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8-8-12 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - Administration Looks to Outside Experts for School Turnaround Strategies…Developer of Common Core Standards will be working with state to help ameliorate lowest-performing schools

By John Mooney, August 8, 2012 in Education|4 Comments

As the Christie administration considers its options for how to improve the lowest of the state’s low-performing schools, it will be leaning heavily on a group out of Washington, D.C., that is finding itself more and more in the education limelight.

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The Council for Chief State School Officers, the national association of state education commissioners and superintendents best known for developing the Common Core State Standards, has entered into a $1.55 million contract with New Jersey’s education department that will focus on so-called school turnaround strategies.

The project will be two-pronged: First, help with the establishment of the state’s still-evolving Regional Achievement Centers (RACs), the immediate hubs for school improvement efforts; second, study long-term interventions for schools that still don’t improve, right up to direct state control.

Announced last month, the project has drawn some extra scrutiny, given the high stakes for schools and districts. One of the Christie administration’s more aggressive options laid out in its grant proposal for the work was a so-called achievement school district that would oversee individual schools across the state, akin to the state-controlled “recovery districts” in Louisiana and Tennessee.

That grant application was to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, a California-based organization known for its reform philosophy and leadership efforts. The Broad Foundation will be funding the CCSSO project.

But executives of the national council said this week that the CCSSO team comes into the project with “no preconceived notions” as to what it thinks would work best in New Jersey.

“I don’t think anybody knows how it will go at this point,” said Chris Minnich, the council’s senior membership director. “What we’ve learned in this project is local context is very important. This work will be looking at the needs in New Jersey and what is best for New Jersey.”

Minnich didn’t hide that he believed the recovery district concept can work with the right pieces in place, especially leadership. But he also said post-Katrina New Orleans, the best known use of the model, is a unique example after the devastation to the schools and the community.

“What we are trying to do with this grant is bring lessons from other states,” he said.“Some lessons may be applicable, but it is not about picking up what they’ve done and putting them in New Jersey.”

Long a well-respected group nationally, the council has risen in prominence lately as a lead player with the National Governors’ Association in the development of the Common Core State Standards, the subject-by-subject guidelines that are the closest move yet to a national curriculum.

Forty-five states have signed into the Common Core, including New Jersey, and once implemented in the schools, the curriculum is expected to revamp how and when subjects are taught and the testing used to measure student achievement.

Aware of the tensions over its work ahead in New Jersey, Minnich pledged that the process involving the school turnaround project will be transparent and public. He said the details are still in development, but expected the opportunities for public input would roll out over the course of the next year.

“There will be a conversation about what is the best way to do this, and it should be a public conversation,” Minnich said.

He also said the funding through foundations is not unusual for the council, with Broad funding a similar project in Connecticut. Other foundations -- from longtime players like the Carnegie Foundation to the newer ones such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- provided funding for the council to help states apply for the waivers from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. New Jersey was among them.

“It is pretty common for us to get these resources to do work with states,” Minnich said. “Our foundation base is broad and any type of money we can get is a good thing for us.”

More immediately, the CCSSO is working with the state to staff up its RACs, the seven regional centers being created across New Jersey to directly work with an estimated 200 schools that are the lowest performers in state tests. Part of the grant is the CCSSO’s own recruitment efforts to find directors and other staff, and it has also hired an outside search firm.

While the RACs are to begin their work in earnest this fall, both Minnich and New Jersey officials acknowledged that hiring has been difficult and the centers may take a little longer to be full staffed.

Throwing one wrench in the process was political debate over the need for the centers, with the Democrat-led Legislature cutting $1.7 million in funding for the centers in the state’s fiscal 2013 budget.

Barbara Morgan, the department’s press secretary, said yesterday that the department has been able to adjust with existing funding, allowing it to proceed with the RACs as planned.

Gloucester County Times - Bill to fund 'super-growth' school districts moves through New Jersey Senate

Published: Friday, October 07, 2011, 4:00 AM  By Rebecca Forand Gloucester County Times

A bill aimed at increasing funding for school districts that are struggling with massive population growth has made its way through the State Senate, while its companion bill in the Assembly is still moving. Legislators hope to have it in front of the governor by the end of the year.

