Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Review of the documentary 'Heal Our Schools'

Pick up a newspaper or turn on the television and reporters and other talking heads describe the grand experiment that is corporate education 'reform' with buzz words like 'accountability', 'data', 'innovation', 'testing', 'rigor', 'choice' and 'transformation'. A few words you won't hear too often are 'research', 'proof', 'access', 'stress', 'burnout' and 'anxiety'. That's because those words don't fit into the reformy one-size-fits-all plan of education. Education 'reform'—like climate and vaccine denial—is a faith-based movement in that they believe in their cause rather than rely on empirical studies and peer-reviewed research by actual educators, and they have the money to make you believe it, too. See, facts are messy. They point straight to poverty, and you can't make a profit fighting poverty the way you can by flipping a school to a charter and firing veteran teachers.  

Those who are leading the 'reform' movement are some of the richest and most powerful people in the world. Since they control the message, educator voices go largely unheard. As a result, we have taken to social media, book publishing and documentary film making—places where we cannot be censored—in order to challenge the giant corporate interests that have lied to the American public about the state of our public schools. In the past few years, the number of educator-driven blogs, Facebook pages, websites, Twitter accounts and published books has exploded. Diane Ravitch's site alone can command over 1 million hits a day, and her latest book, Reign of Error, debuted at number ten on the NY Times best seller list. The documentary, Standardized, is drawing crowds of parents at pop-up viewings all across the country, and has fueled the opt-out movement. 

I recently attended a screening of the latest entry in our movement: the documentary film, Heal Our Schools, by former Colorado Springs music teacher, Laurie Gabriel. You can watch the 4-minute trailer here.

Like many veteran teachers of late, Laurie left the profession five years ago after a 27-year career because, as she says, "I could no longer serve up the child abuse I was ask[ed] to dole out." She, her husband and son then spent the better part of the next five years writing, directing and producing this film which was largely self-financed. While she is now many thousands of dollars in debt, she is "obsessed with seeing it to fruition!"

Her website describes it thus:

Heal Our Schools, a documentary researched, written and directed by Laurie Gabriel, is being produced with the mission of uncovering and solving the real problems of public education in America. This venture is different from other education documentaries in that it fully explores the experience and expertise of our most overlooked resource: teachers. Through this platform, educators from all over the country can share their compelling (and strikingly similar) stories and solutions. Hear Our Teachers is an enlightening look into what's really going on behind school doors, as well as a collection of virtually cost-free answers to the education crisis—answers that are based on teachers' caring compassion for the children they serve.
Along with teachers who share their struggles, frustrations and solutions are interviews with leading education activists and authors: Diane Ravitch, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Anthony Cody, John Kuhn, Jonathan Kozol and Jose Luis Vilson.

The overarching themes of the film are: 

  1. All studies, evidence and research point to the fact that education 'reform' is killing public education by turning it into a system not unlike that of China: narrow curriculum, overemphasis on test prep, little room for individuality, drill and kill. 
  2. All studies, evidence and research point to poverty being a major factor in a child's ability to succeed in school.
  3. Teachers and students are being crushed under the weight of these 'reforms'.
  4. No one who is driving these 'reforms' is listening to the experts: teachers.
  5. Teachers are not the only people responsible for their students' educational success. Parents and the students themselves must be consistently involved.

Educator and author, John Kuhn, says: 
Nobody asks teachers, "What do you think of these systems we put in place?" The silence of the teachers is deafening. Nobody's asking our opinion because nobody wants it.
The film points out that 'reform' is crushing the joy of learning for many students. When that happens, some kids simply stop coming to school, and they are generally the ones who struggle more than others, so how is that helping them? As one teacher says, "If you constantly harp on what kids are bad at, they won't want to come to school." The bottom line is that if a child wants to learn, they will. We cannot force the information into their heads.

Which leads to the fundamental question: What is the purpose of education? Most educators would probably say it's to make children productive members of society and to unlock their true passions and interests. But as Anthony Cody says, "The paradox is that something that's supposed to create opportunity is taking away opportunity." We see it time and again as 'reform' crowds out every subject except math and language arts, thus robbing children of well-rounded educations. And charter schools routinely cherry pick the best and brightest students, leaving those who are more challenging and expensive to educate in the chronically underfunded public schools.

And speaking of charter school segregation, Kuhn drives the point home:
Public schools mean 'if you live in my district, I let you in.' Elevating schools that turn kids away is not good for our country.
The film is full of plain 'ole common sense from the experts no one is listening to:

Teachers should make decisions about education; not politicians or business people. 
Testing costs approximately $1.7 billion per year. That's enough money to hire 50 thousand teachers. 
Why aren't we trying to find out why experienced teachers are quitting? 
Diane Ravitch: Public policy puts millions into Teach for America, yet 50% of teachers are gone within the first 5 years. 
If all 3 million teachers speak up at once, bravery wouldn't be required. 
Corporate America wants compliant, utilitarian workers. 
Why are teachers not considered experts in their field? 
John Kuhn: Soldiers who fight and lose battles get medals; teachers are branded. 
Teachers now teach out of fear; not out of a love of teaching.
My favorite part of the film is when three non-educators are interviewed about their views on the teaching profession, and are then put into a classroom where they will have 30 minutes to teach 10 words to a small group of students. They will be awarded $10 for every word the students remember. 

In the interview, they of course trash tenure as part of a 'liberal agenda' and say that the real solution would be for businesses to let their workers off to go teach because they really know about the subjects. Once in the classroom, their eyes were opened wide. One student was sleeping, another calling out, another up out of their chair wandering around. Class was interrupted by announcements, and students coming and going. Had they been first year teachers, their classroom management skills would have gotten them booted out door.

In the post interviews, they all expressed a change of heart. When asked if all the student behaviors were his responsibility, one man said that, to some extent, it is, but a lot depends on what they're taught at home. They couldn't believe a real classroom is actually like that. And another said that "some of us were not meant to be teachers."  

The film doesn't solely focus on what's wrong with education 'reform'. It also talks about what the real experts—teachers—see as essential to improving educational opportunities for all students:

  1. Small class sizes
  2. Equitable school funding
  3. Free prenatal care for every expectant mother
  4. Eliminating bullying
  5. Acknowledging and addressing poverty
Notice what's missing: everything that 'reformers' say will fix public education. What gives them the right to claim to be experts? What gives them the right to inflict this toxic poison on an entire generation of children, and an entire profession of educators? Money, power and greed.

