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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

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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