At its January meeting, the New Jersey State Board of Education heard updates and took action on the following items:

Swearing in of New Members: The State Board swore in two new members: Mary G. Bennett of Irvington, Essex County; and Jeanette Peña of Union City, Hudson County.

Bennett has worked as an educational consultant/adjunct faculty member for the Seton Hall University Academy for Urban Transformation, South Orange, since 2007. She has also worked as an instructor and education mentor at Montclair State University since 2007.

She served as executive director of Project GRAD, Newark from 2001-2013; as senior fellow/lead facilitator at the National Center for Educational Alliances, Bronx Community College, from 1999-2002; and as a principal, vice-principal, program director and English language arts teacher in Newark Public Schools from 1973 to 1999.

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Douglass College, New Brunswick, and received her master’s in curriculum development from Rutgers University, New Brunswick. She is certified by the New Jersey Department of Education as a school business administrator, assistant executive superintendent, principal, supervisor and teacher. She also attended Seton Hall University for Administrative Credentialing.

Currently a resident of Irvington, she chaired the Newark Educational Services Board in 2016 to help implement the district’s return to local control; served as former board member of Our Children, Our Schools New Jersey in 2015; as co-coordinator with Alliance for Newark Public Schools since 2013; and as a children’s advocate appointed by Superior Court of New Jersey, from 2003-2006.

Peña, a Union City Board of Education member from 2003 to 2011, has worked since 2022 as educational director of special education and organizational accountability for the Union City Public Schools. Between 1998 and 2000, she served as a school psychologist in the Jersey City School District, Paterson Public Schools, and Newark Public Schools.

She also has served as adjunct professor at Hudson County Community College from 1994-2000, and she previously worked as a youth counselor for the Safe Haven Program in Union City from 1993-1998, and as a social worker for St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson from 1992-1993.

She received a master’s in education-psychological studies at Seton Hall University in 1994; a bachelor’s in psychology from Rutgers University, Newark, in 1992; and her professional diploma in school psychology from New Jersey City University in 1997. She has earned NJExcel Certificates of Eligibility for School Administrators and Principals through the Foundation for Educational Administration.

In addition to being a local board of education member, she has served as a trustee for Hudson County Community College since 2012 and as commissioner of the Union City Redevelopment Agency from 2001-2003.

Bennett replaces Mary Elizabeth Gazi, and Peña fills the seat of Ernie Lepore, who resigned from the board.

School Board Recognition Month: Thee State Board approved a resolution recognizing January as “School Board Recognition Month.” In its resolution, the State Board recognized New Jersey’s 5,000 nonpartisan local board of education members and charter school trustees are public servants who dedicate their time, without pay or benefit, to the oversight of school district operations, through sound financial practices and comprehensive policies on curriculum, staffing and other areas to ensure the well-being and academic achievement of all students in their districts. NJSBA President Karen Cortellino, M.D. and Dr. Timothy Purnell, executive director and CEO of the NJSBA, received the resolution on behalf of all board members and trustees.

Other state board recognitions: The State Board also recognized the New Jersey Association of School Administrators Superintendent of the Year, Dr. Nicholas A. Bernice, who is currently the Ringwood School District superintendent. The State Board also recognized the New Jersey School Business Official of the Year, Amy Lernern who serves as the business administrator for North Hanover and Avon. Finally, the State Board also recognized the Principals of the Year, Carlos Gramata, principal of Hillside Elementary School, and Dr. Mindy Milavsky, principal of Lawrence Middle School.

Recognition of Acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan: The State Board recognized the acting commissioner for her years of service as she retires at the end of January 2024. The State Board noted that Allen-McMillan is a former member of both the Montclair Board of Education and the Morris County Vocational-Technical Schools. She also served as a substitute teacher in Essex County, founder of the Marion P. Thomas Charter School in Newark, assistant principal and principal in the South Orange-Maplewood School District, assistant superintendent in both Irvington Public Schools and Newark Public Schools, and as interim executive county superintendent for Morris County.

Residency: The state board continued its discussion of the proposed changes to the student residency requirements. The rules establish procedures for districts to determine students’ eligibility to attend a particular school district free of charge based on the student’s residency. The rules establish the process for charging tuition for students who are ineligible for free attendance, and, in accordance with P.L.2023, c.61, removes the language at N.J.A.C. 6A:22-2.2 that allows school districts to admit nonresident students free of charge. The proposal also repeals N.J.A.C. 6A:22-3.2(h)8, which states that a district can admit nonresident students without the payment of tuition. The rules include exceptions for nonresident students to attend a school district free of charge under limited circumstances. The new rules would apply only to parent-paid tuition.

Fiscal Accountability: The board also began its discussion of  changes to the fiscal accountability regulations.  This proposal contains the fiscal accountability rules for school districts, charter schools, renaissance schools and  Approved Private Schools for Students with Disabilities to ensure that public funds for education are spent responsibly. These proposed regulations update terminology, titles, and gendered language; replace or remove outdated references to statute and code; and implement enacted legislation. The proposal also clarifies rules by adding statutory references, amending language, or recodifying rules to a more appropriate location. Subchapters 16 through 22 are proposed for readoption as State Board of Education rules consistent with the original authority that established the regulations. The commissioner also will be proposing a simultaneous rulemaking for the readoption of Subchapters 1 through 15.

Interdistrict Public School Choice: The State Board also began discussions on updates to the regulations concerning the interdistrict public school choice program. The choice program was created to increase educational opportunities for students and their families by providing students with public school options outside of their district of residence and giving parents the power to select a school district or program that best serves their child’s individual needs. The choice program enables approved choice districts to enroll kindergarten through grade 12 students who do not reside within their districts without cost to their parents. The proposed amendments are intended to clarify issues and questions raised by choice districts and parents. Additional amendments will implement a Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division decision that required the Department to enumerate the requirements for its review and approval of a sending district seeking to restrict student participation in the choice program.

NJSBA will be evaluating all of these proposals for their impacts on boards of education and board members.