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5-9-12 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Fine Print: Cerf Enters Perth Amboy Superintendent Fight…Acting commissioner's ruling puts embattled school administrator back to work

Star Ledger - As budget deadline looms, Gov. Christie pushes to reform teachers' tenure, lower N.J. taxes

Asbury Park Press-Editorial - Why no action on Lakewood, Governor?

The Hub - Red Bank’s STEM program a model for learning…Science, technology curriculum raises test scores on state assessments

NJ Spotlight - Fine Print: Cerf Enters Perth Amboy Superintendent Fight…Acting commissioner's ruling puts embattled school administrator back to work

By John Mooney, May 9, 2012 in Education|4 Comments

What it is: New Jersey’s acting education commissioner, Chris Cerf, yesterday ruled on a legal challenge that Perth Amboy superintendent Janine Caffrey must be reinstated to her job, at least for now, after the district’s school board voted in April to dismiss her over a number of political differences.

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What it means: While the commissioner hears countless personnel appeals, it was unusual for him to get involved in such a high-profile leadership fight. But it was also unusual for the board to try to dismiss Caffrey without the usual notice, especially on more political grounds that were not so much about misconduct as misbehavior, at least in the board’s eyes.

Caffrey’s side: The superintendent has maintained that the dismissal was about her refusal to follow the board’s bidding on school hiring, as well as cooperate in separate investigations involving the board’s president, Samuel Lebreault.

State politics: Caffrey has also been outspoken in her support for tenure reforms being proposed by Cerf and Gov. Chris Christie that would allow her to dismiss substandard teachers, hardly making her a favorite of the teachers union. Its members cheered the board’s initial vote to dismiss Caffrey.

The other issue: Cerf actually ruled on a technical point that should be a lesson to all school boards, that a majority of the full board must approve all personnel decisions. In Perth Amboy’s case, the 4-0 vote to dismiss Caffrey was one short of a majority, since the remaining five members abstained due to conflicts of interest with family members directly employed in the district.

Not over yet: The board on Monday night used a little-known clause to allow two more board members to vote on the matter, leading to a 6-0 vote to put Caffrey on administrative leave. However, the vote came after Cerf’s ruling, and Cerf said it would have to be part of a separate petition if the board wanted to pursue the challenge. Efforts to reach Lebreault, the board’s president, yesterday were unsuccessful.

Caffrey back to work: “I’m very excited to get back to doing my job and serving the children and families of Perth Amboy,” she said last night.

Mediation next: In making the order, Cerf also said he “recognized the present discord between the parties” and offered a mediator to work with Caffrey and the board to help settle their differences. He suggested Michael Osnato, a Seton Hall program director and former Montclair superintendent.

But the politics are not going away: Besides the continue dispute with the current board, three seats on the board are up for election in November, raising the volume on the fight but also potentially shifting some allegiances.


Star Ledger - As budget deadline looms, Gov. Christie pushes to reform teachers' tenure, lower N.J. taxes

Published: Tuesday, May 08, 2012, 2:36 PM Updated: Wednesday, May 09, 2012, 9:24 AM  By MaryAnn Spoto/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — With fewer than two months before the state budget is due, Gov. Chris Christie said this morning he wants the state Legislature to deliver laws changing the tenure system for public school teachers in a way that will result in decreased taxes for New Jersey residents.

"I want to make one thing really clear to the state Legislature: Do not send me watered down B.S. tenure reform,’’ he told a crowd of more than 450 at a town hall meeting in Monmouth County.

In this Republican-heavy county that delivered big for his election in 2009, Christie delivered his usual criticism of Democratic lawmakers who he said have finally agreed to cut taxes.

"Now the Democrats in Trenton, are not arguing with me anymore about whether they should cut your taxes,’’ he said. "They just argue about how we should cut your taxes.’’

But he saved the majority of his rant at the National Guard Armory in Freehold for teachers unions, who he said spent tens of millions of dollars in attack ads against him the past two years "because I have dared to speak out against their monopoly.’’

