Anniversaries are occasions to share memories. For me, this 100th Anniversary issue of School Leader is particularly special: It marks my final “President’s Message” and the opportunity to share sentiments about my term in office.
We have the opportunity to close the digital divide. We have the opportunity to close the socio-economic achievement gap. We have the opportunity to prepare our students for a 21st century global economy.
In May 2012, I spoke these words after the Delegate Assembly elected me president of NJSBA. They described some of the challenges facing public education then…and now.
As part of my speech, I read from a letter that my father sent me in April 1968, when I was a freshman at the State University of New York-Oswego. My father never went beyond the fourth grade, but he did everything in his power to make sure I had the education necessary for success and happiness. As I told the delegates, my father, who spent his life doing manual labor, once told me, “You have two choices: You can work with your mind or with your back.” I also shared memories of my mother, with her eighth-grade education, reading to me and, later, with me.
My mother passed away last year, and I will always connect what she did for me as a child living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with educational success.
When I spoke to the NJSBA delegates, I reached into my memory bank because of my belief in parental involvement in students’ academic achievement, the need to ensure educational success for all students regardless of economic background, and the role that technology will play in our students’ economic future. In each of these areas, local school boards have a critical role to play. And, in each of these areas, NJSBA has made significant advancements.
Today, our Association is the recognized leader in advancing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education through local school board policy and planning. It is estimated that, during this century, more than 60 percent of new jobs will require a background in STEM.
Last year, we created a Task Force on Student Achievement, with a membership that includes local board members, educators, and representatives of higher education, healthcare and the faith-based community. Our goal is to identify policies and practices to help local school boards close the economic achievement gap.
Meanwhile, our Parent Connections program is actively engaging our children’s first teachers in educational advocacy.
In all of these ventures, we aren’t just “thinking outside the box,” we got rid of the box, forged partnerships and began dialogs that didn’t previously exist.
These initiatives, and others that are still evolving, were made possible through the dynamic leadership of our executive director, Dr. Larry Feinsod. It’s been a pleasure working in partnership with a chief executive with whom I share a firm belief in public education and the significance of local boards of education. I also want to acknowledge the collaboration and counsel of my predecessor, Ray Wiss, NJSBA’s immediate past president, and my successor, Don Webster, as well as the support of our membership. You become a school board member because you are interested in students’ education; you remain on your board out of sincere dedication and commitment.
“I would like you to have a better life and be happy…” Those were my father’s words to me in 1968. They can also describe the aspirations of the New Jersey School Boards Association and local boards of education for all of our students. As I finish my term as president, I want to leave you with this thought: we must always remember that everything we do is for our children.
It’s been a pleasure serving you.