Friday, February 26, 2010

Fear and Loathing- Hoboken Reporter Expose on the Leadership of the Hoboken Public Schools

"Without any prior warning, Principal Dr. Lorraine Cella came into Hoboken High School on Friday, Feb. 12 to find her flash drive taken from her computer. Within hours, she was asked to vacate her office."

- so begins an excellent expose and investigative reporting on the part of staff writer Timothy Carroll as published in the February 20, 2010 Hoboken Reporter in a story entitled "Fear and loathing in the Hoboken School."

The article details Dr. Cella's accomplishments, the shock of students and staff when she was escorted from the building, the apparent disregard concerning the negative consequences of an abrupt transition of leadership at the school, and the general sense that "some members of the school board and the current interim superintendent are creating an uncomfortable work environment"- referencing the tone and manner of Dr. Cella's dismissal as being unprecedented.

The article also alludes to Dr. Cella being treated differently before Mr. Carter's arrival- however no specifics are mentioned. Some members of the political organization known as "Kids First" were interviewed for the article and disagreed that "fear was used as a motivator," yet no comment was made concerning the observation that no one interviewed would give their name for the article.

Finally, there are a number of quotes indicating the reason Dr. Cella was treated in such a manner was based on 1) unspecified accountability criteria, 2) because "people" were treated favorably/special in "the past" and/or 3) "that's what they do in business".

It appears that attempts by spokesperson(s) for the current board majority to reinterpret the events of February 12 are another indication that board leadership not only have failed to accept their own responsibility for the environment they have created but continue to blame their controversial and unpopular decisions on others (e.g. the previous administration).

Dr. Cella actually resigned to take a higher position as Assistant Superintendent. She would not have looked but for the undermining of certain board members and lack of support by the board as a whole. She had at least two outstanding evaluations but those along with all the data below were ignored. This doesn't seem to make sense. Beyond that, she resigned and asked to leave whenever the administration was ready. Why not make the transition smooth and orderly? Why not...some may say because you want fear and loathing.

You can read about some of my original thoughts on the resignation of Dr. Cella viewing my post in mid January- HERE.

What follows is a list of some of the accomplishments of Dr. Cella and her staff during her two and a half years as Principal of Hoboken High School. The list speaks for itself:

  • Improved Hoboken High School’s ranking, making it the second most improved high school in NJ according to New Jersey Monthly, August 2008, . (the school continues to make AYP.)
  • Awarded Bronze Medal (2008 and 2009), US News and World Report, for continued improvement measured by socio-economic factors.
  • Improved technology use and access and organized staff development opportunities for Moodle, Apple production software, Frame Forge and other cutting edge software programs.
  • Assisted in the development and implementation of a new curriculum based on Understanding by Design and the NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards to include common assessment measures.
  • Restructured the Middle Years Programme and the Diploma Programme, two aspects of International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) along with IB Coordinator.
  • Created 9th grade interdisciplinary team, sophomore personal project, junior book publication project through Student Press Initiative, Teachers College, Columbia University and a senior service project.
  • Improved teaching effectiveness through training of supervisors and teachers in curriculum and instruction specifically Understanding by Design, Differentiated Instruction methodologies, and reading, writing and technology integration across curriculum.
  • Helped to procure and maintain the running of $300,000 grant from the Department of Children and Families for our School Based Youth Services Program.
  • Upgraded facilities to include an Apple Production Lab, 150 new Dells, Fitness Room, Television Studio, and refurbished science labs.
  • Designed and implemented In-School-Suspension Program reducing the number of suspensions.
  • Increased student accountability by designing and implementing clear discipline policies, new academic requirements, and fair extra-curricular eligibility requirements.
  • Established a connection between Student Press Initiative and Teachers College, Columbia, University that fostered a book publication project for all juniors.
  • Increased connection with Stevens Institute of Technology to include, a Robotics course and a chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.
  • Initiated and organized public relations events such as Town Wide Literacy Day, Scholarship Benefactors Dinner, Freshman Day, school tours and Public Readings from My Square Mile Life, SPI publication
  • Reorganized the PSO to include speakers about Financial Aid, the college process and Standardized Test Scores

  • Picture: flyer circulated- late February, 2010

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    Vice-President Gilliard Leaves Kids First political group- Remains Committed to the Kids of Hoboken

    On February 20th Ms. Carrie Gilliard, the Vice-President of the Hoboken Board of Education, submitted a letter to the Hoboken Reporter criticizing and disassociating herself from the political group known as "Kids First." The previous week another Hoboken Board of Education trustee, Ms. Maureen Sullivan, also submitted a letter criticizing and disassociating herself from the same political group. Published documents indicate that the vote to hire the most important job in the district was not on the public agenda. Moreover, the item was brought on as a "live" item for a vote. "Live" agenda items are items added *during* a Board of Education meeting and indicates that there was no public notice of the item. As a sidebar, the board leadership, trustees belonging to the same political group that Ms. Gilliard and Ms. Sullivan disassociated from, stated that no action would be taken on the hiring of a permanent superintendent some days prior to the Board of Education meeting.

