When asked to name their favorite county school boards association programs, the responses of county school boards association presidents vary. Some enjoy “Eighth-Grade Dialogues,” that invite middle school students to share views on current topics and issues; some favor legislative updates; and some like best the county awards programs, which  celebrate board member milestones and accomplishments.

They’re proud of their counties’ uniqueness. The Mercer County schools, for example, have graduated such notables as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Jr.; former Daily Show TV host Jon Stewart; and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins. Atlantic County is home to towns as varied as lively Atlantic City and rural Hammonton — the “Blueberry Capital of the World.” And Burlington County traces its local school history back to colonial times, with Mt. Laurel’s Friends Meeting House School built in 1760.

But when it comes to what they find most rewarding about serving on school boards, NJSBA’s county school boards association leaders are largely on the same page. The cooperation and collaboration that help make school boards and districts strong — and the end product — thriving, successful students — are what they value most.

In the words of two county presidents, “Working together with other board members and staff, (to benefit) the community and future of our young people,” and “seeing our kids go through their education to be great people as they grow into adulthood” are the most rewarding parts of the job.

Celebrating Counties The New Jersey School Boards Association is celebrating the county associations by turning the School Leader Special Section spotlight on these effective, engaging organizations.

NJSBA’s county associations offer training, networking and support for boards through meetings, networking and other programs. And the county association presidents are an instrumental part of the associations’ success.

To that end, we reached out to all 21 county association presidents, asking them to share a few facts about themselves, their thoughts on their counties, and their hopes for public education.

ATLANTIC COUNTY

President:
Louis Della Barca

Local school board:
Egg Harbor Township

Years of Service: 8 as a board member; 5 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: Government Relations Updates, Latest news from NJDOE, Dr. Feinsod’s “Building Relations/Advocacy” video, School Ethics Advisory Opinions, Eighth-Grade Dialogue

Something interesting about our county: Ours is a very rural county, has farmlands, an ocean, a major city (Atlantic City) and the blueberry capital of the world, Hammonton.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: Networking with my community, with all of the stakeholders, and with other board members from around the county and the state to solve our local concerns.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: After a thorough superintendent search with NJSBA assistance, we have a vibrant, articulate, passionate, knowledgeable, totally dedicated new superintendent. We are developing into a district whose climate and culture embraces the diversity of our students and residents. Also, our improving relationship with our township council and police department is bringing our community together.

School district’s biggest challenges: School security and funding

BERGEN COUNTY

President: Bruce Young

Local school board:
Carlstadt / East Rutherford

Years of Service: 26 as a board member; 8 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: Our awards program for Bergen County board members

Something interesting about our county: We represent 77 school districts, which is the largest county association in the state.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: The most rewarding thing is seeing our kids go through their education and become great people as they grow into adulthood.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: Bringing in the virtual high school so we can bring more offerings to the high school at a small cost; also all of our staff members have laptops and students have Chromebooks; next year the board of education will also have Chromebooks.

School district’s biggest challenges: Funding will always be our number one concern, along with school security.

BURLINGTON COUNTY

President:
Margaret L. Haynes

Local school board:
Mount Laurel

Years of Service: 37 as a board member; 4 ½ as a county officer

Favorite county programs: Eighth-Grade Dialogue — board members enjoy the presence of students and parents and appreciate hearing student views on the various topics that impact our schools each day.

Something interesting about our county: Burlington County is the largest county in New Jersey and has a rich history dating back to its founding in 1677. In fact, Mount Laurel has been educating residents since the 1760s. The Friends Meeting House School was our first schoolhouse, built in 1760 at the rear of the Friends Meeting House.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: The opportunity to be an integral partner in the community and to assure and insure that our children receive a quality education.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: We’ve been very lucky to have fantastic employees, a supportive community and board members. Our most recent project is the Path to Success 2030 Strategic Planning Initiative that we are now completing. This community initiative has been focusing on the community, staff and board wants and needs as we move forward in setting expectations for our district.

School district’s biggest challenges: The district is looking forward to the challenge of implementing a new three-year plan based on the input of some 300 community members who took part in our strategic planning sessions, including establishment of a full-day kindergarten program and expansion of security measures in all eight of our schools.