As one teacher said, "Our students are experimental guinea pigs." And if this grand experiment fails (and it will fail), the scientists billionaires in their white lab coats expensive suits will simply toss us all aside and begin again without ever reflecting on what went wrong.

But as Diane Ravitch once said: they have money, but we have numbers. Rachel Carson had her Silent Spring; the Arabs had theirs; educators will have ours, too. It's only a matter of time.

I urge you to see this film and, if possible, arrange a screening for other educators and parents. If you are interested, you can contact Laurie here.

ADDING: Why is it that the Attorney General is an actual attorney; the Surgeon General is an actual doctor; but the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is not a teacher? Only in America, folks.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Franklin Twp update: No, Ms. Stanley, it's not your opinion. You're just wrong

If you've been following the controversy over Franklin Township (Somerset) Board of Education President Ed Potosnak's graduation speech last month, (Franklin Reporter here; Blue Jersey here, here, here; NJ.com here), you know that last night was the first board meeting after board member Patricia Stanley sent a letter to Ed, an openly gay man, and the rest of the board calling for his resignation because he dared to spend approximately 1:30 out of a seven and a half minute speech talking about how the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage—handed down that same day—affected his life. 

Here's the video of his speech:

Last night's meeting was straight out of a Hollywood movie script—almost: Ignorance meets Fearlessness, and in a public showdown with unanimous community support for the protagonist, Fearlessness wins, Ignorance realizes the error of her ways, we have the Kumbaya moment, and everyone goes home happy. 

Except there was no realization and no Kumbaya moment. Despite 90 minutes of impassioned statements from supporters both inside and outside of the township, many of whom expressed compassion for Stanley, she doubled down on her 'opinion' that Ed had somehow 'hijacked' the event (...with his gay agenda?). 

Funny thing about opinions: they're very easy to hide behind in the name of free speech. We heard several reminders of that from Stanley and one other board member who, while not agreeing with Stanley, repeatedly reminded us that she is entitled to her own opinion. But as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "You are entitled to your own opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts." And therein lies the rub: Stanley confuses opinion with fact.

In a moment of synchronisity, a friend who attended the meeting with me posted this piece by Jef Rouner this morning that appeared in today's Houston Press titled, No, it's not your opinion. You're just wrong.

Rouner reminds us that in a world in which policy is increasingly being shaped by opinion rather than facts, it's important to distinguish 'right' opinion from 'wrong' (all emphasis mine):

There’s a common conception that an opinion cannot be wrong. My dad said it. Hell, everyone’s dad probably said it and in the strictest terms it is true. However, before you crouch behind your Shield of Opinion you need to ask yourself a two questions.
  1. Is this actually an opinion?
  2. If it is an opinion how informed is it and why do I hold it?
An opinion is a preference for or judgment of something. My favorite color is black. I think mint tastes awful. Doctor Who is the best television show. These are all opinions. They may be unique to me alone or massively shared across the general population but they all have one thing in common; they cannot be verified outside the fact that I believe them.

There’s nothing wrong with an opinion on those things. The problem comes from people whose opinions are actually misconceptions. If you think vaccines cause autism you are expressing something factually wrong, not an opinion. The fact that you may still believe that vaccines cause autism does not move your misconception into the realm of valid opinion. Nor does the fact that many others share this opinion give it any more validity.
What mucks it all up is when a narrow set of information is assumed to be wider than it is. There is a difference between a belief and things you just didn’t know. It’s easy to believe, for instance, that whites face as much discrimination as people of color, but only if you are completely ignorant of the unemployment rates of blacks versus whites...
Many, many, many of your opinions will turn out to be uninformed or just flat out wrong. No, the fact that you believed it doesn’t make it any more valid or worthwhile, and nobody owes your viewpoint any respect simply because it is yours.

So, when Stanley says, 
"(I)n my thirteen years in professional music and theatre, I have known many, many homosexual men. I still have friends who are professionals in the business. But they always behave like mature gentlemen and are truly considerate of other people."
... what she really means is that she likes her gay men (and by inference all non-heterosexual individuals) walking with their heads down and their lives in the closet, and that's just wrong!

And when she says, 
“You presented very personal information regarding yourself and your intimate life which was just uncalled for in that venue. It was inappropriate behavior at an inappropriate time.”
... we can infer that, in her opinion, no one should make any mention of their families or their personal lives or experiences in any way, shape or form when giving a speech such as this lest someone be offended.  

The human experience is shaped by the human experience, and with the SCOTUS ruling, that experience just got a whole lot wider, deeper and richer, and that scares the bejeezus out of some people just the way it did when slavery ended, women got the right to vote and America became desegregated. 

So, while Ms. Stanley is indeed entitled to her own opinion, her opinion does not entitle her to be a bigot. And that's a fact.

ADDING: While there were many calls for her resignation, there were many (myself included) who expressed the hope that she wouldn't resign; that this would be a teachable moment that would draw the board closer together in discussions about tolerance and sensitivity. Ms. Stanley has three more years to serve on the board. I truly hope she changes her opinion.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Update on One Parent vs. #OneNewark

Yesterday I wrote about Frankie Adao of Newark's Parent Power Movement infiltrating a One Newark enrollment center to gain information for parents who are not being provided with it. 

Frankie just posted this on Facebook (emphasis mine): 

This is some of the crap charters in Newark are pulling. I also spoke to another parent at the Enrollment Center today. First her daughter, without parental guidance, picked where she wanted to go to high school. [This girl was on the] honor roll from 5th - 8th grade, but didn't score too well on testing. One choice she picked was a charter. The charter told her she didn't have the stamina to keep up with the pace of the school and would be best served in a traditional public school. 
The struggle continues...

Charter schools in Newark are cherry picking their students, and yet, they have the nerve to call themselves 'public schools'. And Christie, Cerf, Hespe and all the rest of the ed 'reformers' who sit in their plush offices in their expensive suits and collect their big +6 figure salaries and never, ever have to worry about where their next meal is coming from or if they can pay the rent or who will watch their kids while they work the graveyard shift have the unmitigated gaul to say the expansion of charter schools is the miracle cure for Newark's 'failing' schools because it offers parents and students 'choice'. 