    Here is Vice-President Gilliard's letter to the Hoboken Reporter and to the people of Hoboken:
    Dear Editor:

    After previously serving as school board trustee of Hoboken School District (1996-2002 two full-three year terms) a total of six years and always taking a stance for what was best for our students; even when I had to stand alone – I had the courage to advocate for the best interest of the students – today that is still my position!!!

    Three years ago, I was approached by current board member Theresa Minutillo and a group of individuals who dubbed themselves “Reformers.” They took the name: “Kids First” as their “Trademark” (logo: a kid with a back-pack) hence, running on the “Platform” of putting the interest of our students first – at that time, I was excited to be a part of a “grass-roots” School Reform Movement and I agreed to return to Hoboken School District as a school board trustee and continued my quest to ensure that Hoboken’s students get the world-class education they deserve.

    Point of reference: I watched Theresa Minutillo struggle for one year – as a lone board member advocating for “School Reform” prior to “Kids First” attaining the majority votes at Hoboken BOE...

    Only to witness at Tuesday’s Board Meeting (Feb. 9, 2010) how easily Theresa and Board president Rose Markle courted and – jump into bed with some of the very same board members we fought up to this point – this is not propaganda – just roll the tape back and review the votes!. This is the same “reckless behavior” demonstrated by the previous board majority members namely: Jim Farina, Frances Rhodes-Kearns and Carmelo Garcia; these board members are the remnants of what we fought against!

    Tuesday night they assisted Theresa and Board president Markle to deliver Frank Romano from Fort Lee to Hoboken with a very lucrative contract: $190,000 salary and a guarantee 3. percent annual increase regardless of his performance! How does this behavior show fiscal responsibility to the Tax Payers and our Students – especially during these times of national economic constraints?

    Yes, it was a circus upstairs (during the closed-session) at Tuesday (Feb. 9) Board Meeting. The public was left waiting down stairs for over two hours – while my colleagues allowed Frank Romano to take them for a ride – he was driving the bus and they were happy to hitch a ride on the back seats – showing him that they were willing to give him whatever he wanted; not even using the “leverage” of their position. I knew that his lack of experience did not warrant that contract – but he saw their weakness and he worked them accordingly.

    Now, for the record: I only advocated re-opening the process of the “Superintendent Search” because I really felt that we did not interview enough candidates (only total of four people interviewed) therefore, the need was evident that we should have continue the search for a fully qualified person with “Leadership Experience” and a “Successful Model” they could showcase as their own visions. The process of selecting the right person for “Superintendent of Schools” is very important; therefore it can not – nor should it be handled as an “on the job training” position.

    Correction, I did not have a candidate – I had an application that was forwarded to me; however, everyone is aware that I can only cast one vote and it takes five votes to carry a majority so – how was I going to get “my man” in?

    In closing, as I stated at the Board meeting Tuesday night during my dissenting vote, I can no longer be affiliated with “Kid First” for the following reasons: rushing this process through as a “Live Item” on Tuesday night’s Agenda – after Theresa sent an email on Saturday Feb. 6 stating: ”the Board had not come to an agreement with Romano on salary and terms of contract; no action will be taken at Tuesday meeting; a special meeting will be schedule to conclude the process.” I take much exception to the idea of pushing that contract on the Agenda as a “Live Item” by Kids First and their newly found friends this behavior was contrary to what we stood for – prior to Maureen and I openly expressing our concerns about the rush process. So after that egregious contract; I can no longer trust that they will do the right thing going forward – this was all about “closing the deal” before the next School Board Election in April.

    Carrie Gilliard, Vice President
    Hoboken Board of Education

    Monday, February 22, 2010

    Layoffs Loom for Teachers: Education Secretary

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many teachers and educators across the United States are at risk of losing their jobs in the next few months, the nation's education secretary told a meeting of the National Governors Association on Sunday.

    "I am very, very concerned about layoffs going into the next school year starting in September. Good superintendents are going to start sending out pink slips in March and April, like a month from now, as they start to plan for their budgets," said Arne Duncan, referring to the slips of paper included in some paychecks to notify a person of being fired.

    As tax revenues in most states continue to plummet because of weak economies, states and cities are considering cutting education to keep their budgets balanced. Every state in the union except one, Vermont, is required to balance its budget.

    The economic stimulus package, pushed last year by the administration of President Barack Obama and approved by Congress saved at least 320,000 education jobs, Duncan told the governors.