"Well, $20 million later, here I am," he said to an enthusiastically supportive crowd.

He called state aid to failing school districts, including nearly $30,000 per pupil in Monmouth County’s Asbury Park "an obscene waste of money’’ and reiterated his call for merit pay for teachers rather than automatic tenure after three years on the job.

"No one in this state should be guaranteed a job after three years and one day on the job without regard to how they do their job,’’ he said.

In the portion of the meeting open to public questions, a woman from Howell told Christie tearfully how her home floods so often.

To a question posed by a woman from Berkeley Township in Ocean County, Christie defended the credentials of his state Supreme Court nominee, Chatham borough Mayor Bruce Harris. Harris, an attorney for 20 years, has been primarily a finance attorney with little courtroom experience.

But Christie said Harris’ resume, which includes years as an elected official and a private attorney, gives him "practical’’ experience for someone in the "ivory tower’’ of the state’s highest court.

A businessman from Freehold complained about involvement by the state Department of Environmental Protection in his contract dispute with another business.

A young boy from Freehold asked Christie if he plans to run for re-election.

Christie said he hasn’t yet made up his mind, but said he has to make a decision by the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

Asbury Park Press - Editorial: Why no action on Lakewood, Governor?

Christie silent on how he'll fix troubled school district 5:52 AM, May. 9, 2012 |

In Gov. Chris Christie’s closing remarks at Tuesday’s town hall meeting in Freehold, he said that if he decides to run for governor again, “The one thing I can guarantee you is you won’t wonder where I stand and what I believe.”

No? We are wondering plenty! We are wondering why his administration has virtually ignored the problems plaguing Lakewood’s failing public schools. And we are wondering what he intends to do, if anything, to help turn those schools around.

To date, we haven’t heard a peep from him on the topic despite repeated inquiries made to his office. Lots of bluster about wanting to help every child in New Jersey reach their potential. But no action — and not even an acknowledgment the schools are failing the children in Lakewood.

Despite devoting most of his one-hour monologue Tuesday to public school education — specifically, how the system was failing students in the state’s poorest, worst-performing districts and how more money wasn’t the answer to fixing it — he didn’t utter a single word about Lakewood, which is about 10 miles down Route 9 from where he was speaking.

He and his administration were asked several times over the past several days to comment on the Asbury Park Press series “Cheated,” which has chronicled the failures of the public school system in Lakewood. This would have been the perfect opportunity for Christie to vow he was committed to turning things around there and to lay out his vision for doing so.

Christie takes every opportunity to hammer the state’s lowest-performing school districts and bemoan the wasted tax money that has been poured into them. He was at it again Tuesday, citing old and exaggeratedly high per-pupil costs and low graduation rates from Asbury Park to make his case.

His simplistic solution — more charter schools and tougher tenure rules — again ignored all the socioeconomic factors that come to bear on the performance of the state’s lowest-performing schools.

It’s outrageous that 2˝ years into his administration, Christie has done virtually nothing to address the dismal test scores, low graduation rates, fiscal mismanagement and multitude of factors that have produced the Lakewood district’s shameful performance. And it’s inexcusable that in the wake of our series on Lakewood last week — one that his administration was made well aware of — he has still had nothing to say about how the state might assist in helping Lakewood right the ship.

During the question-and-answer portion of the town meeting Tuesday, in which several speakers came to the microphone urging him to address their particular problem, he promised he would get in immediate touch with the appropriate commissioner or department head to see what could be done to address it.

Why not the same attention to the problems afflicting the 5,500 students in the failing Lakewood school district? We’re wondering, Governor!


The Hub - Red Bank’s STEM program a model for learning…Science, technology curriculum raises test scores on state assessments


The Red Bank School District is becoming a model for effectively incorporating a science and technology curriculum that meets state standards and improves student assessment scores.

Red Bank Middle School instructor Chris Ippolito presented the district’s STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] curriculum model at an education conference at The College of New Jersey in March, where he addressed the aspects of the curriculum, including funding for a $62,000 budget, logistics, space requirements, and new technologies and software.