What a load of crap! The expansion of charter schools is doing one thing and one thing only: lining the pockets of investors by culling the easiest and least expensive students to educate from the public schools so as to drain them of money and 'success'.

The parents and students of Newark are fighting the good fight. Please follow them on social media and support their efforts.

Follow the Newark Parent Power Movement on Facebook and Twitter @ParentPowerMov. Follow the Newark Students Union on Facebook and Twitter @NewarkStudents.

Who represents the people at the NJ BOE?

Guest post by Susan Cauldwell

How much power should one elected official have? It's common knowledge that the Office of New Jersey's Governor is highly coveted as it gives the officeholder vast power and abilities. Is that good or bad for the people of the state?

Here's how Article 5, Section 4 of the NJ Constitution describes the powers bestowed upon the Governor:
Each principal department shall be under the supervision of the Governor. The head of each principal department shall be a single executive unless otherwise provided by law. Such single executives shall be nominated and appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to serve at the pleasure of the Governor during the Governor's term of office and until the appointment and qualification of their successors. The Governor may appoint the Lieutenant Governor to serve as the head of a principal department, without the advice and consent of the Senate, and to serve at the pleasure of the Governor during the Governor's term of office.

Whenever a board, commission or other body shall be the head of a principal department, the members thereof shall be nominated and appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, and may be removed in the manner provided by law. The Governor may appoint the Lieutenant Governor hereto without the advice and consent of the Senate. Such a board, commission or other body may appoint a principal executive officer when authorized by law, but the appointment shall be subject to the approval of the Governor. Any principal executive officer so appointed shall be removable by the Governor, upon notice and an opportunity to be heard.
In plain English, the above two paragraphs say that the Governor appoints all State of NJ department heads, with the advice and consent of the NJ State Senate. If a NJ State department is headed by a board or commission, the Governor also gets to appoint those members, too, with the advice and consent of the State Senate. The State Department of Education is headed by a Commissioner and guided by a Board of Education.

Examining this structure in light of the recent action by the NJ State Board of Education to appoint Chris Cerf as Newark Schools' Superintendent, it is correct to conclude that the public never had a chance to impact the decision. For starters, Commissioner David Hespe (appointed by the Governor) effusively endorsed the appointment at last week's State Board of Education meeting. In addition, all six 'yes' votes by the State Board came from members who were appointed by the sitting Governor. Four of the six votes to appoint came from State Board members with ties to private schools, one came from a former police officer who now works for a State Senator, and another came inexplicably from a current public school teacher and former NJ School Boards Association officer. The vote was close, 6-4, to appoint Chris Cerf. Had just one 'yes' voter flipped, the appointment would not have occurred. While two board members took pains to explain their 'yes' votes and assure the audience that local control of Newark schools was foremost on their agenda, another member exclaimed that he "couldn't think of a better choice." One State Board member who voted to approve Chris Cerf attended just four of the last twelve State Board meetings and did not attend any State Board meetings from August 2014 through January 2015.

By contrast, the four 'no' votes all have public and/or higher education experience and were not appointed by the current Governor. Two of these members described the appointment of Chris Cerf in negative terms and not in keeping with the wishes of the local Newark community. Another member who voted 'no' implored the Commissioner to appoint an interim Newark superintendent and immediately begin a search for a new superintendent.

The State Board was well aware that Newark residents wanted their local advisory board of education to conduct a search and appoint a new superintendent. Newarkers have been protesting the State appointed superintendent for years. It's mystifying that the State Board would think Chris Cerf, the man responsible for bringing Cami Anderson to Newark, would suddenly be an acceptable replacement. Also, the State Board received thousands of e-mails, calls, and signatures on petitions from residents all around the state, urging them not to approve the appointment of Chris Cerf and to allow the residents of Newark to choose their own superintendent, just like every other local board of education in NJ (except Camden) is permitted to do.

What conclusions can be drawn about the six State BOE members, appointed by the sitting Governor, who voted for Chris Cerf? Did the Governor influence the vote? If so, how? Some board members strenuously objected to the suggestion that the Governor influenced their vote, despite several reports to the contrary. Like local board of education members, State BOE members serve without compensation. It's very unlikely any of them are benefiting financially from being on the State BOE. Perhaps it would be just too personally embarrassing to be removed from the State BOE.

If the Commissioner of Education and a majority of the current State BOE are beholden to the Governor, who represents "the people?" Are the people even supposed to be represented by the DOE or State BOE? The language in the State Constitution appears to indicate that the people are left out of decisions such as the appointment of a Newark school superintendent. Despite the enormous statewide interest in this matter, no one was permitted to address the State BOE. One person who dared to speak up during the meeting was quickly removed. This is wrong. The people deserve to be heard. The Committee that the Governor established to oversee the transition to local control in Newark is weighted in his favor, with five of nine members (none of whom live in Newark or have a background in education) appointed and undoubtedly beholden to him. The same is true for the Governor's Study Commission on Assessments. More than 300 public comments have been received without any comment, discussion, or altering of course. It is reasonable to expect that this form will hold with the recently announced Governor's Common Core Review Committee. When will public sentiment be incorporated into DOE policy and practice?

My personal feeling is that the State BOE should be allowed to consider public opinion without fear of retribution. Whether this can be achieved is debatable. One way to do this is to uncouple the State BOE from the Governor. Some states elect State BOE members; others allow appointments by the legislature in addition to the chief executive. Perhaps New Jersey should use a combination approach: some elected State BOE members, some members appointed by the Governor, and some members appointed by the legislature. Or perhaps an elected State BOE is the answer. The election would be non-partisan to minimize the influence of political parties. The idea is to insulate the State BOE from political retribution and make the State BOE as well as the DOE responsive to the public.

This could be the beginning of a cascade of reforms at the DOE. Other needed changes include the way State BOE meetings are conducted. The public should be heard at every meeting and public comment should be built into the meetings, like local boards of education do. Currently, the Commissioner and a majority of the State BOE are not present for public comment, which is limited to three or four opportunities over the course of a year. The atmosphere at DOE headquarters is not oriented toward the public. For example, at least half the seats in the meeting room are reserved for DOE staff. The public is forced to squeeze into the back of the room. Occupancy limits are also strictly enforced. Security staff is less than accommodating. Just last week, a parent was asked to produce ID in order for his 8th grade son to be admitted to the meeting room. No such requirement exists at the State House. The State BOE should also vary its meeting times and locations so that working members of the public are afforded an opportunity to attend and participate. If there is any doubt who is in charge at the State DOE, one look at the press releases says it all. Of the twenty-one press releases posted since January, twelve lead with the words "Christie Administration."