    The plan included the largest transfer of money from the U.S. government to states in the nation's history, according to the Pew Center on the States.

    It created a stabilization fund of $48 billion that provided cash directly to states, mostly for schools. But those funds will likely run out before the end of the year.

    Last week, Obama warned of the possibility of layoffs in state governments when the stimulus ends.

    Late on Sunday, the White House announced that it will put $350 million into new competitive grants states can use to develop educational standards designed to prepare students for college.

    Meanwhile, Duncan said the $1.5 billion "Race to the Top" grants included in the stimulus plan are on track to be distributed soon, with the finalists for the grants announced next week.

    Obama has proposed extending the program, as well as expanding it by $3 billion, to fund new education innovations, especially at semi-autonomous charter schools.

    The administration will also send out school improvement grants to states next month totaling $3.5 billion, Duncan said.

    Employment is one of the most pressing issues in the United States, where the unemployment rate stands at 9.7 percent. The secretary, formerly the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools, said there was some hope for educators in jobs legislation passed by the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate.

    Duncan also said a bill known as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act passed by the House would boost funding for colleges and universities.

    In January, there were 8.03 million workers in local government education, down from 8.09 million a year before and 8.05 million in January 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    (Editing by Philip Barbara and Tim Dobbyn)

    A Matter of Principal- Researchers untangle "why" behind exodus of principals from public schools

    Gilbert Hicks is an anomaly. He's been principal at the same school long enough for a three-year gym membership purchased in 2007 to expire.

    Twenty or 30 years ago, when a principal took the reins at a school, he was there long enough to see three or four kids in the same family pass through the hallowed halls. Now, newly hired principals are exiting faster than you can say, "Where's your hall pass?"

    Ed Fuller and Michelle Young
    Principal retention researchers Ed Fuller and Michelle Young are part of the College of Education's University Council for Educational Administration.

    According to a recent study by Dr. Ed Fuller and Dr. Michelle Young, who are part of the College of Education's University Council for Educational Administration at The University of Texas at Austin, only about half of newly hired Texas principals stay for at least three years. Data from this study reveal that Texas is in the middle of a retention crisis that's become a national epidemic.

    Parents who've faced a new principal at the same school each year, for eight or nine years running, could have told you that something was wrong, but they couldn't have said why the job's turned into a revolving door. The scientific study by Young and Fuller is the first to address the scope of the retention and tenure problem in Texas and search for the reasons behind it.

    "A good deal of research has been done on teacher retention," said Fuller, who is former director of research at the State Board for Educator Certification and a consultant to schools, universities and national education research organizations, "but not so much on principals. What we know about principal retention suggests that school leaders are crucial to the school improvement process and that they must stay in a school a number of consecutive years for the benefits of their leadership to be realized."

    Using state databases, like teacher certification records and data from the Texas Education Agency Web site, Fuller and Young set out to spot possible relationships among personal traits of the principals, schools' characteristics and the tenure of the principals.

    They wanted to know if being at an elementary school rather than a high school made a significant difference in how long a new principal stayed and if there were differences in retention rates of males versus females or based on the race, age or formal training of the principal.

    Findings suggest that school level does matter and that high schools are faring worse than the rest. They have the lowest retention rates and shortest tenure, with only about half of newly hired principals staying at least three years and less than 30 percent staying for five years. The average tenure for newly hired elementary school principals is around five years.

    The economic status of the students and school achievement level also markedly influence whether principals stay at or leave a school. Data suggest the schools and students most in need of strong, long-term leadership are least likely to get and keep it.

    Gilbert Hicks
    Gilbert Hicks is principal of Austin ISD's Volma Overton Elementary School.

    Principals in high-poverty schools have shorter tenure and lower retention rates, and principal tenure is substantially greater in the highest performing schools as compared to the lowest performing schools. Only about a quarter of the principals in the lowest performing schools remained for five years as compared to over 40 percent who stayed for five years or longer at the higher and highest performing schools.

    Overall, retention rates in all schools at all performance levels were disappointingly low. The greatest three-year retention rate was 61 percent, while the greatest five-year rate was only 33 percent. Fuller and Young said findings suggest student achievement during a principal's first year on the job is particularly important in determining if a principal remains at that school or not.

    Surprisingly, characteristics such as race, age, gender, rural versus urban districts, certification test results and principal preparation program quality had a negligible impact on retention.

    "Principal retention matters because teacher retention and qualifications are greater in schools where principals stay longer," says Fuller. "Any school reform efforts are reliant on the principal creating a common school vision and staying in place to implement the level of reforms that are part of large-scale change. And, of course, there are financial costs to high principal turnover—the district has to spend money on recruiting, hiring and training a new principal as well as the new teachers that will inevitably need to be hired by the principal. Most important, the school loses the investment in capacity-building of the principal and teachers who leave."

