Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Did you know there’s a school board election in five weeks? -by Carlos Davis

Hoboken Waterfront- September 29, 2014
The following article by Carlos Davis appeared in the Hoboken Reporter on September 28. Click here to access the article in its entirety.  -Dr. Petrosino

It’s unusually quiet for election season in Hoboken. In merely five weeks, three of the nine seats on the Hoboken Board of Education will be contested during the Nov. 4 general election. The three incumbents are running again, and their challengers have recently stepped up their critiques at school board meetings.

One reason for the tepid campaigning may be that the election has no chance of changing who controls the school board. Six of the nine current trustees were elected on the Kids First slate, which is associated with Mayor Dawn Zimmer. Two of the incumbents running are opponents of Kids First and the third has been allied with them, although she didn’t technically run on their slate.

That trustee, Monica Stromwall, was unanimously appointed by the board this past February after Carmelo Garcia resigned his seat to serve as a newly elected state Assemblyman. Stromwall has consistently voted with the Kids First majority since then, but will be running with her own slate called Parents for Progress, along with Sharyn Angley and Antonio Gray.

In fact, this year, no one is running under the “Kids First” banner–possibly because of division within the group’s ranks over policy toward the district’s charter schools. The Kids First members on the school board have opposed the expansion of the HoLa dual language charter school, while some past Kids First supporters, including the mayor, have been in favor of charter schools.

The two other incumbents running this year, Peter Biancamano and Frances Rhodes-Kearns, have often filled the role of the loyal opposition against Kids First, questioning the decisions of the majority at school board meetings. 

From an initial field of 11, the number of candidates for the school board dwindled to eight after Barbara Reyes, Britney Montgomery, and Jackie Dowd Prince dropped out.

Biancamano and Rhodes-Kearns are teaming up to form the Education for all Children slate. A third slate, the Parents for Change slate, is composed of two former board candidates, Brian Murray (a frequent Kids First critic) and Patricia Waiters, as well as Lynn Danzker.

The Board of Education Candidates’ Forum will take place at 7 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2014 at the Elks Lodge at 1005 Washington St. For those who cannot attend, the forum will be videotaped and may be viewed later on Hoboken’s Cablevision Channel 78.

Read more: Hudson Reporter - Did you know there s a school board election in five weeks Three of nine seats up charter schools and new superintendent at issue 

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Smartest Kids in the World- Amanda Ripley

New York Times bestseller, The Smartest Kids was selected by The Economist, The Washington Post, The New York Times and Amazon.com as one of the most notable books of 2013.
In a handful of nations, virtually all children are learning to make complex arguments and solve problems they’ve never seen before. They are learning to think, in other words. What is it like to be a child in these new education superpowers?
In a global quest to find answers for our own children, author and Time journalist Amanda Ripley follows three Americans embedded in these countries for one year. Kim, 15, raises $10,000 so she can move from Oklahoma to Finland; Eric, 18, exchanges an upscale Minnesota suburb for a booming South Korean city; and Tom, 17, leaves a historic Pennsylvania village for a gritty city in Poland.
Their stories, along with groundbreaking research into what works worldwide, reveal a pattern of startling transformation: none of these places had many “smart” kids a few decades ago. They had changed. Teaching had become more serious; parents had focused on what mattered; and children had bought into the promise of education. A reporting tour de force, The Smartest Kids is a book aboutbuilding resilience in a new world—as told by the young Americans with the most at stake.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hoboken School Board Picks New Interim Superintendent

Pier A Park- Hoboken, NJ 
The Hoboken Board of Education has appointed Dr. Richard J. Brockel to serve as interim superintendent until a permanent replacement is found. Brockel will serve on a contract basis until Aug. 11, when outgoing superintendent Mark Toback officially leaves to take over as head of the Wayne public school district.

The hiring of Dr. Brockel is the 5th superintendent of schools since May of 2009 (Superintendent Raslowsky: 2007-2009; Interim Superintendent Carter 2009-2011; Interim Superintendent Rusak 2011; Superintendent Mark Toback 2011-2014; and Interim Superintendent Brockel 2014- present). 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Disaggregation of District Wide Data by Grade Reveals an Interesting Story in Hoboken, NJ

The Hoboken School District in Hoboken, NJ is currently engaged in a lawsuit with both the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) as well as the Hola Dual Language Charter School. The core of the lawsuit centers on a claim by the Hoboken Board of Education that charter schools in Hoboken are contributing to segregation and thus the NJDOE should consider 1) repealing the original charter for the Dual Language School and/or 2) should  deny the expansion of the Hola Dual Language Charter School from K-6 to K-8.

