More than 250 people participated in the New Jersey School Boards Association’s Spring Education Symposium, April 25.

The virtual program featured 16 sessions that covered a variety of topics, which you can review on the agenda. Speakers included NJSBA staff members, vendors that serve the school market, school administrators, education advocates and other education stakeholders.

“It was great to see so many board members, school administrators and education stakeholders at the Spring Education Symposium,” said Dr. Timothy J. Purnell, executive director and CEO of the New Jersey School Boards Association. “All of our speakers and staff did a tremendous job – and I heard that the various sessions sparked thoughtful questions and conversations.”

One of the program’s most popular sessions featured a panel of education advocates that included Jonathan Pushman, director of governmental relations at the NJSBA; Elisabeth Ginsburg, executive director at the Garden State Coalition of Schools; Debra Bradley, director of government relations at the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association; Melanie Schulz, director of governmental relations at the New Jersey Association of School Administrators; Christopher Emigholz, chief governmental affairs officer at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association; and Francine Pfeffer, associate director of governmental relations at the New Jersey Education Association.

Pushman, who served double duty as both the moderator and a speaker on the panel, declared “nothing is off limits.” He did remind participants, however, to be “nice and respectful,” noting, “Some of the issues we touch on can be emotional and generate lots of passion, but we are all looking out for what is best for kids.”

Each panelist shared some of the issues they are most concerned about, with mental health, school funding, school safety and security and the staffing shortage being among the most cited.

Schulz shared that in response to concerns about school safety, NJASA convened a committee in August to study the issue. It will soon release a report with its findings. She noted that mental health and school safety are closely related. “These two go hand and hand,” she said.

Ginsburg, who is a 23-year member of the Glen Ridge Board of Education in addition to her role as executive director at the Garden State Coalition of Schools, made that same connection. “We say that there is no true school security without mental health security,” she said. “Students have to be ready to learn and be in an emotional, psychological place where they can accept instruction, and coming out of COVID, that has been a major challenge.”

Staffing is also a critical area of concern for Ginsburg. “The true dumbing down of education is having 80 children sitting in an auditorium study hall because we don’t have the personnel to staff classes or you cannot offer classes, so we are very concerned about that,” she said.

Bradley agreed that staffing is a major concern, noting that during the pandemic, principals were often covering classes. NJPSA has established an internal certification and staffing committee to focus on how to maintain the quality of New Jersey staff and to explore how to eliminate some of the “overspecialization” the state demands for certain certifications.

The NJEA is most concerned about having enough staff and recruiting staff – and making sure that staff is diverse, Pfeffer said. “Everybody mentioned student mental health,” she said. “Staff mental health is equally important.”

She also singled out assessments as being a prime issue. “We would love to see the high school assessment go away,” she said. “We over-assess our students.”

The NJBIA advocates for businesses in New Jersey in many areas, including education, Emigholz said.

If you registered for the Spring Education Symposium, you can watch the sessions you attended and any sessions you missed by logging on to the Swoogo platform. Sessions will be available on demand until June 30.

View the NJSBA’s complete schedule of upcoming meetings and training sessions.