CAMDEN COUNTY

President: Joyce Miller

Local school board:
Gibbsboro

Years of Service: 32 as a board member; 1 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: Eighth-Grade Dialogue 

Something interesting about our county: Camden County was formed on March 13, 1844 from a portion of Gloucester County. It was named after Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden, a British judge. It is the state’s eighth largest county.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: Seeing the students achieve and grow

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: Keeping our school safe, and seeing the respect that the children show to each other.

School district’s biggest challenges: The borough is planning two new housing units, so the biggest challenge for us will be that we will have to prepare for more students and will have to fund new teachers, if necessary.

CAPE MAY COUNTY

President:
Jacqueline McAlister

Local school board:
Ocean City

Years of Service: 6 as a board member; 3 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: In 2016, we hosted the first annual School Security Summit. It has developed into an important event for communication and collaboration. We bring local and state law enforcement, school administrators, board members, NJDOE representatives, superintendents, and even board members from neighboring counties together. Our focus next year will be the connection between security and mental health/wellness.

Something interesting about our county: 2018 was an amazing year for New Jersey’s southernmost county. We have been recognized as home to the State Superintendent of the Year, the State Secondary School Principal of the Year, and the State Teacher of the Year. We also have a district that was recognized as one of only seven Lighthouse Districts in the state. All highlight the amazing work being done here in Cape May County.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: The most rewarding part of board service is witnessing the positivity we add to the lives of our students. Although our responsibility is the broad oversight of finance and policy, we have the good fortune to support programs that directly affect our learners. When I see a student being recognized for success, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for being given the opportunity to add to their educational experience.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district:  Without question, I am most proud of the dedication of our staff and faculty. It’s not a single achievement that makes me proud, it’s the culmination of the efforts of everyone. On a daily basis, I am so proud of the kindness, the guidance, and the love shared with our students.

School district’s biggest challenges: The biggest challenge is always the same: recognizing emerging trends in education while being nimble enough to innovate and maintain such high levels of quality in academics, arts, athletics, and volunteerism.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY

President:
Michelle Kennedy

Local school board:
Fairfield Township

Years of Service: 15 as a board member; 4 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: Eighth-Grade Dialogue

Something interesting about our county:  Cumberland County is known as the “Garden Spot” of the Garden State, and has the largest population of bald eagles in New Jersey, located on the Maurice River. The majority of Cumberland County school board members were born and raised, and/or attended K thru 12th grade in one of the county’s school districts.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: The most rewarding opportunity for me as a school board member is giving back to my community by making sure the children are afforded an education which is conducive to their learning needs and one that will prepare them for future, as well as being a good steward of taxpayer dollars.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: An achievement I am most proud of would be the beautiful school and athletic fields our students have been blessed with, built with the help of state funding and the support of the taxpayers.

School district’s biggest challenges: The biggest challenge would be flat state aid funding.

ESSEX COUNTY

President:
Sandra Mordecai

Local school board:
West Orange

Years of Service: 8 as a board member; 6 as a county officer

Favorite county program: My favorite program is “Unsung Heroes,” brought in under my presidency. What a wonderful event, showcasing our best and brightest students, who overcame many obstacles and challenges to become successful.

Something interesting about our county: Some of our school boards are elected and some are appointed, based on their municipal governance structure. Essex was the first county in the country to create a county park system to ensure that it did not lose all its land to development, and has the first planned community in America, Llewellyn Park, in West Orange.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: I find the most rewarding part of being a board member is serving as a part of a team that is passionate about education and students and supports both students and teachers in getting the resources needed to ensure success.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: It is hard to choose just one. Some would include: one-to-one devices; a rotating drop block schedule at our high school to achieve one common lunch hour; block scheduling for K to 12. After pushing for many years, we were able to get an Energy Saving Improvement Program approved and completed.

School district’s biggest challenges: As with many other districts around the state, the biggest challenge is funding current and future programs as our tax base becomes smaller to ensure our students are well prepared for the next level of their journey and competitive globally.

GLOUCESTER COUNTY

President: Ginny Murphy

Local school board:
Washington Township

Years of Service: 8 as a board member; 4 as a county officer

Favorite county program: Without a doubt, the Eighth-Grade Dialogue. As a board member, this night gives you a chance to hear directly from your “customers.”

