President’s Perspective: ‘We Weren’t Born to Follow’

When the gavel was passed to me a year ago and I took the stage as NSBA’s 70th and youngest president in history, I did so to the song “We Weren’t Born to Follow” by Jon Bon Jovi, a 1980 graduate of my alma mater Sayreville War Memorial High School in New Jersey. The song wasn’t selected just as a tribute to my school’s most famous alumnus. It was a message that during my presidency I would be looking to do things differently.

Many make school board service a part of their life. It was different for me. I attended my first school board meeting at age 17 and secured my position on my local school board by age 19. I built a richer and more rewarding life through my school board service. And that service has led to friendships which have made me a better person today than I could ever have been.

“We weren’t born to follow.” Over the past year, the NSBA board meetings changed so that they allowed more time for active discussions in both small- and large-group settings. One such discussion that included local students resulted in NSBA adopting its first formal definition of educational equity.

“When life is a bitter pill to swallow, you gotta hold on to what you believe.” Perhaps the most transformational moment this year, for me, came at the 50th Anniversary Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) Conference. As I listened to the speakers tell of the challenges that students face today because of biases, both conscious and unconscious, I recognized my own limitations and biases. I would never truly know what it feels like to be part of an underrepresented or underserved group. However, after two days of conference sessions, I gained a much deeper understanding of the prejudices and barriers that too many students face and the work that still needs to be done to help them achieve their dreams.

“Believe that the sun will shine tomorrow.” NSBA is more than just the leading advocate for public education. By helping ensure the preparation and education of the workforce of the future, the association is also in effect a leading partner for businesses. As this new year unfolds, a component of NSBA’s work will focus on ensuring that public schools are creating the skilled workforce needed for a strong economy. In other words, it is helping plant and nurture today’s seeds so that they produce fruit in the seasons that follow.

“How will you raise your hand when they call your name?” As my term as president ends, the Class of 2030 is now completing kindergarten. Like my presidency, I imagine their time moved swiftly.

I encourage you to do things differently, as you, through your board service, help ensure that each public school student achieves his or her full potential.

Serving as your president this past year has been an honor and a privilege. I had a chance to see firsthand the extraordinary things that occur in our public schools. I thank you for this opportunity, and for all that you do each day as you stand up for public schools.

"We weren’t born to follow. You gotta stand up for what you believe."

Kevin E. Ciak ( is NSBA’s 2017-18 president and president of New Jersey’s Sayreville School Boards. Follow Ciak on Twitter @Kevin_NSBA.


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