Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hoboken Board of Education Passes Two Resolutions: Naming of a Permanent Superintendent and Authorizing Legal Action Against the State of New Jersey

A showdown is developing between some local Boards of Education and Gov. Chris Christie, whose latest move to control school spending by capping superintendents' salaries is upsetting some school board members.

The following are two resolutions recently passed by the Hoboken Board of Education centering on the issues surrounding their search for a permanent Superintendent of Schools. Resolution 1(A) essentially names Dr. Mark Toback as the next Superintendent of Schools beginning as soon as possible and through June 30, 2015. Resolution 1(B) authorizes the Board of Education's outside law firm to take "any and all" legal action to have the contract for the new Superintendent of Schools reviewed and approved.

To be clear, there is still no permanent Superintendent of Schools in Hoboken. The interim Superintendent has agreed to stay in the current position until January 31, 2011. If the legal matter is not resolved by then- the Board of Education can appoint any number of people within the district or any of their outside consultants they have hired to be an interim who hold the proper State of New Jersey certification. There is also the possibility, however remote, that the current administration may be coaxed to extend their stay until this matter is resolved.

The State of New Jersey legislature is expected to vote on Governor Christie's resolution in February of 2011.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kids First Spending Spree on Superintendent's Salary--Then and Now: Lawsuit Likely in Order to Challenge Governor's Guidelines

On Tuesday, November 23, 2010 County Superintendent Brennen refused to allow a contract by the Kids First Board of Education Super Majority-- leading the Board of Education to consider the filing of a lawsuit.

The results?

According to the Jersey Journal--- the Kids First Hoboken Board of Education is choosing to sue the State of New Jersey for the right to offer significantly more money than the Governor of New Jersey, the Interim Commissioner of Education, and the County Executive Superintendent would approve.

According to the blog Hoboken Patch, Kids First Board Trustee Theresa Minutillo was quoted as saying "Christie doesn't know what he's doing," Hoboken Patch also reports Trustee Minutillo followed up her assessment of the Governor as calling his freeze on all contract negotiations with superintendents "despicable."

Click here to see memo from the Interim Commissioner Hendricks and reach your own decisions.

What lies ahead is a possible costly lawsuit, a still unclear picture of who will be the permanent Superintendent of Schools, and a bewildered public perplexed by the differences between the rhetoric and the reality of claims of fiscal responsibility.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hoboken Board Chooses Sussex Administrator to be New Superintendent; parents meet him today; vote could come as early as tonight

As reported in The Jersey Journal by Katie Colaneri, The Hoboken Board of Education announced yesterday that Mark Toback, of Sussex County, will be the city's new superintendent of schools, assuming the Hudson County executive superintendent signs off on his contract. Meet-and-greet events for parents and community members to meet Toback are being held today at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. in the Hoboken High School cafeteria, 800 Clinton St.

If Toback's contract is approved, the new superintendent could be appointed tonight at a special meeting of the Board of Education. This meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.

The Jersey Journal also reports that Vito Gagliardi, the attorney for the Board of Education, refused to comment on the terms of Toback's contract when he was asked at a recent board meeting if it conformed to Gov. Chris Christie's proposed salary caps. Also, the Interim Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent's contracts will be voted upon for extension. Each can serve in the current capacity until June 30, 2011 in compliance with State pension guidelines. So, it will be interesting to see how long the transition period will last.

Mr. Toback must provide at least 60 days notice to his current employee although they can release him earlier if so desired. According to guidelines released by the state administration, the Hoboken superintendent can have a annual base salary no higher than $155,000 since there are only 2,445 students in the district (including preK students).

Picture: old meets new on Willow Terrace in Hoboken, NJ (November, 2010)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Salary Caps on New Superintendent Contracts to be Enforced

Acting Commissioner of Education Rochelle R. Hendricks recently directed all Executive County Superintendents to conduct a comprehensive review of all superintendent contracts (see PDF's below). Until such a review is completed, no contracts or contract extensions will be approved, and no contracts that expire after February 7, 2011, when proposed pay cap regulations will take effect, will be authorized unless they comply with the proposed regulations.

This information is timely as the Hoboken Board of Education has recently announced that there will be a Special Meeting at 7PM on Tuesday, November 23rd. The agenda item is the appointment of a Superintendent of Schools. Recall, the current Kids First Board of Education has been looking for a permanent Superintendent of Schools since July of 2009.

Since all Superintendent contracts must be approved by the County Superintendent- it will be necessary the County Superintendent to make sure that the Hoboken Board of Education complies with Governor Christie and Acting Commissioner Hendricks' recommendation for contract ceilings.

There is a pending legal battle/interpretation to all this as you cannot change current regulations via a memo, even if it is by a Governor. A number of legal and political battles are developing around New Jersey over the issue. It will be interesting to see if Hoboken joins in the challenge to the limit or complies. My sense is Hoboken will need to offer more than the $155,000 limit to retain a permanent Superintendent. This will put the Hudson County Executive Superintendent in a squeeze between the State of New Jersey and the Hoboken School District. Should be interesting to see how it develops this week.

