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10-4 and 5- 11 Education & Related Issues in the News
Njspotlight.com - Christie's 'Not My Time' Signals Start of Governor's Race…Governor says he could have won White House, but work in New Jersey isn’t done. Will the Democrats confront or cooperate? "One race ended yesterday, but another began...It guarantees two years of rancorous debate in the legislature, starting in December with Christie's education agenda to end teacher tenure, expand charter schools, and institute a school voucher pilot program..."

Courier Post, Asbury Park Press - Schools turn to peer mediation to battle bullying

Njspotlight.com - State Auditor Says Efficiency May Be Trumping Educational Need at SDA…Critics say report reinforces their claims that authority is leaving students stranded in substandard schools

Agenda: State Board of Education QSAC is still on the docket, but this meeting will also see the announcement of the NJ Teacher of the Year

Njspotlight.com - Christie's 'Not My Time' Signals Start of Governor's Race…Governor says he could have won White House, but work in New Jersey isn’t done. Will the Democrats confront or cooperate?

By Mark J. Magyar, October 5 in More Issues|Post a Comment


Credit: Andrew Mills/Star Ledger

One race ended yesterday, but another began.

Gov. Chris Christie's announcement that he would not run for president in 2012 marks the unofficial beginning of the 2013 race for governor.

It guarantees two years of rancorous debate in the legislature, starting in December with Christie's education agenda to end teacher tenure, expand charter schools, and institute a school voucher pilot program.

And it requires Democratic legislative leaders -- especially those who are considering running against the governor -- to carefully calculate how they will deal with Christie moving forward, when to confront and when to cooperate.

Like the speech to the Reagan Library last week that sparked the most recent Christie presidential frenzy, Christie's "non-announcement" yesterday was broadcast live nationwide. This time, however, he was aiming his remarks not at a national audience, but at a New Jersey electorate he will need to rely on for support first on policy issues and then when he runs for reelection.

"Over the last few weeks, I've thought long and hard about this decision. In the end, what I've always felt was the right decision remains the right decision today. Now is not my time," Christie said.

"I have a commitment to New Jersey I will not abandon. That is the promise I made to the people of this state when I took office 20 months ago, to fix a broken New Jersey," he said. "This is not the time to leave unfinished business for me. The stakes are too high, and the consequences are too real. New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you're stuck with me."

New Jersey Republicans generally greeted Christie's announcement with relief, a tacit acknowledgement that an all-consuming Christie presidential campaign would have left a vacuum in New Jersey that no one in the GOP could have filled. Asking Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, who was an unknown Monmouth County sheriff two years ago, to fill in for Christie in dealing with Sweeney and Democratic power brokers would have been a tall order. And Christie's insistence on lockstep Republican unity in the legislature has relegated the GOP leadership to working in his shadow.

The Democratic Reaction

Meanwhile, the state's top two Democratic legislative leaders, who cooperated with Christie in June on bills requiring public employees to pay more for their pension and health care benefits, but quarreled violently with the governor over the summer, adopted very different tones in their response to Christie's announcement.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) declared angrily: "A governor who has presided over painful property tax hikes, paid little attention to job creation, opposed new job training, showed no regard for healthcare for women and the poor, made college more expensive, and ignored the needs of impoverished cities had no business even considering running for president."

However, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), said, "Thankfully, we can now move ahead and focus on the real issues that are impacting the people of this state. Unemployment here is above the national average, while more people, particularly children, are living in poverty.... Every moment of the governor's day needs to be focused on how we can get New Jerseyans back to work and how we can grow and aid our business community. I stand ready to work with this governor on doing just that."

The biggest test of Sweeney's willingness to work with Christie will come on ending tenure, expanding charter schools, and passing the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), which would divert state tax dollars to private schools through a voucher program in a handful of cities. These education bills are slated for consideration during the lame duck legislative session that takes place following the November 8 elections and before the new state Senate and Assembly are sworn into office in early January.

