This issue of School Leader features a special section for new board members. I have found that new board members are bright, energetic, and enthusiastic – but sometimes they are unsure of exactly who they are now that they’re board members.

I would remind board members that they are:

Public Officials

Some board of education members have told me that they feel as if they have no power or authority and that they are overshadowed by other government officials. I would remind them that they are elected public officials – and in many cases the body they are elected to employs more people and has a larger impact on both the community and the local economy than other local government entities. Board members should respect that power, understand that the board, not the individual, carries authority, and work with their fellow board members to make their schools better.

While you have power, you also have special responsibilities. I recommend becoming thoroughly familiar with the Board Member Code of Ethics; following it conscientiously can keep you out of trouble.

The Voice of the Children

Board members are given an amazing opportunity that most people never have in a lifetime: the chance to make a positive difference in the lives of a large number of children. This is a delightful task – but one that should inform every decision you make. “Will this help the children – all the children?” is a question you should ask yourself before every vote.

The Fiscal Watchdog of the Community

New Jersey has a public education system that is the envy of many states. But, as we know, it also has property taxes that can be burdensome, especially to those in your communities who are on a fixed income, or who have difficulty in making ends meet. You owe it to them to make sure every dollar in your district is spent wisely.

The Best-Trained Public Officials in the State

You’ve taken – or will soon take – the first step in the process of becoming an effective board member – the NJSBA New Board Member Orientation training. We like to point out that school board members are the best-trained public officials in the state – no other officials have a course of mandated training.

That training is crucial. Studies have shown that well-trained school board members have a positive impact on student achievement. The orientation program is comprehensive, but as a new board member, you still have much to learn. I encourage you to pursue other training opportunities: county association meetings, our annual Workshop conference, and other training programs as they are offered.

Now that you are a board member, you have another rule: that of an adventurer. I promise that being on a board will be, at various times, fun, frustrating, enlightening, and satisfying. Congratulations on your new “adventure.” NJSBA will be with you every step of the way.

Donald Webster, Jr. is NJSBA’s president.