    My guiding principle always has been that I'm here to remove barriers to success—period. Principal Gilbert Hicks

    So where's the glimmer of a silver lining in this thunderhead? That would be Principal Gilbert Hicks and others like him.

    Hicks' career profile is interesting because it's a study in what makes a great principal, and it reinforces many of Fuller and Young's conclusions about what principals need in order to flourish.

    According to Hicks he always knew he wanted to be a teacher and then a principal and knew, before he even started either job, that he would be good at it.

    "I had a master plan and I didn't consider not following through with it," says Hicks, who is principal at Austin Independent School District's (ISD) Volma Overton Elementary in East Austin. "It took a while because I couldn't quit work and go back to school full time for certification. I had an adult life with all of the adult responsibilities so I went through an emergency certification program and then taught math at Webb Middle School in Austin. While there, I was getting all of these very useful insights into what a teacher needs in order to do the job well, and I was viewing the job from the perspective of a future principal."

    To get the necessary principal training, Hicks applied to be in the first cohort of five students in The University of Texas at Austin College of Education's newly created Principalship Program in 1996. The Principalship Program is in the Department of Educational Administration. At the time, the program was a partnership between Austin ISD and the university, and Hicks was one of its first graduates.

    "After I got my graduate degree and appropriate certification, I was an assistant principal at LBJ High School in Austin," says Hicks, "and that was quite a challenging school. I actually feel lucky to have been there because it in no way lulled me into thinking the job would be a breeze. You need to see for yourself how complicated it is to manage relationships with students, teachers, parents and the community. I worked very closely with the principal while I was there—side by side—and she was the best mentor anyone could hope for.

    "She knew I was committed to becoming a principal and wanted every single insight she could give me. The things I learned each day at that high school ended up serving me well, and when I see someone go straight from teaching to being a principal I feel that they're almost guaranteed to fail. The job is just too complex, demanding and, most of all, unpredictable. Being an assistant principal probably should be considered an essential component in readying yourself to be a principal. "

    The least experienced and least qualified principals tend to take jobs at the lowest performing schools, which leads to the least experienced and least qualified teachers then being hired at those schools. Dr. Michelle Young

    Young and Fuller's research indicates that most principals who thrive were assistant principals first and that less than one third of newly hired principals with no experience as an assistant principal stay at the same school for at least five years. Over one half of those with assistant principal experience stay. Hicks enthusiastically agrees that the experience he gained as assistant principal was indispensable and believes anyone who leapfrogs that step may have trouble managing the steep learning curve.

    During the 11 years that Hicks has been a principal, he's remained in Austin and only worked in elementary schools where between 98 and 100 percent of the students received free or reduced cost lunches. At Volma Overton Elementary, the student body of 750 is 60 percent Hispanic and 40 percent African American, with the largest African American student population of any Austin ISD elementary school.

    Hicks concedes it's harder working where a majority of the students face issues more fundamental and frightening than grades on a report card. But, to him, that's the best reason to be there.

    "A lot of these students come to us with problems and backgrounds that most teachers can't even imagine, and they are miraculously resilient," says Hicks. "My guiding principle always has been that I'm here to remove barriers to success—period. Everything I do has to contribute to that ultimate goal. Really, whether you're dealing with a student, teacher or parent, you just need to model the sort of behavior that you want to see in others, and, most of all, you need to show respect. I'm fierce about modeling our school mantra, which is 'Bulldogs are respectful and kind," or 'BARK.'"

    To that end, front office staff greet all visitors immediately and make sure their concerns are addressed with care and attention. Parents are made to feel welcome on campus, and Hicks' Spanish language skills allow him to speak to parents who feel more comfortable using Spanish. Hicks has a teacher appreciation program in place and is looking at ways to enhance it as well as the student appreciation program.

    "Keeping morale up is very important to me," says Hicks. "I make an effort to visit every teacher's class each morning and I give each one positive feedback every single day. People need to feel appreciated for the good work that they do. This is especially true for our children. If a child has no confidence and is misbehaving because he can't read well and has low self-esteem, we get him the proper intervention right away. His confidence goes through the roof—you wouldn't believe the transformation that occurs both academically and socially. It's amazing what people can do when they're respected and acknowledged."

    I want this school to be so excellent and so well-respected that parents are eager to get their students in and are picking up and moving to this community because there's such a great elementary school in it. Won't that be something? Principal Gilbert Hicks

    Hicks is fortunate to have been given considerable autonomy in his role as school leader. He was able to open Volma Overton, a three-year-old school, and hire all of the teachers himself. As Fuller and Young's research indicates, principals are more likely to stay at a school when they receive a vote of confidence from their superiors, are allowed to be on their campuses as much as possible and play a significant role in decision-making.

