Each year a select number of school boards in New Jersey achieve the status of Master Board. To do so isn’t easy; they complete an extensive series of training sessions and requirements through NJSBA’s Board Member Academy (BMA).

Those that achieve the designation, the Carole E. Larson Master Board certification, have the satisfaction of knowing they have achieved the BMA’s highest board classification, and in doing so, they have become a more knowledgeable and better-functioning board. This enables boards to help their districts advance and improve.

The designation, which is named for a revered NJSBA field service representative who died in 2007, requires a commitment on the part of an entire board to work together to achieve the goal; a few individuals can’t do it alone. (Master Board training sessions must include at least seven of nine board members, five out of seven, or four of five.) In that respect, it’s similar to the operation of a school board in any matter.

How does the process work? First a board must achieve Certified Board status. To do that the members must – as a whole group – earn 18 BMA credits within a three-year period. The board must participate in at least one full-day retreat or the equivalent in board workshops, and verify through an NJSBA Policy Wellness Check that the board’s policy manual is up-to-date with current regulation and law. The Association’s labor relations staff must complete an analysis of the district’s union contracts. In addition, to be considered, the district must demonstrate board effectiveness through the board self-evaluation and the New Jersey Department of Education monitoring process. Topics addressed in training include group process, decision-making, planning and effective meetings.

Once a board is certified (or re-certified, if several years has passed since the original Board Certification was earned), a board is eligible to work toward the Carole E. Larsen Master Board Certification. The master-level certification requires an additional 10 hours of board training beyond that required for certified board, for a total of 28 credits. The board must also repeat its NJSBA Policy Wellness Check and an analysis of union contracts by NSJBA’s labor relations department. In addition, the board must provide evidence to demonstrate an emphasis on student achievement in their board actions. Again, attendance of most of the board is required, and for the Carole E. Larsen Master Board Certification, the superintendent must also be present.

“It’s a whole lot harder to achieve than being a master board member,” says Terri Lewis, NJSBA field service representative. “Don’t misunderstand me – that is a very worthy goal, but because that is something you can do individually, it’s not as difficult to coordinate. Master board is an achievement that you have to get eight other people to agree to work on together.”

Why go through this? “It provides a focus for better board governance,” notes Jane Kershner, NJSBA’s director of field services. “It allows individuals to learn how to work together as group, and to learn best practices on how groups can meet their governance goals.”

Glassboro Board of Education One of the New Jersey boards that has achieved Carole Larson Master Board accreditation is the Glassboro Board of Education in Gloucester County. (See opposite page for a listing of which New Jersey boards currently hold the designation. Glassboro earned its award in March 2014.)

Glassboro is a K-12 district with approximately 2,300 students and five schools. The school board, which has nine members, is headed by Peter Calvo, who has served on his board for nearly 20 years and is a former NJSBA vice president for county activities.

Glassboro first became a certified board in 2005. Since then it has been through a few rounds of board recertification, before working on its Carole E. Larson Master Board award.

“Our board set a tone and an expectation that members would get additional training, and that the board members would be involved in county association activities, and go to NJSBA programs,” says Calvo. He had NJSBA provide official transcripts for all board members to show them the credits they had earned already, and to motivate them to go to additional training.

From there, it was a natural progression to move on to working on a whole board certification.

“We had scheduled retreats with our field service representative,” he says. “For me, the board self-evaluation is tremendous. It launches the whole certification process and when you are able to get that information you get honest feedback on the board. You can then develop a set of goals for the board – not district goals, but board goals.”

Calvo notes that the BMA credits began to accumulate for the board, as Glassboro continued to schedule training sessions for the whole board. “We were taking steps towards certification, and as you get closer, it seems more attainable to everyone.”

The training was largely provided by Terri Lewis, the NJSBA field service representative who serves that board. “At the board retreat, we covered topics such as board goals, ethics, board self-evaluation and finance,” she says.

The board felt that not only did the training help board members gain proficiency, but that achieving both individual and whole board certifications gave the board credibility in the eyes of the community.

Calvo also believes that the training that board members received has helped the board grapple with some of the issues the district has dealt with in recent years, including getting a referendum passed. “The training provides good guidance on how to communicate about the referendum, and in fact, we learned about a different way to finance our bonds at a session at Workshop.”

Terri Lewis commends Glassboro for its commitment to board member professional development. “I’ve had boards that have dropped out of the certification process because they weren’t all committed to it. They’re not bad boards, or malfunctioning boards, but it makes you appreciate the ones that do achieve it.”

“Glassboro is a board that understands the issues, and I think the certification process made them more cohesive. They recently passed a referendum and I think what they learned in the process was a contributing factor in getting that passed.

They are just starting another strategic plan. Says Lewis, “Glassboro is a board that does a lot of planning and considers the questions that boards need to think about: ‘Where are we going?’ ‘What do we want to do?’ and ‘How do we want to do this?’”

“There’s a saying that excellence in the classroom begins with excellence in the boardroom,” says Lewis. “Glassboro is a good example of that.”

Boards that are interested in pursuing master board certification should contact their field service representative for information.