Board of education members can now discover best practices on being a board member with a new podcast titled “The Boardroom,” which is hosted by Dr. Timothy Purnell, executive director and CEO of the New Jersey School Boards Association.
“We need a new type of leadership,” Purnell says in introducing the series to listeners. “Leaders who listen intently to the voices at the table and include the ones that are not. Leaders who can admit ignorance and failures. Leaders who see discord as a means for a better solution. Leaders who display inclusivity, collaboration, transparency and, yes, humility.” He adds, “This podcast series will highlight some of those exemplary leaders in board governance with the ultimate hope to inspire and to encourage.”
In the first segment, available through Apple Podcasts, Irene LeFebvre, NJSBA president and also president of the Boonton Board of Education in Morris County, shares what led her to serve on the board, the traits of a well-functioning body, how her district navigated the pandemic and more.
She notes that it was more than 30 years ago when she attended her first board meeting as a citizen eager to express her concern about the district possibly closing its high school. “I was very concerned,” she says. “I felt the high school was the center of the community for a town like Boonton. It felt like we would lose our center.”
Eventually, the district changed course after consulting a committee of citizens to study the topic, which LeFebvre served on as chairwoman. Shortly thereafter, she found herself a full-fledged member of the board, winning as a write-in candidate to fill an empty seat.
She also shares how she became involved with NJSBA, calling it “the lifeline for board members throughout the state.” The Association was instrumental in helping her understand the impact of state and federal legislation, including the funding that such legislation often makes available and the mandates – both funded and unfunded – that districts must meet as a result.
Asked by Purnell how her district navigated the pandemic, she notes that it “simply held the line that we were doing what the experts advised.” She notes that the district’s staff and all the teachers did an incredible job.
Purnell also asks LeFebvre about the importance of stability on boards of education.
“I think it is underestimated and underappreciated how important it is to have continuity,” LeFebvre says. While the board president doesn’t have to be the same person, the board should have members that are all focused on the same set of goals and are willing to work together, she stresses. Moreover, maintaining continuity in who is the superintendent, the principal and classroom teachers can be a key factor in determining the success of children, she says.
As to some of her proudest accomplishments, LeFebvre points to advancements her district has made in serving special education students and expanding learning opportunities for all students. At the Association level, she highlights her role in helping to hire Purnell as executive director, who replaced Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, who retired from the role after 10 years.
She also observes, “We joined our boards because we really want to make a difference. Each of us wants to make a difference for whatever reason. Each of us wants to make a difference in whatever way is important to us and our families and community. But if you want to make a difference, you have to know how to make a difference.”
The how, she says, is just as important as the why: how to be on a board, how to be part of a group effort and how to make informed decisions. Insights on how are included in the services that NJSBA delivers to members day in and day out, she says.