    According to those who know Hicks, any vote of confidence in him is well-placed and hard-earned. He's part of Austin ISD's mentoring program for new principals and coaches new principals in the district. He is on the National Advisory Council for the Principal's Center at Harvard University and in the Urban School Leader's Institute at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and he's won a slew of awards from Austin ISD.

    Even as exceptional as Hicks is, he's only one person. To expand the ranks of talented, dedicated school leaders like him, the College of Education is using a $3.5 million U.S. Department of Education grant to start the University of Texas Collaborative Urban Leadership Project(UTCULP). The program will offer a master's degree in education on site in select urban Texas school districts, and the degrees will be designed to address each district's unique needs. Dallas ISD is the first to benefit from this innovative new program, with classes in Dallas beginning this June. Houston ISD and Harlandale ISD will be added over the next two years.

    "We'll assess the nominees and select those we feel best fit the goals of the program," said Dr. Mark A. Gooden, co-principal investigator and Principalship Program director. "We want exceptional, dedicated teacher-leaders who excel at collaborating with others, communicating and problem solving. In short, we're looking for educators driven to improve the educational landscape for all children within these large urban school districts."

    So Gilbert Hicks won't be an anomaly for much longer. Not that he ever gave that much thought anyway—he's got other things on his mind.

    "My plan and intent is for Volma Overton Elementary to become an exemplary campus as measured by the Texas Education Agency," says Hicks, "and I know we can do it. Let's just put it this way—I don't intend to leave before we do. I want this school to be so excellent and so well-respected that parents are eager to get their students in and are picking up and moving to this community because there's such a great elementary school in it. Won't that be something?"

    Reposted from an article by Kay Randall at The University of texas at Austin.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Gov. Chris Christie warns N.J. districts school aid could be cut 15 percent in next budget

    Recent news of potential cuts to school districts across the State of New Jersey. What does this mean for Hoboken? - The State of New Jersey picks up about 29% of the school districts' budget. For 2009-10 that was roughly $8,544,231. This would indicate that the potential shortfall for next year could be about 15% of the 29% of the total budget or roughly $1,281,634. This could be made up by increasing the local tax levy, by cutting costs or some combination of the two. -Dr. Petrosino

    BERKELEY HEIGHTS — With school districts still reeling from the midyear budget cuts he announced last week, Gov. Chris Christie said today he has asked districts to prepare for a 15 percent reduction in state aid in the budget he will propose next month.

    Christie and Acting Education Commissioner Bret Schundler said their goal is to keep K-12 education aid flat in the fiscal year 2011 budget, but "that may not be possible," Schundler said. They said the state gave advance warning to districts so school boards would not be caught off guard by a dramatic drop in state funding.

    "This is about us telling the truth," said Christie, who is due to deliver his budget address on March 16.

    Any reductions in state aid to local districts would come on top of the cuts Christie outlined last week. He froze $475 million in aid, forcing districts to spend their surpluses instead for the remainder of the fiscal year 2010 budget that ends June 30.

    During a roundtable discussion at a Union County middle school, Christie and Schundler stressed that those cuts were carefully targeted to take excess surplus from districts that had built it up, and not lead to teacher layoffs and program cuts this year. But Berkeley Heights school officials said their surplus was a result of careful budgeting, and spending it on operations will mean less money returned to property taxpayers next year.

    Christie said his next budget will take into account how districts have saved and acted responsibly, but "it's impossible to do in the middle of a school year." He stressed the state will provide "tools" for school districts to control salary, pension and benefit costs.

    "I understand that this is going to create challenges for people in the short term," the Republican governor said, stressing the state is "broke" and has no choice. "It stinks."

    Christie also defended his authority to make midyear budget cuts unilaterally and challenged Democratic lawmakers to send him their own suggestions for savings. He described an Assembly budget committee hearing today highlighting his choices as "a parade of horribles."

    "I couldn't wait any longer," the governor said. "This is not a one-way obligation, and they have not been excluded from the process...If they have a better idea...step up to the plate.

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    N.J. bill would let parents move their kids to out-of-district public schools

    This story published on February 14, 2010 from the Associated Press. If passed, this bill would allow parents to move their children to schools across district lines. There are provisions in the bill to compensate "receiving" districts provided they fill out the proper paper work. While I was in Hoboken last year, public school choice was proposed by the superintendent and passed by the Hoboken Board of Education for a limited number of students in limited grades.

    TRENTON -- Legislation that would create a permanent statewide public school choice program will go before an Assembly panel this week.

    The measure would allow parents to move their children to schools located across district lines. The new program would replace a pilot program that expired in 2005, though many participating districts continue to informally honor previously agreed-to student arrangements.

    The education committee is due to consider the measure Thursday.

