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Letter: South Brunswick Parents Want Transparent Superintendent Search

Township group responds to New Jersey School Boards Association.

This is in response to the New Jersey School Boards Association's letter to the editor (Jan. 13, 2014) about the South Brunswick school superintendent search process.

The New Jersey School Boards Association was created by the State of New Jersey in 1914 and by law, all school boards are required to be members and pay dues. Many NJSBA employees are considered state employees and participate in the state's pension and benefits systems.  

Given that NJSBA's existence is dependent on the state, it is reasonable to ask who NJSBA serves.  These are reasonable issues to raise, especially in light of the State DOE's recent push to place superintendents of their own choosing in local school districts.  (http://www.njsba.org/press_releases/njsba-pers.html).  

South Brunswick residents are aware of issues involving the qualifications and training received by the superintendent in Highland Park and learned during the South Brunswick Town Forum that NJSBA conducted that superintendent search.  We questioned if anyone from NJSBA or the Highland Park Board of Education, raised concerns about the short employment history of the current Highland Park superintendent.  

The NJSBA representative was unable to provide an answer.

South Brunswick residents are becoming more and more aware that private, well-financed organizations (e.g., Gates, Walton and Broad Foundations) are exerting pressure on state and local elected leaders to pursue a corporate reform education agenda that often excludes input from local residents and taxpayers and puts profits before best practices.  

While we understand that any individual hired as a superintendent in New Jersey must hold an administrator’s certificate, NJSBA should acknowledge the concerns of parents, teachers and staff and ensure that candidates are properly vetted so that boards of education are advised of all involvement by candidates with corporate education “reformers.”

Public education in NJ and around the country is changing and being impacted by both “profit-driven” and politically-motivated forces. Individuals like Eli Broad, who support privatization of public schools, has a superintendent training program that is being conducted by the Broad Academy.

Broad’s Board of Governors and alumni include US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, NJ Education Commissioner Cerf, Montclair Superindentendent Penny MacCormack, and Jersey City Superintendent Marcia Lyles.  

Also employees within the NJ Department of Education were Broad graduates, from the Deputy Chief Talent Officer to the Director of School Improvement.  

Thus people begin to question how these individuals found their way into such positions.

Then, we see how The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation is also funding the NJ Regional Achievement Centers (RACs), to “boost” school performance for those designated as “Priority” or “Focus” schools. Though state funds were available to support this initiative, the NJ legislature pulled these funds during budget deliberations, but Commissioner Cerf ignored the wishes of our state legislators and chose to go to Eli Broad.

While the South Brunswick Board of Education has stated that our district is not interested in “alternative education,” it is important that NJ communities understand the breadth and depth of influence private organizations are having on education.

During the South Brunswick Town Hall Forum parents were also unclear on the interview process.  Some parents heard NJSBA does preliminary checks, others heard preliminary interviews, and others heard NJSBA sits in the first few interviews.  

NJSBA letters state “…will also conduct preliminary interviews of selected candidates and will identify those best qualified, but will present to the board all applicants.”  

Who selects the candidates interviewed by NJSBA?  Also a “Calendar of Events” was distributed during this forum; however it does not reflect “interview/preliminary check” role by NJSBA. This step should be presented on the “Calendar of Events.”

Finally, we appreciate that a Town Hall was conducted by NJSBA and that a questionnaire was made available to those in attendance however; a request by those in attendance to post it on the South Brunswick School District website had to be made.  Electronic surveys should be an automatic part of the overall NJSBA process as all community residents have a stake in the continued success of their school district. 

It is our hope that NJSBA continues to review its procedures to ensure a transparent superintendent selection process for all school districts.

Thank you.

