As school board members, we believe in the importance of lifelong learning for our students. Our dream for the children in our districts is for them to continue to learn and grow long after they have graduated.

This is true for ourselves, as well. School board members fulfill an essential role in the community and are the outward faces of the school district. Therefore, it is important that we also become lifelong learners and invest in ourselves. Professional development — whether it be at a place of employment or in a volunteer role — helps people continue not only to be competent in their profession, but also to excel in it. It should be an ongoing process that continues throughout an individual’s career or term of service. While experience is a great teacher, it often means that we tend to continue what we have done in the past. Professional development opens us up to new possibilities, strategies, and skill areas.

NJSBA’s county school boards associations enhance the skills and knowledge of local board of education members, serve as a forum for the exchange of information and ideas, and act as a catalyst to initiate and expedite action. The meetings are opportunities for school board members to receive professional development and up-to-date information on current education initiatives, legislation and regulations affecting public schools. They enable participants to stay connected and work together to advocate for their districts and advance student achievement.

Becoming involved in your local county association ensures that your knowledge and skills stay relevant and up-to-date, and helps you become aware of changing trends, issues, and directions in public education. The meetings serve as a forum for sharing ideas and best practices, networking, and gaining valuable and up-to-the-minute information. Best of all, the meeting topics are decided locally and led by county school boards association officers — the presidents and vice presidents — who have been elected by each association’s members. County officers meet over the summer to plan a year of interesting and timely topics that align to the individual needs and issues of their county, and are able to react quickly throughout the school year in response to emerging issues.

Timely Topics Never has this been illustrated so profoundly as in the aftermath of the February 2018 school shootings in Parkland, Florida, when we collectively felt the need to ensure we were taking all possible measures to protect our students. Many county school boards association leaders made changes to their originally scheduled topics to provide this crucial forum for their members. School board members were able to share concerns and best practices, and they had the opportunity to learn from school security experts, local and state law enforcement and the New Jersey Department of Education.

Last fall, school board members in Sussex County were suddenly faced with a new issue after municipal officials suggested countywide school district consolidation. The Sussex County School Board Association leaders determined that the best way to have a conversation in which all stakeholders could be involved and informed was to hold a forum on the subject, extending the invitation to community members throughout the county. More than 200 people from Sussex County and across the state turned out for the event at Sparta High School, which featured a panel discussion that included David Hespe, former N.J. education commissioner; Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, Dr. Louis Muenker, South Hunterdon Regional School District superintendent, Michael Vrancik, NJSBA director of governmental relations, and John Ropars, NJEA Uniserve representative for Sussex County.

Other recent meeting topics included school law, school funding, social-emotional learning, a President’s Breakfast, an EdCamp, joint meetings with parents and teachers, legislative forums (Middlesex CSBA welcomed the new Assembly Speaker Coughlin), the arts in education, social media, and special education. Each topic featured speakers who are experts in their field, and included question-and-answer sessions. In addition, several counties held special student programs, which highlighted student achievement and provided young leaders with a platform to share their thoughts and experiences involving public education and to make their voices heard. (See story on page 27.)

This past year, NJSBA rolled out “Foundations for Success,” a new governance training series, designed to equip new and seasoned board members with the skills they need to deal with the issues they face at the board table. The sessions focused on school finance, student achievement and school law, and were offered regionally through the county school boards associations. These highly interactive and informative programs gave board members a new way to fulfill their training requirements under the School District Accountability Act. Veteran board members were also invited to attend sessions of their choosing in order to advance their knowledge on these topics.

In 2017-2018, more than 4,100 school board members and administrators attended county meetings. In addition to advancing their knowledge, participants earned credits toward Board Member Academy certification. In fact, aside from NJSBA’s annual Workshop, more credits are earned by board members at county association meetings than anywhere else.

School board members can also build their own leadership skills and experience by becoming involved in planning and governance for their county association. County presidents and vice presidents come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are veterans with 20+ years on their boards, and others are serving their first term. The County Association Leadership (CAL) meets three times a year at NJSBA’s Trenton headquarters, where we share best practices, strategies for improvement and growth, and discuss possible topics. Our most recent meeting featured a health education professional who explained to us the dangers of “vaping,” its effect on students and schools, and steps we can take to establish protocol and policy that address this important issue.

Some county associations have been active for over 100 years, and most NJSBA presidents got their start as officers in their respective counties. So whether you’re looking to gain knowledge, meet new people who share your passion and dedication to public education, or build your leadership skills, consider attending your next county meeting.

Thanks to the Educational Leadership Foundation of New Jersey (ELFNJ), and its sponsors, there is no cost to attend county meetings, and in most cases, dinner is provided. If you do attend a meeting, be sure to introduce yourself to your county officers. They will be happy to meet you.

School board members in New Jersey are a diverse group, representing all backgrounds, races, ages, and income brackets; from college students to corporate executives, retirees and stay-at-home parents. But we all have a common mission: To ensure the best possible education for the students in our district. County association meetings provide convenient, relevant forums to gain information and advocate for our students.

The role of a school board member is often not an easy one. Becoming involved in your county association boosts your morale and provides a great source for insight, ideas and inspiration, which ultimately helps your district move forward.

Christy Tighe is NJSBA vice president for county activities, and a member of the Greenwich Township Board of Education.