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4-2-13 Education Issues in the News - NJ Spotlight - Camden Roundtable...State Board Agenda for Wednesday
NJ Spotlight - Deep Concern Over Camden Schools Evident at Public Forum…Despite disagreements about specifics and particulars, underlying thrust is putting Camden's public schools right

Philadelphia Inquirer - Changes in Camden schools debated

NJ Spotlight - Agenda: State Board of Education…The board will work through some controversial code, especially concerning teacher evaluations and special ed

NJ Spotlight - Deep Concern Over Camden Schools Evident at Public Forum…Despite disagreements about specifics and particulars, underlying thrust is putting Camden's public schools right By Tara Nurin, April 2, 2013 in Education The sense of unease among Camden residents and teachers over the recent announcement of a state takeover of the local school system was almost palpable yesterday, at a public forum hosted by NJ Spotlight. Many voiced suspicion and dismay that their city faces a future with more charters than public schools, leaving only those with the greatest needs or fewest options in neighborhood schools. Nevertheless, almost all of the nearly 200 attendees agreed that the city's public schools are in a bad way, with money wasted on technology that is never implemented, and what they termed a recent no-show superintendent and a general lack of leadership in the district. Cooper Health System chairman and South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross took many of the arrows as he explained his support for the state takeover and his plans to create the first of Camden's five planned "renaissance schools." His participation on the panel provided a rare opportunity for the public to address him directly on educational matters. Norcross told the audience that the city’s schools have been troubled for 40 years and that what was needed was leadership, rather than talk. “Now, you have a governor who is committed,” said the Democratic leader of Republican Chris Christie. “I’m not sure past governors who’ve taken over schools have shown this commitment. There are too many people who want to talk . . . about failures. [Now] you have a Legislature and leaders who are putting their money where their mouth is.” Still, it's easy to see what has some Camden residents so put out. The city is now home to more than a dozen recent charters. Unlike their public counterparts, charters can return troublesome or failing students to neighborhood schools, leaving some critics to complain that they cherry-pick the best kids. Another criticism of charters is that they create very few jobs in the community. Plans for the aforementioned renaissance Schools also has some residents worried, since they see them as yet another outside intrusion. The timing of administration's announcement of the imminent takeover also left some members of the public and the educational community feeling a bit bruised, since it came just as the local board was choosing a candidate for the post of superintendent of schools. Though statistics point to disappointing results from pre-Christie district takeovers in Jersey City, Newark, and Paterson, Norcross argued that the governor's plan to replace top Camden school personnel, fill the vacant superintendent spot with his own appointee, and relegate the local school board to an advisory role would serve struggling students better than the status quo. Advocates of the takeover noted that a state-designated monitor has held veto power over Camden school-board votes for the past three years -- but only veto power, not the power to implement change. And almost everyone agreed that state-run teacher training facilities, called Regional Achievement Centers, seemed to be helping. But Kathryn Ribay, a school-board member who resigned after learning about the intervention, said the same problems existed before and after the arrival of the state monitor, particularly a troubling lack of oversight over resource allocation. “There’s a big difference between how much money is being allocated and how much is being spent,” she said from the dais. “And yet, everything we do has been signed off on by a state monitor. This is politics getting involved in education,” she said to rousing applause. Ribay, a former Teach for America Camden school teacher, called the state takeover a political and “showy” way to try to fix the problem. Norcross touted his vision for the KIPP Cooper School as providing healthcare, early intervention services, and testing, along with before- and after-school programs for all K-8 students in its catchment area -- not just those who win a lottery or can meet certain educational requirements. He also challenged the audience, saying “Is it the be and end-all answer, of course not. But it’s time to act.” Christie created provisions for renaissance schools when he signed the Urban Hope Act last year, which permits these schools to be located in Camden, Trenton, and Newark. Like charter schools, they’re run by a private entity and funded almost entirely by local school boards. But unlike charter schools, renaissance schools have to accept all interested students from their geographic catchment area. In a city where less than half of high-schoolers graduate and charter schools maintain a waiting list 3,000 names long, Norcross insisted that children deserve change now, not later. “This district has had a strategy of hope. Hope is not a strategy,” he said. Despite divisions among panelists over nonlocal control of schools (Norcross’ KIPP Academy and the four remaining renaissance schools will be operated by Newark-based TEAM Schools), most agreed on the broad principles that could establish a blueprint for improvement. What they couldn’t agree on was how to implement or prioritize them. “Leadership matters,” said Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, overseer and board chair of LEAP Academy University Charter School in downtown Camden. Many of her fellow panelists also blamed poor leadership for many of the system’s failures and assigned primary importance to attracting a superintendent and central administrators who will act with accountability and transparency. But while some favored an authoritative leadership style, others called for more community engagement or more power placed in the hands of teachers. And in a statement indicative of the complexity involved in turning around a school system so challenged by poverty and low achievement, Camden middle school teacher Karen Douglass-Collins observed, “There are too many goals we’re trying to accomplish. We should set two instead of eight or ten.” The entire NJ Spotlight Roundtable: Camden Schools and the Future of New Jersey's Urban Education can be watched here: Tara Nurin is a freelance journalist based on the Camden waterfront. Since leaving a ten-year career as a TV news reporter in 2005, she’s worked as a national columnist, city editor, features reporter, publicity director and documentary producer. The award-winning reporter has lived all over the world and is fluent in Spanish and French. Philadelphia Inquirer - Changes in Camden schools debated Matt Katz, Inquirer Trenton Bureau POSTED: TUESDAY, APRIL 2, 2013, 7:10 AM The nature of education in Camden is changing dramatically. Charter schools educate thousands of students, a new kind of public-private school will open in 2014, and Gov. Christie is poised to take over the district. What does all the change mean? To some, it's the death of public education. To others, it's the only hope for children in Camden, the lowest-performing district in the state. These fault lines of the debate over urban education - and the pitfalls and possibilities of the pending takeover - were laid bare Monday night at a wide-ranging education forum at Rutgers-Camden sponsored