This issue of School Leader magazine includes a special section on STEM education. There has been much discussion of why STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education is important to our children.

Most board members understand that studying those subjects will lead to rewarding careers. Studies have shown that job opportunities in STEM fields are expanding more than in others, and that workers in these areas earn more money than in non-STEM careers.

It is equally true that it is critically important for our nation to produce more scientists, technology innovators, engineers and mathematicians. These are fields that lead to invention and innovation, which is essential if our economy is to thrive in a global marketplace.

Both of these worthy goals were on display recently when I took a tour at the Joint Base McGuire-Ft. Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County. The staff there showcased military technology and discussed Army STEM careers. Another program at the Picatinny Arsenal in Rockaway Township discussed the STEM outreach assistance available to New Jersey schools.

But as a former technology teacher, I can tell you that studying STEM topics is also necessary for those students who will never go into STEM careers.

The iSTEM (integrative STEM, an interdisciplinary approach to the subjects) disciplines teach lessons that all students need to know. These subjects teach the value of experimentation, the importance of problem-solving, the necessity of testing a hypothesis, analytical skills, and the art of effectively present findings. Everyone needs these proficiencies.

iSTEM subjects help all individuals live better lives. Knowing something of biology and chemistry helps each of us be a better healthcare consumer. A firm grounding in mathematics helps each of us manage our personal finances better. Knowing something about physics allows us to understand the technology that affects us all each day. Integrating these skills with competencies such as effective writing, being able to graphically represent ideas, and the mathematical skills that are evidenced in the music and the arts, is essential.

A population that is well-versed in the iSTEM subjects is also crucial for our country because democracy needs an informed citizenry. That includes citizens who know how to tell the difference between a real scientific study and a bogus one and citizens who understand the ways in which statistics can mislead, as well as inform. Basic iSTEM subject literacy also enables us to understand and support the scientific research and development that the government and private corporations undertake.

NJSBA has made a firm commitment to training board members on iSTEM. The local board is ultimately responsible for setting policy, determining how iSTEM subjects are taught in schools, and for building community support for the programs.

To help board members learn more about iSTEM, NJSBA has conducted training programs on topics such as the role of the board, components of a successful iSTEM program, questions to ask the superintendent, and funding programs.

This year NJSBA will expand its focus on iSTEM. For example, Workshop 2014 will offer about two dozen programs that focus on various aspects of iSTEM education, and we are developing other programs that will be offered throughout the year.

Join us to learn more about what your district should be doing in iSTEM education, and how it can help prepare students not only for specific careers, but for life.