Controversial bills are often considered during "lame duck" sessions, and the coalition of Democratic legislators aligned with South Jersey power broker George Norcross (including Sweeney), Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo (including Oliver) and Senator Brian Stack (D-Hudson) would be enough to put Christie's education agenda over the top. Norcross and Newark North Ward Democratic power Steven Adubato Sr., DiVincenzo's political mentor, are both outspoken charter school advocates. Support for the voucher bill is particularly strong in Essex County, including the Rev. Reginald Jackson, head of the Black Ministers Council, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Crossing the Aisle

Christie tacitly acknowledged at yesterday's press conference that he will have to rely again on Democratic votes because the legislative redistricting map adopted in April favors incumbents and leaves little chance for the GOP to pick up seats.

If Sweeney is going to run for governor against Christie in 2013, however, he will have to consider whether to give Christie another legislative triumph. Sweeney could conclude that he has nothing to lose because he is unlikely to get any support from the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) anyway because of his support for strict caps on property tax increases last year and for the pension and health benefits bill that stripped public employees of the right to bargain on healthcare issues for the next four years.

For other potential Democratic gubernatorial aspirants, including Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), who is also the state Democratic chairman, the battles over tenure, charter schools and school vouchers offer a clear opportunity to continue to stake out their differences with Christie and to woo traditional Democratic constituencies heading into a gubernatorial campaign that will begin shaping up a year from now.

Christie acknowledged yesterday that he had given serious consideration to running for president over the past several weeks at the request of party leaders and fund-raisers. Those weeks were a tumultuous period in the Republican presidential contest in which Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann plummeted after repeated misstatements, Texas Governor Rick Perry sank after uninspiring debate performances, pizza mogul Herman Cain became the flavor of the month, and GOP voters kept telling pollsters that were worried that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney would win the nomination only to lose to President Obama.

Christie left no doubt yesterday that he thought he could have won the Republican nomination and defeated Obama. He repeated the sharp critique of Obama that was the centerpiece of his speech at the Reagan Library, asserting again that "the president's failed."

"There's no substitute for knowing how to lead. Everything else you can be taught. You can't be taught how to lead and how to make decisions," Christie said. He added that while there are areas where he agrees with Obama, "overall, he's failed the American people because he's failed that absolute litmus test to be president of the United States, and that's to know how to lead and to decide, and he hasn't done that."

It is a critique that Christie will undoubtedly be called upon to repeat before a national audience at the Republican National Convention next summer. He will not, however, be speaking as a presidential candidate, nor does it seem likely that he will be speaking as a vice presidential candidate after his unequivocal declaration yesterday that he owes it to New Jerseyans to complete his agenda.

Commentators and Criticisms

Christie laughed off criticisms of his record that started emerging from Cain and GOP commentators this weekend. GOP analysts questioned his acknowledgement that there is scientific evidence for global warming, even though he angered environmentalists by pulling New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). They pointed to his tacit support for New Jersey's gun control laws, a position that undoubtedly grew out of his experience as U.S. Attorney seeing police officers outgunned by drug dealers. And they noted his failure to strictly enforce anti-immigrant laws, his failure to oppose plans to build a mosque not far from Ground Zero, and his outspoken endorsement of the integrity of a Muslim judge he nominated. In short, Christie was already under attack for being too liberal.

"That's such a shock to the people of New Jersey," Christie said with a laugh. "That's when I knew that I could actually win, when all these people started shooting at me before I even got in the race. That's when you really know you've got something special..

"I've said all along I'm a principled conservative. You have to compromise sometimes to get things done," he said, referring to his compromises with Sweeney, Oliver and other Democrats on tax caps, pensions and health benefits, and other legislation. "That doesn't mean compromising your principles. If somebody calls that liberal, being compromising -- if you look at Ronald Reagan's record, Ronald Reagan had a record that was replete with principled compromises. If somebody wants to accuse me of that, I'm more than willing to wear that mantle."

Christie's mixture of humor and forthrightness, shown in that answer and in responses to other questions yesterday about whether his weight was a proper issue for comedians (yes) and political pundits (no), showed why so many Republicans across the country were begging him to enter the race.