Something interesting about our county: The school board members in Gloucester County are some of the hardest working members in the state. Their commitment extends not only to our county meetings, but other county meetings, CAL, BOD, and over 95 percent school participation at the NJSBA Workshop conference.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: Serving on the school board allows me to play a small part in helping the children of my community fulfill their goals and dreams. A strong education paves the way for their future success.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: Implementation of a full-day kindergarten program in our district, our commitment to technology and becoming a Future Ready School in the first induction class, and the expansion of our school resource officer program are the initiatives that make me proudest of our board team.

School district’s biggest challenges: The reallocation of hold harmless state aid may cut our school budget by up to $9 million over the next seven years. This is a very grim proposition.

HUDSON COUNTY

President:
Lorenzo Richardson

Local school board:
Jersey City

Years Service: 4 as a board member; 1 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: Unsung Heroes and roundtables

Something interesting about our county: Our county is very diverse with numerous languages and cultures.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: Having a role in directly impacting student achievement.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: Phasing out of state control and moving on the path to local control.

School district’s biggest challenges: State and local funding

HUNTERDON COUNTY

President:
Robert (Bob) Imhoff

Local school board:
High Bridge

Years of Service: 11 as a board member;
2 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: “Celebrations” at the end of the year. Last year we asked each district to share its major accomplishments and student successes.

Something interesting about our county: Hunterdon County is one of the best places in the state to live and educate your children. Collectively, board members from Hunterdon dedicate thousands of hours to improve education, manage finances, hire and retain the best talent and create educational environments where children have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: Knowing that programs and opportunities that were put in place help our children excel at the high school level and beyond.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: All policies and curriculum guides are up to date.

School district’s biggest challenges: Finances and school consolidation. Hunterdon County, like much of New Jersey, has many small school districts. We need to continue to increase educational programs through sharing and school consolidation, and we need our legislators to fix the school funding issue. It is simply not fair to so many districts in this state.

MERCER COUNTY

President:
Jo Ann L. Groeger

Local school board:
Lawrence Township

Years of Service: 7 as a board member; 2 as a county officer

Favorite county program: Eighth-Grade Day of Dialogue

Something interesting about our county: Mercer County consists of 94 schools including nine public high schools. County schools have produced such notables as Jon Stewart (entertainment celebrity) Samuel Alito Jr. (U.S. Supreme Court justice), Ethan Hawke (actor), Val Ackerman (first WNBA commissioner; current commissioner, Big East college athletic conference) and David Dinkins (former N.Y.C. mayor).

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: Working together with other board members and staff in developing plans that come to fruition with significant benefits to the community and the future of our young people.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: Enhanced and expanded athletic facilities and wellness opportunities for all students by engaging the public to determine the most pressing needs and concerns. This was accomplished through community conversations and public input that resulted in the construction of turf fields.

School district’s biggest challenges: Providing the best environment for students and staff to ensure that students are prepared to enter the work place in a capacity to which they are best suited. This comes at a time when we are faced with diminishing funding, increasing expenses, and an ever changing society.

MIDDLESEX COUNTY

President: Deborah Boyle

Local school board:
South Plainfield

Years of Service: 11 as a board member; 7 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: Unsung Heroes

Something interesting about our county: The immediate past president of the National School Boards Association, Kevin Ciak, is from our county.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: You are the voice for the people in your own community who may not use their voices, but who come to you for help; also making the students, teachers and staff the number one priority.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: Full-day kindergarten

School district’s biggest challenges: Staying within the 2 percent cap

MONMOUTH COUNTY

President: Al Miller

Local school board:
Howell Township

Years of Service: 7 as a board member; 3 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: My favorite program that our county runs is the Eighth-Grade Dialogue. I enjoy listening to the students’ perspective on educational issues.

Something interesting about our county: Our county association invites local districts to have music groups from their district perform before our county meetings.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: The thing I find most rewarding about being a board member is knowing that decisions my fellow board members and I make can make a big impact in a child’s life.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: I am extremely proud that our district was one of three in the state last year that was able to get all 12 of our schools certified through Future Ready Schools – NJ. Now our district is working on getting all 12 of those schools to the silver level this year.

School district’s biggest challenges: I believe our biggest challenge looking forward is not knowing where our state aid numbers will fall.

MORRIS COUNTY

President:
Karen Cortellino, M.D.

