Tuesday, July 31, 2007

School Board Terminates Another Supervisor

Another key person in the administration of former Schools Superintendent Paula Howard has been found to be unqualified and was terminated by the school board Tuesday.

In a special meeting at Clinton School, the board voted to terminate Soundaram Ramaswami as supervisor of Evaluation, Assessment and Research.

When asked the importance of the title after the meeting, Interim Schools Superintendent Peter Carter said, “That position deals with all of the statewide testing, analysis of statewide testing, the effectiveness of our instruction and recommendations for student improvement.”

Carter called the supervisor’s work “an integral part of education in New Jersey and in the United States.”

“Unless we assess what we do, we don’t know what we’re doing,” Carter said.

Asked how important it is that the post be filled, Carter said, “It is imperative and we will deal with it.”

Previously this month, the board accepted the resignation of Lillie Sipp as director of Curriculum and Instruction because she was not properly certified for the job.

The vacancies come as the district also has an interim board secretary/ business administrator and is searching for a permanent superintendent.

The superintendent search was also discussed Tuesday, but not all board members understood board president Patricia Barksdale’s call for each board member to reach out to districts that had previously used search consultants. Barksdale asked each member Tuesday to submit by Wednesday any questions they would ask of consultants. She also asked board members to call districts that had used the search firms to get feedback on how well the consultants performed.

Several search consultants are scheduled to make presentations to the board on Aug. 7, Barksdale said, framing the calls to districts as “due diligence.” But several board members said consultants might back out or be deemed unsuitable Aug 7, suggesting the inquiries would be better made after the presentations.

Barksdale said the goal was to have a uniform questionnaire for the search process. But board member Lisa Logan-Leach said, “This whole thing just seems kinda strange.”

Logan-Leach said the process had been stalled for two months and suggested that Barksdale’s proposal was “kinda helter-skelter.”

Barksdale stuck to her guns, saying, “We have to take different steps and different actions.”

Next the board moved on to the question of how new business might be raised. Barksdale said perhaps as many as three new items might be added at work and study sessions, with the board having two passes at the issues and the public having one pass of commentary.

The goal appeared to be not to let meetings get bogged down in drawn-out discussions, but most board members did not see a need for change in current procedures until a formal policy was written.

The meeting adjourned at 8:35 p.m., having only started at 8 p.m., an hour after the posted time. The 50 or more people who waited an hour for the public portion to begin went home without any chance to comment on the topics.

--Bernice Paglia

Waiting for NJQSAC

For those who want to know more about NJQSAC while awaiting Plainfield’s report, the first seven reports can be read online.

Each one consists of an Evaluation Team Review, a Commissioner’s Report and a Curriculum Audit. The first seven reports released by the state Department of Education are on Asbury Park, Camden, Irvington, Jersey City, Newark, Salem and Trenton. Reports for Atlantic City and Paterson are expected to be released this week and later the reports for Plainfield and Elizabeth are expected.

It was interesting to me to see that Plainfield’s new assistant superintendent, Walter Rusak, was on the Newark review team. The teams went through classrooms and assessed numerous factors for the evaluations, such as teacher preparation and use of computers. It’s worth looking at one or two to get an idea of how they were done.

Districts received scores in five performance areas. Scores over 80 indicated high performance. Scores between 50 and 80 showed a need for a corrective action plan. A score below 50 in any area meant the state Department of Education would work with a district to identify and resolve problems.

NJQSAC stands for New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum and is the new monitoring system that will be used to assess every school district in the state. The DOE started with the Abbott districts, which receive large amounts of state aid.

After many years of increasing state aid to Abbott districts, the DOE has in the past few years kept aid flat. Suburban districts, where school budgets are mostly supported by local taxes, have complained that Abbott districts are not showing results for all the state aid poured into them.

