“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

– John F. Kennedy

I hope you enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends.

As our schools reopen today, I’d like to reflect on those things that all of us in New Jersey’s public education community should be grateful for: the hard work of our students, the dedication of our teachers, support staff and school administrators, the interest of parents, and the commitment of our state’s nearly 5,000 board of education members to advancing student achievement.

Of course, we would be naïve to think that public education is not without its challenges, many of them serious. But, as I’ve said many times before, our students are among the highest-performing in the nation. For example, apples-to-apples comparisons of academic progress, including the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” show that New Jersey students score above their counterparts in the vast majority of states. We certainly have much to be thankful for in terms of academic achievement.

It is especially rewarding to see examples of how teaching and learning take on another dimension at this time of year; that is, by building within each of our students a sense of responsibility to the greater community. It’s an important lesson, and one that puts President Kennedy’s words into practice.

Looking over a recent edition of NJSBA’s Daily Clips, I found numerous examples of seasonal community-outreach programs in our schools: a Thankful Thought Letter Project in the Millburn Public Schools; annual food drives and efforts to feed the hungry in Dover (Morris County), Somerset County Vocational-Technical and Toms River Regional; and, in Warren Township, students composing letters of support and creating artwork focusing on peace for the citizens of Paris.

With Hanukah and Christmas approaching, we adults will be planning for the holidays, enjoying social events, and buying gifts for family and friends—all of it is good. But we should also abide by the same lesson we provide to our students, by not forgetting the neediest people of our communities.

In 2012, the 92nd Street Y in New York City, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, created “Giving Tuesday.” One of its supporters, philanthropist Bill Gates, former Microsoft CEO, explained the concept:

“You may have heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. There’s another day you might want to know about: Giving Tuesday. The idea is pretty straightforward. On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, shoppers take a break from their gift-buying and donate what they can to charity.”

So tomorrow, on Giving Tuesday 2015, and throughout the holiday season, let’s contribute what we can to food drives, clothing drives and other fund-raising efforts in our schools, places of employment, houses of worship, and community centers. It’s a way to express our gratitude for personal and professional good fortune and to set an example that promotes the social growth of our students.

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

Follow me on Twitter: @DrLarryFeinsod

© New Jersey School Boards Association, 413 West State Street, Trenton, New Jersey 08618  All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from NJSBA.