Posted by JANINE WALKER-CAFFREY at 5/29/2012
I am writing this entry in a response to the many rumors that are currently swirling around our district. We need to focus on the kids and families we serve, so I believe it might be helpful to put these rumors to rest. Anyone who still has questions is more than welcome to call, email, text, or talk to me face-to-face. I would be delighted to come to your school and have lunch with you or meet with you during your prep, teacher team meetings, or before or after school. You are also welcome to make an appointment to come and meet with me at my office. I want us all to continue to engage in honest dialogue so we can move forward together.
Just in case you were wondering…
1. I graduated from Rowan University – back in the days when it was known as Glassboro State – with a very traditional degree. I majored in special education, earned a B.A. in 1984, and became certified as a teacher of the handicapped in New Jersey. I earned my master’s degree in educational administration from Penn State in 1991. My thesis topic was “Comparing the Educational Impact of State Education Funding in Pennsylvania and South Carolina.” I earned my doctorate from Nova Southeastern University in 1998. My dissertation topic was “Improving Educational Quality in Juvenile Justice Programs through Student Assessment.”
2. Just after earning my master’s degree, I received my first administrative certificate from South Carolina. I have also held teaching and administrative certificates in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Florida, and New York. All of my teaching experience was in public schools as a special education teacher, including Camden City and Burlington County Special Services. Yes, I do have an administrative certificate in New Jersey. Just like everyone else who comes into the state (I was only certified as a teacher in NJ previously), when I returned to my home state, I had to go through the normal process. I got a certificate of eligibility in administration, was hired by a school district and assigned a mentor by the county superintendent. I then received my provisional certificate and had to complete the mentoring program. I have completed my mentoring requirements and will receive my standard certificate at the end of June. Even though I had the same type of certificate in three other states, and had a total of about 18 years of administrative experience, I had to go through this process.
3. No, I have never attended the Broad Institute, so I would not be considered a “Broadie.”
4. Yes, I did work for AMIkids. This amazing organization is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping troubled kids, through partnerships with local school districts, social services agencies, and juvenile justice agencies. I worked for them for 10 years and am very proud of the work I did. My job included oversight of alternative schools (which were actually public schools) in many states and school districts, including the cities of Chicago, New Orleans and Miami – just to name a few. Yes, I would like AMIkids to work with Perth Amboy Public Schools, to assist us in improving our I&RS system, and to support teachers in dealing with children with behavioral issues. This would be a short-term arrangement, and result in an overall increase of capacity among educators, counselors, and support staff in dealing with students with behavioral challenges. No, there is nothing in it for me – other than the satisfaction of helping kids.
5. Yes, I did work for the New York City Department of Education, and my official title was assistant superintendent. New York’s system is very complex, and those of us with the title of assistant superintendent did not report directly to superintendents, so we were given “functional” titles relative to our assignments. I was assigned to a Children First Network (every one of NYC’s over 1500 schools chooses its own support network) to work with 25 schools, serving over 10,000 students. Over half of those schools serve immigrant students exclusively. In that assignment, I was known as an Achievement Manager. My responsibilities were very similar to those of Dr. Vivian Rodriguez, and every other assistant superintendent I have ever known.
6. Yes, my husband and I did own and operate a private school in Florida called Renaissance Academy, that accepts state scholarships (vouchers) for children with special needs and those from low income families. Yes, it is a tax-paying organization – not a non-profit. No, I did not make any money doing it. The reason my husband and I decided to incorporate it as a tax-paying organization was because we used our own money to start the school. We cashed in my pension, took out personal loans, and sold our home to raise the money. We actually lived in a converted conference room over the school because we had to sell our home to make it work. A non-profit organization requires financial control by a board of trustees, and we were not comfortable releasing control of our money to a volunteer group. There are some who are saying that we stole money from Renaissance Academy. I am not sure how that is possible, since we would only have stolen from ourselves. We did eventually partner with another married couple when the school’s survival was in question. That couple now owns and operates the school themselves. The only thing that we still have is the debt, which we continue to repay, and the satisfaction of knowing there are children who have graduated high school and college who may have otherwise not had that opportunity.
7. No, I did not know Christopher Cerf prior to coming to Perth Amboy. We were not even acquaintances. We may have worked in the same building in NYC at one time, but I am not sure. That building housed over 700 employees, so I didn’t know everyone there. The first time I ever had a conversation with Mr. Cerf was in 2012 when I attended a superintendents’ meeting at the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. I think the conversation lasted all of five minutes. A few weeks later, we spoke on a panel together at Princeton University that was a reflection of No Child Left Behind. Cerf spoke as a policy maker, and I as a practitioner who has been an educator throughout NCLB’s history. That’s it. That is the extent of our “relationship.”
