Happy Holidays!

As 2014 comes to a close, it’s nearly impossible to find a newspaper, a magazine or a broadcast program that does not provide a retrospective of the past year. So, in similar fashion, I’d like to use my “Reflections” column to share my thoughts about 2014 and some very positive developments in education.

Just as your physician measures certain vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate, during your annual check-up, we can look at various measures to determine the health of the public schools. Here are some examples from the past 12 months:

Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only exam uniformly administered from state to state, show that New Jersey students, at the three grade levels tested, continue to rank near the top nationwide in academic performance.

In many communities, school board members have been working hard with their chief school administrators and staff members to overcome obstacles, such as poverty, and these efforts have been reflected in a significant increase in the graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students statewide.

Education Week’s “2014 Quality Counts” report places New Jersey among the top three states on its K-12 Achievement Index and among the top six in its Chance for Success Index, which measures the environment for positive learning.

In the area of health and safety, a statewide student survey, conducted by the New Jersey Department of Education, shows that alcohol and drug use has decreased. In addition, the state’s annual data collection on violence and vandalism in the schools shows a 9 percent decrease in such incidents.

Statistics like these represent results. But they do not reflect what enables our schools to progress. In fact, the ingredients of successful schools include the positive day-to-day interaction between teachers and students, the work of principals and their staffs and, critically, the vision and leadership provided by boards of education and their chief school administrators.

I have often said that a key to our students’ success is a well-trained school board that, together with its chief school administrator, is focused squarely on academic achievement.

I’m proud of the role that NJSBA has played in helping local school boards fulfill their responsibilities. In the past year, we’ve made significant progress in improving board member training—an effort that will continue through the work of our Task Force on Training Quality. We completed major studies on Special Education and School Security, which have garnered the attention of our state’s leaders. On the advocacy front, two of our accomplishments will help school boards during these tight financial times by preserving the option to direct resources to the classroom through subcontracting of non-instructional services and preventing an increase in the assessment for school construction grants.

Of course, our work is not done. And neither is yours. The year 2015 will bring challenges in the classroom, the board office and the State House. But for now, during the holiday season, I want to wish you the best of times with your families and your friends and thank you for your incredible commitment to New Jersey’s students.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected].