Thursday, October 18, 2007

Carter Cites District Improvements

What a state monitoring team found seven months ago and what exists now in the Plainfield schools are two entirely different things, Interim Schools Superintendent Peter E. Carter told about 50 people who came to hear his response to the team’s scathing report.

Hired in the wake of former Schools Superintendent Paula Howard’s abrupt resignation in June, Carter arrived just in time to hear that Plainfield had failed in four out of five categories of performance. Since then, Carter said he and the administrators he calls his “post-6/11 team” have made changes that he said have gone far to overturn scores of 61 percent for operations, 38 percent for personnel, 32 percent for fiscal management, 11 percent for governance and 8 percent for instruction and program.

Holding his thumb and index finger about a half-inch apart, Carter said, “The Trenton forces were about this close to running your school district.”

But since June 11, he said, dismissal of uncertified staff and proper placement of others in line with their certification, along with improved staff development, has put personnel more likely at the 95 percent mark.

On fiscal management, Carter said in the first five days his team was able to get more than $500,000 in federal funds for free and reduced lunches released to the district. With other efforts, he said, “We are easily at 75 percent at this point.”

Governance, or how the Board of Education functions, has improved and three of seven “no” responses are being re-examined by the state Department of Education as possibly mistaken.

On operations, which include student conduct, school safety and security, Carter said, “Plainfield does it,” but he said monitors may not have received correct answers to specific questions. For example, the code of student conduct is on the district web site, but apparently monitors were not made aware of it. Carter said staff will do a “thorough walk-through” of the state tally sheet on operations to verify conditions.

Carter called the 8 percent score for instruction and program “shameful” and said monitors found classrooms lacking in plainly displayed curriculum goals.

“Why was it eight? It’s so simple, it was embarrassing,” he said.

Over the summer, administrators toiled to produce the curriculum statements, but Carter said the effort was not final. In remarks before his response to the state report, Carter said the state could not figure out what the district was teaching. But he said the district will work on having not only a curriculum for all subjects, but also a “scope and sequence” so parents can see what their children are expected to be learning in all grades.

Carter concluded his response with an appeal for those in attendance to sign up to help with long-range planning or work on operations or instruction for the district.

Before giving his response to the state monitoring report, Carter spent about an hour regaling the audience with anecdotes from his decades of experience in education, family stories and his philosophy of education. Wearing a lapel microphone, he sat on a stool or paced around in the style of a performer, drawing laughter and applause. Carter said he retired at age 60 at his daughter’s request and only came out of retirement after receiving a call to serve the Plainfield district. He said he has not applied to be a candidate in the national search that is currently underway for a permanent superintendent.

Among his special concerns were the district’s middle schools. Hubbard has not met federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards for seven years, placing the school among only 38 out of more than 600 in the state in that category. Maxson has also failed to meet AYP standards. Carter said when top state DOE officials came to Plainfield, they spent an hour out of a 90-minute meeting talking about Hubbard Middle School.

In response to citizen comments on curriculum and instruction, Carter said he has 33 applications for the post of director of Curriculum and Instruction and he hopes to make a recommendation soon to the Board of Education.

Teacher morale has improved since June, Plainfield Education Association President Eric Jones said in response to resident Maria Pellum's concern that morale was declining.

At the end of the meeting, Carter thanked all for “fellowshipping” and said, “There is something churchly about what we’re doing. It’s about saving souls.”

Meeting quotes from Chief School Administrator Carter:

“What we do, what I do, is only about children.”

“I and my team do not do politics. I do children only. I am not that good with adults and really bad with politicians”

“Your children here in Plainfield are very good children.”

“We are letting children know we are not tolerating misbehavior.”

“I can’t live pre-6/11. I just refuse to.”

--Bernice Paglia


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