Regards,

Members of South Brunswick Cares About Schools Facebook Page:

Dvd Avins, Sakina Balsara, Valerie Briody, Rebecca Blankstein, Lee Blankstein, Monica Blum, Jill DeMaio, Chris Gabbai,Rebecca Garner, Manny Herrera, Maryanne Herrera, Melissa Katz, Robert Mobley, Lisa Rodgers, Robert Rodgers, Ellen Rosner, Jeff Savlov, Christina Schlesinger, Marci Schwab, Larry Schwab, Joe Schwartz, Barbara Schwartz

Judy Walters January 26, 2014 at 11:31 AM
This is an excellent letter and expresses my feelings and concerns. The search and ultimate decision shoud be made by representatives of South Brunswick residents. Ultimately, we pay the superintendent's salary and he or she must answer to us.
SBruns rocks January 26, 2014 at 12:34 PM
Wow.. I never realized just how much private companies are with involved in public education. Thank you for your insight. I also found that NJSBA supports Common Core. I wonder as representatives of local BoEs did they ever ask these BoEs what they thought of these standards? If NJ is one of the top 3 states in education, why are we implementing a standard that has the potential to "dumb down" our curriculum? http://www.njsba.org/sb_notes/20100324/corestands.html
Love Light January 26, 2014 at 12:59 PM
It is important that all communities in this state demand transparency and open communication as well as a prominent vote in any decisions that involve the future of our school districts. The NJSBA should be held accountable to listening to and respecting the wishes of the communities. What we are seeing here is a break-down in our government of its duties to serve the people.
Evan Lowenthal January 26, 2014 at 02:51 PM
Education is too important to be a back-room political deal. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Transparency now.
Rob January 26, 2014 at 02:59 PM
South Brunswick board of education owes it to our township to be transparent in this process. There is too much for residents to lose to trust this process to be done behind closed doors. If the board has the community's best interest at heart as they have claimed then they would open this process to to public review as happened in Princeton. The fact that it is bring veiled and that the information passed along has come at the last minute already makes things seem shady. People are waking up. Why not just allow complete transparency as many residents are requesting? You were elected to represent the interests of the residents not to operate from a place of complete control. Avoid a community uprising like Montclair, HP, Camden, Newark, Perth amboy, jersey city...
Joe Schwartz January 26, 2014 at 03:15 PM
Dr. Feinsod’s claim that the NJSBA is “non-partisan” is suspect in my eyes given the fact that he is acting as a cheerleader for Gov Christie’s longer school day/year proposal. From NJ.com: His (Christie’s) plan was met with enthusiasm from many educators, including Lawrence Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association. "For more than 30 years, research has shown that increased instructional time is a key to greater academic achievement," Feinsod said. http://www.nj.com/education/2014/01/christies_plan_for_longer_school_day_would_be_expensive_officials_say.html Dr. Feinsod should know that the research surrounding the effects of longer school days/years is far from conclusive, and the findings and methodology of the research he cites, “A Nation at Risk”, was thoroughly discredited years ago. http://www.cato-unbound.org/2008/04/07/richard-rothstein/nation-risk-twenty-five-years-later http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200307/backpage.cfm But since he is in the business of advising school boards, maybe he could explain to them just how the communities they represent should raise the revenue to afford the increase in teacher and support staff salaries, transportation, and building maintenance costs that longer days and years would entail. Then there’s this from the NJSBA website: Feinsod pointed out that the NJSBA is currently engaged in a study of student achievement, particularly the gap in performance among students of varying economic backgrounds. “Our task force will recommend best practices and will undoubtedly consider those that involve increased student-teacher contact time,” he said. Another study of student achievement? Another task force? What a colossal waste of money. I can tell him in one word what causes that performance gap: poverty. That study has already been done. http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2012/10/david-berliner-on-inequality-poverty.html Before Highland Park, the NJSBA was not on my radar. I think all citizens should begin to ask questions about its agenda, operations, and funding sources.
SBruns rocks January 26, 2014 at 05:52 PM
Nice Points Joe! I'd like to add one... "..increased student-teacher contact time" Do we really need to do a study that shows when you INCREASE students in a classroom; you DECREASE one on one instructional time? Smaller class sizes! - do we really need to do a study to discover that? How do you expect a teacher to have increased one on one when you have over 25 kids to teach which include ALL kids, not just the perfect ones. Why not follow the private/parochial school models? Delbarton School - the one our wonderful Governor sends his kid to - Let me quote "And because the average class size is 15 and student-teacher ratio 7:1, the learning environment at Delbarton is designed to be intimate and challenging." http://www.delbarton.org/academics/academic-program/index.aspx. If our state government would fully fund the school districts instead of playing games, we could follow the private schools ratio methodology. I bet public school teachers would be absolutely thrilled to have 20 kids per class!