Local school board:
Montville Township

Years of Service: 12 as a board member; 10 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: Our “Good News and Sharing” program. In 2013-2014, we introduced a time in our agenda to share an achievement, a new program, a best practice or something else of interest in our schools. A few examples include: original science research, personalized learning, robotics, STEAM program, Genocide Studies Gallery Walk, elementary financial literacy, and STEM pals project.

Something interesting about our county: Our Association started the state’s first county legislative committee, and the mission is to build relationships with our local legislators. Our committee is made up of dedicated board members who regularly meet with legislators to discuss educational issues of interest to Morris County. We also send out highlights from every meeting to help keep all members informed.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: I strongly believe in and attempt to emulate the tenants of an effective board member. I strongly believe effective boards positively impact student achievement. All members on our board believe the same, and it is rewarding to watch our students succeed in school and beyond.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: I am most proud of our students, faculty, administration and staff. The collaboration and cooperation across all grade levels and schools creates an atmosphere of excellence. Montville Township Public Schools was just named a 2018 National District of Character, one of only five in the country. Our middle school was also just named a National School of Character, and we have two elementary schools that have previously been named National Schools of Character. Cedar Hill Elementary School was named a 2016 National Blue Ribbon School. Our high school, Montville Township High School was named to the AP National Honor Roll.

School district’s biggest challenges: Our biggest challenge moving forward is financial. With costs rising faster than the 2 percent tax levy cap, it will be difficult not only to continue to introduce new programs, but difficult to maintain programs and facilities.

OCEAN COUNTY

President:
Jackie Bermudez

Local school board:
Manchester Township

Years of Service: 9 as a board member; 1 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: All the county programs that we run are a great opportunity for training and to learn what is going on throughout the county. Our meetings include a dinner and allow us to meet with members from other districts and share ideas. Our topics have included special education, school safety and the opioid crisis.

Something interesting about our county: Jackson Township is the largest municipality by size in Ocean County and Lakewood is the fastest growing township in New Jersey. In 2017, Lakewood reached 100,000 people, making it the most populated township in Ocean County.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: The most rewarding part of being a board member is high school graduation. All the decisions we make as a board of education are to promote student achievement, and there is no better proof of this than at high school graduation when we hand our students their diplomas.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: The implementation of block scheduling in our high school starting school year 2016-2017. This is our first step in making sure all our students are college- and career-ready.

School district’s biggest challenges: Our district is considered a rich district based on the school funding formula, but Manchester is the 13th poorest township in New Jersey, according to NJ.com. This is because of our large senior citizen population. Each year the lack of funding, state-mandated programs and rising health insurance premiums make it harder to add new initiatives in the district.

PASSAIC COUNTY

President: Judith Bassford

Local school board: Clifton

Years of Service: 7 ½ as a board member; 5 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: Co-hosting the legislative meeting with Bergen County; and the annual meeting with the Passaic County Education Association

Something interesting about our county: Passaic County, with 16 municipalities, is very diverse. Our county has urban, suburban and rural locations. The first successful submarine was built by John Holland of Paterson in 1878. It is home to attractions such as Great Falls State Park, Lambert Castle, Long Pond Ironworks Museum, Skylands Manor and Garret Mountain Reservation.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: The most rewarding thing about being a school board member is watching the achievement of the students. It has been such an honor to see their hard work and achievements. The students come first; to me it is about giving each and every student the opportunity for a brighter future.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: Our pre-school initiative and our student union’s involvement in the education process

School district’s biggest challenges: School security is the biggest challenge that our districts are facing today; another issue is fair funding.

SALEM COUNTY

President: Eileen Miller

Local school board: Woodstown-Pilesgrove Regional School District

Years of Service: 15 as a board member; 9 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: My favorite program is our yearly Eighth-Grade Dialogue. I think it is important to hear about the state of our schools from the people who are there every day and who are affected by the decisions we as school board members make.

Something interesting about our county: Salem County is the smallest county by population. We have 14 school districts; 5 are pre-K-12, one is the career and technical high school and one is the special services school district. We have fewer students in our entire county (about 12,000) than many of the larger districts in the state.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: I can make a positive difference (along with my fellow board members) in what our children have available to them in facilities, curriculum and enrichment.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: Our district is involved in many great programs, but one that is very important to me is our participation in Odyssey of the Mind. We have teams of students from grades K-12 that participate in regional competitions each year. Many qualify for the state finals and we often have teams qualify for the world finals.

