The State Board of Education last week elected Kathy Goldenberg of Moorestown as its new president. She replaces Arcelio Aponte in leading the 13-member panel that sets code and regulations for New Jersey’s public schools. The board also picked Andrew Mulvihill of Andover as vice president.
While much of the real power rests with the department and its commissioner, the board will play a key role in some significant issues looming on the horizon, including student testing, academic standards, and graduation requirements.
NJ Spotlight spoke with Goldenberg this weekend. The following are excerpts of the conversation.
Q: Tell us a little of your background and how you found yourself on the state board?
A: My involvement started with my Home and School Association, where I held several positions. I have two children who went through the Moorestown public schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, so I was a volunteer in various positions. After that, I was on Moorestown Board of Education, vice president for many years and president for the last two when I got the call about being on the state board.
I was very active, always thinking about issues like school funding and what we could do for all the different needs of children. We have a really great school system in New Jersey, but I always wanted to see what we could do to make it better.
Q: You haven’t been on the board terribly long, and now you’re the president. How are you feeling about that?
A: It’s a bit daunting. I have the utmost respect for Arcelio Aponte (who was president for six years). He’s been a tremendous mentor for me, and I think I have incredible shoes to fill, incredible.
Q: Do you have some priorities as the board’s new president?
A: To be honest, I want to make sure that we continue focusing on student achievement and making sure we are providing the best opportunities for students that we can in New Jersey. The new thing I’ve learned on the state board in the last two years is all the on- and off-ramps that are being created for career and college. We’re moving in those avenues quite rapidly, along with the labor force, to find out what we need.
Every year, we are looking for more people to enter the workforce. We need that desperately in New Jersey. I was just in a meeting in, I think, Blackwood, where the industries needed there are in health and the sciences — as well as entertainment industries in Cape May County. In North Jersey, it’s about getting more science and finance students to come forward.
Q: How do you feel our student-assessment system is working? Obviously, there are big decisions to be made by the board as it moves to a new test after PARCC.
A: I’m not exactly prepared to answer that, because I am waiting for the department of ed to come forward with its recommendations. I think it would be a little premature to speak on it, until I hear the department’s recommendations. I know they have been in many discussions with stakeholders, teachers, parents, people across the state.
Q: Do you think it’s important for New Jersey to have an exit test required for graduation?
A: I think it’s important that we make sure that students are prepared when they exit our high schools, that they are prepared to go out and be good citizens. And whether that means having the soft skills needed to be able to communicate well and have the confidence to do so and to go into more specialized careers, I think that’s important to make sure they are prepared.
New Jersey is No. 2 in the country for a reason. We have been very rigorous about our standards and expectations. So I look forward to seeing what the next assessment will look like. I know that there are a lot of contrarians (who oppose the exit test) at this time, but I want to make sure that our students are prepared to go out and be contributing global citizens. Not just compete, but able to function in a society that is needed to move forward.
Q: How do you think Commissioner Lamont Repollet has done so far?
A: I think he’s incredibly energetic and has been active in seeing what the state has to offer and what it needs. He’s been very available to the public. I have the utmost respect for him.
Q: Another big issue before the board is the state’s takeover districts. Is New Jersey on the right path in places like Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, and Camden?
A: Local control is always preferable, to have the passions of the citizens living there. When the takeovers were done, schools were failing at that point and not abiding by what the students’ needs were. I understand why it was done, but I’m looking forward to these schools moving forward in their own areas.
I think they are trying very hard. In Newark, superintendent Roger León was before the board and was so passionate about what he wants to bring for all students. We will support any way we can to make sure the students have equal educational opportunities.
Q: Are there other issues important to you or things you want to convey?
A: Just that I will do my very best to make sure that we continue to provide our students in New Jersey with the best education that will prepare them. I’m brand new at this, so you’ll have to let me get used to this. It’s been a day and a half. But I’m passionate about education, my parents were both professors, and I couldn’t tell you enough how pleased I am about what New Jersey offers its students. I’m always amazed. And I just want to help.