A look at 2010-11 disaggregated data seems to indicate that the Hoboken Public Schools start out with 70% of its students who do NOT come from families who qualify for free lunch. 

Disaggregation- verb (used with object), 1. to separate into its component parts; 2. to become separated from an aggregate or mass. 

However, by high school these percentages are reversed and the 12th grade has only 30% of its students who do not qualify for free lunch. As the disaggregated data shows there are at least 3 trends that are very evident in Hoboken: 1) In the early grades, the district is predominately middle class (70%); 2) a longitudinal view of the data by grade shows a continuous increase in students qualifying for free lunch, reaching a maximum of 70% by senior year; 3) the general enrollment in the Hoboken School District declines steadily from grades 1-12 (the slight "bump" in grades 10, 11, and 12 are due to "school choice" students coming to the district from out of Hoboken).

In an upcoming post we will explore what might be some other reasons other than segregation, "white-flight" and racism for this demographic trend in the Hoboken public schools.

Original 2010 Department of Education Data

Friday, September 19, 2014

Project-based learning benefits students By Jessie Wagoner

“We had developed a pretty comfortable expectation that was going to be something that happened,” Kirk said. “To be perfectly honest, the district is committed to us for the educational piece, not for the financial piece. There is no argument; we are more expensive than a traditional school setting. So there has to be a conscious decision that the benefit outweighs the cost.”
The legislative post-audit looks solely at the financial matters of the district. The audit identifies ways to reduce expenditures. 
However, the district maintains it is important to look at the whole picture when making decisions related to education. The quality of learning and the different style of learning offered at Turning Point Academy is valuable to the students, parents and the district. The district is engaged in efforts to raise awareness about the services offered at Turning Point in an effort to increase enrollment.
“There will be a conscious effort to help parents be more aware of exactly what services their children can receive there,” Davidson said. “We want kids to know what their options are so they can make the right choice for them. Our district is committed to doing everything we can to continue having an option for those students because we think it is important for there to be a whole continuum of services for kids.”
Project-based learning is a staple at Turning Point. For students, project-based learning provides the opportunity to collaborate with others, research, be active learners and hone their public speaking skills. 
“Education is probably going more toward how we teach students here than how a traditional system does,” Kirk said. “The most significant difference is we are able to do it easier here because we don’t have such large numbers.”
In a project-based learning environment, the teacher will give a big picture or umbrella of what the class will be talking about, then give a target and timeline for where the class will be going. The teacher then asks the children an overarching question.
Teachers won’t tell the students how to answer the question, but will instead give them a rubric explaining how the students should demonstrate their knowledge. Most frequently this requires working in groups of two to three students and making a presentation to the class. There is collaboration, participation and research while the teacher takes on a role of facilitator.
The learning is hands-on. One group may design an invention, while another group may develop a computer program to demonstrate their learning. The rubric is the same for every student, but the student takes ownership of the learning.
“Our focus at Turning Point is creating learners that are capable of learning themselves,” Kirk said. “We don’t want to just give the kids knowledge — we want the kids to chase the knowledge and find it. We want to create thirsty learners.”
One feature at Turning Point is the way classes are combined. Kindergarten through fourth grade students are in a group, fifth through eighth are another group and high school students are placed together.
Shalla and Robert Bennett’s daughters have been attending Turning Point for several years. This year, Emeil is in third grade and Elleana is in fifth grade. The family said they have enjoyed the learning experiences offered at Turning Point. Small class sizes, project-based learning and the combined class grades are highlights for them.
“I like Turning Point because it is more individual,” Elleana Bennett said. “Last year I was in ninth grade math and seventh grade reading, so I didn’t have to just stay on fourth grade things.”
One benefit of the class setup Shalla Bennett has noticed is that it allows for consistency. Instead of changing teachers each year, her daughters have been able to have the same teacher for multiple years.
“I’m not very good with change,” said Emeil Bennett. “So I like having the same class and the same teacher each year.”
Having the same teacher has helped increase learning for Emeil Bennett by providing her with the stability that meets her needs.
“That stability allows her to immediately start learning,” Shalla Bennett said. “Otherwise it takes her a good couple months just to get settled into the environment.”
Learning at their own pace and working with other students is another plus for the family. Older students serve as mentors for younger students.
“There is an expectation that if you are a student that has mastered this skill, then you should help your peers,” said Shalla Bennett. “Sometimes kids learn better from other kids. So they can help one another.”
Students at Turning Point are eligible to participate in athletic activities offered through Emporia Middle School and Emporia High School. As the Bennett girls get older, they are looking forward to taking part in several different sports.
In light of the audit findings, Davidson and the USD 253 board will continue studying and evaluating recommendations of the audit. The district is committed to meeting student needs while also being fiscally responsible.
“We have already begun a study,” Davidson said. “And I think we will continue to look at it to make sure that we are doing the best that we can, being as effective as we possible can for those student services.”
For more information about Turning Point Academy or enrollment questions, call at 341-2455. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Longitudinal QSAC Scores in Instruction and Program DPR Under Kids First/Carter-Rusak-Toback Leadership

