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Fifty years ago, in July 1972, the first issue of School Leader magazine made its official debut. 

The magazine, an outgrowth of a previous publication, which became today’s weekly School Board Notes, featured in-depth articles on issues and concerns of local boards of education. As an editorial in the first issue explained, “We think that ‘New Jersey School Leader,’ … reflects the essential quality shared by both the journal and its readers.” 

The first issue of School Leader (in 1975, the title “New Jersey School Leader,” was shortened to today’s version) tackled several topics that would be timely today. 

Readers were given advice about hiring an interim superintendent when a district is undergoing a search for a permanent leader and making the change from being an appointed board to an elected board. Another article noted that a survey of New Jersey school board members showed that the majority of respondents believed that the federal and state governments should assume a greater share of the costs of public education, although there was not optimism that the federal government would be a source of increased funding for local districts. 

Other pieces were of their own time. Then-New Jersey Commissioner of Education Carl Marburger wrote about the brand-new plan to administer statewide tests to elementary and secondary students. The executive director’s report before the Delegate Assembly noted that in January 1972, a Superior Court judge handed down his decision in the Robinson v. Cahill case, finding that the system for financing public schools in the state violated the state and federal constitutions. The Robinson v. Cahill opinion was the first in a long line of educational equity decisions – it was followed by the series of Abbott v. Burke decisions that reshaped school finance and led to the implementation of the state income tax. Elsewhere in the pages of the first issue of School Leader, it was noted that state law required that a full-time certified teacher must be paid at least $4,400 per year. 

In a slice of all-but-forgotten New Jersey history, the magazine’s second issue detailed the story of Warren County’s Pahaquarry Board of Education, which was forced into oblivion by the proposed Tocks Island project. The Army Corps of Engineers had acquired all of the land in the township in the planning to build a dam and a 37-mile-long reservoir north of the Delaware Water Gap. Residents were moved out, leaving no children in the district, but the board of education had to wait for legislation that would allow it to formally dissolve. The Pahaquarry board disbanded, although the Tocks Island dam project was never built. The project was abandoned after fierce opposition from conservationists and the states of New Jersey, New York and Delaware. The land that had been acquired by the federal government was turned into the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. 

Documenting the Changes in Education Through its half-century history, School Leader has documented other changes in New Jersey public education. 

In 1974, the magazine reported on the new proposed federal regulations designed to enforce the federal Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The article notes that school districts would no longer be permitted to do things such as excluding pregnant students from regular classes, ask only female job applicants if they are married or have children; support, sponsor, or maintain clubs or honorary societies whose membership or participation is limited to boys or girls; and provide late buses only to boys who have after-school athletic practices. Those practices serve to remind why Title IX was necessary. 

In 1975, School Leader reported on the newly enacted bilingual education act in the state, which mandated instruction in both the English language and a student’s native language if they had limited English-speaking ability. Five years later, board members were advised that they “will have to start making cost effective plans to finance the new teacher professional development requirements that teachers must have 100 hours of training over five years to maintain their teaching certificate.”

Other legislative changes prompted School Leader articles. In 1972, new regulations requiring local boards to provide auxiliary services to nonpublic schools were examined. When the federal “No Child Left Behind” law was enacted in 2001, NJSBA provided guidance and resources to members on how school districts would be affected and what was necessary for compliance. Similarly, as New Jersey has instituted several iterations of educational standards for students — beginning in 1996 — the magazine provided insight into those requirements. 

The topic of school choice has been addressed several times in the pages of the magazine, including after the charter school law was passed in 1996, and then, beginning in the 2004-2005 school year, after the Interdistrict Public School Choice program was instituted. 

Mirroring Societal Shifts In the last 50 years, School Leader magazine has also reflected broader societial shifts. 

 A special issue in 1979 was devoted to “Computers in Education,” and noted that “the use of computers for administrative functions is fast becoming a must in many boards of education throughout the state….” Later, articles on educational technology and computers became a regular feature. 