"Can you imagine how well he would have done in debates?" marveled Roger Bodman, a veteran Republican lobbyist, former Cabinet officer under GOP Governor Tom Kean, and a longtime Christie adviser, as he sat in the hall outside the Governor's Office a couple hours after the announcement.

"He would have won the nomination and he would have won the presidency," Bodman asserted. "His boldness, strength and tough talk were perfect for this election. In tough times, people don't want to be told what people think they want to hear, they want to be told the truth. You can't 'lead from behind,' as Christie said in his criticism of Obama."

Bodman discounted speculation that Christie had decided not to run because it would be too difficult to put together a campaign virtually overnight, with the petition deadlines approaching rapidly for Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida.

"All of the mechanics of putting together an organization could have been done," he said. "It would have been a tough task, but we had people willing to jump in to set up organizations, we had people willing to do the fund-raising. And he would have been a great candidate. But if he's told me once, he's told me 20 times: He feels the people of New Jersey took a chance on him in 2009 and he feels obligated to finish the job."

Bodman acknowledged that in hindsight, 2012 could prove to have been Christie's best chance at the presidency, just as 1992 would have been U.S. Senator Bill Bradley's best shot if he had chosen to run that year rather than in 2000 against incumbent Vice President Al Gore. If a Republican wins the presidency next year, Christie will have to wait until at least 2020, which would be three years after his second term as New Jersey governor would expire -- if he is reelected, which is no guarantee in a state with a 700,000-vote Democratic registration edge.

"This could have been Christie's political moment," Bodman said. "But politics is a series of political moments. He's young -- just 49 years old. Who's to say his moment won't come again?'

More in More Issues »

Mark J. Magyar, a frequent contributor to New Jersey Spotlight, recently co-authored Redistricting and the Politics of Reform with Donald Scarinci, who served as a Democratic counsel to the New Jersey Legislative and Congressional Redistricting Commissions in 2001. Magyar teaches labor studies at Rutgers University. A former Statehouse correspondent, senior policy adviser in the Whitman administration and public policy center director, he served as policy director for the independent Daggett for Governor campaign in 2009.



Courier Post, Asbury Park Press - Schools turn to peer mediation to battle bullying

October 5 2011 By Barbara Rothschild

BELLMAWRAn occasional feature following one district through the school year

Instilling character education and anti-bullying lessons into the daily fabric of school curriculum has been a longtime venture in many New Jersey districts.

But the advent of the state’s revised law regarding harassment, intimidation and bullying incidents — considered the strictest in the nation — has brought anti-bullying measures into the forefront in every district. The tough legislation was catalyzed by the suicide last year of Rutgers-New Brunswick freshman Tyler Clementi, who felt harassed over being gay.

But the problem is much more widespread — more than 160,000 children a day do not go to school for fear of being bullied, according to the 2009 Report of the New Jersey Commission on Bullying in Schools.

As tri-county schools observe the first state-mandated “Week of Respect” — beginning annually the first Monday in October — districts are pulling out all the stops with daily doses of anti-bullying reinforcement. In Bellmawr, it’s no different, particularly at Bell Oaks Upper Elementary School, populated by pre-adolescents and young teens dealing with stressful peer pressure at an age already filled with physical and emotional changes.

On Monday morning, during their team time — a nonacademic daily period devoted one day a week to character education — some of the school’s sixth-graders were meeting with 34 eighth-grade peer mediators. The latter are part of a conflict-resolution program in place for about 15 years with noteworthy, character-building results.

“Being a good mediator requires a ton of skills, including listening skills,” says phys ed teacher Carol Holt, coordinator of Bell Oaks’ peer mediation program.

This year’s eighth-grade mediators trained two hours a day after school at the beginning of September, then stayed for more training the following week.

“It’s a rite of passage,” adds Holt, who also coordinates a peer mentor program for mediators-in-training that includes both seventh- and eighth-grade students.

“The program works awesomely — particularly since we lost the guidance counselors last year.”

Bell Oaks lost its staff counselors as part of the fallout from massive state aid cuts for the 2010-2011 school year.

“We teach kids the skills they need so they can eventually solve their own problems without going to a counselor,” Holt says.

