Home About GSCS What's New Issues School Funding Coming Up
Quick Links
Meeting Schedule
NJ Legislature
Governor's Office
NJ Department of Education
State Board of Education
GSCS Testimonies
GSCS Data & Charts
Contact Us

Email: gscschools@gmail.com
Phone: 609-394-2828 (office)
             732-618-5755 (cell)

Mailing Address:
Garden State Coalition of Schools
Elisabeth Ginsburg, Executive Director
160 West State Street
Trenton, New Jersey 08608


5-30-13 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - State Schools Takeover: All Quiet on the Camden Front…Local board signs consent decree, last step is state board approval

NJ Spotlight - Race to the Top Moving at Slower Pace for New Jersey…After frantic pursuit of federal funds, state takes more deliberate approach to putting initiatives in place

NJ Spotlight - State Schools Takeover: All Quiet on the Camden Front…Local board signs consent decree, last step is state board approval

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

By John Mooney, May 30, 2013 in Education |Post a Comment

For all of the melodrama that went with Gov. Chris Christie’s March announcement that the state planned to take control of Camden public schools, the culmination of those plans is generating fewer decibels and taking place more behind the scenes.

Related Links

The State Board of Education is expected to act next Wednesday on the consent agreement reached between the district and the Christie administration, with few predicting much of a debate after the district’s board acquiesced to the intervention.

The state board’s approval is the last requirement before the administration's new role would officially start on June 25, three days after the last day of this school year.

Still, the subdued lead-up to the takeover -- the state’s strongest possible intervention in the case of low-performing schools -- is certainly in contrast to the loud debate that greeted previous takeovers in Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson in the late 1980s and 1990s.

To give some context, the board is expected to approve the Camden agreement at the same meeting at which Newark advocates are expected to testify against the state’s nearly 20-year control of that district. A lawsuit challenging the Newark takeover is also expected to be heard next week.

State Board President Arcelio Aponte yesterday said there will certainly be questions from the board about the Camden plans, but the lack of any resistance from the local board has clearly quieted the debate.

“Who knows what will happen Wednesday, but given the fact that that the local board announced it would not challenge the intervention, that certainly makes it a lot easier,” said Aponte. “Still, there should be a lot of questions about the next steps and the plans moving forward.”

Much of that work has quietly begun as well, as the administration begins planning for the transition. One of the first orders of business is the appointment of a new superintendent, and officials say the administration is actively interviewing candidates.

The state is using the same search firm that conducted the last superintendent search for the district, one cut short by the state’s takeover announcement.

State officials said the new search will include the three finalists in that previous search: Willingboro superintendent Ronald Taylor, former Oakland, CA, schools administrator Denise Saddler, and former Milwaukee chief academic officer Heidi Ramirez. The state board will need to approve the appointment as well.

State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said he was not putting a timetable on the hiring of a new superintendent, but noted that it will be the key step before significant changes in personnel and programs are put in place.

“We have generated a number of high-quality candidates, but we need to talk to all of them and engage the stakeholders,” he said. “It’s happening at a lightning pace, but I can’t predict when we’ll be done.”

Meanwhile, Emily Capella, a former Lenape School District superintendent and state monitor in Trenton, has led the review of the district’s school facilities -- specifically with the eye toward the schools opening next September under the state’s leadership.

In addition to state staff already in Camden and the department’s Camden County offices, about 10 other state Department of Education employees and consultants have been assigned to the city. They will be reviewing everything from enrollment patterns to finances to classroom supplies.

Among those leading the reviews are Photeine Anagnostopoulos, a special assistant to Cerf and former Newark budget chief, and Mindy Propper, a contracted employee with a background in education management.

“A tremendous amount of work is underway,” Cerf said yesterday. “I have been especially pleased in our engagement with the community and the stakeholders as we build a foundation for the next phase of the work.”

In one of its last acts before it becomes an advisory board once the state takes over, the local board -- with the state monitor’s approval -- on Tuesday approved $4 million in purchases of new textbooks and other supplies for next year.