If the status quo holds, the right thing to do for taxpayers is to abolish the State BOE and redirect the resources to other areas. As currently comprised, the State BOE is clearly not necessary and serves no purpose other than to rubber stamp whatever the Commissioner desires. This is not democracy.

Susan Cauldwell is the Executive Director of Save Our Schools NJ Community Organizing, a 501(c)(3) set up to support the work of SOS NJ, which is a grassroots, all volunteer, non-partisan pro public education organization.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

One Parent Investigates #OneNewark

This is what parents in the state controlled Newark Public School District must resort to now that their children's democratic right to a "thorough and efficient education" has been denied. 

Since its inception, embattled former Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson's ill-conceived One Newark plan that was supposed to provide more school choice and 'fix' 'failing schools', has been an unmitigated disaster. 

From increased segregation, to siblings being bussed to different schools all over the city, to punishing schools that serve a higher population of special needs students, to actually denying parents the right to send their children to the school of their choice, this bureaucratic nightmare has been roundly rejected by parents and students. And despite an Empirical Critique of One Newark by Rutgers University's Dr. Bruce Baker and doctoral candidate Mark Weber (aka. Jersey Jazzman) highlighting the deep flaws and inequities of the program, it has been 'damn the torpedos and full speed ahead' at 2 Cedar Street.  

But Newark's families never let up. Their vociferous protests were the driving force behind Anderson's departure. And with her, they assumed would go One Newark. But such is not the case. As a new school year looms and a new superintendent (former NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf) takes the helm, school registrations began yesterday. 

The process is anything but easy, and accurate information is hard to come by. So, Frankie Adao of the Newark Parent Power Movement (formerly the Newark Parents Union) went under cover this week to infiltrate the pre-school registration process to deliver that info to parents who don't have time to spend hours waiting in lines only to be spoken to by robotic NPS employees with fake smiles and rehearsed responses. You can read his full report on his blog here. Following are the highlights. All emphasis mine:
As I approached the entrance to the courtyard, a security guard greeted me pleasantly. Mind you, in the past I would get thrown out or not even let in. Luckily a little weight gain, a beard and hat did the trick. Going incognito is now what parents have to do to investigate the district and see what is going on. I felt like a secret agent about to infiltrate enemy territory. 
The classroom was arranged like a Motor Vehicle Center. You had to put your name on a list at a long desk separating the people from the registration stations. I entered a fictitious name. I was number 42, although there appeared to be more than 42 people seated. I overheard some of the parents saying, “This is ridiculous!” “Why can’t I go right to the school and register?” “Why are they making us go through this whole process?” I gently and quietly leaned over to the mom sitting next to me and said, “It feels like the DMV.” She told me this was her third time to the center and was told that she would need to come down in person to find a match for her child. As with the tension from the patrons who are at the will of the Division of Motor Vehicles clerks, so were these parents!  
I could hear parents were very upset. Their children were not being placed where they wanted them to be educated. One staff member told a parent, “If you are going to talk to me in a calm manner, I will speak with you, but if you get loud I will not!” The parent said, “I am pissed off and want my kids to go where I say they should go, not you!” This is typical of the upset and angry conversations that have been going on between Newark parents and the Newark Public Schools central office staff for the last year and a half. [Chief Talent Officer] Vanessa Rodriguez walked out of the office, passed the upset parents and headed down the hall to the Pre-K enrollment class I originally was in. I followed right behind her. She relieved the staff member and began assisting a bilingual family looking for placement. In the 30 minutes I stood there, I did not hear one single parent called to a station.  
[Mayor Ras Baraka's Chief Education Officer] Dr. Lauren Wells entered the room. I knew she was there to get the info and I wanted to know as well... All the district staff immediately perked up and automatically went on alert. I moved closer to get within earshot of what was being said. Dr. Wells was asking all the same questions my parent team was messaging me to find out: How was the process going? How were families being treated? How many available seats were opened in the district? What did the numbers look like? 
Dr. Wells was then met by [Executive Director of Community Affairs and Engagement] Ruben Roberts. He was dressed in his best linen suit and he immediately gave the canned district responses. There was a bulletin board by the Pre-K room with postings that showed how many seats were available in each school. It was hard to take a snapshot of it as security and NPS district employees were guarding the info. Dr. Wells asked if the list was accurate with numbers and Roberts said that it changed frequently. She asked if the information was online for the public and he said, “The list is just for us, the numbers are changing all the time.” When Dr. Wells asked if families were being helped, he responded, “They are being placed, but it may not be where they hoped to be placed.” 
Dr. Wells and I walked out through the courtyard of the Enrollment Center together. I again told her that I was here to get a report for the team and parents we serve. I said, “Looks kind of organized, better than it did in previous enrollment sessions.” Dr. Wells responded, “Organized…Organized Chaos.” We agreed with a smile. I wished Dr. Wells a good day, got in my car, flipped my #PARENTPOWER t-shirt the right way and headed home.
This would never happen in one of New Jersey's wealthy, mostly white suburban school districts where poverty isn't much of an issue. It would never happen where people have the power to write big checks to elect representatives who actually listen to them instead of party bosses and corporate raiders. Only in our poorest urban centers does the right to a 'thorough and efficient education' mean many times being denied access to neighborhood schools. I've said it before and I'll say it again, 'choice' does not equal 'access'. 

I have nothing but enormous respect for the parents and students of Newark who refuse to have their voices silenced. As Chris Cerf takes the helm, they will have to shift gears, but there is no doubt in my mind that they will never give in, they will never back down until all parents and all students in Newark are truly treated equally.

Follow the Newark Parent Power Movement on Facebook and Twitter @ParentPowerMov. Follow the Newark Students Union on Facebook and Twitter @NewarkStudents.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Data does not a great teacher make

And so the data reporting begins. 

