Workshop 2016 is nearly here.  I’m especially excited about this year’s conference because of the theme we have chosen: “Recognizing the Value of Every Student.” It has guided us in every stage of planning.

The theme reinforces NJSBA’s belief that every student has value and unique talents, every student is important, and every student can be successful. The best educational leaders instinctively understand that idea and embrace it as a core value. Districts that rely on that principle will make the best decisions for children, and will build a culture within the schools that nurtures and respects all students.

Our group sessions, action labs, learning labs, and mandated training, as well as our special programs, are designed to help school boards place the needs of every child in the center of decision-making. I am particularly enthused about our advanced technology focus, our iSTEAM Command Center, our sustainability initiative and the focus on the arts that attendees will enjoy.

Workshop participants may also notice many more students at the conference than in recent years.

There will be an expanded roster of student performance groups sharing their talents and skills on the main stage in the Exhibit Hall – six groups from districts across the state.  We will also have 17 teams of students participating in our STEAM Tank Challenge. Modeled after the popular television show Shark Tank, students are invited to invent something new, modify an existing product, or identify a situation or problem that needs resolution. Be sure to stop by the iSTEAM Command Center and be dazzled by our students’ ingenuity and enthusiasm.

These activities reflect the important principle that each and every student be given the opportunity to realize his or her potential.

Workshop Keynote Wednesday’s keynote speaker is Fredi Lavjardi, a high school science teacher from Phoenix, Arizona who has motivated and challenged students from low-income families by making science fun and introducing them to the field of robotics. Lajvardi drew national attention in 2004, when he entered his team in a university-level national underwater robotics competition, where they placed first, defeating leading universities, including MIT. His team’s inspiring story drew attention from local and national media outlets and led to the acclaimed documentary, “Underwater Dreams.” I heard him speak at a National School Boards Association program, and I can tell you that he will have the audience on the edge of their chairs. This is a don’t-miss program.

Lavjardi has lived the Workshop theme, by recognizing value of every student. I urge you to join us at Workshop 2016, and participate in some of the more than 200 learning opportunities that will help you make your school district a better place for students to achieve and excel.