Tag Archive: Community

A “Welcome Back” Manifesto to South Brunswick’s Administrators

As South Brunswick kicks off a new school year, you can feel the excitement in the air. The aisles of Staples and its competitors are buzzing with parents and students eager to fulfill supply lists emailed and/or posted by their new teachers. Additionally, parents like myself are busy buying our kids new clothes, better technology and providing pep talks on the value of academic achievement and study.

Our students and teachers form the core of the vibrant community that we parents work extremely hard to sustain and support. Every class, every athletic contest, every school dance, every after-school event – we couldn’t do it without them. The community and its vitality just wouldn’t exist in their absence. It takes good students and passionate, diligent educators to make learning and creativity happen.  

All of this being said, you might have noticed that I did not add the term “administrator.” Administrators are part of the school community, to be sure, but they’re in a unique position that makes them very different than everyone else around them. Through the process of hiring, disciplining, managing and firing teachers they set the day-to-day tone for the entire school community. It takes years – even decades for a school district to build a working group of caring, effective, experienced and knowledgeable teachers, coaches, volunteers, etc. But what a school district can build in a decade, one or two administrators can wreck in six months. I’ve seen it happen.

While I am not speaking specifically about South Brunswick, from my perspective as an educator, parent and citizen, I’ve become wary of administrators. In my experience I have seen formerly superb, nurturing, achieving schools thrown into chaos at the hands of an ambitious, destructive administrator (or a set of them). I’ve seen good teachers silenced, intimidated and shown the door for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it was simply because an administrator didn’t like them, or that an administrator wanted to please another higher-up. Sometimes it was because an administrator considered an outspoken teacher a threat or a potential critic (typically, these are the most innovative educators as well). And while we all need to get along in any workplace, our schools are not typical workplaces. They are places where merit must win the day, because if it doesn’t, our entire educational investment will be squandered. And personally, we parents pay a lot of money for that investment.

For those parents and other residents who may not know, there is a lot of change going on in the administrative sector of education, and most of it is not good. Teachers are now held to new evaluation tools that, while originally intended to help them improve their practice, now provide administrators with greater leverage in getting rid of them, in increasing their misery, in making the professional atmosphere of our schools ‘toxic.’ Meanwhile, there’s been a titanic shift in paperwork in many districts that have led to an almost second job, albeit an uncompensated one, whereby teachers create, submit and correct endless unit plans, nonsensical “student outcome reports” and the like. None of these elements, not a single one, has contributed in my opinion to any improvement in classroom instruction.

So, with all of this in mind, I’d like to make a few short points to the educational administrators of South Brunswick, those leaders who command salaries that are frequently double that of our teachers:

1. You Work For Me. Yes, I know that sounds a bit, should I say, defiant, but make no doubt about it. As a town resident, taxpayer, and parent, you’re in my employ. My elected representatives have invested you with significant pay and power over the professionals that interact daily with my child. Even though I am not in the building every day, it is not your building. I pay for the instruction, the physical plant, the maintenance, the snow shoveling – everything. But most importantly, I pay for the community that provides the social, academic and developmental oxygen my child breathes. This community needs to be cared for and nurtured, not stifled, limited or intimidated – ever.

2. You Exist to Empower Our Educators. First and foremost, I am paying you to assist, coach, encourage, and of course, supervise the educators of our district. The fact that you can fire an educator is implied, but what is not frequently implied (and should be) is your core mission to empower them in their complex mission. I want our teachers to educate our children, to mentor them, to lead them, to challenge them, to help them grow. Teachers cannot do that if they’re in an atmosphere where you’re viewed as unstable, intimidating, sniveling or capricious. And if I found you you’re any of these, you’ll quickly hear from our community via email, letters and at Board of Ed meetings.

3. Avoid Obsessing with State Testing. Our testing culture has not lead to better schools or better educators. In fact, it is damaging the American mission to create the critical thinkers, leaders and innovators that our society was once known for. I understand there are some mandates that you must comply with, but do not let these mandates destroy the fabric of learning and support, as it has already in many of our nation’s schools.

4. I Am Holding You Responsible for Your Hires and Fires. Recruit and retain good people. Sometimes teachers have to be let go, and I understand that. But you hired the faculty, and if you’re going to fire someone, it had better be for a good, explicable, serious reason. I understand that specific personnel matters are usually held as confidential, but I’m not stupid either. If I see any pattern of teachers in their third year being fired, or if an otherwise talented, experienced educator being shown the door, my suspicions will immediately be raised. And frankly, if the statistics reveal that you’re firing something like 1 in 5 of the teachers that you’ve hired, I may ask why you are not being shown the door.

5. You Need to Lead. Administrators are paid to be leaders, and leaders in schools need to engage in community building. You need to reach out to teachers, parents and students, not rule by memo or email. You have to mingle and network. You need to cultivate a culture of inquiry, tolerance, calmness, collaboration, innovation and teamwork. If you operate like a tyrant, running our schools in an intimidating fashion, we’re going to find out.