Senate bill 2868, introduced by State Senate President Steve Sweeney earlier this year, was passed by a majority vote last week, giving growing districts hope that their schools may soon be funded fairly.

The bill provides $4.141 million from property tax relief to the state Department of Education for aid to school districts with significant enrollment growth — described as a school district with a residential enrollment at least 13 percent greater in 2011 than it was in 2008.

In Gloucester County the Swedesboro-Woolwich, South Harrison and East Greenwich elementary districts fall in this category, as well as the Kingsway Regional School district.

“They’ve had extraordinary growth and they haven’t gotten the funding for the children,” Sweeney said. “This is a fairness issue. We want to make sure that the people that have absorbed all this growth get their share.”

The school board at the Swedesboro-Woolwich district worked with Sweeney in constructing this legislation, frustrated that while their population continues to grow, their state funding continues to remain stagnant or decline.

“With us, the situation is that our growth, combined with the lack of ratables in our district, puts an extra burden on our constituents,” said Superintendent Victor Valeski. “We know that the growth is not going to slow down.”

Swedesboro-Woolwich’s population grew 17.9 percent in the time period studied.

According to Sweeney, S-2868 was constructed as a way to offset problems these districts have had with exponential growth since the 2008 funding formula, which was aimed at bringing the state’s schools up to adequacy, was not funded by the state.

“The ideal situation would be to fully fund our school formula because then you wouldn’t have to do measures like this,” Sweeney said. “The money goes where the children are.”

The State Assembly is not expected to reconvene until after the November election, but Sweeney anticipates that the bill will move through it quickly once they do, and he hopes to have it on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk by the end of the year.

“We remain extremely confident and optimistic that this will be passed and signed,” Valeski said.

If the bill is signed into law this year, school districts could see the infusion of funds in time to use it in 2012-2013 school budgets.

Courier Post, Ex-state schools chief to lead BCC

12:38 AM, Aug. 8, 2012  |  Written by Carol Comegno, Courier-Post Staff

MOUNT HOLLY — A former state commissioner of education will become the new Burlington County College president in September.

The college board of trustees appointed educator and lawyer David Hespe to the post at a special meeting Tuesday night at the Burlington County College Center.

Hespe, of Belle Mead in Somerset County, served as the New Jersey commissioner of education from 1999 to 2001 under then-governor Christie Whitman and is presently the chief of staff to the Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. He will receive a salary of $175,000 a year and assume the post in early September.

Hespe is not a stranger to South Jersey. Before returning to the state education department last year, he was the acting superintendent and the assistant superintendent of schools in Willingboro from 2009 until February 2011.

Prior to that, he administered and taught master and doctoral programs to leaders at Rowan University in Glassboro as chairman and an associate professor of its Education Leadership Department from April 2001 to July 2009.

Joseph Malone, president of the Burlington County College Board of Trustees, said Hespe was selected from a field of more than 50 candidates who were screened by an advisory committee that included a member of the county board of freeholders as well as faculty, students, community and business leaders, and military.

Malone praised the new leader, who was approved unanimously, saying he brings “a wealth of knowledge and experience.

“This is an individual who, over a period of more than 25 years, has gone from the courtroom to the classroom to the highest educational positions in state government in New Jersey.”

Malone said Hespe will bring important leadership to the college and work closely with all stakeholders to ensure the college continues to provide a top-notch education at the lowest price possible. He replaces Robert Messina, who retired this year after 25 years at the college.

“I am excited to be working with a board that understands that the core mission of the institution is to serve our students and in so doing to support the families, communities and economy of Burlington County,” said the 52-year-old Hespe, a Rutgers University undergraduate program and law school graduate who also served as an assistant attorney general under former Gov. Whitman and then as her counsel.

He said with its many campuses and programs, the Pemberton Township-based college presents unique challenges. “I thank the board of trustees and the freeholders for this honor, and I will do everything possible to foster a productive working relationship.”

Hespe won wide praise as education commissioner for restoring friendly relations between the state education department and local school districts.


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