December offers an opportunity for social gatherings, good times with family and friends…and a recounting of the year’s events.

Like any other year, 2013 had some disappointments.  However, for those of us who have dedicated ourselves to advancing public education, I’d like to offer the opportunity to reminisce about the many positive developments of the past year.  And there were many. So, for your consideration, here is my list of the “top 5” developments in New Jersey public education during 2013.

1. Student performance:  New Jersey fourth- and eighth-graders again scored at or near the top on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Also known as the Nation’s Report Card, the NAEP is the only apples-to-apples comparison of student performance among the states. On our own “home-grown” exam, the NJ ASK, our 3rd through 8th graders also maintained a high level of performance. That’s significant because the 2013 exams were aligned to the more rigorous Common Core State Standards. Finally, New Jersey’s high school graduation rate, among the nation’s highest, continued to increase in 2013.

2. School climate: In its annual report on Violence, Vandalism and Substance Abuse in the Schools, the New Jersey Department of Education reported a 19 percent decrease in the total number of reported incidents. Much of the decline was due to a 36 percent drop in incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying, which can be attributed to the fact that school districts have instituted or reinforced many successful programs built around (directly or indirectly) character education. While the incidence of HIB decreased markedly, there were also reductions in violence (down 4 percent); vandalism (down 9 percent); weapons possession (down 7 percent) and substance abuse (down 4 percent).

3. Board member training: A well-trained board of education, focused on student achievement, can have a direct and positive impact on education. Research supports that fact.  That’s why training is at the heart of NJSBA’s services. Last March represented a watershed: the reinstitution of NJSBA’s successful and effective weekend New Board Member Orientation program after a five-year hiatus. We provided the program at no cost to participating districts, thanks to a grant secured from the Educational Leadership Foundation of New Jersey, a non-profit arm of NJSBA. For 2014, we are planning two weekend orientation programs and expanded leadership training for experienced board members.

4. Advocacy: In Trenton, stopping undesirable legislation can be just as significant as promoting legislative goals. Over the summer, two bills that, for all intents and purposes, would have taken away a cost-saving option for local boards of education—subcontracting non-instructional services—were vetoed by Governor Christie. He also rejected another union-backed proposal that would have given tenure-like protection to some non-teaching employees. The Governor’s action followed NJSBA’s discussion with key administration officials. And during the 2013-2014 state budget development process, NJSBA succeeded on another key point. We helped secure additional funds to ensure no net loss in state aid due to the so-called SDA assessments, which are charges levied against districts that received grants through the state’s school construction program.

5. Sustainable Schools: NJSBA prides itself on being on the cutting-edge of training and services to enable school districts to incorporate sustainable practices. In September, NJSBA received the “Special Impact Award for Education” from the U.S. Green Building Council’s New Jersey chapter. In presenting the award, the Council stated, that “NJSBA is creating a multi-faceted approach for school districts to foster healthier school environments at lower operating costs and connecting sustainability to student academic performance.”

Yes, 2013 has been a successful year for the New Jersey School Boards Association. But to paraphrase Cal Ripken, Jr., our approach is not to focus on the previous games, but to concentrate on the game at hand.

No one stayed on task better than Ripken, who holds the record for consecutive starts in Major League Baseball. And staying on point is exactly what NJSBA will continue to do as we work with local boards of education to advance the achievement of all children in 2014.

I thank you for your dedication to New Jersey’s 1.4 million public school students.  Happy Holidays!

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