No doubt changes are coming in public education and state funding. The reports will be the basis for state intervention where necessary. Take a look at the DOE press release and maybe a couple of reports to see how this new system is set up.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, July 30, 2007

Vines and Weeds

As far as I know, Plainfield doesn’t have kudzu. But around my neighborhood, there are plenty of other vines that are draping trees and shrubs with an unwanted green mantle.

On my block we have wisteria, bittersweet, Virginia Creeper, honeysuckle, poison ivy, wild grape, nightshade, English Ivy, bindweed, virgin’s bower and morning glory vines slithering on fences, walls, shrubs and trees. This year the vines seem to be especially prolific. I bought a machete at Park Hardware to do battle with some of the vines.

The sidewalk to Park Avenue from Municipal Lot 7 is just about impassable due to vines hanging off the fence and running along the ground. An unruly border of mares-tails completes the neglected look of the passageway.

While our resident mockingbird enjoys the fruits of some of these vines, they are mostly just a nuisance to us humans.


Down at Netherwood Station, there is a weed that is not just annoying, it is actually dangerous to dogs. When I looked up foxtail grass, I found out its seeds can work themselves into a dog’s nose, ears, mouth and other body parts, requiring a veterinarian’s care to remove them and treat infection caused by the barbs. This is one of the weeds that are covering up the lily turf around the lawn sign.

The sensible way to remove weeds is to pull them up early, but that assumes the ability to recognize them before they take over. We got rid of a lot of mugwort in the spring, but then it took off in early summer and now dominates one garden patch.
Someone once said a weed is just a plant in the wrong place. I have a soft spot for some weeds, like Flower-of-an-hour. It's such a strange plant, with its elusive blooms and its papery seed capsules, that I tend to let it be wherever it shows up.
The best thing about weeds may be the pure satisfaction a gardener feels when a flower bed is thoroughly purged of interlopers and is completely tidy - at least for that moment.
--Bernice Paglia


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Challenges

When I agreed to help out the Ward 2 Challenge for National Night Out, I envisioned arriving at the Netherwood train station with a bag full of neatly-trimmed irises, ready for planting.

But one look at the target site made me realize there was more to be done.

The existing plantings, at least as of Thursday, were overgrown with weeds and weed trees, some two or three feet high. So before planting, there had to be weeding.

Hmmm. I have some great weeding tools, but since I planned to hop the train to Netherwood with my irises, I had to rethink that idea for weeding.


One of my best tools is a long-handled Wilkinson Sword steel swoe, with a sharp blade at the business end.
The other one is a Korean ho-mi, a hand tool with a leaf-shaped blade whose point can pierce the most stubborn clump of weeds. I pictured trying to get on the train with these lethal-looking weapons.



Even if I got a ride to Netherwood, the thought of weeding for hours there when I have plenty of undone weeding at home gave me pause.

Then there is the question of who will remove the debris once the weeds are pulled. A woman who said she worked for NJ Transit told me and Maria that the Parking Authority takes care of maintaining the grounds. Indeed, the lawn was very neatly trimmed, but my experience has been that guys who like to ride lawnmowers do not always look kindly on digging out weeds (unless there is some behemoth machine to run while doing it).

So volunteers would have to sort out the foxtail grass from the lily turf, and then get someone to take away the pulled weeds. I’m wondering what I have got myself into.

As if these issues weren’t enough, the Board of Education has now scheduled a special meeting for the same night as the Ward 2 Challenge. The meeting notice talks about personnel, the superintendent’s search and board structure. Intriguing. Talk about a challenge – this one involves the entire school district.

Even though I am now thinking my simple offer to donate irises is falling into the category of “no good deed goes unpunished,” I decide everything will work out somehow. The train station will be beautified. We will find out what the special meeting is all about. And NJ Transit will not call for Homeland Security to deal with an elderly lady wielding sharp objects on the three-minute ride from the main station to Netherwood.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, July 28, 2007

BOE Alert!