8. No, I did not know Joel Rose prior to coming to Perth Amboy. I think I did meet him a couple of times when I was working in NYC, but when I reached out to him last fall, he told me he did not recall our ever meeting. I never worked directly with him, and never saw him outside of the work setting. His work team was creating School-of-One a few years ago and was assigned a work table in a large conference room, next to where my work team was assigned. That was how I learned about School-of-One. I was interested in it since it was so innovative, and went on a tour. I was very intrigued, but did not have any involvement with the program while I worked in NYC, and hadn’t thought much about it since. In October, 2011, Donna Chiera invited me to attend a conference in Boston called “Extended Learning Time.” I was so honored that the AFT was willing to pay for me to attend this conference and excited by the possibility of collaborating with our union president. Joel Rose happened to be presenting in one of the workshops I attended. In the workshop, I learned that Rose had created a new non-profit organization that was looking to bring new transformative innovations to districts around the country. I thought it might be something that would interest our schools since they were really struggling with math achievement. Rose met with Dr. Garcia and other PAPS administrators and then came to Perth Amboy to meet with the faculty and staff at McGinnis Middle School to explore whether both sides felt a partnership would make for a good fit. Following that meeting, the McGinnis teachers successfully convinced the Board of Education to bring this to Perth Amboy. McGinnis is currently in the middle of a pilot after-school program (which Dr Garcia and the program's teachers have said is going extremely well). The program is now known as Teach-to-One Math, and is operated by a non-profit organization called New Classrooms, under the leadership of Joel Rose and Chris Rush. Although Joel Rose worked in the same department as Chris Cerf at one time, Cerf has no affiliation with this program. There is a rumor that other school systems have gotten the program “for free.” This is a highly sophisticated program that depends on a team of skilled professionals. It would not be possible for it to be free. New York City contracted with New Classrooms to manage School of One and will be licensing to New Classrooms the software code associated with School of One, rather than making any cash payments. Chicago is paying for it through a grant it received from the local Chicago business community as well as contributions from local school budgets. Perth Amboy has not had the blessing of an outside grant, but can pay for it through its own funding sources, just as it pays for textbooks and other services. And, despite the insistence of some conspiracy theorists, this program is not designed to steal money from Perth Amboy Public Schools. We are all just hoping that our kids will get a better education by being a part of it.
9. No, my husband doesn’t have a business and is no longer working with students. He began his professional life as a New Jersey State Trooper. He has also been a warehouse manager, an instructor with AMIkids, a disciplinarian in public schools, and the best dean of students I could ever hope for at Renaissance Academy. He worked for free for six years, while I took a minimal salary for my work. If you ask him what he does, he will likely tell you that taking care of me is a full-time job. Drew and I have two children, who are now grown and live on their own. We have had two former students share our home with us over the years, but currently have no kids at home.
10. Drew and I moved to Perth Amboy on New Year’s Day and absolutely love living here. No, we do not own any property in New York City, although we do enjoy visiting.
11. Contrary to rumors, I have NOT put in place a new student retention policy. I believe we need to take a good look at what we are doing when students fail or don’t acquire the skills they need to move to the next grade. What I have instructed principals to do is to work collaboratively with teachers to determine what is in the best interest of each individual child. If everyone agrees that the child should be retained, what will be done differently the following year to ensure success? We can’t just do the same thing again and expect different results. We have been engaging in dialogue about this issue for some time now. As a result, educators are developing new approaches in their schools to help more children find success.
12. The only thing that changed in our discipline policy is the issue of student suspension. In order to suspend a student, there must be a conversation between a building administrator and myself. Sometimes, in very clear-cut cases, the conversation takes place through a simple email or text. Sometimes it is a lengthier phone or in-person dialogue. Other times, we might get the child study team involved. Regardless, it happens very quickly so the school can respond in a timely manner. I believe we have a responsibility to be thoughtful about removing a child’s right to an education. The result of this policy has been a student-centered, instructional approach to discipline that considers the need to keep others safe, while assisting the student with the discipline issue. Although our suspension rate has decreased markedly, we certainly still DO suspend students. And no, school violence has NOT increased. In fact, overall discipline issues have actually decreased. We certainly have a lot to do to improve student behavior, but what we are doing is putting us on the right track. I applaud all of our principals, vice principals, teachers, and counselors for working so hard this year to improve our results with our kids.
13. No, I did NOT know anyone whom I recommended for hire in Perth Amboy. Not one person. Dr. Nestor Collazo was hired by the Board of Education at the same time I was. The first time I met him was when we were both appointed to our positions at a BOE meeting. A Board member recommended that I interview Mr. Alvaro Cores for the principal position at Richardson in July. He went through the same process as everyone else, and was hired because he was the very best candidate for that position. Hands down. The reason that the three of us seem to be aligned is because of the Board. This Board of Education, in 2011, stated continually that they were committed to educational improvement of Perth Amboy Public Schools. They were bold and courageous, and looked for educational leaders who shared their vision and philosophy of education. So if it seems that Nestor, Al, and I share an agenda, we do. It is the agenda established by this Board of Education when we were all hired in 2011.
14. Yes, I am for school choice, but no, I am not working to bring more charter schools to Perth Amboy. There are no current or potential applications that I am aware of to bring any new charter schools here. My job here is to improve our schools and ensure that every child has an opportunity to receive a high quality education. The Academy for Urban Leadership is now completing its second year of operation in our community. It currently serves about 200 students and will increase to 400 students over the next two years. There is a new virtual charter school available for students who have dropped out of school that has the potential to serve some of the students we have already lost. These are OUR kids, so our school district should support and partner with AUL and the Virtual Charter as appropriate, just as it does with our preschool providers, private schools, vocational school, and post-secondary institutions. We routinely share services with ALL of these organizations, and will continue to do so to benefit our children and families.
Thanks to all of you who have maintained your focus on the students and families of Perth Amboy. Hopefully by discussing this information, we can put some rumors to rest.