Under Governor Christie’s plan, salaries would range from $120,000 for a K-8 district with fewer than 250 students to $175,000 for a superintendent in a district with as many as 10,000 students. Some allowances are available for merit. The ceiling in Hoboken based on Christie's guidelines would be no more than $155,000.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kids First Board of Education, Results Please?-- Superintendent SurveyMonkey Poll Results Not Communicated with Parents or Taxpayers of Hoboken

For a few weeks earlier this fall, the Kids First Board of Education majority placed a poll centered on the public's input for the next permanent Superintendent of the Hoboken School system. The URL to this survey was located at: www.surveymonkey.com/s/S2YKMFC

Evidently, if you go to that URL now you receive a message indicating that "This survey is currently closed. Thank you for your support." (see actual picture posted above).

Well, the idea of the survey was not support but INPUT. I think it is fair to ask what were the RESULTS of this survey and how is this information being used in order to fill the position of Superintendent. If one was skeptical, one might think that this survey was posted merely to: 1) make the public "think" they had input; 2) give the political group known as Kids First a justification for claiming they solicited public input, and to 3) reduce the input of low income parents without internet access.

Keep in mind, this was the SAME Kids First majority that criticized some polling techniques used to measure support for a charter school in Hoboken 2 years ago. That technique was far stronger from a statistical and representative standpoint that using Survey Monkey like the current Board of Education majority attempted to use.

Hypocrisy in anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised. -Leo Tolstoy

If is reasonable to ask the Kids First Board of Education the following questions:

1) Where are the results of this survey?

2) How are the results being used in the search for a Superintendent?

3) Is this the only input the Kids First Board of Education is seeking from the public? If so, doesn't it limit the input of many of our public school families who do not have a computer and internet access at home?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dr. Lorraine Cella Picked as New Superintendent in Edgewater

Some of you will remember Dr. Lorraine Cella as the former Principal of Hoboken High School. Dr. Cella, a PhD from Columbia University, led Hoboken High to two successive years as a Bronze Medal Award winner from US News and World Report. The high school during her time of leadership was also recognized as the second most improved high school in the State of New Jersey (2008) by New Jersey Monthly magazine. And, she increased the number of students taking the SAT's and pursuing a college education (see the end of this post for a full list of Dr. Cella's accomplishments while Principal of Hoboken High School).

How was Dr. Cella recognized or rewarded? A few weeks into the 2009-2010 school year (the first full school year with a Kids First Board of Education majority), Dr. Cella was informed she would likely not be getting tenure in Hoboken. Not surprisingly, no one I have questioned can remember the last time an administrator with Dr. Cella's accomplishments and qualifications did not get tenure in a district in the State of New Jersey. As if that was not enough, a few weeks later Dr. Cella was escorted out of the high school. This action remains one of the most egregious actions in the history of the Hoboken Board of Education. Read the Hoboken Reporter's account of what occurred by clicking HERE.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Cella still cherishes her time with the students of Hoboken High and the work she was able to accomplish with her faculty and staff during her 28 months in the district.

All the best to Dr. Cella as she transitions to her new position in Edgewater. Also, a tip of the hat to the Edgewater Board of Education for being able to conduct and conclude a search for a superintendent in a timely and professional manner. -Dr. Petrosino

From the Edgewater View, written by Maxim Almenas.

Edgewater — When Lorraine Cella takes the torch from outgoing Superintendent Ted Blumstein on Jan. 1, she expects to have a good gauge on what makes the district tick.

Although Cella will finish out her last two months as assistant superintendent with the South Plainfield Public Schools, she will use some vacation and personal days to get to know her new students, teachers and parents.

"I'm very excited and really looking forward to getting started," said Cella. "The school board seems to be absolutely wonderful people interested in education. Even during the interview, they were very good listeners."

"It's a good fit," she added. "They need to see me as a fit, but I also need to see myself as a good fit. That's what will make it work."

While Cella has worked in Middlesex and Hudson Counties, most of her professional experience has been in Bergen County. She was both a principal and a teacher at the Brookside Elementary School in the Westwood Regional district and the language arts department chairwoman and a teacher at the Tenafly Middle School. She was also the principal of Hoboken High School.

Last week, Cella, a Tenafly resident, accompanied Blumstein to the monthly Bergen County school superintendent roundtable meeting to meet other superintendents and to get the pulse of the issues affecting districts on the county and state level.

But the issues are not unique across county lines, according to Cella.

"I think the whole state is under similar challenges as is the nation in terms of education," Cella explained. "The challenges are there economically with budget caps, while meeting the needs of diverse students. In Edgewater, the population is increasing, so those are added challenges."

But Cella believes current English as a Second Language programs in Edgewater are running efficiently and that Blumstein has done "a solid job," which will make her adjustments that much easier.

"I feel very lucky in ways to come in with things very stable, but I have opportunities to look for improvement," Cella added. "There are always areas to improve."

Despite the economic challenges, Cella plans to work closely with the school board by prioritizing and allocating resources, based on district goals, while "keeping in mind the needs of the children, which is first and foremost" said Cella.

