Monday, September 30, 2013

Kids First's campaign claim of "continued educational improvement for all children in the district" translates to Hoboken High School being ranked 344th of 352 High Schools in NJ; designation by the NJDOE as a "District in Need of Improvement" for the first time in history; and Connors Elementary School being ranked 1,418 out of 1,438 elementary schools in the State of NJ

Kids First incumbents seeking Re-Election
based on their claim of "continued educational
improvement for all children in the district"
Rhetoric is easy. So is clapping at Board of Education meetings at any morsel of "good news" that gets presented by district leaders. Public Relations is easy as well. Take the good news and present it to people wanting to believe they are making the right decision in entrusting the future of their children to you. It is also fairly easy to encourage and welcome one or two articulate parents to get up at a Board meeting to praise all the "wonderful" things taking place in the schools. 

Some things are challenging and difficult. One thing that comes to mind is being evaluated by independent outside entities with no particular agenda or grudge. This has happened yet again to the political group known as "Kids First" and an outside evaluation of their stewardship of the Hoboken Public Schools. In this case, secondary education, specifically taking place at Hoboken High School. New Jersey Department of Education data was obtained by the Newark Star Ledger along a number of criteria including state assessments, national assessments, and some additional factors to derive a grading system for all the high schools in the state of New Jersey. Similar, but different, from the very popular rankings done by US News and World Report

Under Kids First's self proclaimed "continued educational improvement for all children in the district" and boldly stating that "the progress is real" during their leadership, Hoboken High School fell 26 positions from 2008 to 2012 on the Newark Star Ledger High School grading index. 

As the data indicates, Hoboken High School was the only high school in Hudson County to report a drop in the Newark Star Ledger High School grading index from 2008 to 2012. Every other high school made gains from North Bergen H. S. (.4 points) to Henry Synder H.S. (62.5 points). 

Hoboken High School's combined SAT score of 1159 ranks it 326 of 352 high schools in NJ. More disappointing perhaps is that combined SAT scores have declined while Kids First have been leading the district (down as much as 20 points since the 06-07 school year). 

The percentage change in 2008 to 2012 scores ( -3.7%) ranks Hoboken High School 344 of 352 high schools in NJ on the Newark Star Ledger High School grading index.

Hoboken High School's Grade of "D" was assigned to 21.5% of high schools in NJ and to 2 other high schools in Hudson County. According to the Newark Star Ledger, a grade of D indicates, "Parents beware of these schools. Test scores are below average, and there is little academic growth."

    '08 Score
    '12 Score
Pct. Change
Henry Snyder H.S.
University Academy Cs
Lincoln H.S.
Liberty High
Harrison H.S.
James J. Ferris H.S.
William L. Dickinson H.S.
Kearny H.S.
Memorial H.S.
Mcnair Academic H.S.
Bayonne H.S.
Secaucus H.S.
County Prep High School
Weehawken H.S.
High Tech High School
North Bergen H.S.
Hoboken H.S.

What makes these results even more discouraging is that it was only a few years ago under different Board of Education leadership that Hoboken High School was recognized as the second most improved high school in the state of New Jersey by New Jersey Monthly and received back to back Bronze Medal Awards from US News and World Report. Both New Jersey Monthly and US News and World Report, like the Newark Star Ledger, are independent, outside entities with no particular political agenda (note: unfortunately, by August of 2012, Hoboken High School dropped to the bottom 50 high schools in New Jersey according to the SAME New Jersey Monthly magazine). 

So, in less than 5 years under the leadership of the Kids First political group, Hoboken High School has gone from national recognition and exceptional statewide improvement to being ranked 344th out of 352 high schools in New Jersey. How could this happen? Teachers are the same. Can't blame them. The kids are more or less the same, can't blame them. What has changed? Well, under the Board leadership of Kids First, Hoboken High School has seen 4 different principals since February of 2010. Two of them were first year principals and another was a retired interim. Dr. Lorraine Cella, the one with the Columbia University doctorate was treated in a very unprofessional manner and eventually a lawsuit was settled out of court. Instability in school leadership is potentially a problem. Concurrently, the Hoboken School District has had 3 superintendents in the same time period. Instability in district leadership is potentially a problem. Other decisions by Kids First including elimination of the Demarest Alternative School, elimination of the Saturday U gifted and talented program, deemphasis on the nationally recognized International Baccalaureate Program were also likely contributing factors. 