Click to Enlarge
On September 9, 2014 the Hoboken Board of Education officially released their 2013-14 QSAC Initial Placement letter to the public. The score on INSTRUCTION AND PROGRAM was a 45 out of 100. This is a 20+ point drop from last year (the single biggest drop in district history in terms of points and percentage) and 35 points away from a passing score of 80.  Here is a look at the QSAC data in INSTRUCTION AND PROGRAM beginning with when the curriculum I headed up was formally approved by the Board of Education in December of 2009 and since the political group known as Kids First have had a super majority of the Hoboken Board of Education (see chart). 

During the entire time of this decline in Instruction and Program, Trustee McAllister was not only a Hoboken Board of Education member but was also chair of the district's Curriculum Committee. The curriculum committee is the committee with oversight and responsibility for many of the benchmarks on the QSAC Instruction and Program DPR. Trustee McAllister is a board member fond of saying that the district was in dire straits when she was elected in Spring of 2009 and that it is doing so much better now. She is entitled to her opinion, but this data indicates differently. 

In my opinion, the task at hand seems beyond the competency level of those overseeing the education of the children in the Hoboken School District. In addition to the failing QSAC score in Instruction and Program, the district has a lower than average HS graduation rate, for the first time in history the district is classified as a DISTRICT IN NEED OF IMPROVEMENT by the NJ Dept of Education (Nov. 2011), the district is ranked 9th worst in the state in violence, vandalism and bullying (Patch.com), and is one of the lowest ranking districts in NJ (New Jersey Monthly- September 2014). The high school received a grade of "D" (lowest ranking) from the Newark Star-Ledger in 2013. These are not my opinions. These are the findings of independent, objective, and impartial third party evaluators and self reported data by the district. Some may disagree with one or two of these--- but there is overwhelming consensus. And.... It wasn't like this in 2009 when Kids First took over the district. The Board majority DID NOT inherit a district in decline as they want everyone to believe. Rather, these disturbing facts are the result of the past 5+ years of board/district "leadership" and the entire community is now suffering for their incompetence, arrogance, and unwillingness to accept responsibility and provide a plan of action to remediate the damage they have done. The Board majority rose to power pointing fingers and pontificating about costs per student, test scores, and ineptitude-- now they want everyone to be silent on these issues for fear the downward spiral they've set in place for the district might be blamed on them instead of those who came before.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hola Dual Language School to Receive Grant From the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund

Boys and Girls Club of Hoboken- November, 2012
On Tuesday, September 8th the Hoboken Board of Education voted to transfer $28,235.41 from a $819,000 portion of the United Arab Emirates Embassy's $4.5 million Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund to the Hola Dual Language Charter School. The funds will be used for a number of items in order to implement a "Digital Divide" project in complicance with the requirements of the Sandy relief fund. The motion passed overwhelmingly (7-2) with Board members Ruth Tyroler, Thomas Kluepfel, Peter Biancamano, Jennifer Evans, Jean Marie Mitchell, Francis Rhodes-Kearns and Monica Stromwall voting for the transfer. Two Board members voted against the agenda item.

Click here for full details on the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund, Inc.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Reconsideration Documents for the 2013-14 School Year QSAC Instruction and Program DPR - Hoboken School District

After receiving a score of 45 out of 100 on the June 16, 2014 QSAC 2014-15 Placement Letter for the Instruction and Program DPR, then superintendent Mark Toback asked the State of New Jersey's Department of Education for reconsideration or appeal for the low rating (80 is passing). The appeal allowed for both reconsideration of the score by the state as well as initiated a delay in when the Board would officially have to present the results to the general public (the Board by code must report QSAC scores at the next regularly scheduled Board meeting after receiving their QSAC Initial Placement Letter). 

The appeal or reconsideration was denied. The following are the official documents the State of New Jersey generated in response to reconsideration as well as the state's reasons for denying the appeal. The score of 45 in Instruction and Program stands.