The Star Ledger reported yesterday:
For the first time, New Jersey's Department of Education will publish a centralized database with the aggregate teacher evaluation results for each school across the state. 
The 2013-14 data, to be released next week, will not include performance ratings for specific teachers. But parents will be able to see how many teachers in a school received each of the four possible ratings, according to the state....Before 2013-14, teachers were essentially graded on a thumbs up or thumbs down system, based on a century-old law that required evaluations. Nearly 100 percent of teachers were deemed acceptable....More than 97 percent of New Jersey teachers received positive evaluation scores for 2013-14, the state announced in June (Hmmm... 97% isn't that 'nearly 100%'? Just sayin'.) But unlike previous years, the new system creates more distinction between perforance levels and allows the state to further analyze the data for useful trends. 
For example, teachers in their first or second year were twice as likely to receive a "partially effective" review as more expereinced teachers. 
Meanwhile, experienced teachers were twice as likely to get the highest rating. (emphasis mine)
Ah, ya gotta love the irony. Nothing screams, "We need excellent educators in every classroom!" like underfunding public education, piling enormous amounts of data collection and test prep on top of all the mountains of work classroom teachers already have, blaming, shaming, disrespecting, devaluing, under-paying, slashing and burning, VAM-ing and scaming us into thinking all of this is good 'for the children'. No wonder 40-50% of educators leave the profession within the first 5 years.

Education 'reformers' from coast to coast beat the war drums against seniority and bow to the Holy Grail of data, but will they have the guts to face the data that shows that, as in every other profession, experience matters?

Ask any veteran educator and they will tell you that if they could go back and re-do their first 5 years teaching, they would do things much differently. Experience builds competence; practice makes progress. It's a no brainer—except in 'reformy land'. I hope they have 'some fava beans and a nice chianti' on hand to wash down those words they have to eat. You know... the ones that say we're all just a bunch of lazy oafs, waiting to collect our pensions.

Which brings me to this:

Last week I attended the National Education Association Representative Assembly in Orlando. Translation: 10,000 education professionals sitting in a convention center for 8-10 hours a day over 4 days doing Robert's Rules as we chart the organization's course for the next year. 

Shanna Peeples, a teacher from Texas and the 2015 NEA National Teacher of the Year gave this riveting speech:

Here's what resonated for me (all emphasis mine):

On her first year teaching:
The teacher I was lucky enough to teach next door to during my first disastrous year of teaching showed me a lot about being a professional.
On the NEA: 
I've never been more proud of a membership in my whole life....[T]he NEA welcomed black members four years before the Civil War and elected a woman president ten years before women had the right to vote, I thought, this isn’t a group of people who are afraid. These are people who are willing to be brave and fight for those who have been pushed out, left out and singled out.... I see warriors of kindness, warriors of hope, and warriors whose spines are absolute steel in their resolve to fight for what matters. You are the best kind of warriors because your mission is to save and serve the most vulnerable members of our society: children. You are their voice and their champions.
On education 'reform': 
Our critics love clichés, and simplistic slogans and manipulated data—this is how they attack, and the good news is the utter banality of those attacks.
On retaining excellent educators: 
We have to keep our best teachers teaching by giving them real positions of leadership and real responsibility. Part of the most-cited reasons for teachers leaving the profession is the pressure of so much responsibility with so little say in what happens.
On the over use of data: 
In education, we have an almost dysfunctional relationship with data, as if the raw scores and scale scores will arrange themselves into arrows pointing this way or that way. I like the way Dave Zirin talks about data: “ Statistics are like a bikini. They show so much, but they hide the most important parts.” 
And, as we know, the most important parts of our jobs are students. Each data point is a person, which our critics often forget in their zeal to rate and evaluate. And people are notoriously difficult to standardize. But what we as teachers know, is that our lessons have to affect both the head and the heart. They have to involve students in real work for real outcomes.
On teaching refugee students: 
We decided to use their visual literacy to build a bridge to written words. So, we began with drawings. I used a prompt that first day that I’ve used my entire career: “Draw something you’ll never forget.” Mostly, I get drawings about roller coasters and puppies and maybe one or two about when a beloved grandparent passes away. I was totally unprepared for my refugee students drawings. They drew very detailed scenes of small huts on fire, of beatings, of leaving family members behind a razor-wire fence—and most disturbingly, of small children being bayoneted by soldiers. 
Those same students, with help, created digital narratives of their experiences that used images and music to communicate their experience in an authentic way that has engaged every audience who has seen them. 
Now, a standardized test won’t reveal these skills and experiences, but I propose that this story is still data, but more importantly, that me telling this story gives you more insight into them than reams of scores that label them as “below proficient.”
On her own life experience: 
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who knew that monsters must somehow live inside bottles of whiskey because they could turn otherwise good people into someone who grabbed her by the throat and shoved her against the wall until she nearly quit breathing. Or someone who would take a baseball bat to her mother’s face. Or someone that did other, much darker things when no one who wasn’t drinking whiskey was around. 
The monsters sometimes made bargains with her. They taught her how to drive a car when she was 12 years old so she could get her father home from the bar without another DUI charge. Once, she drove across two states with her mother out cold in the back seat and her mother’s boyfriend so drunk in the front seat that she had to drive with one arm holding him off her. She learned to live with her fists clenched, on guard at all times, because she was the oldest and her siblings were too little to take a punch. 
But she had school. And teachers. Teachers who gave her books and paper and pencils and taught her how to write when she wanted to hit, when she wanted to scream, or quit. Teachers showed her that books could take her anywhere and that she could literally write herself new beginnings. That little girl was lucky enough to have teachers who were her warriors. Who helped her to fight off the despair that came with her to school every day like a stray dog. The little girl learned that teachers are the best kinds of heroes because they showed her how to turn fear into faith. Faith in her ability to think, faith in her ability to create her own path, faith to believe in herself. 
That little girl was me and I teach for her and everyone just like her. Every little boy who knows the kind of fear that addiction brings. Every little girl who knows the kind of fear that poverty brings.
There is no data point in the universe that can pinpoint what makes Shanna Peeples not only an excellent teacher, but the best of the best this year. There is no evaluation system or standardized test that can turn every single teacher into a teacher of the year. Just as the overwhelming majority of children will never go on to become President of the United States, there is no way to put a Shanna Peeples in every single classroom in this country. There is only one of her. But there are many, many excellent teachers changing students' lives for the better every single day. And they need to be honored, respected, valued, uplifted, paid, properly trained, supported and treated as the professionals they are. That's how you attract and retain great teachers.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Newark Public Schools: Frying Pan to Fire

As part of an agreement reached between Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Gov. Christie to return local control of the city's public schools, yesterday the New Jersey State Board of Education, under the leadership of Christie-appointed Education Commissioner David Hespe, voted to appoint the former—and controversial—NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf as superintendent of Newark, following the controversial Cami Anderson's long-awaited resignation.

