When I served as legal chair to the New Jersey State Board of Examiners, the state’s educator licensing agency, I had the opportunity to learn details about the cases that impact decisions on licensure. I used this (public) information to better guide my staff while I was serving as the Somerville superintendent. Understanding the decisions made by that board – or any official body with oversight powers and responsibilities – helps inform us all. 

One of the first things that new board members learn when they take Governance 1 (also called New Board Member Orientation) is that they must adhere to the Code of Ethics for School Board Members.  

The Code of Ethics for School Board Members serves several crucial functions. It helps guide decision-making and ensure proper governance.  It also helps maintain trust and credibility in local boards of education and enhances the reputation of board members, clarifying the values and principles that members of local boards live by. 

However, it is not enough to just know the language of the code. Members need to understand how the School Ethics Commission has interpreted the Code of Ethics in different circumstances. 

That’s why this issue of School Leader magazine features a cover story on recent decisions from the SEC, which enforces the School Ethics Act. Learning about these decisions and the guidance they offer can help board members avoid unknowingly violating the Code of Ethics.  

At the New Jersey School Boards Association, we are revisiting our Governance 1 curriculum, a project that involves both internal and external stakeholders. We need to increase the coverage of ethics and decisions on school ethics in that course. I also believe that boards need to talk about these decisions at the local level. They can serve as guideposts and should be used to facilitate meaningful discussion to better understand the role of the board member. 

I teach ethics at the doctoral level and as part of my course, students do an extensive review of a case where flawed ethical decisions were made. This comprehensive analysis of an unethical decision allows them to better understand the ramifications of these actions and serves as a real-life example and cautionary tale. 

Dorothy Levitt, author and race car driver in the early 1900s, developed the idea of the rearview mirror. Symbolically, the mirror allows us to look at where we have come from to better prepare us for where we are going. Understanding the rearview allows us to avoid potentially dangerous pitfalls.  

It is my hope that as board members, you use these cases – and their rearview perspective – to guide decisions and actions at the local level. 

The article begins on page 16. Read it here.