    If approved, schools seeking to participate in the program would apply to the state education commissioner, detailing services available to their students. The applications also would include an accounting of fiscal issues schools could face by taking part in the program.

    Students wishing to transfer to new schools would have to submit applications to the receiving districts, which would review them and make decisions based in part on the student's interests in their school's offerings. Schools also would be allowed to hold lotteries if the number of applications outpace the number of available seats.

    Sending districts would have to provide or pay for transportation for elementary school pupils who live more than two miles from the receiving district, and for secondary school students who live more than 2½ miles from their new school. Sending districts, though, would not have to pay these costs if the student's new school is more than 20 miles from their home.

    "Public school choice is an important step to ensuring each child has the ability to attend a school that is best-suited to their individual needs and talents," said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-South Orange). "More importantly, public school choice programs can improve educational outcomes for students without seeing taxpayer money funneled out of New Jersey's strong public school system."

    Jasey, a former member of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education, is sponsoring the measure with Joan Voss (D-Fort Lee), who is a retired educator.

    Voss believes the proposed system would be "fair and equitable" for students and schools.

    "No doubt, some students who find themselves stifled at their current school would prosper in a neighboring school district," Voss said. "But we also need to be fair and mindful of the necessity to balance the needs of students with costs ultimately borne by taxpayers."

    Project Based Instruction- UTeach Institute Replication Efforts

    Those readers who are interested in learning about Project Based Instruction are asked to view a blog I keep on a course I'm currently teaching. You will be able to keep up with the day to day activities of the course as well as periodic discussions of the challenges and benefits of teaching how to conduct Project Based Instruction to pre-service teachers. Please point your browser to:

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Maureen Sullivan Leaves Kids First political group- Remains Committed to the kids of Hoboken's Public Schools

    The following letter was published by the Hoboken Reporter on it's web site on February 13, 2010. It is the disassociation of Ms. Maureen Sullivan from the Kids First political coalition of the Hoboken Board of Education. Earlier in the week another member of the Hoboken Board of Education, Ms. Carrie Gilliard, also disassociated herself from the Kids First political group. The catalyst seems to be that both board members have serious concerns with the process of the search and hiring of the new superintendent of schools. You can find this letter and others on the Hoboken Reporter website by clicking HERE. -Dr. Petrosino

    Dear Editor:

    From the minute I took my seat on the school board last April it’s been apparent that my colleagues were not nearly as committed to reform as we had promised during the campaign. For nine months I loyally backed my team in public. But behind closed doors I argued for a tougher stand in union negotiations, a harder line on spending, greater transparency and a commitment to hiring the best people. At almost every step I met stiff resistance. In virtually every case my arguments lost out. Now, following our amateurish search and then the rush to hire an inexperienced superintendent, it’s clear that I must resign from Kids First (the political organization with whom I ran for the board). My fellow board member Carrie Gilliard quit Kids First at Tuesday’s meeting.

    In my opinion, the search got off on the wrong foot. When the previous superintendent quit last June, I said the board should hire a headhunting firm that would find top candidates. I envisioned a hunt that would look at executives at, say, KIPP or Teach for America, where Washington’s Michelle Rhee started. I never got a hearing. Instead, I was blindsided at the September meeting with a resolution that the search would start immediately and that the NJ School Boards Association would conduct it. That would largely limit the applicants to NJ public-school administrators.

    Much of Kids First was fixated on hiring someone – anyone – before the April election to avoid losing that power if it lost control of the board. I thought we should find the best candidate, no matter how long it took. As it happened, the NJSBA presented us with a very shallow pool of candidates. Of 21 who applied, only six were worth interviewing, and two of those soon dropped out. Of the remaining four, only one had ever run a district. Then we conducted a very cursory due diligence.

    A trip to Frank Romano’s district was not organized until last Tuesday, after he had already been offered the job. I thought we should heed references from Millburn, but I was told I was just digging up dirt. Then Tuesday I was blindsided again – this time with the news that we were voting to hire Romano that night, although the board and public had been told this was off the agenda. Carrie and I voted no. My main reason is that he doesn’t have the right educational philosophy for our district. Test scores could fall even further. What’s more, his salary and guaranteed raises are far too high.

    Volunteering for the school board demands countless hours. We all get some of the myriad decisions wrong. But one thing I can’t get wrong is following the principles on which I was elected: treat the taxpayers’ money as if it were my own, keep the public informed and never forget to put the kids first. I’m not putting together a slate to challenge Kids First in April, but I encourage true reformers to demand accountability and consider running for the board.

    Maureen Sullivan

    Saturday, February 13, 2010

    How Long Can an Interim Superintendent Serve in New Jersey?