Agenda for the September 9, 2014 Hoboken Board of Education Meeting

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Parent Group Exposes Hoboken Public Schools Should Not Have Laid Off Aides- Violation of New Jersey’s Education Law Code § 6A 13-3.2

In June 2014, former Hoboken Public Schools Superintendent 
Mark Toback proposed cuts in Violation of New Jersey Education 
Code § 6A 13-3.2 that eliminated Hoboken's Kindergarten 
aides. Kids First members of the Hoboken Board of Education 
voted unanimously in favor of Toback's recommendations despite
being in violation of Abbott code. 

Seems as if when the Kids First Board majority and former Superintendent Mark Toback weren't shepherding the school district down a path in which the QSAC Instruction and Program DPR plummeted from 68% to 45% in one year (the largest one year decline in district history), or bringing national attention to the district for the use (non-use?) of the district's laptop program, or outsourcing and eliminating an entire collective bargaining unit in the district (transportation), they were busy figuring out how to fire/eliminate/cut kindergarten teacher's aides.  The problem is, as many quality New Jersey administrators and Board members know, having Abbott district kindergarten classes without teacher aides is in violation of New Jersey Education Code. 

Carlo Davis of the Hoboken Reporter has been doing some excellent reporting on the Hoboken Board of Education this summer. Here is a very important piece recently published under Carlo's byline where Davis documents the efforts of a parent group in exposing the cuts made to kindergarten aides in Hoboken, NJ that were in violation of NJ Education Code and were recently restored.  -Dr. Petrosino

The Hoboken Board Of Education recently "discovered" that Hoboken’s district is actually required to have kindergarten aides under New Jersey’s education law code (Full day kindergarten requirements. New Jersey Education Code § 6A 13-3.2  ). On August 19, they voted unanimously to bring back aides for all 14 kindergarten classes in Hoboken’s public elementary schools for the upcoming year.

Hoboken’s school district must follow different regulations from most New Jersey school districts. In 1985, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that poor urban school districts were being unconstitutionally shortchanged in funding compared to affluent suburban districts. To help correct this imbalance, the state legislature devoted extra funding to 31 poorer “Abbott districts”—nicknamed after the original court case—including Hoboken.

Abbott districts receive special money for things like universal pre-kindergarten, and must follow corresponding rules and stipulations. One of those rules is that full-time kindergarten classes must have a teacher’s aide and no more than 21 students in each class.

Outgoing Superintendent Mark Toback had announced the elimination of the aides at the last board meeting of the 2013-2014 school year in June.

According to the Hoboken Reporter a parent group uncovered the violation: 

According to group organizer Lisia Zheng Hohlfeld, their efforts “made little difference until [they] came across a part of the NJ education code” applying to “at risk” districts. 
Hohlfeld said the group consulted with the state Department of Education, which confirmed that Hoboken is still an “at risk” district and subsequently contacted Interim Superintendent Dr. Richard Brockel, who officially replaced outgoing Superintendent Mark Toback two weeks ago. 
Hohlfeld said she’s happy with the outcome, but the turnabout came too late for some. She mentioned that two of the families in her group’s steering committee decided over the summer to move out of Hoboken. It’s this kind of exodus that continues to cripple Hoboken public schools and this whole episode will only further encourage the trend,” said Hohlfeld.
Hoboken Board of Education member Fran Phodes-Kearns expressed disappointment at Hoboken’s flirtation with a legal violation. She and Peter Biancamano voted against the original cuts to Kindergarten aides in June while the remaining seven trustees Ruth McAllister (Tyroler), Thomas Kluepfel, Jennifer Evans, Leon Gold, Jean Marie Mitchell, Irene Sobolov, and Monica Stromwall voted yes on the motion which led to the elimination of Kindergarten aides in the Hoboken Public Schools.    

Here is how Carlo reported on cuts to the Kindergarten aides in the July 6, 2014 edition of the Hoboken Reporter: 

Kindergarten cuts

The severity of Hoboken’s school budget shortfall was recently brought into focus by a decision to eliminate 13 instructional aides in kindergarten classrooms at Hoboken’s public elementary schools.

Three aides in other areas will also be eliminated. The cuts to kindergarten will save the city around $240,000.

Three mothers of students in next year’s kindergarten classes spoke against the cuts at the June 24 school board meeting, and an online petition calling on the administration to reinstate the aides has received 140 signatures as of press time.

The mothers said they had only learned of the school board’s decision the previous Friday, a week before the end of the school year.

Toback said the decision was one of the hardest choices his administration made in seeking to counteract its budget shortfall.