An article on school safety in 1984 focused on fire safety, bus safety and safely conducting physical education and vocational education classes. Fourteen years later, in the November/December 1998 issue, a school safety article highlighted school shootings that had taken place in recent months in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Kentucky. As school security has become a top priority of boards, School Leader has responded by publishing frequent updates on the topic. 

In 1985, an article, “It’s 3 O-Clock: Who’s Watching the Children?” examined the newly expanding phenomenon of “latchkey” kids, who had mothers who worked outside of the home, and noted how various districts were instituting extended day programs for such children, often in partnership with a local community organization. 

In the September/October 1987 issue, in the midst of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., an article titled “Confidentiality and AIDS Students,” offered practical guidelines for dealing with a sensitive and volatile issue. 

Perennial Concerns of Board Members An eternal concern of board members has been garnering the votes necessary to finance local schools. Until 2012, much of that focus revolved around getting your district’s annual budget approved by voters each April. The vast majority of boards now have November elections, and the community does not have to approve a budget that stays within the 2% tax levy cap. Now the focus has shifted to articles on how to pass referendums to finance school construction proposals, or additional budget questions. 

Several features could fall into the category of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” In 1982, a column lamented the shortage of teachers in math and science; those individuals were being “lured to private industry by high salaries and challenging opportunities as new technology is being developed.” In 1983, a superintendent in Pittsgrove Township talked about fighting an effort by some community members to ban “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger from the high school curriculum. And in 1977, readers were presented with an article on how to manage declining enrollments in their districts, as the K-12 students from the post World War II baby boom had pretty much reached their high school graduation date. 

NJSBA History Reflected in the Pages In addition to charting the history of New Jersey public education and societal changes since 1972, School Leader’s archives reflect the history of the Association. 

For 44 years, the magazine has led off with a column from a current NJSBA president, so nearly two dozen Association leaders have used this forum to encourage and thank members, communicate news about NJSBA and its resources and to share views about educational issues. 

Early School Leader editions advertise NJSBA services that became extinct long ago. The Association once lent out films for members to borrow and show to their boards, including films on employee grievances, and another on options in urban education. One issue noted that NJSBA had recently purchased a microfiche reader where board members could examine, “in the comfort of our air-conditioned library,” microscopic copies of the Education Resources Information Center’s reports, books and magazines on education topics. 

The magazine took note of the establishment of the NJSBA Labor Relations Department in 1973 to provide resources and staff expertise in labor relations to local boards. “In the first few years of collective negotiations in New Jersey, school boards were terribly outmanned and outgunned by the NJEA,” noted then-executive director Lloyd Newbaker. “By 1971, just three years after the passage of the Public Employment Relations Law, the NJEA had doubled its staff size and placed 28 full-time Uniserve negotiators in the field.” NJSBA’s labor relations unit was devised to provide data and services to the management side of school operations. 

The history of NJSBA’s Workshop conference has also been featured. Until 1997, when the present Atlantic City Convention Center was built, the conference was held in what is now called Boardwalk Hall. Early issues always featured details about Workshop’s “spouse’s program,” which typically included events like a tour of historic Smithville and a trip to the Renault Winery. Workshop speakers over the years have included former governors, commissioners of education, motivational speakers and news and media personalities. 

What has remained constant for the past half century is School Leader’s relentless focus on helping local board of education members effectively fulfill their responsibility to govern their districts. 

Every issue for the past 50 years has contained boardsmanship tips and strategies, examples of promising practices being used by school districts throughout the state and information on topics like labor negotiations, policy updates, education law decisions, community relations and legislative developments. School Leader is committed to continuing to provide the resources that board members need, when they need it. 

Do you have feedback for us, or an idea for a topic School Leader should tackle? Let us know at schoolleader@njsba.org. 

Janet Bamford is NJSBA chief public affairs officer and editor of School Leader.