A special school board meeting will take place Tuesday, just when some of us have committed to the Ward 2 Challenge for National Night Out.
Click here for details on the board meeting.
If I am not planting irises at Netherwood, I may be there.
Otherwise, all y'all will have to let me know what happens.

--Bernice Paglia

Remember Ray


As Maria suggested, today is a day to remember Ray Blanco.

Ray Blanco’s untimely death a year ago robbed the city of a powerful force. Ray only wanted the best for Plainfield and passionately pushed and pulled people toward that goal. As City Council president, he envisioned a governing body that put all its energy toward public service. He drew up rules that included an ambitious committee and liaison system with periodic reports to the full council. He expected the administration to perform at an equally high level.

I leave it to the readers to judge the current situation as Ray would see it.

It’s not too late to honor Ray’s vision by revisiting the system of 10 liaisons and five committees and getting the reports he felt would strengthen the fabric of city life. A lot of things are going unexamined to the extent that Ray wanted. Code enforcement, cable television, technology, bridges and other topics need the study that Ray sought.

Few people have the passion and drive that Ray showed in his many-faceted life, and maybe it was too much even for Ray himself to work at that pitch. But we can recall Ray as an inspiration to go the extra mile and give the extra ounce of devotion to the city we love.

Let’s do it for Ray.

--Bernice Paglia

What's Your Neighborhood's Walk Score?

One of my favorite web sites, not martha, had a link to a new gizmo that can indicate the “walkability” of your neighborhood or a location to which you may be considering a move.

The Walk Score site has a giant disclaimer that information is based on Google maps and may not be up to date. As not martha reports, the links don’t tell anything other than the geographical location, so the true nature of a link may not be apparent (such as how scary it may be in real life to go there).

Still, it is fun to put in an address and see what comes up. As I already knew, my location near Park & Seventh has a high walkability score. People living there can get around without owning a car. In my neighborhood, there are bus and rail links that dramatically expand access to shopping and services.

With all this talk of transit villages, a Walk Score is of interest. Currently, the location of the old Grant Avenue train station comes up rather short on walkability and Clinton Avenue is worse, with part of its score depending on proximity to sites in Dunellen.

Also the Walk Score is not based on half- or quarter-mile distances from transportation hubs, a frequently-quoted indicator in transit village talk. The Walk Score assumes one might walk more than a mile to Dunkin Donuts or to a movie theater.

In considering transit village proposals, city planning and zoning board members have wisely suggested that mixed-use development is better than residential alone. Increasing density around transit hubs without providing for shops and services will only drive condo owners into their cars to buy groceries or get a haircut. With transit-oriented development proposed all along the Raritan Valley Line, buyers are likely to choose the most walkable locations over those where amenities are lacking.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, July 27, 2007

NJQSAC, City Web Site, Etc.



Yesterday I was asked to put my PRESS hat on to write about the impending release of the NJQSAC report on the Plainfield school district. Read all about it in the Courier News. The state Department of Education began releasing the reports on Abbott districts this week. Click here for the first DOE press release on the reports.

Meanwhile, the moribund city web site showed signs of life. It still needs work but at least the city administrator and the finance director are finally up there, six months after they came aboard. I sent over a chart detailing the balance of City Council meetings for 2007, but it bounced back. FYI, the August meetings are 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20 for the agenda session in City Hall Library and 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22 for the regular meeting in Municipal Court. There will be a special meeting at 8 p.m. Aug. 9 in City Hall Library solely for a public hearing and final passage of Bond Ordinance No. 1244. The ordinance combines several previous ordinances for a bond issue of $13.7 million. Details are in a legal notice in yesterday’s Courier News, pages E-12 and E-13.

Dottie G. reported a victory for citizens who opposed the Abbott Manor expansion. Residents opposed the expansion, arguing it would have marred the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District. After the Zoning Board approved the expansion, a group organized to fight the decision. Yesterday it was overturned, Dottie reports, in a two-hour oral ruling. Apparently no reporters were in the courtroom. Not sure how the story will come out in the newspapers.

