September 1, 2015

With every new season comes a sense of promise. You see it at training camp for the football team, pre-season practice for the soccer team, and cross-country training.

The same is certainly true of our academic programs. Set aside the “butterflies in the tummies” of kindergartners, and a new school year rings with enthusiasm. Each teacher puts his or her best foot forward; the superintendent and administrative team are excited to see the plans developed for the new year go into effect; parents hope and believe that their children will grow academically and emotionally; and our students are at their best—ready to learn and to begin a new journey with past experiences no encumbrance.

Welcome to the new school year!

Off and on for the past several decades, we’ve heard from the “faultfinders,” with their barrage of criticism of public education. Their lines are predictable, out of context and, often, wrong.

Overall academic progress—particularly here in New Jersey—contradicts the criticism. More significant, so do the countless success stories that take place in our schools every day. That’s to the credit of our professional staffs which do an outstanding job, and to the 5,000 local board of education members who set the tenor for what happens in our schools. The right tone creates a positive atmosphere that emanates from the board room to the central office, the school building and the classroom.

Once again this year, as it has for more than a generation, the nation’s barometer of the public’s attitude toward the public schools—the annual Gallup/Phi Delta Kappan poll—shows that the public does not buy into the negative rhetoric when it comes to their local public school. A strong majority of American parents gives the school that their children attend grades of A or B.

Poll results and overall measures of academic achievement, however, do not mean that our schools are without challenges. And those challenges are daunting.

In late July, I had the honor of addressing the graduates of the Master of Arts Program in Educational Leadership at Montclair State University. I shared my perspective on the issues they will face as public school leaders.

Foremost is student achievement. Life for many of our students is far from ideal, and the challenges posed by poverty translate into significant differences in academic performance within the same communities, the same schools and even the same classrooms. We also have a growing number of students whose first language is not English. At the same time, our schools face serious funding and communications challenges, including:

Acquiring the technology needed to support learning.
Financing education in the face of the 2 percent tax levy cap and stagnant state funding.
Effectively communicating about data from the first administration of the PARCC exam, to be released this fall.
Preparing for possible adjustments in standards and assessments.

All of us in education need to work as a team—a statewide education community—to confront these challenges, to retain excellence where it’s been achieved, and to move our schools from good to great elsewhere.

Let me assure you that NJSBA will be there for the school leaders of New Jersey, through advocacy, outreach, research, and training. For NJSBA, the new school year will bring the release of major studies on student achievement and wellness, initiatives with municipal officials and parents (our natural allies), and representation on the Governor’s Task Force on Assessment and the state’s Standards Review Committee.

At the end of the day, the decisions of local school boards have an enormous impact on how our students learn and achieve. No other public officials have that level of influence over children’s lives. In handling the necessary demands of school district governance, many board members may forget this fact. It’s understandable.

So for 2015-2016, let’s continue to do everything in our power to meet the challenges ahead…and let’s ensure that, throughout the school year, our students experience the same positive attitude and enthusiasm with which they are greeted on opening day.

Thanks for always placing the needs of students at the center of your decision-making.

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

Follow me on Twitter: @DrLarryFeinsod