Cella is aware of the relationship between the Edgewater and Leonia districts and plans to pursue additional methods of helping elementary school students in Edgewater feel more comfortable as they shift into the Leonia middle school and high school.

A former colleague of Leonia Superintendent Bernard Josefsberg when he was vice principal at the Tenafly Middle School, Cella feels that connection should make that portion of her transition much easier.

"There's one word for Bernie – brilliant," Cella said, adding that Josefsberg was one of her mentors when he was hired to oversee the English Department at the time.

"He's the one who taught me how about how to ask the kind of questions to get people to think in ways of getting things done. I learned that from him," Cella explained. "In some sense I'm forever thankful our paths crossed once and here they will be crossing again."

Cella was to be officially introduced on Oct. 28, at 7:30 p.m. during the school board meeting at the Eleanor Van Gelder School.

Full article: 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
  • Monday, November 8, 2010

    Ravitch on how wrong 'Superman' really is

    This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch on her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website.

    Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement.

    Dear Deborah,
    I reviewed "Waiting for 'Superman'" for The New York Review of Books. I thought the movie was very slick, very professional, and very propagandistic. It is one-sided and very contemptuous of public education. Notably, the film portrayed not a single successful regular public school, and its heroic institutions were all charter schools.

    There are many inaccuracies in the movie.

    One that I describe in my review is Davis Guggenheim's claim that 70 percent of 8th grade students read "below grade level." He has a graphic where state after state is shown to have only a small proportion of students reading "on grade level" or "proficient." The numbers are based on data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

    But Guggenheim is wrong. NAEP doesn't report grade levels. It reports achievement levels, and these do not correspond to grade levels. Nor does he understand the NAEP achievement levels or just how demanding NAEP's "proficiency" level really is. To score below "proficient" on NAEP does NOT mean "below grade level."

    NAEP has four achievement levels.

    The top level is called "advanced," which represents the very highest level of student performance. Students who are "advanced" probably are at an A+; if they were taking an SAT, they would likely score somewhere akin to 750-800. These are the students who are likely to qualify for admission to our most selective universities.

    Then comes "proficient," which represents solid academic performance, equivalent to an A or a very strong B. Guggenheim assumes that any student who is below "proficient" cannot read at "grade level." He is wrong.

    The third level is "basic." These are students who have achieved partial mastery of the knowledge and skills necessary to be proficient. This would be equivalent, I believe, to a grade of C. Many (if not most) states use NAEP's "basic" as their own definition of "proficient." This is because they know that it is unrealistic to expect all students to be "A" students.

    "Below basic" is the category that appears to be what Guggenheim means by his reference to "below grade level." But in 8th grade reading, 25 percent of students are below basic, not 70 percent.

    If Guggenheim knew what he was talking about, he might have said that 70 percent of 8th grade students were unable to score the equivalent of an A, but that would not be an alarming figure. It would not be a very dramatic story had he said, in sonorous tones, "25 percent of our 8th grade students are 'below basic' in reading, and that figure includes students who are learning English and students with disabilities."

    He also erred in setting up charter schools as the singular answer to the nation's education problems, especially since he admits that only one in five charters gets "amazing results." The actual number that get amazing results is far smaller.

    In the CREDO study to which he refers, it is 17 percent, not 20 percent, closer to one in six, that outperform a matched neighborhood public school. Not all of those one in six get "amazing results," just better results than a nearby comparable school. I was told by Professor Ed Fuller at the University of Texas, who studies Texas charters, that only a couple dozen charters out of 300 in the state get "amazing results," and that many more get "abysmal" results. But you won't hear anything about that in this polemical film.

    There are excellent charter schools, as there are excellent public schools. I saw one last week when I visited the KIPP flagship school in Houston, a K-12 school set on 35 acres. But it polarizes the national discussion to treat public education as a failed institution, as this film does.

    The aggressive movement to lionize charters and to demonize public schools is scary because there is so much money and power pushing this agenda. I urge you to read this account by Barbara Miner, who is deeply suspicious of the billionaire hedge fund managers and foundations behind this movement.

    It disturbs me that the CEO of Participant Media, one of the main producers of the "Waiting for 'Superman' " film, was previously the CEO of a chain of for-profit post-secondary institutions, a sector that is now under fire in Congress for its shoddy recruitment practices and its high default rates on federally funded student loans. The man behind the other producer, Walden Media, donates heavily to conservative think-tanks, which promote privatization, vouchers, and school choice.

    How socially useful is it to destroy public confidence in an essential public institution? Shouldn't we work together to improve the schools, rather than handing over our children to the private sector? I know it is the vogue now to privatize public libraries, public hospitals, public parks, prison facilities, and other public sector institutions. What will be next on the chopping block? But why give away public schools to the private sector? The private sector does not get better results on average than the public sector, not (according to NAEP) for black students or Hispanic students or urban students or low-income students. But even if it did, we should be wary of undermining one of the bedrock agencies of our democracy. This meretricious film offers fake answers for real problems.


    Picture: Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. In addition, she is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.