This past weekend was a milestone for the New Jersey School Boards Association. After a five-year hiatus, our Association resumed one of the nation’s most effective training programs for school leaders: the weekend New Board Member Orientation.
When I became executive director, I made the commitment to ensure that NJSBA’s training was nothing less than exemplary. To be sure, efforts are underway to improve all training initiatives. Having said that, this past weekend’s program, attended by more than 100 newly elected and appointed board members, met the standard of “exemplary”…and more. During my 40-year career in education, I have never received more positive feedback regarding any single event.
Along with the NJSBA officers, I participated in training and, drawing on my 32 years as a district superintendent and many years on a school board, delivered a large-group presentation on the Board-Superintendent Relationship. I also had the opportunity to speak individually with many of the new board members in attendance throughout the weekend.
And I observed. What I saw was exhilarating.
For three days, over 100 school board members and charter school trustees attended general sessions on topics ranging from ethics and governance to negotiations, policy-setting, and curriculum. The general sessions, presented by NJSBA staff and experts from local districts, were superb.
The distinguishing feature of the New Board Member Orientation is the opportunity it gives participants to work in small groups under the guidance of experts in school district governance—namely, experienced school board members. These group leaders, or trainers, direct the participants through hands-on exercises, case studies and simulations.
This weekend, we had 10 group leaders—long-term board members who, in December, were delighted to learn that the officers and I decided to reinstitute the weekend orientation. Their enthusiasm about sharing their expertise with new board members is impressive.
Now you might ask, “Why did NJSBA stop conducting such a successful training program in 2008?” Well, 2008 was the year in which the state enacted a law—one still in place—that limits school districts’ ability to pay for overnight training.
A critical difference between 2008 and 2013, however, is the Educational Leadership Foundation of New Jersey, an affiliate of NJSBA. The foundation was a fledgling one in 2008, but today it is able to provide the financial support necessary to deliver the weekend program. Thanks to a grant from ELFNJ, we were able to provide the overnight training program at no cost to local school districts.
For next year, I have set the goal of conducting at least two weekend orientation programs. And it’s important that we stay the course. Research shows that a well-trained school board that works effectively with its superintendent will have a direct and positive impact on student achievement.
Of course, not every new board member can spare a weekend to attend training. That’s understandable. Within the last year, NJSBA has developed an online training option for new board members. We have also made substantial improvements to our one-day orientation conference.
For those who can devote a weekend to training, however, the Orientation is an invaluable opportunity to learn the responsibilities of school board membership from those who have been most successful at the craft.
These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected].