Dear NJPSA Members,
More present than the hint of wistfulness about how quickly the summer has passed is the perennial excitement for the promise of all that a new school year is going to bring. The heart is beating just a little bit louder and faster, the mind is jumbling a few dozen thoughts at the same time, and the inner battle between nerves and exhilaration intensifies by the hour. For those of us who have dedicated our careers to education, this must mean September is here!
Only in education do we get a fresh start every year, and that opportunity has never been more necessary — nor has a September return been more anticipated — than right now. Although it was supposed to be a normal year and COVID was supposed to be but a memory, this school year still opens with unknowns as we prepare our schools for all of our students to return in person while still embedding the flexibility for quick transitions that we worry may become necessary in the coming 10 months. In addition, given the torrential rains, flooding, and school closures that have already interrupted many schools’ and families’ hopes for a traditional opening this week, your role as an educational leader is even broader as you join your communities in helping with the recovery from the impact of Tropical Storm Ida, all while dealing with any personal damage you may have suffered. On behalf of NJPSA/FEA, I hope that you weathered the storm with minimal impact and are able to enjoy one last summer weekend before the school year begins, the students return, and the learning commences.
This will certainly not be a “normal” September for me either, as I write to you for the first time in my new role. Being an educator was my childhood dream, one I was able to live for nearly three decades, first as an English teacher, then as vice principal, and for the last 15 years as a high school principal. Now, I am so honored to begin this new chapter as the Executive Director of NJPSA and President of FEA. Today, I feel the same excitement I brought into my very first classroom, and I look forward to serving and supporting you, the outstanding educational leaders of this great state.
Yours is a profession like no other. Whether developing the standards-aligned curriculum to ensure that our students are educated to New Jersey’s highest expectations, establishing a climate and culture that allows all students to learn and feel valued, or planning how to feed hundreds, even thousands, of students lunches during a pandemic, every decision you make becomes a part of the tapestry that is each student’s individual school experience. I know that our NJPSA members are more than up for the challenge and have planned for this September with the colorful threads and creative vision that will bring that tapestry to life for our students. School may not be back to normal yet, but, have no doubt, as-close-to-normal-as-possible is everyone’s goal!
As we open our schools this September, NJPSA/FEA joins New Jersey’s educational leaders as we intently focus on:
- Providing for our students’ and staff members’ safety as they return to our schools fully in person for full days of instruction, with every preemptive and thoughtful consideration given to the logistics needed to slow the spread of COVID-19 to the greatest extent possible.
- Welcoming students back to school and helping with first day jitters, which are likely to be exacerbated by the health crisis and the unknowns of unfamiliar buildings, staff, and routines.
- Focusing positive and proactive attention on students’ accelerated learning. We know that our students will reveal what they need through formative assessments and at uniquely individual moments throughout the year, and finding the best approach to support each at the right moment is critical.
- Supporting our staff members. The educators of New Jersey have gone above and beyond for the past year and a half, completely redesigning their craft, working long hours seven days a week, and continuing to provide their support during summer enrichment and extended school year programs. As we face this year’s new challenges, helping our staff members remain strong, flexible, and appreciated is integral to their well-being.
- Maintaining a critical focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in our schools. All of our students deserve their own voice and an advocate who speaks for them, as well as a safe place to reach for the stars, and New Jersey’s educational leaders have the opportunity and obligation to create the environment that will change the educational landscape for the students of today and tomorrow.
- Creating a climate and culture that is professionally stimulating, collaborative, and supportive for staff, as well as welcoming, productive, and rewarding for students.
- Focusing on social-emotional learning, wellness, and mental health. Only minds and bodies that are ready for learning will be able to learn, and helping the adults and children in our care productively work through their insecurities, anxieties, and needs will also help them open up to the promise that each new school year holds academically, no matter the challenges we may face.
- Building relationships with parents and other community members that will reassure them during this very unsettled time in our world so that they confidently know that their children and all of their hopes and dreams are in good hands in our schools.
On behalf of the entire staff of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and the Foundation for Educational Administration, all of whom are lifelong learners, educators, and advocates, I wish you a healthy, successful, and fulfilling school year. NJPSA/FEA will be here to support you every step of the way. We invite you to participate in the incredible professional learning opportunities presented by FEA and LEGALONE, as well as to be on the lookout for timely webinars and roundtables, many of which are offered at no cost as a member benefit, to provide you with context and clarification of the latest announcements from the Governor’s office or the most recent guidance from the NJ Department of Education and the NJ Department of Health as it pertains to schools. Most importantly, we strive to be your go-to resource to help you grow professionally, to lead you in your “aspiring to retiring” leadership career goals, and to support you as you do the most important work of all, educating the students of New Jersey.
Yes, it is once again September. My pencils are sharpened, my book bag is packed, and I am excited to meet the nearly 7,000 members who will be my partners in the coming school year! I look forward to working with you and wish you the best of health, happiness, and success in 2021-2022!
Karen A. Bingert