As thrilled as many of us in the education activist community are at seeing Anderson go, Cerf was her boss, so there's more than enough skepticism that things will change. But Baraka, an educator himself, ran and won on a platform of regaining local control. He's been an outspoken critic of Anderson and Christie's 'reform' agenda, so I have to believe that he truly has a plan. 

But appointing the uber-reformy Broad Book Club (as Jersey Jazzman calls it) Academy graduate Chris Cerf, not as an acting superintendent, but as a full-fledged super with a 3 year contract is not exactly the road to local control the citizens of Newark envisioned. And they voiced their displeasure earlier this week with a rally at City Hall. 

Photo courtesy New Jersey News 12
The state BOE voted 6-3 to approve Cerf with the Christie appointees voting in the majority. And the 'reformy' rhetoric was flying! Education activist and college student, Melissa Katz, attended yesterday's BOE meeting and reported on it over at Bob Braun's Ledger. The following is her transcript of the meeting. In an homage to the Common Core's close reading, my comments are in red.

Pearson defines Close Reading as:   
Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (PARCC, 2011, p. 7)
I've also highlighted words that are straight out of the 'reform' dictionary. Be on the lookout for them, they are the red flags of 'reform'.

Melissa's report:

Hespe on Cerf: "The education reforms under way in Newark must continue." (So, closing schools, flipping them to charters, firing staff, and underfunding public schools will continue. In other words, business as usual.)

“We are 20 years into the state operation of the Newark district and we’re at a very, in my mind, crucial period in time in our work with the community of Newark. (Indeed! The community is fed up.) Two weeks ago, I announced the departure of Cami Anderson as State Superintendent. We recognized her hard work on behalf of the children (Notice how many times he repeats this phrase. When all else fails, 'reformies' fall back to this one.) and people of Newark, and I truly believe that Newark Public Schools have made tremendous strides over past years under a number of series of innovative reforms and the earnest leadership of not only the district staff and the State Board, but also local educators who have I think made a difference. (Which educators is he talking about? The real ones who are fighting the reforms, or the business people now making beaucoup bucks as administrators?) The focus we should always remember is on how our vision for Newark schools will advance the best interest of children in Newark (Well, some of the children anyway—those who are lucky enough to win that golden ticket into a charter school and actually make it all the way through. The rest of Newark's children have sent a strong, clear, loud message that they do not want corporate-style 'reforms')— and that’s why whatever we do moving forward, the education reforms under way in Newark must continue (Again, business as usual.) and we must work with all folks in Newark: all parents, all educators, all community leaders to make certain that as we focus on providing parents with greater educational opportunities, improving instruction, and developing innovative programs (Closing and/or defunding schools, segregating students and firing staff are so innovative!) and establishing best practices in the classroom (Obviously without teacher input.), that they continue; but with the knowledge that all of these initiatives are dynamic in nature, they will be constantly improved, constantly be changed (Because nothing works better in education than constant change. As in the corporate world, ed 'reform' is all about churn, churn, churn), and sustained, and intensified.

“With that said, I think, I strongly – and I know its shared by board members – support the involvement of the community in educational decision making (Why now? Does Hespe finally realize he's lost the battle, and the only way to save face is to actually involve the community?), and I know that’s a key component of success of any school improvement initiative. It not only serves to bolster the commitment to make the hard decisions that are required over time to sustain these initiatives, but also help these initiatives be successful. Often, however, we see the tension between state operation in terms of developing and implementing a bold educational improvement agenda, and local control in terms of community engagement and buy-in. (Translation: The people didn't ask for and do not want your 'bold educational improvement agenda'—especially when your hand-picked superintendent thought it was beneath her to engage with the community.) These tensions create a challenge that can and must be resolved if the children of Newark are to continue to see the fruits of these reform initiatives, and the people of Newark are to see the economic and standard of living improvements that come with a skilled and educated workforce. (Education 'reform' alone will not fix poverty.) That’s why I was so pleased that the Mayor of Newark and the Governor of New Jersey came together to establish a shared vision for empowering the people of Newark to make decisions over their schools while sustaining and growing a culture of high educational expectations, accountability, and results in the City. This included the creation of the Newark Educational Success Board (Another layer of administration? How much will this cost, who is on it and who is paying for it?) that will be charged with developing a clear, specific pathway with appropriate timelines and benchmarks for return of local control to the Newark community. The panel will also examine the issue of capacity building at a district and school level with government, community, and neighborhood groups to ensure that the problems that led to state takeover of the schools never reoccur and decision making focuses always on what is in the best interest of children. Communication we know will continue to be key, and we must communicate fully and effectively to students and parents in the community throughout this pending transitional process (So, where the heck is Cerf? Why hasn't he made any appearances in Newark yet? Why hasn't he spoken to the press? The parents? The students? Anybody!).

“I also announced that Chris Cerf would be recommended to the State Board of Education as the next and likely last state superintendent for the Newark School district. I wholeheartedly endorse him to fulfill this unique roll. He has the integrity to focus on doing what is right for the children of Newark, (On what does he base this? Where is Cerf's resume? Why does he have more integrity than a superintendent with years of experience?) he has the strength to stand up to any corporate interests (What?! The audacity of this statement just floors me. Chris Cerf is the poster boy for corporate interest! Dear Lord, if there is but a smidgen of doubt in anyone's mind about Cerf's intentions, Jersey Jazzman has written a veritable enclycopedia on him. See hereherehereherehere.), he has the organizational experience to manage this larger, dynamic change process (What proof does Hespe have? Cerf taught high school history for 3 years back in the Stone Age and he is not a certified school administrator.), he’s innovative, and a true problem-solver. (Again, where' the proof?) He understands the Newark public schools and initiatives, as well as the community. (emphasis mine)

I almost fell off my chair when I read that last line. How in the world does he make that statement with a straight face? Cerf lives in the uber-wealthy, mostly white, Essex County suburb of Montclair, and when he was acting ed comissioner, he rented an apartment in the uber-wealthy and even more white Somerset County suburb of Montgomery. As Jersey Jazzman reported:

Earlier this year, Cerf rented an apartment in Somerset County that is closer to his job in Trenton than the home he shares with his wife and children in Montclair. Cerf said he rented the apartment in Montgomery because the area was "charming" and the rent was "reasonable."
[Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union)] said the committee should be "insulted" by Cerf’s deception. The real reason for Cerf’s move, he said, was a need to get out of Essex County because of [Sen. Ron] Rice’s decision to block [his] nomination. The unwritten senatorial courtesy rule allows senators to block gubernatorial appointees who reside in the counties the lawmakers serve.
"If you had sat down and said ‘I moved because of Senate rules or senatorial courtesy or Senator Rice, and I had to get a residence somewhere else,’ that’s one thing," Scutari said. "For you to sit here and tell us you moved to be closer to work when you have a driver, I cannot accept that answer." [emphasis mine]
"He has the ability to work with the charter school sector." 