Some may argue that these are only test scores and there is much more to education than simply state scores. I agree wholeheartedly. That is why it is also discouraging to see that the graduation rate at Hoboken High School ranks among the lowest in Hudson County. Its also discouraging that on the latest NJ School Report Card which attempts to give a comprehensive analysis of a school we read
This school's academic performance significantly lags in comparison to schools across the state. Additionally, its academic performance lags in comparison to its peers. This school' college and career readiness lags in comparison to schools across the state. Additionally, its college and career readiness is about average when compared to its peers. This schools's graduation and post-secondary performance lags in comparison to schools across the state. Additionally, its graduation and post-secondary readiness lags in comparison to its peers. - NJ Dept of Education
More evidence? Well, a few months ago in February 2013 the latest Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) results were released for the Hoboken School District. Unfortunately, Instruction and Program continues to be a problematic area for the district- this time receiving a failing score of 68%, down from 69% over a year ago (80% is passing). This is especially disconcerting since the first full QSAC assessment after my curriculum writing assignment was completed in the school district led to a score of 87% in Spring 2010. Again, going from 87% to 68% stretches the limits of "continued educational improvement for all children in the district" to the point of uncomfortableness for me. I believe it boarders on misrepresentation and ignorance at best and outright deception and lying at worst. 

After 53 months in total control of the Hoboken Schools, an independent rating organization now ranks Connors Elementary School 1,418 out of 1,438 elementary schools in the State of New Jersey under the leadership of Kids First.  Apparently, little improvement has been made since the December 2011 CAPA Report conducted by the NJ Department of Education on Connors. The CAPA Report was completed 31 months after Kids First took control of the Hoboken Board of Education.

Kids First also states in their political literature that "the progress is real" a (not so) subtle insinuation that perhaps progress in the past was not real. To this end, a letter was written to the Hoboken Reporter in November of 2012 concerning allegations and rumors referenced by some Kids First members at public debates and at Board meetingsTo date, there has been no official response to refute any aspect of the letter. 

At this point in the game, the dubious record of Kids First is beyond reasonable debate. The only people who could defend their leadership at this point are a minority of core political allies, uncritical friends, and family members. The only strategy for Kids First is to convince people they inherited a failed school district (they didn't, the data is indisputable in this area) or to distance themselves from the many educational decisions they made via the district leaders they hired.

"Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job..."

Photo: Published in an online story by The Jersey Journal/NJ.COM by Charles Hack, September 21, 2013 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hoboken Reporter: School district to young Hurricane Sandy heroes: Class dismissed! High school EMT’s helped out ambulance squad, outraged over program’s cancellation--- Dean DeChairo

Happier Days for the HHS EMT- Announcing a Partnership with the
Jersey City Medical Center in 2011
The controversy over the cancellation of the Hoboken High School EMT program continues to gain momentum around the city. This past week there was a featured story in the Hoboken Reporter. I am including some excerpts but readers are encouraged to read the full article (and comments) by clicking HERE. -Dr. Petrosino 

The long-running Hoboken High School Emergency Response Team – a group of students certified as first responders and emergency medical technicians who assisted city emergency volunteers in the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy – was disbanded by the district at the beginning of the school year, much to the chagrin of its members and alumni. 

The club allowed students to be certified as first responders during their freshman and sophomore years of high school, before training to be a certified technician, or EMT. During their junior and senior years, the EMTs would use their own ambulance to assist the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Squad (HVAC) in answering 911 calls around the city, and all calls that came from Hoboken public schools. 

“I think the city has always cared more about what we do than the school district did,” said Juan Antigua, 18, a senior and four-year veteran of the team. “Sandy underscored it. The city asked us to march in the Memorial Day parade, but the district cancelled our program.”

The team helped evacuate Hoboken University Medical Center before the storm hit last October and answered several hundred 911 calls during the day of the hurricane and in the week that followed.

Although all high school students were given the option of staying home, the entire team, and some alumni, showed up every day, said Antigua. 
An issue with numbers

According to Superintendant of Schools Mark Toback and high school Principal Robin Piccapietra, the program had been declining in participation levels for some time and was too complicated to be treated simply as an elective.

