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12-20-12 Education Issues in the News
The Record - NJ education chief to review school security procedures with superintendents

Star Ledger -Man arrested in threat of Bergen County high school, security increased

NJ Spotlight - Newark Teacher First to Win Contested Case Under Tenure Law…State arbitrator cites glaring contradictions between ratings by school’s principal and written comments

The Record - NJ education chief to review school security procedures with superintendents


State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf is meeting with county and local superintendents to review school security procedures following the Newtown school shooting last week, Governor Christie said Thursday night.

“It’s just smart to do that in light of what happened,” Christie said on his monthly appearance on 101.5 FM’s “Ask the Governor” radio show.

But Christie said he didn’t want to give parents the false impression that something as horrific as the Connecticut school shooting, which took the lives of 20 children and six adults, could be prevented.

“Remember something else, there was a lock on these doors, you needed to be buzzed into this school,” Christie said. “He shot the door open [and] came in.”

Posting a guard at the front door of every school wouldn’t stop a similarly determined gunman, he said.

“As governor, I don’t want to give people false assurances either,” he said. “I tell people the truth. The truth is, yeah, we’re reviewing our security all across the state at schools — the commissioner of education is doing that. If there are obvious things we can do to improve it, we will.”

Christie said he hopes to be part of the national conversation as the country tries to find ways to prevent gun violence.

“We need to start talking in this society about all the questions that surround this event,” he said. “You know, why is there still such a stigma to getting mental health treatment? Why is there such a stigma to getting alcohol and drug abuse treatment? If you have cancer, no one says, ‘Oh jeez, I’m not going to go to the doctor because I don’t want anybody to know I have cancer.’ You go and you get treated.”

Christie said gun control needs to be part of the conversation, along with the influence of violent video games, movies and television shows.

“Anybody who thinks that fixing any one of those things solves the problem is kidding themselves whether it’s just mental health treatment or just gun control or just violence in video games and movies,” he said. “I believe it’s a continuum of all those things.”

Christie said New Jersey already has some of the strongest gun-control laws in the country. He said he supported the state’s laws as U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey, and continues to support them as governor.

“It’s time for us to have a big national conversation about what we’re willing to give up in order to make ourselves safer and make our children safer,” he said, “and I hope to be an active participant in that conversation as one of the leaders in the country.”

Email: hayes@northjersey.com

Star Ledger -Man arrested in threat of Bergen County high school, security increased

By Tomas Dinges/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger
on December 20, 2012 at 6:30 AM, updated December 20, 2012 at 6:48 AM

BERGEN COUNTY — Police will be posted for two days at a Bergen County school after a person was arrested Wednesday for making terroristic threats, officials said.

It is at least the second Bergen County school to ramp up security this week following specific threats.

In Washington Township, Westwood Regional Junior/Senior High School will have officers posted inside and outside the building on Thursday and Friday as a precautionary measure, said township police spokesman Sgt. William Curl.

The situation is believed to be under control, he said, adding that “all necessary precautions are being taken to ensure student safety.”

The person arrested was charged with making terroristic threats, Curl said. The person’s relationship with the school was not described.

“Officers will be posted inside and outside the school to allay any parent’s or student’s fears,” said Curl.

The threat, which was not described, involved social media, Curl said.

“We are going to act if it is credible threat,” he said. “We are hopeful that it isn’t. We hope it is a ridiculous utterance.”

In nearby Oradell, the regional high school there received a specific threat scrawled in a girl’s bathroom on Thursday, Dec. 13, a day prior to the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., police said.

The writing announced a specific threat of something “bad” that would happen this Friday, borough police spokesman Officer Victor Egg said.

A police officer will be posted inside the River Dell High School on Friday, and the area near the school will see increased patrols by officers, he said.

This week patrolling officers have been increased at all the borough’s schools during admission and dismissal periods, Egg said.



