The NJSBA Board of Directors met virtually on Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. President Michael R. McClure presided over the meeting from the Association’s headquarters in Trenton. Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod provided his report to the board from headquarters.  

Action Items: The Board of Directors approved the following items: 

  1. Open session minutes of 11/15/20 
  2. Legislative Committee Appointments 
  3. Resolution Subcommittee Appointments 
  4. Approval of revisions to GO/3300, Use of Unappropriated Free Balances and Surplus Funds – 2nd Reading  

Dr. Feinsod announced that Cyndy Jahn, NJSBA’s general counsel, will be retiring as of Sept. 1, 2021.  He acknowledged her many contributions at the Association over the past 29 years, and wished her good health and happiness in this next chapter of her life.  

Executive Director’s Report  Dr. Feinsod addressed NJSBA’s initiatives, which enable school districts to meet the challenges presented by the public health crisis, and which ensure that members continue to benefit from the Association’s essential training, advocacy and direct services. 

NJSBA’s Special Report Series  Since last March, when the pandemic hit and schools closed statewide, NJSBA produced a series of special reports on education during the pandemic. On Jan. 27, the NJSBA released the fourth report in the series, “Eye on the Future as Districts Monitor Student Mental Health,” which studied the psychological impact that living with the constant threat of the coronavirus has had on school-age children.  

In May 2020, the first of the series, “Searching for a New Normal,” addressed potential issues involved in the reopening of schools. It was followed in August with, “Choosing the Best Road Back for Our Children.” Its centerpiece was an “Advocacy Agenda” for public education during the pandemic. The third report, issued in October 2020, was titled, “Reopening Schools: Online Learning and the Digital Divide,” and it looked at the challenges facing school districts as they provide remote instruction, including overcoming the digital divide caused by shortages of devices and lack of broadband connectivity.  

The latest report has gotten the attention of the press and attracted interest from lawmakers. Governmental Relations staff met with the staff of Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald to talk about the findings and recommendations in the NJSBA report.  

The NJSBA/U.S. Army Partnership  For the past several years the U.S. Army has placed a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) education fellow on the NJSBA staff to help expand training and consultation in STEAM education areas. NJSBA believes it is the only state school boards association in the country to have a STEAM Fellow embedded on its staff to work with local school districts. Lt. Andrew Becker will become the Association’s newest NJSBA STEAM Fellow. NJSBA’s STEAM Tank Challenge program has been aided by this partnership.  

Sustainable Jersey for Schools/Digital Schools Program  On Dec. 15, the new Sustainable Jersey Digital Schools Program was formally introduced. The program builds on the legacy of the Future Ready Schools NJ program, which ceased operations in 2019. Sustainable Jersey for Schools partnered with the NJDOE and NJSBA to create the program, which developed effective strategies, established standards, and certified schools and school districts that meet the standards. The program will also provide ongoing resources and programming to schools. In January, NJSBA staff met with the Acting Commissioner of Education to advise her of the Digital Schools initiative. She was very positive regarding the NJDOE’s continued support.  

NSBA Strategic Learning Gap Team  Dr. Feinsod has been invited by the National School Boards Association to be a member of the Strategic Learning Gap Team that is evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the NSBA.  He will be serving on the Federation Communications Strategy Team—one of five teams focused on moving NSBA forward.  

On Monday, Feb. 8, along with NJSBA’s educator-in-residence Vince DeLucia, Dr. Feinsod presented a program to the executive directors of the state school board associations around the country on the topic of learning loss—or learning gaps—during the pandemic.  

Partnership with New Jersey Education Stakeholder Groups  Dr. Feinsod has been actively involved with the executive directors of all the state’s education groups on a task force to re-examine what public education might look like after the pandemic. The group has come together as advocates for students to commit to a thoughtful analysis of the issues and problems faced as plans are explored for public education post-pandemic. The task force’s work is being informed by an excellent report from the Learning Policy Institute, “Restarting and Reinventing School: Learning in the Time of COVID and Beyond.”

Member Engagement  Since last March a full roster of training programs was produced to help guide the membership during this challenging time. About five original training and informational programs were presented each week, including webinars, podcasts and videos, Facebook Live programs and online professional development. They are broadcast live, and then archived for members to view later.  

Since March, NJSBA’s website had a 30% increase in viewership over the same period last year. As of the Board of Directors meeting, the Association’s Facebook page has been viewed 392,917 times. The Facebook Live videos have been viewed 80,318 times.  NJSBA has 4,963 Facebook followers, a 55% increase. NJSBA’s 69 webinars  have been viewed by members in 463 individual districts, which is nearly 80% of our membership.  