All six residential historic districts are supposed to have district associations, but only Van Wyck Brooks and more recently, Crescent Area, seem to have viable support groups. The associations are valuable for their ability to bring out issues affecting a district, as well as to keep up the camaraderie and pride of living in a designated historic district. The local historic preservation movement put Plainfield on the map several years ago, linking the city to others nationwide where Victorian buildings are a draw for tourists and home buyers alike.

Kudos to all those who work hard to preserve the districts. Click here for news of the Van Wyck Brooks district and here for Crescent.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Senior Center Update

The construction fence is up, the earth is being moved at 400 East Front Street, site of the new senior center and 63 condos. While I was there Wednesday morning, the big shovel hit something that produced puffs of white dust or smoke. Notice the worker peering into the hole to see what it was. Maybe a metal tank?

Meanwhile, at 305 East Front Street, a big crowd was waiting for vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables. Center employees expected about 200 people to sign up.
I asked member Betty Carson, 67, how she felt about seeing the start of construction.
"Right now, I have confidence that it is going to happen," she said. "I'm very happy. I wasn't sure I would live to see it."
Those who completed the paperwork for their vouchers had only to step outside behind the center to make their selections. Each eligible person got four $5 vouchers for the fresh produce.
--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Amigurumi

It has now been eight months since I took up walking instead of driving. The idea of getting a new car is becoming less and less attractive. Certainly, by walking I have seen things I would never have discovered through a windshield. Maybe I will be forced to get a car for some reason in the near future, but meanwhile I am enjoying my pedestrian existence.

The crocheted dragonfly above used to dangle from my rearview mirror. After I took it down, I wondered about it. Who would take the time to crochet this whimsical creature with so much intricate detail? It turns out this dragonfly wearing a tutu is an example of amigurumi, a Japanese art that crocheters all over the world have taken up. This one was a gift from my daughter, whose location in Seattle gives her access to a treasure trove of Asian food, arts and customs.

Click here to see a Flickr set of amigurumi. There are lots of pattern books available for anyone inclined to give amigurumi a try. Some people even make tiny animals using sewing thread and a very fine crochet hook.

I have always enjoyed crocheting, both for useful items and fiber art. To see something take shape from a ball of yarn or string is always interesting to me. And for sheer ingenuity, amigurumi beats the heck out of granny squares.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, July 23, 2007

Carilloneur Visits Plainfield

A small but appreciative crowd heard carilloneur Toru Takao perform Sunday at Grace Episcopal Church. The hour-long concert included works by Mozart and J.S. Bach as well as two Japanese koto pieces and a "Triptych for Carillon." The concert concluded with George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."
The Pittis carillon is a gift from the Pittis family. The original two-octave carillon was dedicated in 1923. It was doubled in size by brothers Walter and Bertram Pittis and the second dedication was in 1976. For more information on the carillon, click here.

Carilloneur Toru Takao with Walter Pittis, left, and Albert Pittis, right. The young musician became interested in the carillon while doing volunteer work in Germany after earning a degree in German literature from Kwansei-Gakuin University in Japan. He received a bachelor of music degree for carillon and is studying for his masters degree in carillon.
The church will hold another carillon concert along with a peach festival in August. For more details, click here and scroll down.
--Bernice Paglia



Of Opinions and Action

Recent events in the school district made me want to review the lengthy opinion piece authored by Scott Booker in January.

Booker trashed board members who voiced support for Schools Superintendent Paula Howard and pointed out numerous lapses by the Howard and her administration. Among them:
-Last-minute notification of parents and staff when Jefferson School students were sent to the swing school and the elementary school building became an administrative site.
-High staff turnover due to what Booker saw as a lack of support and failure to do evaluations.
-Howard’s move to shut down classrooms for preschool disabled children.
-Forgetting to put $1.8 million in the budget for a charter school.
-Shoddy Human Resources operations.
-Lack of textbooks.
- Failed leadership.