If it were to be done properly, Toback argued, it would have to be treated as a vocational program that would require approval and oversight from the state Department of Education. Hoboken High School, Toback said, is not a vocational school. 

“The overall problem is that what they were trying to do was run a vocational program as an elective,” he said in an interview. “I don’t feel comfortable running a program like this without approval.”

Furthermore, declining enrollment was an issue, Piccapietra said. Antigua claimed that 11 students signed up for the elective last spring, when club recruitment usually takes place. Schedules mailed to students over the summer included the EMT program, but when they arrived on the first day of school, they were given new schedules, this time omitting the program. 

“When we asked what had happened, we were told not enough kids had signed up, and so the program was thrown out,” said Antigua. 

So the students went out and collected several more recruits willing to participate, submitting a list of 30 to Piccapietra’s office. On Thursday, Antigua said, Piccapietra told him it wasn’t good enough. 

“I looked down the list, and it was clear it wasn’t going to work,” the principal said in a phone interview. “I appreciated their efforts, but there were 18 or 19 seniors on the list who wouldn’t get anything out of the program, five who played sports and would be too busy, which leaves you basically with the same number of kids as originally.”

The students and Toback have disputed the original number. Toback said only seven students had signed up, while Antigua insists on 11. He said that the average enrollment since 2001 was around 10. 

Caused a dangerous situation

Another issue is who will handle 911 calls in the schools. Last week, Antigua said, a medical emergency in the high school turned dangerous when, apparently unaware that the program was terminated, the EMT team was called, but was legally blocked from providing care.

The HVAC buses were busy, and a McCabe ambulance had to come. 

“It was kind of astounding,” said Antigua. “I was standing there with all of my training and I couldn’t do anything.” 

Perhaps the most important issue, to the students at least, is how missing their final year in the program will affect their futures. Antigua, for one, was counting on his full EMT qualification to land him a full-ride scholarship to Montclair State University, which he said has an emergency services program and provides funding to pre-certified students. 

“I was looking at a full ride to college and a job afterwards,” he said. “And now I don’t have either.”

Piccapietra said that the school’s guidance counselors would work specially with Antigua and other team members to fulfill their academic and career goals.

Read more: Hudson Reporter - School district to young Hurricane Sandy heroes Class dismissed High school EMT s helped out ambulance squad outraged over program s cancellation 

Photo: Hoboken Reporter 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bergen County, NJ Votes "No" to State Standardized Testing


Opt Out of State Standardized Tests - New York This should make your morning java much sweeter!! A WIN for ALL who are in this mission! WAY to Go to Bergen County, NJ! I was sent this via email and thought you might like to read this news over your morning java!! 

Evidently the Bergen County, NJ has put together a resolution against CCSS & Assessments! 

Resolution in Opposition to Common Core Standards and Assessments 
Adopted by Both Democrats and Republicans 
Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders
September 17, 2013 
(The text of the Resolution is both attached and copied below these comments.) 

With sincere and heartfelt appreciation, please join me in thanking all of our Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders for their unanimous vote earlier tonight opposing Common Core Standards and Assessments, and, in particular, Vice-Chairwoman Joan Voss (D) and Freeholder John Mitchell (R) who jointly sponsored and actively lobbied for this important Resolution! Had you been there to hear all their wonderful comments, (and I hope to share the entirety with you soon as such must be circulated - not only in New Jersey - but across the USA), you would have been as overwhelmed as I with thankfulness for their passion, understanding, and commitment to the wise education of our children. Further, the date of this passage is significant: on September 17, 1787, the Constitution of the United States was adopted. The very wording of this Resolution honors that as Common Core violates Constitutional law by granting the United States power that the Constitution reserves for the States and we the people. 

It has been my extraordinary privilege to appear before this august body on several occasions sharing a multitude of information concerning the topic of this Resolution. In each appearance, I have experienced their utmost respect, sincere concern, and obvious careful examination of all presented. It is impressive to note that members of both Parties came together, in unanimity, to oppose this unconstitutional, expensive takeover and dumbing down of the education of children. 

