Gov. Chris Christie will deliver the keynote address at the New Jersey Charter Schools Association annual conference this week in Long Branch.

Christie, who is a strong supporter of charter schools, will speak to hundreds of charter school teachers, administrators, parents and supporters as well as legislators and policy makers Thursday, March 18 at 11:30 a.m. at the Ocean Place Resort in Long Branch.

"We're honored to have the governor speak at our conference and excited to hear his plans for transforming education in New Jersey," said NJCSA Chair Carlos Lejnieks. "We know the governor is a friend of charter schools and views them as part of the solution to solving the problems of urban education in our state."

Christie said he is looking forward to speaking to a passionate and dedicated group of educators who are making a difference in the lives of an increasing number of children in New Jersey.

"Charter Schools are playing a critical role in growing New Jersey's educational landscape," Christie said. "It is important that we continue to strengthen and enhance their development to ensure that every child in New Jersey has access to the quality schools they deserve, the opportunity to receive a world-class education and the ability to succeed in the 21st century global economy."

The two-day conference will feature a full slate of prominent educational leaders, including state Education Commissioner Bret Schundler; Whitney Tilson, the co-founder of Teach for America and Democrats for Education Reform; The Rev. DeForest "Buster" Soaries, the former New Jersey Secretary of State and Bob Bowdon, who directed the documentary "The Cartel."

At its gala on Thursday evening, Former Gov. Thomas Kean will be honored with the association's first annual "Great Leaders in Education" award.

"In his decades of service to New Jersey, Governor Kean has been firmly committed to improving the quality of public education," Lejnieks said. "There are literally hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans who have directly benefited from the former Governor's proactive policies, commitment and foresight."

Also at the gala, the association will for the first time award $10,000 to its charter school teacher of the year.

"Our decision to offer this large prize is consistent with our goal of putting our teachers front and center and rewarding them for the hard work that they do in the classroom day in and day out," Lejnieks said.

Throughout the conference, attendees will be entertained by student performances from a variety of schools, including the Red Bank Charter School, Learning Community Charter School in Jersey City, Academy Charter High School in Lake Como, Bergen Arts and Sciences Charter School in Garfield, Hope Academy Charter School in Asbury Park, LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden and Oceanside Charter School in Atlantic City.

Before the governor's speech, more than 100 children from a variety of charter schools throughout the state will perform Michael Jackson's "Heal the World."

"For the first time, we feel everything is lined up perfectly for the charter school movement in New Jersey," Lejnieks said. "We have a president and a governor who support charter schools. We don't claim to be the panacea to the problems facing education, but we are most certainly part of the solution."

There are 68 public charter schools in New Jersey that serve nearly 20,000 students across the state and provide a choice to parents seeking alternatives to traditional public schools.