I spent most of this weekend participating in mandatory New Board Member Orientation in Princeton, NJ with ninety other recently elected Board of Education members. It was a great experience.
The conference, hosted by the New Jersey School Boards Association, was jam-packed with presentations on law, finance, policy, bullying, and student achievement, to name a few. Take a look at the schedule yourself.
We were given resources and points of contact for all sorts of issues we may face as board members, as well as the opportunity to ask questions to the New Jersey School Boards Association’s top experts. Our perspectives were broadened as these officials explained in great detail the entirety of the role of a Board of Education beyond what many of us had learned thus far. NJSBA presenters participated in funny small films of real-life scenarios, a nice touch that kept us engaged through their presentations.
Perhaps the most interesting part was meeting so many others who are embarking on the same journey towards improving their local schools. Attendees – all ninety of us – split regularly into small groups where engaging leaders facilitated discussions of ethical dilemmas, board responsibilities, negotiation strategies, and so forth. We even acted out different Board member personality types in mock meetings – a useful exercise that was a lot of fun.
In my small group, the other Board members hailed from Brick, Perth Amboy, Matawan-Aberdeen, Pleasantville, Newark, Barnegat, Wall, Atlantic City, Bordentown, West Windsor, and White Township. With school populations ranging from 300 students to nearly 40,000, we faced such different issues, from inability to fill a nine member school boards to 25% absenteeism – trouble filling classrooms. State monitors, budget shortfalls, and even a convicted superintendent – we all had unique challenges.
There were barely three years of total Board member experience between the twelve of us, but you wouldn’t know it from the experiences shared. We all gained great perspective from each other as we asked questions to our two group leaders, who combine for 27 years of BOE service.
Having never met a New Jersey Board of Education member from outside of Plainfield, this weekend made me feel part of a statewide community with so many resources. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have attended.