School district’s biggest challenges: We are currently addressing a financing issue that has severely limited our ability to fund all of the programs we would like. We are working to address our shortfalls and continue to provide the quality education our students deserve.

SOMERSET COUNTY

President:
Robert Morrison

Local school board:
Watchung Hills Regional

Years of Service: 5 as a board member; 3 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: My favorite program to date has always been our legislative meeting. It is a great opportunity for our local board members to interface with the members of our legislature.

Something interesting about our county: Somerset County is much more ethnically and economically diverse than many people realize. That is one of our strengths since it allows for a greater understanding of how a particular educational issue may impact communities differently while at the same time reinforcing best practices that are applicable to all.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: Graduation. Being able to shake the hands and hand out the diplomas to our graduating seniors always serves as a real reminder of my being called to service in the first place. That moment makes all the long hours and difficult conversations worth it.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: The development, implementation and embedment of our first Strategic Plan.

School district’s biggest challenges: We are dealing with shrinking enrollment. As a regional district, we are dependent on what happens in our four sending districts. Enrollment has decreased by about 10 percent over the past four years, but we do not have clarity about our future enrollment as the affordable housing rulings have yet to be made. This makes long-term planning difficult.

SUSSEX COUNTY

President: Ray Morris

Local school board: Newton

Years of Service: 9 as a board member; 6 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: My favorite topical program was in response to an effort by municipal leaders in Sussex County to consolidate all 24 districts into one. NJSBA put together a panel of experts as well as an informative video to review the history of and challenges to regionalization/consolidation.

Something interesting about our county: Marie Bilik from Green Township served NJSBA in a variety of roles including as executive director for five years, retiring in 2012. Marie has come full circle with her return to the Green Township Board.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: I have been involved in public education for the past 44 years. As a teacher/counselor/coach, I viewed everything from that perspective. I have enjoyed the learning experiences that I have had with my fellow board members through NJSBA training. I find it very rewarding to play a small part in helping to move our district forward.

A noteworthy achiev- ement of our school district: The Newton Board has experienced the positive of becoming a Certified Board and the disappointment of a defeated referendum. Through those ups and downs we have worked together as a team with respect for each other in our pursuit of becoming a high-performing district using a Community Schools model.

School district’s biggest challenges: As one of the many districts in New Jersey that has not been adequately funded over the past decade, Newton’s continuing major challenges revolve around being able to provide 100 percent of what our students deserve and are entitled to while receiving only about 60 percent of our fair share of funding.

UNION COUNTY

President:
Raymond J. Topoleski

Local school board: Linden

Years of Service: 18 as a board member; 3 as a county officer

Favorite county program: “Unsung Heroes”

Something interesting about our county: Union County is a very diverse. It includes two large cities and one of the smallest districts in the state in Winfield Park.

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: The standardization of curriculum and the introduction of the one-to-one computer initiative.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: The closing of the achievement gap.

School district’s biggest challenges: As with most districts, it is trying to balance school safety with parent involvement.

WARREN COUNTY

President:
Bethany Summers

Local school board:
North Warren Regional

Years of Service: 10 as a board member; 1 as a county officer

Favorite county programs: I like presentations involving local officials. Our recent school safety program featured the county prosecutor’s office and a district that had revamped its security. I also love having dinner and speaking with other board members!

Something interesting about our county: We are a rural community with many small schools. We only have five high schools in the county, and they all serve more than one town, in regional or send-receive relationships. There is a lot of history in these schools — Phillipsburg High School has had a football rivalry with Easton (PA) for 111 years!

Most rewarding aspects of board membership: It is an exciting time to be a board member. Education is changing with the emphasis moving from teaching facts and figures to critical thinking, creativity and soft skills. I love being a part of that and am eager to see how our students will do in the coming years as they enter the workforce.

A noteworthy achievement of our school district: Our new administrative team (including CSA, BA and principal) has improved staff morale, managed our budget well, added new AP classes as well as over 30 new electives in our high school and middle school, and has created a collaborative environment with our sending districts. All of these are moving us towards our goal of improving student achievement.

School district’s biggest challenges: We are facing declining enrollment for the foreseeable future. With the potential of losing some state funding, we will need to find creative ways to continue the offerings for our students and improve our facilities.

Janet Bamford is School Leader managing editor.  Jeanette Rundquist, former NJSBA communications officer is now lead writer, social media manger at Kean University.

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