Touting the power of teamwork and the importance of technology in educating New Jersey students, the state’s new Acting Commissioner of Education, Kimberley Harrington, received a standing ovation from an overflow crowd in the Exhibit Hall Theater at Workshop 2016 last week.

Harrington, who made her first Workshop appearance as commissioner, impressed the audience at the Atlantic City Convention Center with a stirring address that called for “future-ready” schools and educators with the willingness to change.

“We are looking to support school communities with the courage to move beyond the classroom, toward educational experiences that will help children realize their full potential,” she said. “We have got to change if we are going to meet the needs of today’s learners.”

The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) is a partner in the new Future Ready Schools-NJ program, a digital learning initiative that was launched at Workshop.

Harrington, who spoke on the first day of Workshop 2016, also said DOE’s approach is to set and maintain high standards for students; assess children’s progress toward the goals; identify schools and districts in need of support; and help provide necessary support. She called for “collaborative conversations” in education, and creating “communities of practice.”

Harrington’s speech headlined a three-day agenda that also featured a Legislative Update; a keynote address from Arizona teacher Fredi Lajvardi, who led a team of underprivileged students to win a national robotics competition; and a successful new student competition debuting at Workshop, “STEAM Tank.”

More than 7,500 school board members, educators, and others attended Workshop 2016.

A former classroom teacher who joined the state education department in 2012, Harrington was named acting commissioner in September. In her remarks, she vowed to visit schools at least twice per month, describing how, in one such visit recently, she discussed reading and book recommendations with eighth-graders.

After her speech, she was surrounded by educators inviting her to visit their schools.

“Students must be first and foremost in every conversation we have,” the new acting commissioner said.

Standing-Room Only at Legislative Update In another of Workshop’s well-attended sessions, Senate President Steve Sweeney; Assemblyman and GOP gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli; and Assemblyman Troy Singleton discussed school funding, the superintendent salary cap, charter schools, the Transportation Trust Fund, and other issues.

More than 175 attendees packed the session, which began with the three lawmakers expressing their appreciation of and thanks to local school board members.

“I served on a school board for one year. Those were some of the most difficult things I did,” Sweeney said. “For what you do every day – thank you.”

The conversation, moderated by NJSBA Governmental Relations Director Michael Vrancik, was wide-ranging. Discussed were the competing school funding plans introduced separately by Gov. Chris Christie, and Sweeney; the potential impact of the state’s new gas tax; and the 2 percent funding increase cap.

“I was never a fan of the 2 percent cap when it came to school budgets,” Ciattarelli said.

The three lawmakers also spoke of the need to support technical education as a path for students, in addition to college-readiness.

“We get so focused on trying to make everyone college-ready,” Singleton said. “We need to embrace technical education.”