The State Board of Education met on Wednesday, September 6, in Trenton for their monthly meeting. At their meeting, the State Board received a presentation of the Lighthouse Local Educational Agencies, and discussed proposed readoption with amendments the Controversies and Disputes code, pertaining to the rules of procedure for the filing of petitions with the Commissioner of Education to hear and decide controversies and disputes arising under school laws. (N.J.A.C. 6A:3).
Following the meeting, several state board members stayed to hear testimony from educational stakeholders and members of the public. Three times a year, the State Board holds an “open topic” public testimony session, where anyone who registers to do so may speak before the board on any matter related to public education in New Jersey.
NJPSA Executive Director Karen Bingert took the opportunity to brief the State Board on the issues that New Jersey’s school leaders are facing as we enter the 2023/2024 school year. Bingert’s testimony relied on data collected from NJPSA members during the past two weeks via two different surveys. The first survey asked NJPSA members about the top three issues on their minds as schools reopen for the 2023/2024 school year. The feedback received showed a broad spectrum of concerns, but certain issues rose to the top of the list.
The first survey responses revealed, unsurprisingly, that principals and supervisors remain tremendously concerned with staffing their buildings with qualified staff – both certified and non-certified (including paraprofessionals, bus drivers and lunch aides). Because of the clear emergence of the ongoing staffing crisis at the top of mind for nearly every member who responded, we conducted a second survey that focused specifically on the status of school staffing. The survey results collected reflected member comments and hiring efforts up to the last week of August on the eve of school reopenings statewide. The results indicate that at this crucial time period, only 16.3% of respondents had fully staffed their schools! The State Board members were noticeably taken aback at this shocking statistic.
Although staffing emerged as the top issue, there are a number of other important topics that are currently weighing heavily on members’ minds. Academics, specifically increasing student performance and addressing learning gaps, were reported as being high on their priority list. Student and staff mental health, including establishing strong intervention systems and a positive school climate, is also a top concern. Another issue repeatedly cited as a top consternation of NJPSA members was the issue of assessment. Responses including assessment concerns ranged from the overtesting of students to duplication in testing requirements, assessment relevance to students, the lack of clarity over high school graduation assessment as a new school year begins, as well as the overall assessment landscape moving forward in New Jersey. Members also shared concerns about issues of equity in opportunities, resources, facilities and staffing.
Finally, emerging as one of the top three issues on the minds of principals and supervisors as they prepared for school reopening is what has become known as the “curriculum wars”. Specifically mentioned by NJPSA members as a top concern is the divisive political climate in our communities and the rising impact of this divisiveness on schools, academic programs, and students. In sharing this data, Bingert urged the State Board to set a positive example on this front, refusing to allow the difference of opinion among adults to interfere with student opportunities and the scope of learning as outlined in our highly-rated state learning standards.
As always, our members provide the best and most accurate real time information from the field! As Bingert was sharing the deep concerns of principals and supervisors about the divisive political climate interfering with the education of our students, parental rights supporters and LGBTQ+ advocates were holding competing rallies outside the building, And, among the nearly 200 people registered to testify, almost half sought to provide testimony on parental rights, gender identity and parental notification, as well as recent changes in the state’s education equity code.
NJPSA would like to thank all of our members who took the time and effort to complete our surveys and ensure that we had this important data that enabled us to be able to brief the State Board. It is critical that the State Board continue to hear real-time information from the experts in the field. We appreciate your advocacy – and all that you do!
If you have questions about the State Board of Education meeting, or any other education policy matter, please reach out to your NJPSA Government Relations team! Director of Government Relations Debbie Bradley at email@example.com, or Assistant Director of Government Relations Jennie Lamon at firstname.lastname@example.org.