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2022 Annual Meeting--Executive Director

GSCS Executive Director’s Report

May 2022

Good morning.  I am Betsy Ginsburg and for the past six years, it has been my privilege to be ExecutiveDirector of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.

            In 1992, a group of suburban superintendents came together to found GSCS.  At the time, they were concerned about school funding and school funding policy.  Thirty years later we are still talking about school funding. 

            Since our founding, GSCS has grown to just over 100 districts, with representation from all over the state.  Our outlook and influence has grown beyond the suburbs, in keeping with our motto of “equal access to quality education for all New Jersey children.” 

            We continue to be known for our unique ‘hybrid vigor”, with both superintendents and school board members represented on our Executive Board and at our meetings.  We are also known as a voice of intelligence, eloquence and sanity in the New Jersey education community.  I stress the last—“sanity”—because it has become harder to find in the current angry and polarized political and social climate. We remain solution-oriented and optimistic, because those mindsets are the most valuable tools we have in our work on education issues.

            This past year has been productive for GSCS, as we and our members have returned to “regular”—and I say that in quotes—school, as COVID has waxed and waned.  We continued to meet via Zoom, with excellent attendance from our member district representatives. Our monthly speakers represented the breadth of GSCS’ legislative interests and educational concerns. Starting in September 2021, we reaffirmed our organizational commitment to diversity, with an inspiring presentation by Dr. Lily Johnson Edwards, former Dean of American Studies and African American Studies at Drew University.  Deb Cornavaca, Governor Murphy’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Outreach, was our guest in December, addressing our concerns about COVID, funding, and the Department of Education. Mark Magyar and  Liz Mahn, senior officials in the Senate Majority Office, joined us in November, to help anticipate how the election outcome would affect education policy in Trenton.

            Our friend John Mooney, of New Jersey Spotlight, was with us in December (as he is again today), to provide perspective on the changing legislative and education landscape.  We started the New Year by taking on staffing shortages and staff diversity with Charity Comella (also with us today) from CJ PRIDE. 

            In February, we had a chance to get to know the new Chair of the Senate Education Committee, when Senator Vin Gopal was our meeting guest.  George Scott and Maureen Brogan, of the Traumatic Loss Coalition were our guests in March, addressing another of GSCS’ longtime issues—mental health.

            Last month, we had another get-acquainted session, this time with three new members of the Assembly Education Committee: Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer (D-16), Assemblyman Brandon Umba (R-8), and a representative from the office of Assemblywoman Michele Matsikoudis (D-21). 

            We have continued to keep members well informed.  “News and Notes” goes out to our entire mailing list weekly.  The morning “Buzz”, a news round-up, with links to the day’s top education stories, is published every day at about 8 am on our website and Twitter feed.  This year, we have added “Best of Buzz” every Thursday, with links to the five best stories that have appeared in the “Buzz” during the preceding week.  Our 24 trustee districts now receive the “Friday Round-Up” every week, which includes my commentary on GSCS’s weekly activities.

            GSCS pursues the interests of our member districts and the interests of all New Jersey’s students in Trenton and via Zoom, attending meetings of the Legislature’s two education committees, the Joint Committee on Public Schools, the State Board of Education, and other legislative committees considering education-related bills.  We are part of SEL4NJ’s extended leadership team, and regularly join our colleagues from the education advocacy world at large and small issue-specific committee gatherings.

            GSCS also reaches out regularly to legislators, staffers, policy makers and the press.   We write, speak and testify on legislation and important education issues.

            We have maintained our longtime focus on critical issues like funding, mental health, special education (especially Extraordinary Aid), and assessments.  With the advent of COVID, we have added an emphasis on learning acceleration and other lingering legacies of the pandemic.  The staffing crisis is never far from our organizational mind, as demonstrated by the topic of today’s meeting.

            GSCS is growing, having added several new districts over the past year, with two more already committed to joining us on July 1.  Today, we also welcome a new trustee district, Springfield.  This coming year, we will mix up the format of our monthly meetings, with several in-person gatherings, as well as Zoom sessions.  We will continue to offer our members interesting programs, amid the collegiality and frank exchange of ideas for which GSCS is known.

            In 1838, Horace Mann, American public education advocate and abolitionist, defined his six principals for public education.  They are as follows:

  1. the public should no longer remain ignorant;
  2. that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public;
  3. that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds;
  4. that this education must be non-sectarian;
  5. that this education must be taught using the tenets of a free society; and
  6. that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers.

Now mature at 30 years old, GSCS remains committed to those principles.  We continue to be a safe haven for our members and a steadfast source of information, advocacy and strength.  We are looking forward to next year, and the next thirty years.  Many thanks to you all for being part of our organization and for hel