The first Workshop was held in the fall of 1953. It was described by an Association officer as “the most ambitious undertaking in NJSBA’s long history…and in every sense, it was…the most successful.”
One hundred twenty-seven people were in attendance at the 1953 conference. That attendance level grew quickly. Just one year later, 588 people attended; by 1961 attendance was pegged at 1,576. In 2014, it is estimated that there will be more than 7,000 attendees and exhibitors at Workshop; and more than 250 training programs will be offered.
The training programs offered back in 1953 would still attract school officials today. Programs included titles such as “Financing a Building Program: Determining Cost, Bonding Procedures, Emergency Financing and Debt Limit,” and “Relationships of School Board Members and Staff: Ethics, Duties and Responsibilities.” Those topics are just as relevant in 2014.
Workshop was first held in Haddon Hall, now part of Resorts Casino, and located on the boardwalk. In October 1977, Workshop moved from that location to the Atlantic City Convention Hall on the boardwalk, the building most famous for hosting the Miss America pageant for many years. In 1997, when the new Atlantic City Convention Center was completed, Workshop moved to its present venue, which provides an ideal mix of large exhibit and meeting spaces and small classrooms.
By 1979, Workshop, founded by NJSBA, had two co-sponsoring organizations, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, and the New Jersey Association of Business Officials. Exhibit booths first made an appearance at Workshop in 1957, with almost 50 educational and commercial exhibitors. In 2014, there will be more than 300 Workshop vendors, including exhibitors and sponsors.
A Presidential Visit While the bulk of training at Workshop is conducted in the small group training sessions, general session and keynote speakers have brought insight and luster to the conference over the years.
Never was that more true than on Oct. 27, 1976, when President Gerald Ford came to Workshop and gave a 20-minute speech to a standing-room-only crowd. In his speech, Ford talked about his commitment to lessening the federal government’s involvement with education. He also stressed his strong support for the concept of local control over education.
In 2007, Joe Flannery, who retired from NJSBA as director of communications in 1992, recalled in an interview being put to work by the Secret Service during Ford’s visit at The Chalfonte-Haddon Hall.
In particular, he remembers the Secret Services’ cardinal rule: “Don’t make any quick moves” when shaking hands with the president—lift your hand up slowly.
A field service representative at the time, Flannery also recalls the intense media interest.
“You knew that he was going to be there in a couple of minutes because the media came flying in to try to get spots and pictures,” Flannery said.
In two gubernatorial elections, the candidates appeared at Workshop. In 1973, Workshop featured a debate between gubernatorial candidates Brendan Byrne and Charles Sandman. At 1985’s conference, Tom Kean, who was running for re-election, and his opponent, Peter Shapiro, shared the stage, answering questions from a panel of board members, including NJSBA’s future executive director, Edwina Lee, then a member of the Franklin Township (Somerset) Board of Education. Christine Todd Whitman visited the conference as a candidate; while Jon Corzine appeared while serving as governor.
A visit from the New Jersey education commissioner has been a feature at nearly every Workshop; 2014 will be no exception. Acting Commissioner of Education David Hespe will speak on Tuesday, Oct. 28, on the Exhibit Hall stage.
Other speakers over the years have included the notables such as Reverend Jesse Jackson, Marian Wright Edelman and Buckminster Fuller; television news figures such as Morton Dean, from CBS and ABC, and Eleanor Clift, of the McLaughlin Group and Fox News, and Juan Williams.
Also on the roster of speakers over the years: actress Liv Ullman; American Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker; humorist and author Garrison Keillor; author Jack Canfield, of the “Chicken Soup” series; author Calvin Trillin; humorist Mark Russell; Fred Hechinger, New York Times education editor; and political figures Joan Mondale, wife of vice president Walter Mondale; and David and Julie Eisenhower, authors and the grandson and the daughter of U.S. presidents.
A host of lesser-known, but equally important, education experts have shared their wisdom each year since 1953. In recent years, NJSBA has joined with the New Jersey Department of Education to provide updates on topics such as regulatory changes, technology and curriculum. Then, as now, the purpose of the conference has been to provide top-notch training for New Jersey’s school officials.