Every year this happens. Suddenly spring is in full force and the end of the school is quickly approaching.
I find the end of the school year to be a good time to take stock of where we are in my own school district — and in districts throughout the state.
Recently, we had good news about the academic performance of New Jersey’s public school students. The state’s students achieved top scores in the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), which is known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” The NAEP is considered the only apples-to-apples comparison of student achievement, since the same assessments are administered to a representative sample of students in every state.
According to the 2017 NAEP data, New Jersey’s fourth-grade students’ scores were tied as the highest in the nation in both reading and math, and the Garden State’s eighth graders’ scores were tied for second in the nation in reading and math.
This is an excellent result, and New Jersey’s boards of education, school administrators, teachers and students should all be immensely proud of their hard work. I have long thought that New Jersey’s public schools are the best in the nation, and I am pleased that our solid record of accomplishment is being recognized.
It has also been a challenging year. As this issue of School Leader is going to press, there is uncertainty about the levels of state funding that school districts will be receiving. Despite having received state aid numbers back in March, and designing local district budgets based on those numbers, districts now have reason to believe that those aid numbers may well change before the beginning of the next fiscal year on July 1. We urge the Legislature to make those changes known as soon as possible.
New Jersey schools, like those everywhere in America, are still grappling with the tragic Parkland, Florida school shootings in February. Districts are actively working to make schools safer. I have also been heartened by the rise in student activism in the wake of the Parkland shootings; it seems to me that our young people are moving the discussion on school security forward, and are determined not to let this issue be forgotten. Good for them!
At NJSBA, good things are happening as well. Our Task Force on Educational Opportunities for Non-College Bound Learners is hard at work; as is the School Security Task Force, which is updating NJSBA’s 2014 report, “What Makes Schools Safe?” With the change in administration in the governor’s office, Dr. Larry Feinsod, NJSBA’s executive director, the officers, and our governmental relations staff have all succeeded in opening up lines of communication with the new governor, his staff and the acting commissioner of education, as well as with the leaders in the Legislature. These relationships will serve NJSBA well as we continue to advocate for local boards of education.
And so, as another school year comes to an end, we should celebrate our achievements, but rededicate ourselves to meeting the challenges we will face next year. This is the New Jersey spirit I know, and the spirit that produced the best public schools in the country.