Joining me tonight to express our appreciation was Kim Barron and Susan Winton. Kim's son, Jordan, a student in 8th grade, was our *star* witness! He spoke with ease, experience, and excellence regarding why he opposes Common Core. He had also been our *star* when he testified before the New Jersey State Board of Education and at a "Stop Common Core" press conference this month in Trenton with Kim, Nora Brower, Barbara and Bill Eames, Jan Lenox, Michelle Mellon, and Roseann Salanitri. 

Please thank the Freeholders: 
David L. Ganz, Freeholder Chairman, 201-336-6280 
Joan M. Voss, Freeholder Vice-Chairwoman, 201-336-6279 (Sponsor of Resolution) 
John D. Mitchell, Freeholder, 201-336-6277 (Sponsor of Resolution) 
John A. Felice, Freeholder, 201-336-6275
Maura DeNicola, Freeholder, 201-336-6276
Steven A. Tanelli, Freeholder, 201-336-6278
Tracy Silna Zur, Freeholder, 201-336-6281

SEPTEMBER 17, 2013

WHEREAS, the Board of Chosen Freeholders believes that the Common Core State Standards initiative is not representative of Bergen County’s residents but rather developed by non-governmental organizations and unelected boards outside of Bergen County.

WHEREAS, the Common Core is financed by private foundation funds and is therefore influenced by private interest and not representative of our voters.

WHEREAS, the Common Core violates privacy laws by requiring storage and sharing of private student and family data without individuals consent.

WHEREAS, the New Jersey Education Association urges the State to “slow down a headlong rush to over-rely on student test scores to evaluate teachers in New Jersey”.

WHEREAS, the Common Core has been repudiated by both Republicans and Democrats and it has been stated that curriculum reform should be done at the state level.

WHEREAS, the Common Core violates Constitutional and Federal Law by granting the United States powers which the Constitution reserves for the States, or to the people.

WHEREAS, the New Jersey General Assembly and New Jersey Senate have introduced legislation to further investigate the principals of The Common Core Initiative, and that The Bergen Board of Chosen Freeholders fully supports the passage of *A4197 and *S2973.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders opposes The Common Core Initiative; asks Congress and the Administration to withdraw support and discontinue funding The Common Core Standards Initiative.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this Resolution shall be delivered to Senator Robert Menendez, Senator Jeffrey Chiesa, Governor Chris Christie, Congressman William Pascrell, Congressman Albio Sires, Congressman Scott Garrett, and the entire State Legislative Delegation from Bergen County.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Majors That Pay You Back- Your choice of major can have a big impact on your post-graduation earnings

Majors That Pay You Back
Majors That Pay You Back Methodology
Annual pay for bachelor’s graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting graduates have two years of experience; mid-career graduates have 15 years. See full list and methodology 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Back to school- Letter to Hoboken Reporter by Hoboken Board of Education Member Peter Biancamano

Police investigate a homicide on Jefferson and 3rd St. in Hoboken.
September 10, 2013. Ashlee Espinal/The Jersey Journal
Portions of the following letter were submitted to the Hoboken Reporter by Board member Peter Biancamano. The Hoboken public schools have been in session for about a week. In this letter, Mr. Biancamano discusses some recent successes and challenges at the Board of Education. -Dr. Petrosino 

Dear Editor:

September marks the beginning of the school year. As a member of the Hoboken Board of Education for the last three years, I have learned many things. One thing is that there are very few easy solutions. I have also learned to work with people who hold very different points of view from my own. Most times we have been able to agree on educational issues. But on some issues, we will never see eye to eye. I disagreed with the 4 percent increase in school taxes this year because the ability to vote on the school budget had been taken away from the public by the same people who felt that taxpayers should pay more. Interestingly, the rise in school taxes was conspicuously absent from Mayor Zimmer’s correspondence which accompanied our tax statements this summer.

Cooperation has yielded some positive results at the Board of Education. Last year I presented a goal to cap legal fees for the year. I am proud to report that, with the cap in place, we not only met the goal but legal fees decreased nearly thirty percent below the cap. Our overall goal should move the district even closer to the state average. I am also proud that, after many interim hires, the members of the board together were able to agree on a permanent business administrator. This is important for bringing stability to the business office.