NJ Spotlight - Newark Teacher First to Win Contested Case Under Tenure Law…State arbitrator cites glaring contradictions between ratings by school’s principal and written comments

By John Mooney, December 20, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

A state arbitrator has decided the first contested case under the state’s new tenure-reform law that involves a teacher’s classroom performance.

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And speaking to some of the nuances and complexities of the new law,the decision did not go well for the high-profile district that has made teacher quality a centerpiece of its reforms.

Newark Public Schools this summer filed tenure charges against fourth-grade teacher Thomas Williams, claiming he was “inefficient” as a teacher -- using the law’s language for ineffective -- and backing up that claim by presenting a record of poor evaluations.

A teacher for 25 years in the district and suspended since the tenure charge, Williams contested the charge and maintained the district’s evaluation system was flawed and failed to meet the requirements of the new law -- the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey Act (TEACHNJ).

In a quick judgment that is one of the hallmarks of the law’s new arbitration system, arbitrator David Gregory on Dec. 8 found on behalf of Williams, agreeing that the evaluations by his principal were contradictory and “egregiously irreconcilable.”

It was the second arbitrator’s decision filed since TEACHNJ went into effect this summer, directly tying job protection to teachers maintaining strong evaluations and streamlining the system for deciding contested cases.

The very first case involved a Vineland teacher fired after being arrested for running naked through an apartment complex parking lot. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the district. In that case, the teacher’s classroom performance did not come into question.

But the Newark case before Gregory, a St. John’s University law professor and one of 25 arbitrators chosen to hear tenure cases under the new law, was all about the teacher’s classroom evaluations and how they were carried out.

This is hardly expected to be an isolated case for Newark, as the district under Superintendent Cami Anderson filed close to 50 tenure charges at the end of last year, officials said.

Under the new law, the judgments of the evaluations themselves cannot be contested, only whether the process was properly followed and whether, among other standards, it had breached the bounds of “arbitrary and capricious.”

In a colorfully worded decision that invoked former US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Gregory detailed the various evaluations conducted by Williams’ principal at Miller Street School, Shakira Miller-Harrington, and said there was evidence that Williams did not meet the necessary standards.

Using formal teacher evaluation tools that are becoming commonplace under the law, Williams had received ranking of 0 on a scale of 5 in a majority of categories and subcategories, including instruction, planning and preparation, and classroom environment.

But Gregory said the inconsistency came in the principal’s narrative that followed the numerical grades, where Miller-Harrington only had praise in her observations of Williams’ instruction in the classroom. Quoting the narrative’s praise of Williams’ interaction with students and use of language, the arbitrator called it a “stark and stunning 180-degree turn.”

“The teacher oral and written communication is clear and expressive, anticipating possible student misconceptions,” Gregory quoted from the evaluation. “Teacher’s well-chosen vocabulary enriches the lesson and serves as a positive model.”

The arbitrator in his decision wrote the extremes were too stark: “I simply note the stunning facial contradiction on the annual performance review, with its blatant contradictory results shattering any norms of process. Charging the (teacher) with inefficiency within days of this narrative is the quintessence of arbitrary and capricious action.”

A district spokeswoman last night declined to comment.

But Stuart Ball, the lawyer for Williams, noted that the decision was speedy, with the arbitrator issuing a summary judgment without even holding a hearing.

“The arbitrator obviously found too much of a disconnect,” Ball said. “We were complaining that everything (in the process) was up for grabs, but we never even got to that.”

With Gregory’s decision, Ball said his client would be reinstated to his position at Miller Street and would receive back pay.

Ball was more critical of the arbitration process as a whole, under the new law, with its tight time restrictions requiring that cases be decided within 45 days after a hearing and limiting the pay that arbitrators can make.

“The process is draconian, and I think in time they’ll find out it’s not workable,” Ball said. “I know the politicians wanted everything quicker and cheaper. And we were fortunate in our decision. But the other cases going on are going to be under terrific time pressures.”


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608