Other reviews underway include the district’s special education services and early childhood programs, officials said. But many of the decisions will wait for the new superintendent, including personnel decisions about her administrative teams. The district is already expected to eliminate nearly 100 positions, including 76 teachers.

The district is also soon to begin negotiating new teachers and principal union contracts, both of which will expire by this summer. The takeover allows the state to end professional contracts, with legal counsel conducting those negotiations, as well as the state auditor.

NJ Spotlight - Race to the Top Moving at Slower Pace for New Jersey…After frantic pursuit of federal funds, state takes more deliberate approach to putting initiatives in place

Bottom of Form

By John Mooney, May 29, 2013 in Education  

Drama and deadlines marked New Jersey’s bids for funding in the first three rounds of the federal Race to the Top competition. But it has been a slower process putting some of the initiatives in place once the state finally secured the funds.

Related Links

New Jersey was awarded $38 million in late 2011 on the third try in a competition that cost one state education commissioner his job and ultimately gave the state a late start in several federally funded programs dealing with teacher evaluations, curriculum and testing reforms, and school choice.

Half of the money is to be distributed to school districts through a grant program, officials said. And the state application’s emphasis on revamping teacher evaluation has drawn much attention throughout New Jersey, drawing criticism from some who say the state is moving too fast.

But the bulk of remaining initiatives to help districts review and, if necessary, revamp their curriculum and instruction remain a work in progress, as the state has extended timelines and shifted funds.

The state Department of Education under Commissioner Chris Cerf has won three amendments to its application from the U.S. Department of Education in the last year, with the latest approval coming last month.

The amendments are not unusual, with other states seeking as many as a dozen changes to their plans. Illinois, another state that won funding in the same round as New Jersey, has sought and won five amendments from the federal government.

For New Jersey, the goal has been to buy some time and flexibility.

In the latest amendment, for example, the state is shifting $1.2 million to fast-track completion of the new Instructional Improvement System (IIS) that would provide districts with lesson plans and other curriculum help to align with the impending Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The bulk of that money – more than $1 million – will go to hiring additional staff and outside consultants to complete the work on the IIS, according to the amendment approved April 29.

In addition, the state won approval in early April to extend some deadlines for the new Model Curriculum, a sometimes-controversial project that could replace the curricula in some of the state’s lowest performing schools.

The math and language arts portions of the Model Curriculum have been finalized and are posted online, officials said, but other sections pertaining to science, social studies and other subject areas are targeted for completion in late 2013 and 2014.

“In creating the model curriculum for the CCSS, the State learned that the process was more time consuming and required greater attention to detail that originally anticipated,” read the federal government’s approval letter on April 4.

“Furthermore, the State experienced difficulty in finding both internal and external expertise and capacity to complete this work on time and with high quality. NJDOE has proposed to shift funds to support activities to ensure the State has capacity to meet the goals of this project and new timelines.”

State officials said they were confident the work was mostly proceeding on track, saying much of it has been completed and others are only going through expected adjustments.

“The Race to the Top funds have allowed us to build capacity in some key areas, such as the launch of new educator evaluation systems and continually improving charter accountability,” said Justin Barra, the department’s Chief Policy and External Affairs Officer.

“As with any grant, we have made some slight modifications to timelines and funding allocations as we work to provide even more academic resources to educators through curricular supports and other online resources.”

New Jersey is just one of many states trying to live up to its ambitious promises in the high-profile applications, with the federal government so far acquiescing, experts say.

“The (federal) department is really trying to work with states and help them fit round pegs into square holes, if you will,” said Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C.

The breadth and scope of meeting the requirements of the new Common Core standards and their testing, due in 2014-15, has been especially daunting, she said.

“Everyone has had their spots where having problems meeting their aims with this,” said Ferguson, a former federal education official under former President Clinton. “It’s not easy stuff they have set out to do, and we have to be realistic.”

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