The Jan. 14 article was followed by several laudatory posts on the Star-Ledger’s online forum, with writers calling on Scott Booker to run for the school board and sorting out the “ignorant and dangerous” Howard supporters from her “reasonable and righteous” detractors.

While Scott Booker did not write the headline – “Howard must be removed as city schools chief” – it summed up the gist of his piece.

In April, voters returned one of the “ignorant and dangerous” board members to office, along with one “reasonable and righteous” board member.

Fast forward to June: In rapid sequence, there is a special June 5 board meeting to hire an interim board secretary/business administrator, but the meeting adjourns with no decision. On June 6, Howard submits her resignation. On June 8, a Friday, an emergency meeting takes place at which the board unanimously accepts Howard’s resignation, hires Peter Carter as interim superintendent and upon his recommendation hires Michael Donow as board secretary/business administrator.

It’s a good thing that all the board members are now apparently “reasonable and righteous,” because they will soon have to cope with a state Department of Education report that found deficiencies in five aspects of district functioning - instruction and program, fiscal management, operations, governance and personnel – more or less what Scott Booker calls “critical functions” in his piece.

As promised, Carter is already taking aim at improvements and some of Howard’s cabinet members are gone.

I ran into Mr. Carter this week at the 504 Madison Avenue and attempted a pleasantry which failed miserably. Carter came across as driven, on a mission and not about to deal with my chit-chat. I’m told he is also about to set up a format for communicating with the board and administration, perhaps to cut down on extraneous stuff while he grapples with what must be an all-consuming task – saving a school district.

Other top administrators have tried to ward off the schmoozers, second-guessers and busybodies that Plainfield seems to have in abundance. Now even people with the best intentions may find that Carter simply cannot deviate from his task and the polite thing to do would be just to leave him to it.

As for the highly-opinionated Scott Booker, he did not run for office. He has not been heard from since January. Anna and Charles Booker don’t know him. Whatever the merits of his arguments, the call-and-response nature of the opinion piece and the forum posts suggests a bit of orchestration.

Now it’s only July and one of the forum posters is already looking at next April and attempting to demonize one of the incumbent board members. The honeymoon is over. Let the politics resume!

With Howard and her cabinet gone, how long will it be before the nay-sayers try to put the interims in the crosshairs? It most likely won’t bother Carter or shake his focus. Maybe he knows that taking potshots is a local sport.

What it will do is foul the air when Plainfield needs all the oxygen it can get. When that report comes out, there can only be one agenda. Homegrown fault-finding will likely pale next to the official analysis of the district’s problems. Throwing stink-bombs instead of knuckling down to solve the problems will only make Plainfield look foolish.

Scott Booker may feel vindicated by the monitors’ findings, but being right about what’s wrong is a hollow victory at best. The victory will come if all parties can put in their best effort to fix the problems. If not, the NJQSAC legislation’s ultimate remedy is state takeover.

Care to weigh in on the current situation, Mr. Booker?

--Bernice Paglia

Looking Back

In 1967, I was a housewife living in bucolic Passaic Township, dealing with an unraveling marriage and a child with special needs. Neither the Summer of Love nor the civil disturbances in Newark and Plainfield were on my radar as I struggled with matters at home.

Twenty years later, I was living in Plainfield and writing about the city.
I came to know both the pride and the pain of longtime residents who had stayed on after the riots. There were so many losses. People clung to memories of a vibrant downtown district, excellent schools, an economy buoyed by a sound commercial and industrial base. Black power had brought about political change, but not much else. Black and white societies that had thrived separately found that integration was more of a notion than a nostrum for the city’s troubles. Wealth had gone west, transforming the hills and dales of Somerset County into urban sprawl.