    As a retired Superintendent (really, as a retired administrator) *anyone* can work up to but not exceed 2 years in any one district. In accordance with NJ pension regulations, any retired superintendent (or retired assistant superintendent, or retired principal, etc..) can work up to but not exceed 2 years in any one district but are not limited to going to another district once their "term limit" is up. These rules are established by the NJ Pension system and are intended to allow district to hire "temporary" people in key roles until a permanent position is filled. State pension statutes place a two-year limit on the length of time a retired superintendent can collect a pension while earning a salary as an interim superintendent.

    Not all retired educators are eligible for this provision. Former teachers who return to the classroom must cancel their retirements and re-enroll in the pension fund. This happened following the repeal in November 2003 of a rule permitting interim employment for up to six months without penalty. Exempted from that decision were certified superintendents and administrators, including principals and school business administrators, who already were playing by a different set of rules. Starting in January 2002, retired superintendents and business administrators were permitted to accept employment on an interim basis for up to two years in a single district. With just a small break between jobs, retired superintendents can hop from district to district without affecting their pension income.

    It's not clear if Hoboken interim superintendent Carter would have wanted to serve another year or if the Board of Education would have wanted him to serve another year. But, as a retired employee serving as an interim superintendent with less than 1 year of tenure in a single district, he was legally able to serve an additional year.

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Hoboken High School Principal Escorted from Building

    HOBOKEN --
    Dr. Lorraine Cella, outgoing principal of Hoboken High School, said she was met at the door of the school and escorted from the building today, following the school board's hiring of her interim replacement on Tuesday.

    Sources said last week that Interim Superintendent Peter Carter removed Cella's hard drive from her computer over the snow holiday, although it was unclear what sort of threat Cella -- a renowned educator with a clean record -- could pose to the district.

    Cella, who many parents admired and praised, resigned her seat recently following what she thought was unfair treatment from Carter.

    Sources claimed Carter gave Cella an unsatisfactory review without ever visiting her office, and was intent on pushing Cella out of her position before she reached her tenure year, next year.

    Comments should be sent to Tim Carroll at

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    Superintendent Appointment Left Off of Feb 9 Meeting Agenda- "shouldn’t have come as a surprise"

    In an article entitled "Hoboken Board of Education Feb 9 Meeting Agenda" posted by The Jersey Journal on it's website and reported by Mark Maurer, a key trustee of the Hoboken Board of Education, was quoted on Monday, February 8 as saying it was not likely that a decision about selecting a new superintendent would be made at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting.

    On Tuesday evening February 9, at a sparsely attended Board of Education meeting, the non-agenda item calling for the nomination of and the vote for a new Superintendent of Schools for the Hoboken Public School District took place (see official agenda below).

    Questioned after the meeting took place and as reported by The Hoboken Reporter, Board member Minutillo said the public should have remembered that the Board mentioned in September of 2009 that it might hire a superintendent in February. “We’ve always been about process and fairness,” she said in a later interview. According to the Hoboken Reporter in the same article, "they (some Board of Education members) were sent a memo over the previous weekend from Minutillo, who chairs the committee handling the superintendent negotiations, stating that the board would not be voting to approve a contract for last Tuesday."

    One side note...two Hoboken Board of Education trustees who successfully ran on and have been aligned with the Kids First team have publicly disassociated themselves with Minutillo and the remaining members of the Kids First coalition following the events leading up to and including the Tuesday, February 9th vote.

    For those who may want to review the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act-- Please click HERE.

    Please post your comments.

    From the Jersey Journal's website....

    The Hoboken Board of Education is meeting tomorrow night at 1115 Clinton St., at 7 p.m.

    Rose Marie Markle, president of the Hoboken Board of Education, said it is not likely that a decision about selecting a new superintendent will be made that night. Rumors have circulated that Fort Lee Assistant Superintendent Frank Romano was offered the job over the other candidate, Dr. Gayle Griffin, a former Newark associate assistant superintendent, but Markle said declined to comment. The evening’s agenda is as follows:

    Board President Report and Board Committee Reports.
    Approval of minutes.
    Report of Interim Superintendent.
    a. Personnel: postings, resignations, re-appointments, appointments, program staffing, transfers, full and part time staff, training, stipends, substitutes.
    b. Curriculum and Instruction: Curriculum and instruction matters; field trips
    Business Administrator: financial reports and actions; payment of bills and payroll; food service program; facility matters; grants; student placements and services; workshops.