by NJSpotlight.com, an online news service that has a content-sharing agreement with The Inquirer. The takeover, announced last week by Christie pending court approval, dominated the discussion. But toward the end, longtime Camden gadflies turned their ire on George E. Norcross III, an unelected but dominant Democratic political force in South Jersey who has become a school-reform advocate. Norcross, a part-owner of The Inquirer and chairman of Cooper University Hospital in Camden, has partnered with KIPP, one of the largest charter school networks in the country, to open privately run public "Renaissance schools" beginning in 2014. The schools grew out of legislation sponsored by Norcross' brother, State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), and signed into law by Christie; the schools will bear the Norcross family name. "In 40 years, nothing has changed for the good. The families of the city have continued to suffer," George Norcross said at the event. He cited the most recent superintendent - "a no-show superintendent" who was sick for much of her last months in office but remained employed and paid. "I say, enough is enough; what's gone on has failed," he said. "Look toward other alternatives and think outside the box." Unlike charter schools, which have waiting lists for students to get in, Renaissance schools would be open to anyone in their neighborhood, George Norcross said. Such schools could one day educate a quarter of the city, he said, saying the schools he is backing would provide health care and longer school days. also endorsed the state takeover and praised the role that Christie, a Republican, has played in Camden as showing a commitment on a bipartisan basis "to make things better and different." Several in the audience heckled Norcross. Speaking despite the moderator's best effort, longtime activist Mangaliso Davis said, "What is this all about? It's about the money!" Some activists - including those who have railed against charter schools in Newark - applauded in agreement. Panel members complained that alternative public schools exclude hard-to-educate children, that state takeovers have failed elsewhere, and that Christie already had tremendous power over the district. Karen Douglass-Collins, a Pyne Point Middle School teacher, wondered what would change under the takeover, since "we will have the same students, there will be the same community, same environment." Among certain changes in Camden will be a new superintendent, appointed by Christie, and the school board's being reduced to an advisory level. Panelist Kathryn Ribay, who quit the Camden school board the day Christie announced the takeover, said she was saddened. "This is not the way to fix this problem; this is kind of an easy and showy way," she said. "I think this is politics getting involved in education." Ribay and board member Sean Brown also described their frustration with the current district setup. Brown spoke of seeing 100 boxes of smart boards, intended for classrooms, sitting unopened in the district's warehouse. Arguments over charter, renaissance, or traditional public schools are irrelevant, Brown said. "We have to stop getting distracted about whether it's public or not, whether George Norcross is involved or not," he said. ________________________________________Contact Matt Katz at 609-217-8355 or mkatz@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mattkatz00. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at philly.com/christiechronicles. NJ Spotlight - Agenda: State Board of Education…The board will work through some controversial code, especially concerning teacher evaluations and special ed By John Mooney, April 2, 2013 in Education Date: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 Related Links State Board Agenda Teacher Evaluation Code Special Education Code Time: 10 a.m. Place: New Jersey Department of Education, 1st floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton What they are doing: The Christie administration’s overhaul of school administrative code and regulations continues, with the board deliberating on a host of proposed rules. Among them are controversial ones, such as the code for teacher evaluations, and ones that have gotten far less attention, such as for student transportation and facilities. The board will also hold public hearings on at least eight of the proposed chapters. Teacher code: The teacher evaluation code has spurred the most interest, dictating the specifics of the evaluation systems required for districts next fall under the new teacher tenure law, known as TEACHNJ. The most controversial part has been the formula for measuring student achievement, with the administration proposing that up to 35 percent be derived from state test scores for teachers whose students take the state exams. A change: The administration has said it would amend the proposal to limit the use of state test scores to 35 percent, at least in the first year. The current proposal technically would have allowed another 15 percent -- or up to 50 percent total -- also be derived from test scores under separate “student growth objectives.” The amendment would preclude adding the extra 15 percent for those teachers. Is that enough? The use of test scores in general continues to generate criticism that the administration is counting on them too much. The main author of the new tenure law, state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) has been among those raising “severe concerns” about the administration’s plans to move ahead at the full 35 percent in the first year. PARCC and School Performance Report update: State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf will focus his report to the board on updates to several big initiatives. One is the ongoing development of the new nationally developed PARCC online exams that will be replacing the state’s tests in the next several years. Cerf will also talk about the state’s new School Performance Reports, which are meant to replace the long-running School Report Cards with new and different data and comparisons. But the new reports are already running behind the usual February or March release of Report Cards, and have drawn their own concerns from districts and even legislators about errors in the data and confusion about the comparisons. Special education tweak? The special education code being proposed by the administration has drawn complaints, especially from parent advocates, that it relaxes the requirements on districts when setting services for students with disabilities. One issue that concerns advocates is a change they say will loosen the rules on who can serve as a child’s case manager. But the board’s president, Arcelio Aponte, said he expects the administration to address that concern with stricter language that would limit case managers to qualified staff. One topic not on the agenda: The state board is ultimately the final arbiter on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed takeover of Camden schools, announced last week. But for the time being, the matter is being addressed by an administrative law judge, which enables the district to appeal. Aponte said board members would likely hold off any public discussion until that issue is resolved. “We haven’t been presented any language yet, so we are not involved,” said the board president. “We probably need to stay distant until the process has taken its course.” Crowded list of hearings: The board in the afternoon will hear form the public on more than a half-dozen code proposals, including about teacher evaluation. The others on the docket for public hearing are proposed code for adult education, student transportation, bilingual education, and career and technical education.

Garden State Coalition of Schools
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