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 Experience Article in View From the Edge Magazine

Executive Director of NJSBA Provides Insight from Every Angle

Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod has spent his entire educational career helping those around him succeed. The current Executive Director of the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) first started on the front lines as a special education teacher working with students with cognitive disabilities. From there, he became an assistant principal and later an administrative principal. “I then spent three decades as a district superintendent of schools in three different New Jersey communities, including Mount Arlington, Madison and Cranford,” he added.

From 2008 to 2012, Dr. Feinsod was the state’s Department of Education Executive Superintendent of Schools for Essex County. Upon being confirmed by the New Jersey legislature, Dr. Feinsod oversaw the education of approximately 130,000 students, including those in the state’s largest district, Newark, and 25 charter schools in Essex County. “I have always enjoyed getting up every morning and realizing how the decisions we make affect children,” Dr. Feinsod said. He further served students as a school board member on the Morris Union Jointure Commission Board of Education for almost 20 years, including a stint as the board president. Adding to Dr. Feinsod’s robust background, he served as former president and co-founder of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, a grassroots advocacy group of school administrators, school board members, and parents. When asked about his career in education, he explained, “I have found being involved in education as a teacher, administrator, board member, parent, and a community member has helped me understand issues from different perspectives and viewpoints. These experiences have helped me with decisions I now make and the advice I provide at NJSBA.”

Impact of NJSBA Over the Last Century

Over 105 years ago, NJSBA was created for the promotion of student achievement and to provide training, advocacy and support for local school boards, as well as for the advancement of the state’s public education system. Today, NJSBA is one of America’s largest school boards associations.

Since 1914, the association has continued to provide statewide and local training opportunities for new and veteran board members. NJSBA’s membership includes 580 local boards of education, as well as the vast majority of the state’s 88 charter schools as associate members. The state’s 5,000 local school board members, who serve without compensation, oversee the education of 1.4 million public school students. Given the size and scope of its member base, NJSBA has some type of training event going on around the state, just about every day for school board members with Dr. Feinsod noting, “We conduct about 180 separate training programs yearly in all of the 21 counties, both in person and online.”

NJSBA’s biggest conference, the annual  Workshop, takes place in late October, when 9,000 school board members, superintendents, business officials, and technology specialists from New Jersey schools attend the annual event. The four-day conference offers 305 training sessions for attendees and is the largest professional development event for school leaders in New Jersey. Workshop 2020 is set to occur October 19-22, 2020 at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

Another vital function of the NJSBA is advocacy before the state legislature, the executive branch, the State Board of Education and the courts. The organization promotes the interests of local school districts, and its governmental relations staff analyzes every bill introduced in the legislature and gauges the proposals’ impact on local school districts.

“The current legislative session had more than 11,000 bills introduced, and 2,000 of those bills would have an impact on school districts. Obviously, we support certain bills,” Dr. Feinsod explained. The NJSBA also advocates for amendments and changes, while opposing other bills. “If we believe certain bills aren’t in the best interest of the local board of education and public education, we make sure to speak up accordingly,” he said. The staff meets regularly with New Jersey’s legislature and senior officials at the New Jersey Department of Education and governor’s office, providing appropriate insight on educational issues and the needs of local school boards and public school students. “We want to make sure our message and the message—and the message of the school board members—reaches the appropriate decision-makers,” Dr. Feinsod said.

NJSBA assists local boards by providing direct and consultative services and also offers a cadre of attorneys, labor relations specialists, and other professionals providing guidance on topical issues and policy. The policy experts deliver knowledge on school law, grants development, community engagement, and board governance. Each local board of education also has a dedicated field service representative who provides guidance and training.

The NJSBA has an award-winning publications department where extensive informational services are provided to the association’s members, including the weekly School Board Notes news report and a bi-monthly magazine called School Leader. The materials provide up-to-date best practices and the latest developments in school governance. “By working together with our membership, and providing frequent updates and a constant communication flow, we do everything possible to advance public education and to promote achievement of all of our students through effective governance,” Dr. Feinsod said.

Overcoming Current Challenges in Public Education with Change

The varied perspectives of local school boards guide NJSBA as it addresses ongoing challenges, including the need for adequate funding. “A key responsibility of the local board is to provide financial resources for the district’s instructional program and for its facilities and other operations. Assisting school districts with this challenge requires advocacy and innovation,” Dr. Feinsod explained. NJSBA continually advocates for school funding with the legislative leadership and the governor. The association helps local boards engage in dialogue with their elected officials as well. “We have increased our programs and services to help members save money, thus enabling districts to direct limited resources to the classroom and other vital functions,” he said. “So, we actually have created some successful cost savings initiatives.” An impressive example of how NJSBA has developed cost savings for public schools is by overseeing the Alliance for Cooperative Energy Services (ACES), which is a statewide cooperative pricing system for electricity and natural gas purchases. Dr. Feinsod said ACES has saved school districts in New Jersey close to $230 million in utility costs over the past nine years.

NJSBA is also a founding partner of Sustainable Jersey for Schools; a program established in 2014 and has 55 percent of the state’s school districts participating. The program promotes environmental and financial sustainability and education in the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) areas – taking the concept of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) one step further. “We understand the importance of the arts and how these skills affect the lives of all children,” Dr. Feinsod said. “When I was a superintendent, I remembered how the arts had such a profound impact on kids and how some children really only came to school for one reason—the arts.”

