Nearly six years ago, when I was being interviewed for the job of NJSBA executive director, I voiced my opinion about the state’s county school boards associations. 

I said that the health of the New Jersey School Boards Association is predicated on the health of the county associations. Strong county associations help build a strong NJSBA. 

During my 40-plus years as an educator, I regularly attended the county meetings, first as a local district superintendent, and then as the Essex County Executive Superintendent.

These meetings bring together board members to receive training and to hear speakers on educational topics of specific interest to that county. The meetings also provide the perfect opportunity to compare notes and best practices with board member colleagues in neighboring school districts. 

Since I became executive director in 2012, my perspective on the importance of the county associations has only become stronger.

Each year, I make it a point to attend at least one meeting in each of the 21 counties. I can honestly say that attending a county meeting never fails to “charge my batteries.” The enthusiasm of the board members is contagious, and the meetings are inspiring and motivational.

Each county holds five meetings a year. Typically, the county leadership plans the programs for the coming year during the summer, but counties have been flexible in changing training topics to suit the immediate interests and needs of their members. Last year, several counties pulled together programs on school security and student safety in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shootings, because that was what local members wanted and needed. The county leaders, and our own NJSBA staff members, Ray Pinney, Marcia Lavigne and Patricia Rees, who help plan and run the meetings, are to be commended.

We also thank the Educational Leadership Foundation of New Jersey (ELFNJ) and its sponsors for the funding they provide for the county meetings. Their support has been integral to the program.  County meeting attendance has grown steadily each year for the past five years, and that is a testimony to the programming, the people, and, yes, the hot meals that we serve to board members courtesy of ELFNJ. 

As I look back over the county meetings I have attended in recent years, one stands out. I attended a meeting of the Cape May School Boards Association, which happened to be honoring two board members for their long record of service to their boards. Calvin Back of the Middle Township Board of Education had been on his board for an incredible 55 years, and continues to serve the children of his community to this day. Ralph Bakley of the Lower Township Board of Education was recognized for 50 years of board membership. Sadly, Ralph Bakley passed away this past April at the age of 85. As I chatted with the men that evening, I found them to be as dedicated and passionate as ever about their local schools. They embodied the best of New Jersey’s board of education members.

The county school boards association meetings for the 2018-2019 school year begin in September, and your leaders and the NJSBA staff members have been hard at work making plans. I urge you to participate in your county school boards association’s meetings. It will make you a better board member — which will help you build a stronger education program for your students.