The New Jersey School Boards Association welcomed its incoming executive director, Dr. Timothy Purnell, at its semiannual Delegate Assembly at The Conference Center at Mercer in West Windsor on May 14.
“Right now, emerging from this pandemic, this Association is at a pivotal moment in these uncertain times,” he said. “When we join our hands together as an Association, we have a massive influence in the state to do what is best for all children.”
Purnell, a former New Jersey Superintendent of the Year and the interim executive county superintendent of Morris County, said he views what the association does through three main lenses: connection, content and advocacy.
He expressed concern over the dwindling number of students seeking to become teachers, which will only exacerbate the current teacher shortage. “Now, we are staffing classrooms with teachers who are not properly certified, and in some cases relying on substitutes because we can’t find staffers with the proper certification,” he said.
Fixing the problem, he said, “begins by changing the narrative of what it means to be a public school educator.” That narrative must focus on being able to provide an education for all children, to make a difference in their lives and help shape the future, he said.
He closed his remarks by noting that teaching is a noble profession and that he’s honored to accept the position of executive director, which he’ll begin in July.
A Lasting Legacy
Delegates also celebrated the accomplishments of Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, who will be leaving his post as executive director after almost 10 years.
NJSBA President Irene LeFebvre said, “We don’t have time for me to recite all of Dr. Feinsod’s accomplishments while steering our ship, but I will say that he’s given us a louder voice in the Legislature, in the governor’s office and on the national stage. He played a vital role in ensuring we had upgraded technology to carry out our work – something we may not have fully appreciated until the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to carry out so much of our business on a virtual basis.”
She added, “He also brought a personal touch, making it a point to attend – in person – at least one meeting in every county throughout the state each year. When the pandemic struck, he continued to do so on a virtual basis. Even when headquarters was closed to most staff, you could find Dr. Feinsod hard at work in his office on West State Street. That is just who he is.”
LeFebvre also highlighted how diligently the NJSBA Executive Director Search Committee worked to find Feinsod’s successor.
“We know our new executive director will show that same type of commitment to our organization and our members,” she said. “We cast a wide net in searching for the right person, garnering almost 100 applications from across the country. Our search committee vetted these candidates, narrowing it down to four finalists after multiple rounds of interviewing. The search committee was unanimous in its choice.” Later, she noted that the board of directors also was unanimous in approving the search committee’s recommendation.
Feinsod said it has “truly been an honor and privilege” to serve as the association’s executive director. He gave credit to his staff, saying that they “have made NJSBA and me look good every day.”
He also paid tribute to the “citizen champions” attending the meeting in person and virtually, as well as all the board of education members who work on behalf of children every day. “More than any other public official, as a board member, your actions have a direct impact on the lives of children,” he said. “I just want to say thank you for your incredible service. Every board member in the state of New Jersey is affecting the lives of kids, and at the end of the day, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is about the children.”
He then asked the audience to join him in saying, “It is about the children” and added, “I feel like repeating that for 15 more minutes.”
Feinsod noted that NJSBA’s incoming executive director “is the whole package.” He added, “He has a great heart, he is a terrific educator and an entrepreneur. He is a great communicator and a warm and caring human being.”
Of his wife of more than 50 years, Sharon, who was a special guest at the gathering, Feinsod said, “Her support and encouragement have been a blessing from above to me. She is my rock. She is my best friend, and she is the love of my life.”
Later, Sharon Feinsod joined her husband at the head table before making her way to the lectern, where she expressed her appreciation to the Association for making her feel so welcome over the years. “I always felt like I was that extra board member because you always included me – and not as a tagalong,” she said. “It’s been a grand run for me, and I am grateful you are so appreciative of everything that Larry has done because it was not only his goal but his other love besides his family.”
Numerous people from the audience took the opportunity to share their fond memories of Feinsod from throughout the years and wished him good luck moving forward.
Feinsod provided an update on Association business, noting that boards of education have faced heightened challenges over the past two years – many of them related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NJSBA was not immune to having to confront such challenges, and he shared a 13-minute video that highlighted how the Association pivoted to work remotely, hold virtual Workshops and continue to provide training, networking opportunities and guidance in this environment.
Some members of the public do not understand how boards of education work, which is why the NJSBA recently introduced a brochure titled “A Guide to Board of Education Meetings in New Jersey.” The NJSBA encourages school districts to post the brochure online and make it available at board meetings, Feinsod said.
He also highlighted how the Association has provided guidance to boards in navigating the controversy over Comprehensive Health and Physical Education Standards for K-12 students, which have been the subject of media coverage and intense interest from many parents and community members. The Association provided guidance in English and in Spanish to help boards answer questions from the public.
Feinsod shined a spotlight on the Association’s advocacy efforts, noting that the Legislature has advanced or passed numerous pieces of legislation it supports, including measures to ease the teacher shortage and to support the mental health of students and staff. “Many kids are hurting … staff members as well,” he said. “We need to be tuned into that and sensitive to that reality,” he said.
As for the Association, he said it is “ending this fiscal year in excellent financial health.” Year to date, its net income exceeds its forecast thanks to superintendent searches, policy manual services and a host of other efforts.
He noted that board members and the public are looking to the Association as a resource. “Our website has been visited by members and others nearly 1.2 million times in the last 12 months,” he said, which generated a loud round of applause.
The Association’s financial health will allow it to refrain from raising membership dues for the thirteenth consecutive year in the row, Feinsod said.
He went on to share how much he’s looking forward to Workshop 2022, Oct 24-26, in Atlantic City. “It will be the first time our members have gathered for Workshop in person since 2019,” he said. “Our theme is appropriately titled: Facing the Future Together.”
More than 125 districts have already registered for Workshop, representing more than 800 individuals – and it’s only the middle of May, he noted. “So, we are hitting the ground running, and so are you, which makes us smile and we are so happy.”
Dr. Karen Cortellino, vice president for legislation/resolutions, noted that no emergency resolutions were received for the Delegate Assembly.
Members approved a motion to approve the reaffirmation of the 5,000 section (pupils) of the NJSBA Manual of Positions and Policies on Education.
Members also considered an amendment to Article VII, Section 2 of the NJSBA bylaws to state that in addition to having served one full term as a board member prior to their election to an NJSBA office, candidates will have qualified for and received the Certified Board Member qualification as set forth in the NJSBA’s Governance and Operations Manual (GO 6603.1 and 6603.1R).
After hearing from Carl Tanksley, NJSBA acting general counsel, on how the amendment came about as well as some discussion, delegates approved its passage.