Awo January 26, 2014 at 06:46 PM
This boils down to one word: democracy. Community voice, input, dissent, questions, critical feed back, transparency, and all things related to voice, are important in our democracy. When we leave the decision to those who have no vested interest in the community, and to those who have been contracted out by some outside entity, we fail to exercise our basic rights, therefore silencing our own voice. The South Brunswick community is not remaining silent because they are seeing the tragedies and fall outs taking place all over in surrounding and nearby communities. It serves no one when NJSBA ignores the wishes of the community, but over a town hall in an attempt to pacify them. Even though they have expressed that they are not interested in "alternative education", like the Broad Academy, it is important to note that this school management philosophy is what is destroying our community schools, and is not only confined to Broad Academy. Scientific managerial approaches found in edu-training programs like the Broad Academy have long been at the forefront in the historical battle for public education/schools, and we would be naive to believe that Broad is the only organization training leaders to conduct education like a business. That's why it is important that the community be involved in the hiring of their new superintendent every step of the way. It is not unreasonable that the people in SB want better for their community and schools, and NJSBA is obligated to ensure they get what they want. They are obligated to listen to the SB community, and are not here for anyone else but them.
Rob January 26, 2014 at 10:02 PM
There was no reason for the NJSBA to endorse christie's proposal for an extended school day/year the very morning after CC mentioned it in his state of the state address. It appears to be an attempt to give credence to the governor's initiative. This action is suspect enough and screams of an alliance, but the kicker is citing A Nation at Risk as support. That report from 1983 has been discredited by scholars the globe over and is the rhetoric used to promote this manufactured crisis in this country. So, either Dr. Fd
Rob January 26, 2014 at 10:05 PM
Sorry posted before I completed my comment. So, either the NJSBA stopped following education research in 1983 or there is an alliance that in myy opinion is a conflict of interest. I am uncomfortable with this and thereby caution the SB BOE to do their due diligence. This tax payer is informed and watching.
Lisa Rodgers January 28, 2014 at 12:08 AM
This evening I and another "SB Cares" member had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Parker, President of the South Brunswick School Board regarding the interview process that NJSBA conducts. To answer the question "Who selects the candidates to be hired?", he explained that the SB BoE has provided specific criteria to NJSBA in order to identify those candidates best qualified and that the preliminary interviews conducted by NJSBA are to ensure that criteria is met. I then explained that this information was not mentioned at the SB Town Hall Forum and that we appreciate the clarification. We also discussed the importance of the SB BoE updating the community on the process on an ongoing basis. We appreciate the time spent with Dr. Parker, as he was very approachable, as are all the SB BoE members.
jeff.savlov January 28, 2014 at 08:48 AM
Sounds like NJSBA is a "gatekeeper" and has quite a bit of power. Do we (SB BOE) get to see who they feel are not qualified to continue the process?
Bob Laverty January 28, 2014 at 03:20 PM
These comments, and the premise of the letter, are misdirected at NJSBA. In the superintendent search process, the SB BOE is a client of NJSBA. NJSBA has no power in the selection process - their role is to follow directions and assist your board. The alternative is to hire a private search firm. It's easy enough to confirm this fact with your elected board members. The second problem is confusing Dr. Feinsod's comments with those of the NJSBA. The NJSBA gathers twice a year with delegates from school boards across the state to set policies and evaluate the governance of the organization. I have participated for many years in this process as East Windsor BOE's delegate. The only official NJSBA policy positions are those adopted by the entire delegate assembly. You can verify this at www.njsba.org. You may not be happy with the policy positions and I understand that, but I don't think these comments help matters. It's better to ask your local board to draft a resolution to challenge or establish policy and vote to pass them in the next delegate assembly.
Bob Laverty January 28, 2014 at 03:21 PM
Usual disclaimer - this is offered for informational purposes and doesn't reflect any position of the EWRSD Board of Ed.
jeff.savlov January 28, 2014 at 07:05 PM
Bob Laverty - thanks for the clarification on relationship between NJSBA and SB BOE.
Bob Laverty January 28, 2014 at 08:10 PM
A couple of other points. Added disclaimer - I don't hold any position with NJSBA. I attend the delegate assembly twice a year and attend the mandatory school board training and other events. As far as transparency, I'm not clear what the original authors intended. Keep in mind that many candidates for superintendent are employed in other districts and apply with a promise of confidentiality, at least in early phases of the search.

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