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10-8-15 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - Board Hears Update on Status of Two State-Run School Districts…Jersey City gets more local control while Newark’s new superintendent is upbeat but outlines challenges ahead

A striking juxtaposition between two state-run school districts was apparent during yesterday’s monthly meeting of the State Board of Education.

First to appear before the board was the new superintendent of Newark schools, Chris Cerf, the former state commissioner chosen by Gov. Chris Christie to help the state’s largest district make the transition back to local control after 20 years over state oversight. It was clear that Cerf has a tough task ahead.

His appearance was followed by a far more celebratory announcement that the board would return further controls to Jersey City schools, which were taken over by the state nearly three decades ago.

Related Links

State Board’s Jersey City Resolution

Newark Superintendent Cerf’s Presentation

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop was on hand to cheer that news. From a distance, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka issued a statement saying he hopes his city’s schools will be next.

Yet for all the sound bites, the meeting shed light on the big challenges still facing both districts.

For Jersey City, the state board formally approved the return of further controls over personnel and operations, giving it four of five categories no longer under the control of the state.

“This is the most significant step in our education system in the last 30 years,” Fulop said.

But the district won the right to once again choose its own superintendent seven years ago, and the latest easing of state control represented only an incremental step further.

The state retains at least some say over instructional programs, the last of the five and maybe the trickiest as it factors in student performance. And state Education Commissioner David Hespe struck a warning yesterday, saying the state needs to make sure the district doesn’t return to the abuses that led to the 1988 state takeover in the first place.

“And so this new relationship, I think, also has to have a cautionary tone that we need to make certain that these issues that led the state takeover never reoccur,” Hespe said.

One key question is whether the district’s superintendent, Marcia Lyles, will be sticking around to lead the final steps in transition.

Lyles, hired by the board three years ago, will see her contract expire at the end of this school year. She has until the end of the month to inform the board whether she wants to stay. The board then has until the end of the year to decide her fate.

Lyles yesterday said she hopes to stay, saying her administration has been working on improving instruction “child by child, building by building” and that she wants to see it through. She said regaining full control and passing the state’s monitoring process won’t be easy, but she is hopeful.

The Jersey City board’s president, Vidya Gangadin, was also at the meeting yesterday and was less certain about the board’s stance on rehiring the superintendent, saying she didn’t rule out any options. She said that the board was waiting to hear from Lyles and then would make a decision.

“These are all possibilities,” she said.

Things have hardly been peaceful between Lyles and the Jersey City teachers’ union, the largest chapter of the New Jersey Education Association, whose president applauded the state’s latest moves but said more work remains.

“We haven’t had too much interaction with [Lyles],” said Jersey City Education Association president Ron Greco in an interview with NJ Public Television.

“She took nearly 30 months to complete a contract and it’s still not done,” Greco said. “We had to go to arbitration just two weeks ago because she intended to strip out language that she agreed to in negotiations, so we certainly don’t have a positive relationship with her.”

Still, Jersey City’s outlook may look rosy compared to Newark schools.

Cerf, who once presided over the State Board meetings as state education commissioner, gave the board an update on progress in the state’s largest district.

For the most part, he was upbeat in his wide-ranging and often-blunt presentation, describing significant progress in not only his short tenure so far but under controversial former superintendent Cami Anderson.

“The suggestion that there has not been noteworthy progress over the last four years is just preposterous and inaccurate,” Cerf said, citing significant gains in graduation rates and what he described as a groundbreaking teacher contract.

Most immediately, he said schools opened this fall without significant disruptions under the second year of a controversial universal enrollment system, initiated by Anderson, known as “One Newark.”

“It absolutely stumbled out of the gate the first year, but operated much more smoothly this year in serving 8,000 families,” Cerf said.

But he also didn’t hold back on addressing challenges ahead, starting with the district’s nearly $1 billion budget. Cerf said he was “a little surprised” to find a $63 million budget hole when he took the job this summer. Despite cutbacks since then, he said the district still faces a $15 million budget deficit.

“My pledge is not to impact the schools to the maximum extent possible,” he said.

“I am standing here saying we don’t want to be cutting any athletic teams or clubs, and I am working extremely hard to avoid that,” Cerf said at another point

Much of the budget pressure has come from payments the district is required to make to the city’s charter schools. Cerf, a cheerleader for charter schools as state commissioner, yesterday acknowledged that some funding stop-gap is needed to help the district.

He said the mandatory funding for charter schools year to year is “disproportionately hurting the district schools,” adding, “We can’t just turn the other way and let that happen.”


Star Ledger - Want to see a PARCC test? Exam questions will be released later this month

By Kelly Heyboer | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on October 07, 2015 at 4:06 PM, updated October 07, 2015 at 4:58 PM

The state will release copies of the test in each subject area and each grade on Oct. 23, state education officials announced Wednesday at the state board of education meeting in Trenton.TRENTON — Parents and teachers will get to see a full sample later this month of the controversial PARCC exams New Jersey students took earlier this year.