Such successes, while small, are steps toward improving the district. Yet, many areas remain where we can continue to do better. I hope that this is yet another year when our students and teachers can build upon the progress that they have been working to achieve. As always, I welcome anyone to contact me via email with any questions or concerns.

Peter Biancamano
Hoboken Board of Education Member

Read more: Hudson Reporter - Back to school 

Monday, September 16, 2013

If Mack Brown Were On the Tenure Track-- Austin American-Statesman 09/13/2013

Darryl Royal Stadium- Opening Game 2013 Season 
Austin American-Statesman Posted: 12:55 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013  Print Edition September 13, 2013
By Tom Palaima – Regular Contributor
The big questions in Austin right now are what grade do we give Mack Brown for his performance as head coach of the University of Texas football team, and who gives him his grade?
Sportswriters are giving out C’s, D’ and F’s for play on the field. Here let me propose that it would be much better if decisions about coaches, expenditures, admissions and academic standards were made with a wider range of voices, perspectives and values.
Athletics decision-making has long operated in a silo. Regents, a sports-enthusiast president, other insiders and a few carefully chosen and easily outvoted outsiders decide on hiring and firing and set spending priorities in a self-operating sports enterprise.
What if decision-making in athletics at UT was modeled on the university’s system for promotion and tenure ? The promotion and tenure system obtains broad perspectives from inside and outside the university. It involves the tenured faculty and university administration at many levels of authority. It virtually eliminates decisions based on cronyism, except at the highest levels, where such decisions are at least transparent. It allows at every stage for fact-finding and debate.
Before you say it just can’t work, hear me out. And imagine your own analogies to UT big-time sports.
Assistant professors apply for tenure and promotion generally in their sixth active year at the university. During their first five years, committees and chairpersons or directors within their units have assessed their annual reports and given them specific advice on how to improve in the year ahead.
In the promotion and tenure year, full dossiers relating to research, teaching and service are compiled and closely reviewed. Five or more evaluations of research are sought from distinguished scholars worldwide, chosen to be knowledgeable about a candidate’s areas of specialization but unbiased. Long gone are the days, for the most part, of the good-old-boy system, when going to the finest schools and knowing the right people assured tenure.
Chairpersons or directors and committees of tenured professors judge each case separately within units. Everyone knows the stakes are high for the candidates and for the future of their units. Budgets are tight. Investing in the right person is crucial.
The two departmental decisions are scrutinized by a college-wide committee of professors and by the dean within each college. Their two college-level decisions then go to the provost and president. Not much gets missed or overlooked, but appeal safeguards are in place in case the process is flawed.
We complain about decision-making by large committees. Yet UT has made real progress every 25 years because of broad-based committees like the Commission of 125. In the promotion and tenure process, stacking committees upon committees and including the independent opinions of chairpersons, program directors and deans really does work.
It was recently reported to professors that the prevailing philosophy in the provost’s and president’s offices is that UT is not in the business of awarding tenure and promotion to B+ professors. We were also told that research productivity is the bottom line. Mentoring, advising, award-winning teaching, university, professional and community service won’t get assistant professors tenure if they have not gotten an A in research now and for the predictable future.
These are hard standards. I have seen them used. The assistant professors who received the Texas Exes Jean Holloway Teaching Award the year before and after I received it in 2004 were denied tenure. One was a brilliant linguist in Germanic Studies, the other a government professor.
Imagine a similar process and standards applied to Mack Brown. We would discount academic matters like six-year graduation rates of players and the heavy use of tutors. We would discount as outreach service his fundraising and recruiting skills and Longhorn Network appearances. The bottom line would be productivity on game days.
What grade would a broad-based system of evaluators outside the sports silo give a coach who recruits A+ athletes and coaches them in A++ facilities to play against mostly B and lower-grade teams? He chooses his own assistants who are paid A+ salaries.
Right now the problem is defense. But in 2008, 2009, 2010 under Will Muschamp, then-anointed successor to Brown, the Longhorns had the top defense in the Big 12.
The silo did not offer tenure to A+ Muschamp. Instead, they gave a $2 million raise to Brown, who has only coached two teams in his entire career to conference titles.
Would a promotion and tenure-style committee make and stand by the same decision?
Palaima is a classics professor at the University of Texas at Austin.