I have had the great privilege and pleasure of being a judge for NJSBA’s Innovations in Special Education Awards program – twice. Innovations in Special Education honors the extraordinary efforts made by education professionals who go the extra mile for students with special needs. New Jersey deservedly has a first-rate reputation for educating its children with special needs, and programs like these are part of the reason.

Both times I was a judge, I came away from the experience impressed by the range of programs that talented educators in New Jersey have developed for our students, and was inspired by the passion for education that I saw from teachers, administrators and families. The students themselves – who have worked so hard and accomplished so much – also deserve an acknowledgement and congratulations for their efforts.

This issue of School Leader includes an article on this year’s seven award winners.

The article, which begins on page 30, provides details on a coding and robotics club for students ages 11-20; a program that teaches middle and high school students technology skills such as flying drones, filmmaking and coding; and a program for pre-K to grade 2 that combines service learning with fine motor skills development. Also included are write-ups about a high school “business” that develops workplace-readiness skills; a percussion workshop for deaf and hard-of-hearing students; a high school program that involves students planning and executing a monthly luncheon for local senior citizens; and a hands-on sustainability program for students ages 14-21. Each program description includes contact information for educators who might have questions or be interested in additional details on the program.

This year marked the 17th time that NJSBA and its partner, ASAH, an organization which serves the private special education community in New Jersey, conducted the Innovations awards. Many of the past winners are summarized on NJSBA’s “A+ Ideas” best practices website.

These are just some of the resources that the New Jersey School Boards Association makes available on the topic of special education. Another that I recommend is the Association’s task force report on special education that was released in 2014, “Special Education – A Service, Not a Place.” A group of board members, school administrators, and NJSBA staff members spent a year studying trends in special education programming, funding, and effective practices. That report is available on the NJSBA website.

I think you’ll find a wealth of information available that will help your district improve its special education programs. Does your district have other good ideas for engaging and educating students? I’d urge you to share them with your fellow board members by sending the information to NJSBA. You – or anyone in your district can fill out an informational survey.

Finally, to all board members, thank you again for sharing your time and your talents on behalf of New Jersey’s schoolchildren.