Damn right he does! Cerf is a charter cheerleader extraordinaire! Back in 2013, blogger Darcie Cimarusti reported on Cerf buddie, Steven Wilson, who was looking to open several charter schools in state-controlled Paterson: 

Seems that if you know the Commissioner [Cerf] and [Evo Popoff] his Chief Innovation Officer you not only get wooed to open a charter school, you get cash money to boot!  
What's most frightening to me is that Wilson says his plan is to open a "cluster" of charters in Paterson. Paterson is home to 33 elementary schools, and four elementary academies.  Lots of room for Wilson to grab some market share, especially with Cerf and Popoff in his back pocket.
And let's not forget.  The people of Paterson knew NOTHING about this application until after it had been approved. This is being done TO the people of Paterson, not WITH them.  
How does Cerf get away with approving charters without community input time and time again?
Here's what needs to happen.  
The NJDOE needs to release every single document related to how Wilson's charter and grant applications were reviewed, as well as every other application in those application rounds. This is the only way the NJDOE can demonstrate that Wilson was not given a charter school and a $150,000 grant just because he knows Cerf and Popoff. We also need to know who reviewed those applications, how the reviewers were selected, and how the ratings impacted Cerf's final decisions.  

If anybody thinks the expansion of charters is going to diminish under Cerf, I have a bridge to close for sell you.

"In short, he is uniquely qualified to assume this role and hit the ground running quickly and effectively. (Yes, because he was Cami Anderson's puppet master.) I was here 20 years ago when the state board of education voted to takeover the Newark Public Schools and appoint a state superintendent. Truly, I believe we are presented with great opportunity to only build on the progress, which I know firsthand over those 20 years is often slow, and often painful, that was made over each minute of that 20 year period, to foster the improvement of lives of school children throughout the district which we set out to accomplish many years ago. (Granted change takes time, but after 20 years of state control, the state had only themselves to blame for educational outcomes in Newark. But Christie would never admit that, so instead, he assigned Cerf and Cami to dismantle the system.) We must also recognize that this path has great opportunity for improving it... but it’s also fraught with danger: danger of allowing the problems that led to state takeover in the first place to return; danger of distracting us from our singular goal of making children’s’ lives better.

“We need strength, we need wisdom, we need integrity, we need compassion, and we need commitment to doing what is in the best interest of the children of Newark. (But apparently we don't need experienced educators and educational leaders.) For those reasons, I urge you to approve the nomination of Chris Cerf as the next state operated superintendent.”

The resolution was then read, and board members, one by one, made comments and casted their votes.

(Note: See Melissa's report on Bob Braun's blog for full comments made by board members. For brevity's sake, I list only their votes.)

Arcelio Aponte: No (Not a Christie appointee.)

Board President Mark Biedron: Yes (Christie appointee)

Ronald Butcher: No (Not a Christie appointee)

Claire Chamberlain: Yes (Christie appointee)

Joe Fisicaro: Yes (Christie appointee)

Jack Fornaro: Yes (Christie appointee)

Edythe Fulton: No (Not a Christie appointee.)

Dorothy S. Strickland: No (Not a Christie appointee.)

Andrew J. Mulvihill: Yes (Christie appointee)

J. Peter Simon: Yes (Christie appointee)

Reaction from the audience included:

Donna Jackson, parent activist in Newark: 
“This is a slap in the face of every child in the city of Newark. The vote today just told every child in Newark that we care more about contracts, getting our friends jobs, closing down schools, and falsifying data, than seeing that their future is bright. I think the elected officials that represent Newark that agreed to this tragedy should all take a deep look inside themselves to see if they really can say they care about the children in the city of Newark. The request of Mr. Aponte should’ve been honored enforced and voted on today. We have another three years of hell in Newark, and believe me, the fight and protests will continue. We will not be quiet, we will not sit still. No, we will organize; we will continue to push back. We will run Cerf out of Newark as well.”

Donald G Jackson Jr., Newark school board member:  
“They have drawn a line in the sand. We know where they stand. The New Jersey State Board needs to get a grip on reality — they can’t talk about local budgets and talk about how money is spent and let Cami [Anderson] spend money in wasteful ways on salaries and failed reforms. I am very disappointed, but not surprised. At the end of the day, if it weren’t a poor black and Latino district we wouldn’t have this issue in the first place.”

In closing

The only voice of sanity in this Greek Tragedy is Mayor Ras Baraka, and he's asking the people of Newark to take a huge leap of faith. But how much longer are they supposed to wait? How much longer will their children be corporate 'reform' guinea pigs? What requirements will the state attach to their return of local control? If One Newark stays, how much hope do they really have? If the expansion of charter schools continues, how much longer can the district survive? 

The tone will be set when and if Cerf ever shows up. I've seen him in action at State Board of Ed and NJEA meetings, and I would like to offer him this one piece of advice: Check your ego at the door, and as I always tell my students: Mother Nature gave us two ears and one mouth because we need to speak less and listen more.  

Monday, July 6, 2015

Newark Residents Should Select Their Next Superintendent

We believe that the people of Newark should be able to democratically govern their public schools.  

Fortunately, Mark Biedron, President of NJ’s State Board of Education, seems to agree.  Mr. Biedron recently told the Star Ledger that the people of Newark having local control over the school district…is a good thing.” 

On Wednesday, Mr. Biedron will have an opportunity to act on this belief when the State Board votes on whether Chris Cerf should become Newark’s next Superintendent.  

If the State Board approves Mr. Cerf, it will be continuing a 20 year history of disenfranchisement for Newark’s nearly 300,000 residents, who have had no say in this decision.

