Thursday, June 5, 2014

"I'm telling you...what we were given and what has been built up in this district since 2009 has been amazing…" -HBOE Trustee Ruth McAllister (Part I)

A key component of "the Big Lie" is to convince people things were much worse before you got there and that there has been improvement since you arrived. Hoboken Board of Education member McAllister has ended recent Board meetings by telling the audience how bad things were "in 2009" and how "amazing" things are now- its essential to maintain the Big Lie. Let's see... 

I was the Assistant to the Superintendent of Schools in Hoboken from 2007-2009. So, I have an interest in how the district is doing and what is said about the district. I was surprised that at a March 2014 meeting of the Hoboken Board of Education, Board member Ruth McAllister was quoted as saying "I'm telling you what we were given and what has been built up in this district since 2009 has been amazing…". This quote was part of a much longer statement she made at the meeting describing to the audience he dismal state of the district when she first came in back in 2009 and the condition of the district today in 2014 (see full text below). 

Well, Board member McAllister is certainly entitled to her opinion but she isn't necessarily entitled to her facts. We can look at any number of issues and now compare how things are now to how they were in 2009 when she and the political group known as "Kids First" gained control of the Hoboken Board of Education. In order to be as objective as possible and stay away from opinions, public relations, and "spin", let's look at Hoboken High School before Trustee McAllister and her colleagues took control of the Board and after. 

By 2014 and after over 5 years of complete control of the Hoboken Board of Education, Hoboken High School had received no further recognition from US News and World Report, it was recently ranked 298th our of 328 high schools by New Jersey Monthly and received a grade of "D" by the Newark Star Ledger with the caveat "Parents beware of these schools. Test scores are below average, and there is little academic growth."

Under Kids First leadership HHS's New Jersey Monthly ranking
of NJ high schools have dropped while % minority
enrolled has remained constant

How did this happen? Well, recall that Dr. Loraine Cella was released in a very controversial manner in February of 2010 (this resulted in a lawsuit which was settled out of court). What followed next was the decision to have a retired interim high school principal at Hoboken High School for 2 years. This was followed by an inexperienced first year principal from the suburbs for 1 year and finally an in district hire. The decision to have 4 principals in less than 4 years was a decision made by Trustee McAllister and her Kids First majority along with their superintendents. Instability at the principal level has very real consequences for students. 

Under Ruth McAllister and Kids First HHS has the
2nd lowest graduation rate in Hudson County

During this same period of time, the high school has undergone at least 4 different configurations. In 2009 there was an Alternative High School (housed in Demarest) and Hoboken High School (configuration 1). Under Kids First, the Alternative High School was dissolved and merged into Hoboken High School (configuration 2). Next, it was decided to put the 8th grade in the same building as Hoboken High School (configuration 3) and finally it was decided to put the 7th and 8th grade in the same building as Hoboken High School (configuration 4) now known as HJSHS-High School Program and HJSHS-Junior High School Program. Again, four different configurations under 4 different principals does not provide stability or create an environment for sustained academic growth. 

Furthermore, under Trustee McAllister and her colleagues in December 2013 the Hoboken school district was ranked as the 9th most violent high school in New Jersey. This finding is much more disturbing, when one looks at the last five years of the Violence and Vandalism reports (see below). One senses that what has been "built up in this district since 2009" is much less than amazing. 

Here is Ruth McAllister and Kids First's record
on Violence and Vandalism since 2009

Another example of the "amazing" things Ruth McAllister
and Kids First have done in Hoboken since 2009 

As I said at the beginning of this post, Board Trustee McAllister is certainly entitled to her opinion of the condition of the district in 2009 and today. But, personally, I would think her time would be better spent looking at ways to remediate the current situation at the high school rather than present ill-infomred, biased, and fallacious tales of the district she and her Kids First members inherited in 2009. 

Text of Trustee's McAllister's statement: 

(56:20) Your biggest item is always personnel, it always it. So when we entered into this budget cycle and we knew that it was going to be tight most of us knew what it was going to mean and for those….pause….Mr. Enrico and for the teachers who are going to watch this and school employees who are going to watch this I just hope  the next couple of weeks aren't too rough because a lot of people are going to be worried and a lot of people are going to be scared and..I think that..I was always raised that know…you temper your attitude and your demenaor to the appropriate for the occassion and quite frankly that means you are not gleeful at a funeral and when there's a situation where people's jobs are on the line..people who have skill sets that really don't meet a wide variety of career choices that…a…sarcasm and insipedness is an inappropriate way to discuss any item. So…with that I'd also like to mention what actually has happened in this district over the last five years. I was elected in April of 2009. Prior to April of 2009 there was a hugh..and the whole reason why I ran was because of the whole "to do" about spending a tremendous amount of money on a new program. And the first thing I did in April of 2009…ah…(gestures to the audience) other board members (gestures to the audience) that are no longer (gestures to the audience) are here was that we had to approve layoffs. So we actually had a Board of Education that was in place and a superintendent that was in place that was talking about an expenditure of $750,000 on a program that didn't even happen when they knew full well that there was going to be a list of layoffs. There were also 525 employees in the district at that time in the district not there's 400 employees. And you know those weren't teachers between that 525 number and what we have here but that list of teachers for layoffs that were put before us in April of 2009 were all teachers and we spent the next (gestures) year and a half- whatever it was-- laying off non classroom personnel that were unnecessary. That's what was here before 2009. That's what was going on in this district in April of 2009. And no disrespect for any teachers that worked on the curriculum project before 2009 because as a business person I know that the leadership on the project is what determines the quality of the work and the Hoboken Curriculum Project that we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on prior to April of 2009 was unusable when we had a certified person in here looking at the curriculum and we have spent the last…10, 11, 12, 13….we pretty much spent the last works rewriting work that was done and once again absolutely should not be a discredit to the teachers that were working on the original project becasue the leadership is what determines whether or not what is created is usable. So this was the kind of thing that we walked in on in April of 2009….what was here when I got here were hard working teachers working in silos without strong administration behind them because their administration couldn't do what they needed them to do because they were told what to do. So, teachers working hard without materials and without…and doing the best job they possible could. I'm telling you what we were given and what has been built up in this district since 2009 has been amazing…and what I get in teachers thanking me now, thanking me for the supplies, happy because they've learned what it means to have a good administration- that they have mentors in place to help them and that's what has changed. To come up with so little experience in district and talk of nothing is being done is shameful…and to me why anyone who has been speaking like that about this district…why would they move their child into this district, it just doesn't make any sense….so I'm suspect, just like the other explosion I had if this counts as an explosion