The yearly STEAM Tank Challenge held at Workshop demonstrates how NJSBA goes above and beyond to showcase STEAM. The 2019 Challenge invited over 550 student teams to invent, problem solve, and create – resulting in 90 competitive teams showcasing their final presentations at the Challenge. “We created the STEAM Tank Challenge in partnership with the U.S. Army. This partnership was developed to encourage and motivate students to learn more about STEAM,” Dr. Feinsod said. “This year, the challenge was extremely successful and surpassed our expectations, and we’re already looking forward to the 2020 STEAM Tank Challenge.”

Helping New Jersey Students Reach Their Full Potential

The responsibility of NJSBA and its members span numerous areas, including student safety, student achievement, and student health and wellness. In October 2019, NJSBA released a major report developed by its Task Force on Mental Health Services in the Public Schools, called Building a Foundation for Hope. The report included 71 recommendations for local boards to provide the necessary support for students in the area of mental health. The 100-page report also shared best practices and other effective programs. “We believe partnerships and collaboration are at the heart of all of our goals dealing with student achievement, advocacy, training, and direct services,” Dr. Feinsod said. He further noted that all New Jersey organizations involved in the education of children have a common goal: Helping each child reach his or her full potential.

“The cybersecurity services offered through Edge are critical to districts, as is the information and training provided through our partnership.”

Dr. Lawerence Feinsod
Executive Director, New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA)

Building Community in New Jersey

Every area in which NJSBA focuses its attention and efforts is for the benefit of its members and the promotion of achievement of all students through effective governance. The resources and events developed and offered are valued by NJSBA’s members. “School boards have told us how one of the most valuable resources we offer is the opportunity to share information and insights with other board members from around the state, whether the issue is with negotiations, policies, or innovative programs. Ideas and wisdom are then developed from both parties,” Dr. Feinsod said.

Programs offered are free of charge to school boards through the Educational Leadership Foundation of New Jersey, which is NJSBA’s non-profit fundraising arm. “The programs provided involve critical training as well as the opportunity for board members to have dialogue with each other,” he added.

NJSBA Partners with Edge

The strategic partnership between NJSBA and Edge began in July 2018, allowing New Jersey school districts access to cutting edge technology and technical expertise through a purchasing collaborative, providing schools with competitive bidding and negotiated prices. “The Edge partnership saves our members’ time and money and has enabled school districts to have a dedicated technology advocate on their side to identify and provide essential solutions,” Dr. Feinsod said.

In 2019, NJSBA entered into an expanded agreement with Edge. In addition to existing products and services, such as E-rate consulting, 21st Century Classroom solutions, Cisco Umbrella, VMware and Alien Vault, the partnership now offers Microsoft Enrollment for Education Solutions (EES) and provides tools the schools need to prepare students for the modern workplace while empowering teachers to deliver powerful digital learning.

Another vitally important part of the partnership involves cybersecurity. Increasingly, school districts, like all organizations, are the target of computerized attacks, and districts need to protect their systems and their information from being stolen or compromised. “Ransomware, malware, and other cybersecurity threats have already struck New Jersey school districts large and small,” Feinsod shared. “The  cybersecurity services offered through Edge are critical to districts, as is the information and training provided through our partnership.”

At the end of 2019, in cooperation with Edge, NJSBA hosted a training program addressing the increased need of enhanced cybersecurity in schools. The all-day program, offered at no cost to school districts, covered the cybersecurity threat landscape, tools and tactics to stop ransomeware attacks, and how to build an effective cybersecurity budget.

Future of NJSBA

Expanding on partnerships with organizations such as Edge and the creation of cost-saving programs such as ACES and Sustainable Jersey, NJSBA will continue to look for creative ways to provide continued, robust services and value to New Jersey’s public education system.

Every three years, the NJSBA develops a strategic plan with overarching goals to guide the association. “The plan in effect through the end of 2020 provides strong direction for the association,” Dr. Feinsod said. For example, student growth, learning, well-being, and success are NJSBA’s number one strategic goal. “Every New Jersey student will have the tools to be successful in pursuit of their chosen life goals in a safe, healthy, caring climate.”

Dr. Feinsod also wants to provide ongoing professional development for New Jersey’s school board members, while expanding the number of members who are informed on the role of advancing student growth and learning. “We want NJSBA to lead by example and provide local boards of education with strategies and resources to advance digital learning,” he explained.

To achieve the professional development goal, the development of the NJSBA Online University will be implemented through an exciting initiative with Rutgers University’s Division of Continuing Studies. “Our goal is to create 14 new online courses to be available 24/7, with the first course rolled out in early 2020,” Dr. Feinsod added. Many of NJSBA’s training programs are supported by relationships with corporate New Jersey, enabling NJSBA to provide comprehensive training programs and resources for new board members, school board presidents, and vice presidents at no additional cost to districts. NJSBA is also in the process of implementing a new association management system, which will provide members with accurate statistics and other data, and offer board members improved access to information in a seamless registration process for programming.

Through all of NJSBA’s continued hard work through advocacy, resource and program development, and cost-saving initiatives, the association continues to remain focused on educational equity. The NJSBA Equity Council was created to regularly monitor developments and provide training and information on the subject, supplying local boards with the resources to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. “Educational equity requires putting systems in place to ensure all students have a chance to be successful. The emphasis on student success necessitates understanding the challenges faced by individual students or populations of students and providing the additional support to help those children overcome barriers,” Dr. Feinsod said. “All of our goals are for the well-being and success of every child in the state.”

Over 105 years ago, NJSBA was created for the promotion of student achievement and to provide training, advocacy and support for local school boards, as well as for the advancement of the state’s public education system. Today, NJSBA is one of America’s largest school boards associations.

581 Local Boards
Includes 81 Charter Schools

5,000 Local School
Board Members

Oversee the Education of
1.4 million Public School Students

≈ 180 Separate Training Programs Yearly

21 Counties