He maintained that the move would not have an adverse effect on Hoboken kindergarteners. According to Toback, many public schools in New Jersey already forego instructional aides in kindergarten, including some of Hoboken’s charter schools.

Toback expects Hoboken kindergarten classes to have a larger enrollment next year, and said the school board was closely monitoring class sizes. The average class size in kindergarten was 17 students this past year, and has historically never been above 23 students.

Projected kindergarten class sizes at or above 21 students next year would be a clear “cause for concern” for Toback. The board could bring back some aides or an additional kindergarten teacher at the school board’s August meeting.

Megan O’Reilly’s daughter is entering kindergarten in the public schools next year. At the June 24 board meeting, she said even 17 kindergarteners would be too much for one teacher.

“I can’t imagine [my daughter] wandering around the hallway to go to the bathroom by herself, or should she be sick, to not be able to have enough care,” she said.

“Kindergarten and the quality of the program is really a cornerstone of Hoboken’s appeal as ‘a nice place to raise a family,’ ” wrote Lisia Zheng Hohlfeld, another of the parents present at the meeting, in an email to the newspaper. “This dramatic cut in teaching staff will severely undermine what the school district has done all these years to build the program and establish its reputation.”

A group of parents including Hohlfeld met with Toback on June 26 to discuss the issue. According to Hohlfeld, Toback assured the parents that “things will not be ‘as bad as they look now’” come September, and scheduled an additional meeting in two weeks after conversations with other members of the administration.

While Hohlfeld doubted that all of the aides could be brought back, she expressed a hope that shared aides or floater aides could be installed as the next best option.

Read more: Hudson Reporter - More money for charter school fight But no room in school budget for 13 kindergarten aides who are cut 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

2013-14 Final QSAC Instruction and Program DPR for the Hoboken School District

The following is the final 2013-14 Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) Placement for the Instruction and Program DPR (District Performance Review) for the Hoboken School District. The previous score for the Instruction and Program DPR was 68% in February of 2013. A score of 80% is considered satisfactory. 

QSAC is not a standardized test that students take. QSAC is the New Jersey Department of Education's monitoring and evaluation system for public school districts. Monitors come to the school district and interview key professional staff and personnel. The administrators and staff are required to show documentation indicating compliance with a number of indicators in Instruction and Program that the State of New Jersey regularly reviews (curriculum, special programs, gifted and talented, certified staff, etc...).   

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hoboken's Charter Schools Fostering White Flight? Pictures from The Jersey Journal Tell a Much Different Story

Steven's Castle- Hoboken NJ 
On March 13, 2014 then Hoboken Board of Education President and Kids First member Leon Gold was quoted on Salon.com as saying charter schools in Hoboken, NJ are "fostering white flight." In other words, white students are leaving the traditional Hoboken Public Schools to attend one of the three charter schools in the city and by implication, that charter schools contain very little children of color or economic diversity

On May 23, 2014 the Jersey Journal reported on the senior prom of Hoboken Charter School located at 713 Washington Street:

HOBOKEN -- Luminous purple lights coupled with the mosaic details of the walls was reminiscent of a 1920's film. This was the setting for the small group of almost 30 seniors who gathered together for the Hoboken Charter School prom on Thursday, May 22.

The "Roaring Twenties" theme of the dance translated into the decor of the room, complete with feathered hats and beaded necklaces, which were placed in the center of each table.
A crowd of young woman embodied the style and grace of an iconic '20's woman, while the young men exuded charm in their crisp, mainly monochromatic suits, as they celebrated their 2014 senior prom, which took place at Room84 in Hoboken. By Chinedum Emelumba/The Jersey Journal 

Here are pictures that the Jersey Journal published online. Does this look like white flight to you?......

The students of Hoboken Charter School, located at 713 Washington St., gathered to celebrate their 2014 senior prom, on Thursday, May 22. Draped in their finest vintage inspired ensemble, the crowd danced through the night at the extravaganza, which was held at Room84 in Hoboken. Chinedum J.C. Emelumba/The Jersey Journal

White Flight? Of course not. But, the irresponsible language and terminology has left a negative impression about charter schools within the City of Hoboken and has caused a divide in the community. Dr. Gold's inaccurate and unproductive attacks on charter schools are unfortunate. 

Editor's Note: Dr. Leon Gold recently stepped down as the President of the Hoboken Board of Education. According to the Hoboken Reporter, Gold said it was simply time for time to step down. Gold was sworn in as President of the Hoboken Board of Education on January 7, 2014 and is stepping down 5 months from when his 1 year term was due to expire.