6. Wow Me. I pay you a lot of money (did I mention that?). I want to see superb things going on in our schools. I want to see teachers fully supported in their instruction and professional development. I want to see theatrical productions, progressive social events, fundraisers and the like. I want to see you reaching out and forging relationships and creating programs with local hospitals, museums, businesses and universities. I want to see guest speakers and experts being brought into our schools and classes, sometimes directly, sometimes through teleconferencing tools like Skype. And I want you to provide regular updates, either via our website or through newsletters, on how you’re seeing this vision through.

7. Be Present. I want to see you at our events. You’re not a teacher. Teachers have papers to check and lessons to plan for. You’re an educational leader. Administrative team members should be present at events to encourage the community and cheer on students.

On Tuesday, I’ll be sure to carefully pack my son’s backpack with his supplies before sending him off to your capable care. To South Brunswick’s educational leaders/administrators I say: take good care of him, because I have my eyes on him…and you, too.  

Fight Back Against the Assault on Public Education: Dec. 9 Day of Action

promoted by Rosi

National Day of ActionThe assault on public education isn’t confined to Newark or Montclair or Highland Park or Camden. Not confined to Chris Christie’s New Jersey. It’s a national phenomenon and countering it will take a national pushback. The beginning of that pushback just could be Dec. 9 when a national coalition of educational, parent, community and civic groups launch “A National Day to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education.”

At a teleconference yesterday, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, outlined plans for a coordinated “day of action” in cities and towns throughout the country, most of them aimed at enlisting parents and community members in the fight against the corporate takeover of public education.

“We’re reclaiming the collaboration we have always had with parents in support of all public school students,” Weingarten said. She added the National Education Association also is a partner in the effort that she hopes will be followed up by sustained efforts to keep public education well-funded and out of private control.

New Jersey organizations in the coalition include the Newark Teachers Union (NTU), the Education Law Center, and New Jersey Communities United.

We need our libraries

The Edison Public Library hosted a panel  of local authors on April 28th.  That’s one of the many reasons to support and fund our public libraries.

Edison Library isn’t the largest library I’ve seen. It’s two stories, but the surrounding acreage isn’t huge.  It’s on a busy street and getting in can be a hassle.  The back is white brick with small windows and a loading dock.  The outside appearance doesn’t matter because the inside has all the good stuff.

They have computers for public use and on Saturday, there was a line.  The magazine racks were full of current copies of magazines. They had a meeting room on the second floor for the author’s panel. I didn’t get a head count, but they told me there were twenty people who wanted to know and talk about publishing with published authors from the state.  

I enjoy going to bookstores, both big and small independent. The stores are out to make a profit. There are thousands of authors that publish yearly. The stores can’t accommodate them and if the author doesn’t have a big profitable following, the big store won’t accommodate themI. The library will. There may not be sales to be had. There may not be big name authors, but there is passion for art, for discussion, and community.  

Grandpa Harry is spinning furiously in his grave

This is long, but interesting to read something of the man who was an inspiration to a young seeker of municipal office. Stephen, who as a teen was the first person to get a Blue Jersey account after founder Juan Melli, is a candidate for municipal office in Berkeley Heights. – Rosi

After I published my last article here (thank you to everyone who commented on it), I received an e-mail from a New Jersey friend of mine, and a sometime-Democratic activist. My friend wrote, in part:

“What the **** gives you the right to call out Sweeney? He was a labor leader when you were in diapers.”

No, I’m not in a union. I don’t believe graduate students have a union to join, although I could be wrong. And no, I don’t have the “credentials” of Senator Sweeney when it comes to a labor background.

But I can tell you this – the movement for workers to gain their freedom is in my blood. Were it not for organizers like my Grandpa Harry, a Gloucester County ironworker could never have become the leader of the New Jersey State Senate.

The Public Realm, Part 1

The following was written by Bob Stern and cross-posted at The Englewood Report.  Much of what is proposed here can be applied to cities and towns throughout New Jersey and the United States at large.

The public realm has to inform us not only where we are geographically, but it has to inform us where we are in our culture, where we?ve come from, what kind of people we are ? and by doing that, it needs to afford us a glimpse of where we?re going in order to allow us to dwell in a hopeful present.

Think about those young men and women in places like Iraq spilling their blood in the sand and ask yourself what is their last thought of home?  I hope it?s not the curb cut between the Chuck E. Cheese and the Target store. – James Howard Kunstler

The rush to convert Englewood into CondoBankMallville has stalled somewhat as the overheated market, over-leveraged developers and oversold taxpayers are cooling to the process.  Exacerbating the costs to residential taxpayers is the continuing granting of variances  to projects that take properties off the tax rolls and the special deals given to politically-connected developers.

And what of the stewardship of keystone community assets?