Profile: State Board of Education President Brings Unique Pedigree to Post

John Mooney | January 7, 2015 | Education, Profiles
Mark Biedron cofounded a progressive private school that’s a far cry from the testing-centric culture of public schools

Mark Biedron, president of the state Board of Education.
Name: Mark Biedron

Title: President of the State Board of Education, 2014 to present. Appointed to the board in 2011 by Gov. Chris Christie.

Why he matters: Biedron has taken an activist role in leading the 13-member board that is responsible for reviewing and approving state administrative code and school regulations. He has traveled the state to query stakeholders and pressed the administration to explain its policies, from testing to school monitoring.

Where he comes from: The board president is a cofounder of the Willow School in Gladstone, a small independent school that focuses on ethics and language as the cornerstones of its curriculum. Founded with his former wife in 2002, the school’s progressive model is quite a bit different from the testing-focused culture of the public education system that Biedron is now charged with overseeing.

Not incongruous: Biedron maintains that for all the evident differences, he feels that public schools are moving toward a more holistic approach to education via the new Common Core State Standards and the advent of PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing.

Quote: “In the old way and my way of learning, it was to put answers on paper. But your look at PARCC and Common Core, while not perfect, it is about how you got to the answers.”

Not happening fast enough: “I am the first person to say that testing doesn’t show everything about a student, but we have to take a lot of steps moving from Point A to Point B … This big behemoth called education moves slowly.”

How he started a school: Biedron said he was looking for a school for his children that would address both personal virtues and academic rigor, and finding none, he and his former wife were left with the decision to either move or start their own school. They decided on the latter.

Quick growth: The Willow School began in 2002 with 13 students in a church basement and has grown to 130 students, kindergarten through eighth grade. Three of Biedron’s children attended the school, the last now an eighth grader.

A green focus: As part of the Willow School’s mission, Biedron has helped lead the construction of two environmentally friendly buildings, including the first in the nation that is fully certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. A second building won the council’s “platinum” status, and the school is near completion on a third building that will take its “green” efforts a step further in seeking to occupy a minimal energy footprint. “There will be no electric bill, no water bill,” he said.

A public-private school product: Biedron attended the Watchung public schools up until sixth grade and then moved to the private Pingry School. Both his sons now attend Pingry.

Open minded: Biedron is quick to say, “I don’t have all the answers.” Since named to the board, he has met with a variety of people with different perspectives, including Newark Mayor Ras Baraka just this week. “I’m ready to talk with anyone,” he said.

Extreme skiing: When not navigating school politics, the 62-year-old Biedron is not just an avid skier but has tracked more than 5 million vertical feet by helicopter and other unconventional ways of getting up a mountain. Much of it has been in the mecca of helicopter skiing in British Columbia, and he describes the joys that come with skiing “untracked powder” for hours on end.

Hometown: Pottersville, Hunterdon County.