Students submit peer mediation requests in writing describing their problem.

Teachers, educational assistants, independently contracted part-time counselors and the principal also can request mediation.

Peer mediators are taught to be empathetic. They promise to be fair and honest, and to keep their sessions confidential.

Bell Oaks completed more than 100 peer mediations last year. Student mediators typically deal with rumors, hurt feelings, threats and name calling — often considered social-skill inadequacies that have not crossed the line into true bullying territory.

Eighth-grader Brielle Lenox said she volunteered to be a peer mediator because she likes helping other kids.

Her first mediation, concerning a prank call, went well.

“I kept asking questions and finally got to the bottom of it. They decided they would remain civil with each other,” the 13-year-old says of the pair she counseled.

Alyssa Jankowski, also 13, believes civility is key.

“I would tell students to get along, but if it doesn’t work out, then remain civil.”

Adds 13-year-old Ryma Choudhry, “I know it can be a roller coaster here. It feels good to know you can help others and let them know that when there’s a problem and you can’t find the solution, it’s OK to ask for help.”

Sixth-graders learning about the mediation process Monday say they’ll use the program if need be.

“It helps you so you’re not miserable, and it prevents you from hurting yourself,” says Darby Casey, 11. “It’s also good because sometimes adults get a little more involved than you would like.

“Kids don’t overreact like adults might.”

Karlie Kennedy has already used the program this year after fighting with a classmate, and she felt comfortable talking about it with students she knew.

“We made up and came up with an agreement that we’d be friends and not fight,” the 11-year-old remarks.

“The mediators separate what needs to be done now, so the student can get through the school day, and can make a recommendation to have the student moved to another class, or whatever needs doing,” Holt explains.

Peer mediator Cameron Dion, 13, admits being a snobby “mean girl” who went to peer mediation many times before answering the wake-up call.

“I got my grades up, and got my act together by the end of seventh grade.”

Having been there herself, Cameron says she felt ready to help other students navigate through problems. Mediators are trained to recognize body language, among other things.

“Usually at the start of the mediation, one student may be slouched over while the other is more aggressive,” she says. “By the end of the mediation, if it’s successful, the students probably are showing the same body language.”

Holt keeps all paperwork for the mediations and sometimes is asked to provide records for the Black Horse Pike Regional School District — where most Bellmawr students continue their schooling — to see if problems occurring there indicate a pattern documented earlier.

“I’m a believer in teachable moments,” she insists. “This is one way to do it.”

Bell Oaks is providing other opportunities this week to combat bullying.

Today, students are participating in Mix-It-Up Day in the lunchroom. They are being encouraged to sit and talk with students they don’t know in an effort to learn respect for kids who are not within their circle of friends.

“It’s about empowering the students,” Holt says.

Njspotlight.com - State Auditor Says Efficiency May Be Trumping Educational Need at SDA…Critics say report reinforces their claims that authority is leaving students stranded in substandard schools

By John Mooney, October 4 in Education|Post a Comment

A State Auditor report in 2010 gave the Christie administration the evidence it needed to revamp the way the Schools Development Authority (SDA) prioritizes construction projects in New Jersey's highest-poverty districts.

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According to the report, the rankings under the Corzine administration had been ill-advised in several regards.

Now the auditor's office is back with a new report. It credits the SDA with improving its ranking system but points out it may have an unintended consequence: more pressing projects that don't lend themselves to standardized designs are put on hold.

That finding has only added to the growing criticism of the authority's glacial pace of projects. The SDA has yet to start any new construction in the 31 districts falling under the $8 billion program ordered by the Abbott v. Burke school equity case a decade ago.

The State Auditor, a branch of the legislature, said in its report released Friday that the SDA had crafted a new system in its latest capital plan that was an improvement from the previous plan, following criteria based on both educational need and efficiency.

But the question arose as to how those criteria were then applied, wrote State Auditor Stephen Eells, with just 10 projects so far getting the go-ahead.

"By advancing lower-priority projects because they support standardization, there is the potential for more educationally critical projects not being completed with the current funding," Eells wrote.