“Feedback to me was important, but it was also important to rub elbows with people who were implementing STEM programs in other districts and seeing what they were doing in the classroom, what successes they were having, what failures they were having, how they’re modifying for different age groups and different ability levels. That was the most valuable part for me being at that conference,” said Ippolito.

On June 6, he will find himself in familiar territory when he’ll be the school’s representative at a national education conference in Washington, D.C.

“This time we’re looking to measure the effectiveness of these programs, not just in academia but in the research realm as well, and hopefully craft a policy that can best serve each STEM program,” explained Ippolito. Superintendent Laura Morana said she sees the upcoming conference as a way for the Red Bank School District to share its work in the Red Bank Primary and Middle schools with prominent education figures.

Eighth-grade NJ ASK science scores increased from 76 percent in 2010 to 82 percent in 2011, just one year after the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum was implemented as Project Lead the Way (PLTW) at the Red Bank Middle School.

The district also met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in mathematics for all grade levels on the NJ ASK state assessment in 2011.

The one-day workshop, STEM Enterprise: Measures for Innovation and Competitiveness, is sponsored by numerous organizations including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and will feature professional speakers ranging from university professors and business leaders to a member of Congress.

“We’re hoping that this kind of a conference will influence policy, particularly when you consider the audience who will be a part of it,” said Morana on April 24.


“We began exploring that and establishing that program through Project Lead the Way, so we feel we are in a perfect position to be able to implement that requirement that is in place now and will be in place at the start of September.”

Students in grades four-eight receive one marking period, or 46 days, of STEM instruction per year, which includes three units of study that are divided across the grade levels: energy and the environment, design and modeling, and automation and robotics.

In addition to providing middle school students with the necessary exposure that would nurture future STEM learning at the high school, the Red Bank Public School District is also cultivating PLTW at the primary school for the pre-K through thirdgrade levels.

“STEM content areas in the early grades will serve as the foundation for our kids to begin thinking and exploring careers, particularly if children do not have the exposure to those careers in science technology, engineering, mathematics,” Morana said.

Ippolito, a PLTW teacher at the middle school, said more and more students are becoming interested in pursuing STEM-related careers and seeking admission to Red Bank Regional High School’s PLTW program, which is offered as an elective class for students enrolled in the Academy of Information Technology.

“We conducted a survey at the end of the course and it revealed that students 3 to 1 are now considering careers in STEM disciplines, whereas they had not before, because of their exposure in the PLTW program,” Ippolito said.

According to Morana, each school district in the state is required to implement the STEM curriculum.

“There must be a STEM implementation in some way and some form. The state DOE [Department of Education] is supposed to provide guidelines in terms of what the STEM education program should look like, but we feel that we have a sound foundation for what a requirement really entails.”

According to Rich Vespucci, spokesman for the DOE, state standards are used to measure the efficiency of a school’s curriculum.

“The curriculum contains the plan for each school year on how students will learn the necessary knowledge and skills. Districts are responsible for their own curricula; however, the state is developing model curricula in certain areas which local school districts can adopt or adapt as their own, if they want to,” said Vespucci in a May 2 email.

The spokesman said that the state has adopted science, mathematics and technology standards for more than 15 years, but there is a new model curriculum for science at the high school level and a mathematics curriculum for grades K-12. Vespucci said this did not have to be STEM, per se.

“Topics related to STEM are figuring prominently in our participation in a multistate effort to adopt core standards in various content areas,” Vespucci stated.

“Long term, we envision a time when low-performing school districts in a repeated cycle of failure might be required to use model curricula.”

The Red Bank Middle School was recently designated a Focus School in a new accountability system that was released by the DOE in early April.

The school was tagged with a “largest within school gaps” between top performing students and those who are not testing as proficient on state assessments.

A STEM-related curriculum could help improve a school district that remains one of 14 districts to be funded at levels more than 20 percent below what the state considers adequate.  



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