Twenty more years later, many old-timers and newcomers alike praise the city’s diversity. Owners of the city’s stately homes are black, white, Latino, gay, East Indian, Caribbean and more. The central business district is starting to pick up, but the city has mainly just its housing stock to tap for tax revenue. Student performance remains below state standards. Poverty and unemployment persist even while nearly all lucrative top city posts are held by African-Americans. But generally, people get along and enjoy life in Plainfield while trying to work on its problems.

Is life better or worse 40 years after what happened in July 1967?

It’s different. It’s a lot more complicated. Literally, it’s no longer just a black and white situation. Some older African-Americans feel they haven’t gotten their just due and now never will. Despite language barriers, many immigrants have overcome economic barriers that still impede blacks. Young people may neither understand nor honor the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. For every sign of progress, there is an indicator of more to be done.

In 2002, I had to do a 35-year retrospective on the riots. By then, I knew the city and its people very well. The interviewees spoke plainly about race relations and nothing they said surprised me, because by then I had heard it all before, in public meetings and private conversations. But some of the comments sure startled several readers, mostly white, who were surprised at the level of militancy expressed. The black activist perspective was so radically different from the white middle class outlook that it only served to show that the racial divide has yet to be bridged.

I don’t know how to conclude this memoir. After days of trying, all I can say is that complete understanding is possible, but not yet probable among black and white. For every person who is color-blind there seems to be another who sees an unbridgeable gap between those with “white privilege” and those with “post-traumatic slave disorder,” to use Dr. Joy Leary’s term. The added layers of ethnicity require even more understanding.

At one time, I decided that all of Plainfield could be split into people of good will and those of ill will, regardless of any other identifiers. Until the general good will increases, it’s likely that social malaise will continue to mar city life. And maybe that’s my last word.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Planners Hear LEED Goals

Planning Board members and residents who attended the July 19 meeting learned a lot about LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Presenters were William G. Lashbrook III, PNC Bank senior vice president for real estate finance and William Amann of M&E Engineers. The two are members of the New Jersey chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED is “a voluntary green building system establishing national criteria for sustainable buildings” that was created in 1998. Both existing buildings and new construction can achieve LEED ratings by meeting the system’s goals. The speakers gave a PowerPoint presentation that summarized the system and its benefits, which include cost savings over time, a healthier workplace, better indoor air quality, less waste, and reduced impact on the environment.

To understand some of the goals, Union County residents need only think of the “sick building” syndrome that caused illness and lost productivity a few years ago in governmental buildings in Elizabeth. The recent media emphasis on global warming has brought sustainability to the forefront, causing people to review everything from the kind of light bulbs they use to their means of getting to work.

I will not attempt to encompass everything about LEED in one blog post. Instead, I direct your attention to the national and state web sites: http://www.usgbc.org/ and http://chapters.usgbc.org/newjersey/ for more information.

A pertinent LEED element for Plainfield is that it is better to start building the concepts into a project from the inception. This may include the way a building is positioned, the choice of building materials, use of rainwater, planning for optimum energy savings and even the kind of toilets installed. It means looking at everything in a very conscious way to save energy. With so many new projects in the works, it is an opportunity for Plainfield to lead the way.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, July 20, 2007

Incoming PEA President Welcomes Carter

In my haste to post the Board of Education story, I neglected to add comments from incoming Plainfield Education Association President Eric Jones.

Jones takes office Aug. 1.

He said of the many changes taking place, “It’s exciting for me.”

Jones said he has met several times with Interim Superintendent Peter Carter.

“I feel like this is a change and a new opportunity for Plainfield,“ Jones said.

As head of the union that includes teachers, support staff, security guards and others, Jones said he sees Carter working collaboratively with staff. He notes that Carter was able to get agreement on changing the opening day for the 2007-08 school year from Monday, Sept. 10 to Thursday, Sept. 6.

Jones said Carter has come in with an agenda “to heal and move the district forward.”

