education. No other public officials have greater influence on the lives of children than local school board members, who work without compensation to ensure the effective governance of public education.
As the 2016-2017 school year draws to a close, I want to thank you, our state’s local school board members, for your hard work and your commitment to education…and for giving back to your communities and New Jersey’s children.
Have a wonderful summer!