Virtual ‘Weekend’ New Board Member Orientation Training  This year, in lieu of an in-person program, the NJSBA Training Department is developing an eight-week Comprehensive New Board Member Professional Learning course to offer an immersive virtual experience. It will include the popular small group sessions, led by the veteran board members who act as small group leaders. NJSBA will continue to hold a complete schedule of virtual mandated training sessions for Gov. I, II, III and IV.  Mandated training will be offered monthly from January through May. NJSBA also offers self-paced courses and live virtual events through the NJSBA Online University.  

Focus on the Future  In the fall, a staff task force called NJSBA 2021: Moving Forward Committee was convened to conduct discussions on what changes may need to be made at NJSBA for the future. Some changes have already been made. For example, the communications, marketing and IT departments have been consolidated to help improve efficiency and collaboration among the staff. In addition, Dr. Richard Novack from Rutgers University, who spoke at the NJSBA Board of Directors last year regarding our NJSBA Online University, has agreed to evaluate NJSBA’s training department and provide feedback to assist it as it moves forward with expanded professional development for board members.  

Advocacy Update –  

  • NJQSAC  The Association achieved a victory with the passage of a measure that will provide all New Jersey school districts with some relief and flexibility around the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) review process during the public health emergency. 
  • A-4461, Cooperative Purchasing  Requires the state to enter into contracts and coordinate with certain cooperative purchasing systems to assist public schools in the purchase of COVID-19 related goods and services. The bill was approved by the Senate on Jan. 11 and has gone back to the Assembly for concurrence. It will then head to the governor’s desk. Dr. Feinsod and NJSBA Business Development Director Patty Maillet recently met with former Interim Commissioner of Education Kevin Dehmer. During the meeting, Dehmer, who has returned to his post as NJDOE assistant commissioner for finance, was told of the NJSBA’s cooperative purchasing services program.  
  • Mental Health Package  On Dec. 14, the Assembly Education Committee advanced a package of five bills designed to enhance mental health services in New Jersey’s public schools. This legislative package, sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, reflects many of the recommendations in NJSBA’s October 2019 report, Building a Foundation for Hope. NJSBA staff worked closely with the Majority Leader and his staff during the development of these bills and the NJSBA supports the package.  
  • S-3214, Learning Gap Study  The full Senate approved S-3214, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz. The Assembly Education Committee has approved the bill’s lower house counterpart. This bill would require the NJDOE to issue two reports on the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on public schooling. The first report will be on learning gaps and will identify and quantify the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on student academic outcomes. The second report will be on the continuation of school services during the same period.  NJSBA has lent support to this bill’s objective, but has cautioned against the imposition of any additional burdensome responsibilities on staff during this challenging time and proposed delaying the studies.   
  • Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act  On the federal level, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act was approved in late December. New Jersey is slated to receive approximately $1.2 billion dedicated to K-12 school reopening efforts, which equals four times what the state received in the CARES Act approved last March. However, this amount falls significantly short of the $200 billion our partners at the National School Boards Association estimate schools will eventually need. President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal would provide an additional $130 billion toward K-12 schools. 
  • State Budget Development Process  The governor is tentatively scheduled to give his budget address on Tuesday, Feb. 23. The NJSBA Governmental Relations Department submitted budget suggestions to the governor’s office, which call for measures that would benefit all NJSBA member boards. Those would include full funding under the provisions of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA); increased special education funding, cap adjustments for areas like school security, mental health services, capital outlay and transportation; and the unintended consequences of “Chapter 44” on some districts. The suggestions also highlighted a bill from the Association’s Pandemic Advocacy Agenda, giving districts budget flexibility by allowing them to carry over any additional surplus into the next budget. 
  • NJSBA’s Sample Resolution on Giving Educators Priority for COVID-19 Vaccines  At the request of some of our members, NJSBA recently developed a sample resolution that boards of education can pass to urge the state to move teachers higher up on the priority list for COVID-19 vaccinations. Several boards have already passed the resolution, while others have it on their agenda for an upcoming meeting.  

Recognition of Retiring and New Members 

Retiring Members: Clara Williams, alternate for Bergen County; Gail David, member for Camden County; Deven Patel, alternate for Middlesex County; Dominick Miletta, member for Salem County; and Ginny Murphy, member representing the County Association Leadership. 

New Members: Joseph Steele, New Milford Board of Education, alternate representing Bergen County; Patrick Walsh, South Amboy Board of Education, member representing Middlesex County; Joyce Mehta, South Brunswick Board of Education, alternate representing Middlesex County and Mattia Scharfstein, Stanhope Board of Education, alternate representing the County Association Leadership. 

The Board of Directors also received reports from the NJSBA president, vice president for county activities, vice president for finance, vice president for legislation/resolutions, and immediate past president. 

Information items included Association financials, legal case summary, schedule of NJSBA Holidays (July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022), and School Board Recognition Month, including an honorary resolution from the State Board of Education, and a proclamation from the governor, recognizing School Board Recognition Month.