    Hoboken BoE Agenda 2/9/10

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Dr. Romano Chosen as Hoboken Schools Superintendent

    Hoboken 411 reports today that The Hoboken Board of Education chose Dr. Frank Romano to be the next Superintendent of Schools at it’s meeting on Tuesday, Feb 9th. The vote was 7-2 in favor of awarding Romano a 3-year contract. Board President Rose MarkleTheresa Minutillo, Irene Sobolov and Ruth McCallister voted with Jim Farina, Carmelo Garcia and Frances Rhodes-Kearns in favor of Romano. Maureen Sullivan and Carrie Gilliard were the two dissenting votes.  The final choice was between Romano and Dr. Gayle Griffin. Romano was quoted on a Bergen County news website Saturday saying he was offered the Hoboken job and was “in the process of negotiating a contract.” He had a two-year contract in Fort Lee, where he was an Assistant Superintendent. A native of Bogota, Romano’s career has been largely spent in his native Bergen County. After nine years in the Ramsey district as a high school English teacher before becoming a staff developer. Romano spent six years as an assistant to the superintendent in Tenafly and one year as assistant superintendent in Millburn before coming to Fort Lee. Hoboken will be Dr. Romano's first Superintendent position. 

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Playing to Lean: Designing a Curriculum That Matters

    From a recent NY Times Editorial--  Our current educational approach — and the testing that is driving it — is completely at odds with what scientists understand about how children develop during the elementary school years and has led to a curriculum that is strangling children and teachers alike.

    In order to design a curriculum that teaches what truly matters, educators should remember a basic precept of modern developmental science: developmental precursors don’t always resemble the skill to which they are leading. For example, saying the alphabet does not particularly help children learn to read. But having extended and complex conversations during toddlerhood does. Simply put, what children need to do in elementary school is not to cram for high school or college, but to develop ways of thinking and behaving that will lead to valuable knowledge and skills later on.

    So what should children be able to do by age 12, or the time they leave elementary school? They should be able to read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay; know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers; detect patterns in complex phenomena; use evidence to support an opinion; be part of a group of people who are not their family; and engage in an exchange of ideas in conversation. If all elementary school students mastered these abilities, they would be prepared to learn almost anything in high school and college.

    Imagine, for instance, a third-grade classroom that was free of the laundry list of goals currently harnessing our teachers and students, and that was devoted instead to just a few narrowly defined and deeply focused goals.

    In this classroom, children would spend two hours each day hearing stories read aloud, reading aloud themselves, telling stories to one another and reading on their own. After all, the first step to literacy is simply being immersed, through conversation and storytelling, in a reading environment; the second is to read a lot and often. A school day where every child is given ample opportunities to read and discuss books would give teachers more time to help those students who need more instruction in order to become good readers.

    Children would also spend an hour a day writing things that have actual meaning to them — stories, newspaper articles, captions for cartoons, letters to one another. People write best when they use writing to think and to communicate, rather than to get a good grade.

    In our theoretical classroom, children would also spend a short period of time each day practicing computation — adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Once children are proficient in those basics they would be free to turn to other activities that are equally essential for math and science: devising original experiments, observing the natural world and counting things, whether they be words, events or people. These are all activities children naturally love, if given a chance to do them in a genuine way.

    What they shouldn’t do is spend tedious hours learning isolated mathematical formulas or memorizing sheets of science facts that are unlikely to matter much in the long run. Scientists know that children learn best by putting experiences together in new ways. They construct knowledge; they don’t swallow it.

    Along the way, teachers should spend time each day having sustained conversations with small groups of children. Such conversations give children a chance to support their views with evidence, change their minds and use questions as a way to learn more.

    During the school day, there should be extended time for play. Research has shown unequivocally that children learn best when they are interested in the material or activity they are learning. Play — from building contraptions to enacting stories to inventing games — can allow children to satisfy their curiosity about the things that interest them in their own way. It can also help them acquire higher-order thinking skills, like generating testable hypotheses, imagining situations from someone else’s perspective and thinking of alternate solutions.

    A classroom like this would provide lots of time for children to learn to collaborate with one another, a skill easily as important as math or reading. It takes time and guidance to learn how to get along, to listen to one another and to cooperate. These skills cannot be picked up casually at the corners of the day.

    The reforms suggested by the administration on Monday have the potential to help liberate our schools. But they can only do so much. Our success depends on embracing a curriculum focused on essential skills like reading, writing, computation, pattern detection, conversation and collaboration — a curriculum designed to raise children, rather than test scores.

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    The Couch-Potato Generation

    A Kaiser Family Foundation study found

     that U.S. kids ages 8 to 18 are consuming more media than ever before. According to the survey, children and teens are now using their phones, computers, TVs and video-game systems for a total of 7.5 hours a day, or 52.5 hours a week. (The authors explain that multitasking and dual-use devices--like cell phones that play video--push those figures even higher.) In the past decade, music listening has increased the most, up nearly an hour per day. The only leisure activity that has become less popular is reading.

    Daily media consumption for U.S. kids

    Watching TV: 270 min.

    Listening to music: 151 min.

    Talking on cell phones: 33 min.

    Playing video games: 73 min.

    Text messaging: 90 min.

    Nonschool computer use: 89 min.