If the Board rejects Mr. Cerf and instead approves a candidate selected by Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education, it will be putting Mr. Biedron’s admirable philosophy into practice.

There is plenty of precedent for allowing Newark to select its own superintendent.

Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson are all state-controlled school districts.  Yet Jersey City’s popularly-elected Board of Education selected its Superintendent, Marcia Lyles.  Paterson’s Superintendent, Dr. Donnie Evans, was selected by a committee that included members of Paterson’s popularly-elected Board of Educationalong with other community leaders.  In contrast, Newark’spopularly-elected Board of Education has had no voice in selecting Mr. Cerf, who was nominated for this position by Governor Christie.

Approving Mr. Cerf is also difficult to justify because Mr. Cerf lacks the qualifications necessary to run New Jersey’s largest school district.  Unlike Jersey City’s and Paterson’s leaders, Mr. Cerf has no prior experience as a superintendent.  

Nor is there a record of success in related public-education positions on which to base Mr. Cerf’s nomination.  In fact, Mr. Cerf’s tenure as New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education was marked by numerous poor decisions regarding Newark, including:

• Appointing and continuing to support Newark’s prior Superintendent, Cami Anderson, whose policies and behaviors generated broad-based rejection and rebellion from Newark residents;
• Improperly giving in to a demand from Ms. Anderson to allow her to retain full control over 28 low-performing schools, which resulted in New Jersey failing to comply with federal requirements; and 
• Forcibly maintaining State control of Newark's schools by dramatically lowering the district’s scores on the State’s monitoring system (QSAC) from the scores that Mr. Cerf had given the district less than a year earlier.  

The people of Newark deserve the right to select their next Superintendent.  They also deserve an experienced public education leader with a proven record of success.  Mr. Cerf’s candidacy fails on all these counts.

We encourage Mr. Biedron and the other State Board of Education members to vote no on Mr. Cerf’s nominationand to allow Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education to nominate the district’s next Superintendent.  

Newark’s residents have been deprived of their right to democratically control their public schools for 20 years.  It is long past time to correct this wrong! 


Rosie Grant, Piscataway, NJ

Parent and nonprofit leader


Michelle Fine, Montclair, NJ

Parent and professor


Judy DeHaven, Red Bank, NJ

Parent and writer


Valerie Trujillo, Jersey City, NJ

Parent and public education advocate


Jacklyn Brown, Manalapan, NJ

Parent and educator


Julia Sass Rubin, Princeton, NJ

Parent and professor


Linda Reid, Paterson, NJ

Parent and nonprofit leader


Melissa Katz, South Brunswick, NJ

Future educator


Bobbie Theivakumaran, Metuchen, NJ

Parent and investment banker


Lisa Winter, Basking Ridge, NJ

Parent, technology manager and former Board of Education member


Marcella Simadiris, Montclair, NJ

Parent and educator


Michelle McFadden-DiNicola, Highland Park, NJ

Parent and public education advocate


Bill Michaelson, Lawrence Township, NJ

Parent and computer scientist


Marie Hughes Corfield, Flemington, NJ

Parent, educator and blogger


Rita McClellan, Cherry Hill, NJ

Parent and administrator

Sarah Blaine, Montclair, NJ

Parent, attorney, and blogger


Susan Cauldwell, Spring Lake, NJ

Parent and nonprofit leader


Heidi Maria Brown, Pitman, NJ

Parent and educator


Julie Borst, Allendale, NJ

Parent and special education advocate


Susan Berkey, Howell, NJ

Parent and educator


Darcie Cimarusti, Highland Park, NJ

Parent and Board of Education member


Amnet Ramos, North Plainfield, NJ

Parent and educator


Elana Halberstadt, Montclair, NJ

Parent and writer/artist


Ani McHugh, Delran, NJ

Parent and educator


Jill DeMaio, Monroe, NJ



Tamar Wyschogrod, Morristown, NJ

Parent and journalist


Lauren Freedman, Maplewood, NJ

Parent and public education advocate


Lisa Rodgers, South Brunswick, NJ

Parent and business owner


Laurie Orosz, Montclair, NJ

Parent and public education advocate


Michael Kaminski, Mount Laurel, NJ

Parent and educator


Ronen Kauffman, Union City, NJ

Parent and educator


Frankie Adao, Newark, NJ

Parent and social media specialist



Kathleen Nolan, Princeton, NJ

Parent, researcher and lecturer


Sue Altman, Camden, NJ



Jennifer Cohan, Princeton, NJ

Parent and publicist


Daniel Anderson, Bloomfield, NJ

Parent and Board of Education member


Debbie Baer, Robbinsville, NJ

Parent and educator


Dan Masi, Roxbury Township, NJ

Parent and engineer


Susan Schutt, Ridgewood, NJ

Assistant principal and public education advocate


Karin Szotak, Madison NJ

Parent and business owner


Tiombe Gibson, Deptford, NJ

Parent and educator


Lisa Marcus Levine, Princeton, NJ

Parent and architect


Kristen Carr Jandoli, Haddon, NJ

Parent and public education advocate


Jean Schutt McTavish, Ridgewood, NJ

Parent and high school principal


Virginia Manzari, West Windsor, NJ.

Parent and businesswoman


Stephanie LeGrand, Haddonfield, NJ

Parent and public education advocate


Melanie McDermott, Highland Park, NJ

Parent and sustainability researcher


Nora Hyland, Asbury Park, NJ

Parent and professor


Beth O'Donnell-Fischer, Verona, NJ




Susie Welkovits, Highland Park, NJ

Parent and Borough Council President


Gregory M. Stankiewicz, Princeton, NJ

Parent and nonprofit leader


Margot Embree Fisher, Teaneck, NJ

Parent and former Board of Education member


Stephanie Petriello, Dumont, NJ

Parent, educator and business owner


Laura BeggBernards Township, NJ

Parent and public education advocate


Gary C. Frazier, Camden, NJ

Parent and community activist


Debbie Reyes, Florence Township, NJ



Christine McGoey, Montclair, NJ



Regan Kaiden, Collingswood, NJ

Parent and educator


Moneke Singleton-Ragsdale, Camden, NJ

Parent and administrator

Liz Mulholland, Westfield, NJ 

Parent and former educator


Toby Sanders, Trenton, NJ

Parent, pastor and educator