The sample tests will be a compilation of questions and answers from various versions of the exam given to New Jersey students this year. They will include samples of written answers from unnamed students and how they were graded.

PARCC – short for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers – was administered last winter and spring for the first time in New Jersey.

The computerized tests were given to students in grade 3 through 11 to measure how well they know the skills outlined in the Common Core, a set of national standards.

RELATED: When will PARCC scores come out in N.J.?

However, PARCC drew criticism in New Jersey and other states because some students and parents said the exams were too long and took too much time away from classwork. Hundreds of students across the state decided to opt out, or not take the exam.

Some parents and educators called on state officials to release the PARCC test questions so they could better assess the exam and how students were scored.

In the past, actual questions from NJ ASK and other statewide standardized tests given in New Jersey were not released, state testing administrators said.

State officials said Wednesday they expect to announce preliminary statewide numbers detailing how New Jersey students did on the exam later this month, though they did not give a date.

Parents are expected to begin receiving reports with scores for individual students next month.

Some PARCC critics say they are unsure how useful the test scores will be in telling teachers and parents what students have learned.

"I don't know what these test scores will really tell us," Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association, said earlier this month.

Kelly Heyboer may be reached at kheyboer@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyHeyboer. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


NJ Spotlight - Profile: NJ’s Teacher of Year Represents Next Generation of Educators…Salem County’s Chelsea Collins, youngest winner in recent memory, cited for enthusiasm for teaching, expertise in literacy

John Mooney | October 8, 2015

Who she is: Chelsea Collins, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Woodstown Middle School in Woodstown-Pilesgrove, was named New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year for 2015-16. At age 29 and with just five years of teaching experience, she’s the youngest winner of the prestigious award in at least a decade. Coming from a rural part of the state, she also may be the first to help manage a small farm in her spare time.

How she was selected: Collins was chosen from among 21 county winners and five finalists, judged by a panel of experts and educators. Each finalist was required to submit both a written essay and a video, and each was interviewed by the panel.

Why she was chosen: Colleagues and reviewers cited her extensive knowledge of literacy instruction and her infectious passion for her students. She shares that expertise in literacy instruction in talks she gives to various groups outside her own school.

Related Links

NJEA Video: “Meet Chelsea Collins”

New Jersey Teacher of the Year Selection Process

The passion for teaching is on display every day, says her principal, Allison Pessolano: “Her enthusiasm for education, she just exudes it in everything she does. Having a conversation with her, walking into her classroom, you can just tell she loves what she does and she loves the kids she works with every day.”

Art vs. science: “Chelsea is a great example that teaching is an art first, and she’s a great artist,” said Superintendent Thomas Coleman. “And what separates you from the pack is when you take that art and refine it to where she is really skilled at what she does.”

School “choice:” Collins seeks to inspire a love of reading by letting her students choose what they would like to read, whether it be in printed books, online resources, social media, or all of the above.

“To build a love in my students for reading, there are a couple of components needed: first of all, carving out time in the school day to allow students to engage with books, and also allowing them to choose books that interest them,” she said. “I’m a strong proponent of getting books into the classroom and the classroom library that we can talk about every single day.”

Print vs. online: “They do like to use devices, they’re allowed to,” she said. “But you’d be surprised that a lot of students still enjoy that hard copy.”

The farm: She was, perhaps, the first Teacher of the Year to refer to livestock in her acceptance speech. Collins and her husband Sean -- himself a high school teacher – run their own small farm in Pittsgrove. “We have cows, chickens, pigs, horses, peacocks, sheep, goats,” she said.

Quality of teaching: “I’m really excited about the state of teaching in New Jersey. It is rated the No. 1 public education system in the country, so there is no better time to be a teacher in New Jersey than it is today.”

Sidestepping the politics: “Today is to honor the great things that are going on in teaching,” she said. “There really are great things going on in the classrooms.”

The next generation: “I feel I bring the excitement and show what passion the young teachers have for teaching, and I hope to model how teachers can collaborate among ages and years of experience.”

What comes with the award: Collins wins a six-month paid sabbatical, including the use of a car so she can travel around the state to speak to fellow teachers. “I’m really looking forward to getting into classrooms and meeting lots of great educators,” she said.

In addition, she becomes a candidate for the national Teacher of the Year award.

Other finalists:

  • Jennifer Clune, a K-2 special education teacher at Jeffrey Clark School in East Greenwich Township School District, Gloucester County;
  • Michael Martirone, a ninth-grade social studies teacher at Egg Harbor Township High School in the Egg Harbor Township School District, Atlantic County;
  • Darlene Noel, a third-grade teacher at Green Street School in the Phillipsburg School District, Warren County; and
  • Kristine Shurina, an eighth-grade English teacher at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School in the Bridgewater-Raritan School District, Somerset County.

Background: A Penn State graduate, Collins received her master’s degree in teaching from the College of New Jersey. She and her husband have a 3-month-old daughter, Ireland.