Letters still make a difference

Published on Tuesday, March 26, 2013

WritingIn an age of smartphones, tablets, email, text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook, the idea of putting pen to paper, addressing an envelope and affixing a postage stamp to it seems hopelessly out of date. But as anyone who attended the Legislative Conference on Feb. 2 can tell you, there’s one group that still appreciates receiving mail: the New Jersey State Board of Education.

The four board members who attended the most recent NJEA Legislative Conference made it clear that they read those letters.

Board member Joe Fisicaro credited the letters he received with alerting him to concerns about a questionable charter school in Cherry Hill. He credited the letters he received from members in Burlington County with changing his mind on certain aspects of professional development regulations.

Fisicaro even took time to note his appreciation that the letters were handwritten and included a phone number.

Board member Mark Biedron cracked a smile as he said, “We received a lot of letters on this…” when talking about teacher participation in professional development planning.

What the State Board of Education thinks is no insignificant matter. It is the board’s responsibility to approve the regulations drafted by New Jersey Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf and his staff. Letters to the board on those proposals gives the board a grassroots perspective they may not hear from Cerf. This empowers board members to ask legitimate questions about proposed regulations. Questions that may not have occurred to the board members as only three of them— Joe Fisicaro, Edie Fulton and Dorothy Strickland—ever taught at the K-12 level, and none are currently working in a public school setting.

This year the board is in the midst of approving the regulations that interpret the new tenure and evaluation law, TEACH NJ, which was passed in the Legislature last year.

As if a major overhaul of tenure and evaluation weren’t enough, the State Board is also in the midst of considering revisions to hundreds of regulations in response to the report of the governor’s Education Transformation Task Force. Everything from the standards of certification for school nurses to the minimum length of a teacher’s duty-free lunch period rests in the hands of the State Board.

All school employees are affected by decisions made by the board. School custodians may remember that near the end of the Corzine administration, code revisions determining how many custodians were needed to adequately clean a school were under consideration.

The Legislature may pass laws for schools, but the State Board interprets those laws, and school employees live with the results.

That is why the last several issues of the NJEA Reporter and the NJEA Review have encouraged members to write to the State Board on a variety of issues. You can expect more such requests in the weeks and months ahead.

So while it takes a bit more time and effort to craft a letter than it does to “like” a post on Facebook or re-tweet a message to @GovChristie—and it’s certainly less convenient than sending an email—it is well worth your time.

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