Assistant Auditor John Termyna, who worked on the report, said both the SDA and the state Department of Education bore some responsibility for devising a new system that didn't set clear enough priorities on educational need.

"They didn't do anything wrong, but they may not be doing it the way that the legislature intended," he said in an interview. "The No. 1 priority is on standardization, and everything else is taking a back seat."

Larkins Disputes Some Conclusions

In response, SDA executive director Marc Larkins yesterday emphasized the auditor's finding that the new system of ranking projects had cleaned up past discrepancies. But he disputed its claim that needed projects would be bypassed.

The SDA is preparing to release its blueprint of design and construction standards, he said, starting with infrastructure and moving to entire schools.

"We don't conceded that higher-priority projects won't be addressed," Larkins said yesterday in an interview. "The standardization will help us save money and to complete more projects.

"We think the standards will only help, not hinder," he said.

Critics Argue SDA Is Stalling

But critics of the SDA and the administration said the report only reinforces their months of criticism that the SDA is stalling in launching new projects, to the detriment of students who remain in substandard buildings.

"The fact of the matter is that in two years that this governor has been in office, not one new school has started," said State Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden). "If a child started school in a crumbling structure, they'll have graduated and be out of school at the pace they're going."

He cited an SDA project in Gloucester City where 70 properties were taken for a new middle school, only to languish.

"The residents lost homes and lost businesses to make way for a new school, and now they have lost a new school," he said.

David Sciarra, director of the Education Law Center (ELC), which first brought the Abbott v. Burke case, said he has heard of districts being told to start looking for alternatives to their projects.

"The state is under a court order to fix these buildings in a reasonable time and reasonable fashion," he said. "Instead, the SDA has stopped them all and thrown them off the list."

When asked whether the ELC would challenge the administration in court under the Abbott ruling, he said there would be a push in the communities and the legislature to press the projects.

"The last thing is we will have to step up on the legal front," he said. "All of these things will come together, and it is starting to happen.


Njspotlight.com - Agenda: State Board of Education…QSAC is still on the docket, but this meeting will also see the announcement of the NJ Teacher of the Year

By John Mooney, October 4 in Education|Post a Comment

Date: Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Time: 10 a.m.

Place: NJ Department of Education, 1st floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton

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What they are doing: Time for the state board to get into the details of revising the state's monitoring system, with a few important developments since the last discussion. On a more celebratory note, New Jersey's Teacher of the Year will be announced, a chance for the state to recognize the stars in its classroom. Also, a new report on early childhood education will be presented, this one focusing on administrators. And stepping back, the board wants to talk a little more about its own role in the big issues facing schools.

QSAC again: A testament to the slow pace of change of the state's regulatory process, the board is finally getting back to discussing proposed revisions to the district-monitoring regulations, called QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum). The department has come back with some revisions to its plan to streamline the process, this time adding some language about student progress and also what subjects matter most in the new scoring system. Arts educators especially had raised some concerns that the streamlining would narrow the curriculum still more. In the meantime, a recent report from a governor's task force has raised still more questions about the value of QSAC in general, with acting education commissioner Chris Cerf not hiding his hopes to overhaul the system.

Early childhood, top down: Advocates for Children of New Jersey is presenting a report on its latest leadership series about early childhood education. Done in collaboration with the state Department of Education, the report discusses the need to improve training for administrators, especially in the way they view preK-3 education. The report indicates that districts communicate very little with other public and private providers in their communities, and could better align planning and programs in their earliest grades.

State board's own role: Ever-bedeviled over questions about its role in policy, the state Board is trying to step up its presence in discussions about some of the major education issues in the state. President Arecelio Aponte said he hopes his board's committees will be able to delve deeper into the issues, and cited work underway toward a statewide discussion about the achievement gap. On Wednesday he plans to present on the legislative committee, with a focus on whether the state board should start taking positions or providing input on pending legislation.

Other business: Swearing in of new board member Joseph Fisicaro from Marlton (Burlington); proposal-level discussion of new regulations for districts selling advertising on school buses; and student speaker Samantha Puja of Bayonne High School.


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