“We couldn’t have asked for a more experienced professional person than Mr. Carter,” Jones said. “It’s evident in the way he handles the board meetings and the way he handles staff.”

Jones welcomes the upcoming NJQSAC report on district performance in five areas as a guideline for improvement.

“It’s important that all parties are held accountable,” he said.

The union will soon have new quarters at 1449-A East Second Street in a space vacated by Plainfield‘s notable artist, Alonzo Adams. Jones said the new space will allow meetings of the 60-member board, which the former Park Avenue space could not accommodate.

--Bernice Paglia

Blight Plan Needs Revision

A Planning Board discussion of a revised “in need of redevelopment” study for the proposed North Avenue Extension resulted in putting off an Aug. 2 public hearing for further refinements.

The North Avenue Extension study initially included the south half of the block between East Front and Second streets and Park and Watchung avenues. It also included the PNC Bank block to the west. On Thursday (July 19, 2007) George Stevenson of Remington & Vernick modified his findings, but planners and Planning Board attorney Michele Donato disputed some of them, saying they were too broad and would probably not stand up in court.

Recent eminent domain challenges in Belmar and Paulsboro have been successful because the term “blight” was applied too broadly relative to the 1947 Constitution. See a summary of the Paulsboro case here.

Planners said Stevenson’s example of a mattress behind the Thomas Furniture store on Park Avenue and trash behind the Elks building on Watchung Avenue were code enforcement matters, not criteria proving a need for redevelopment.

Just saying a property is not used optimally is not enough, Donato said.

“You must prove that it is going to negatively affect public health and welfare,” she said.

Donato noted the stance of Public Advocate Ronald Chen, who is calling for strict adherence to redevelopment criteria.

“It’s a hot-button issue – the button’s only gotten hotter. The proofs have to be within the statutory criteria,” Donato said.

“You need more proof than what you have,” she told Stevenson, but he continued to dwell on the issue of the mattress and a vagrant he saw lying on it.

“I think we need better clarification and a consensus among the players in this game, Planning Board Chairman Ken Robertson said.

Robertson called for Donato, Plainfield Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, Planning Director Bill Nierstedt, Union County Improvement Authority attorney Ed Boccher and Stevenson to meet on “how far we are going” with needs studies. Robertson said he was personally not comfortable with holding a public hearing on the revised plan. To read a story on the previous version of the North Avenue Extension needs study, click here.
( Scroll down to second story.)

The Union County Improvement Authority was placed in charge of redevelopment last August. It is shepherding various projects through the stages of needs studies, redevelopment plans and developer’s agreements, with City Council approvals at each milestone. For the North Avenue Redevelopment plan, which encompasses the city’s only commercial historic district next to the main train station, the city has an agreement with developer Frank Cretella’s Landmark Development Corp. of Jersey City. In a presentation Aug. 21, Cretella projected 415 residential units and 130,000 square feet of retail space in the project. He also envisioned an entertainment center that would draw visitors to the site.

In the redevelopment process, properties that meet at least one of eight criteria may be deemed in need of redevelopment. Since the process has been opened up to redevelopment for economic reasons and not just for projects such as roads and schools, there has been a citizen backlash. On Thursday, an Essex County Superior Court judge set aside a finding that a part of Mulberry Street in Newark was in need of redevelopment because it did not meet the constitutional requirement of blight. Click here.

The requirement for stricter proofs could slow down the city’s ambitious plans for transit village development that covers hundreds of properties across the city.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, July 19, 2007

School District Anticipates Reforms

The school district’s director of Curriculum and Instruction has been found to be lacking the proper certification and has resigned.

In a “walk-on” item Tuesday, the school board accepted the resignation of Lillie Sipp, effective Nov. 16. The resolution states she will serve as “Supervisor of (for) Special Assignments” until that date. Sipp, also called the Chief Academic Officer, has neither a school administrator nor a principal endorsement, either of which is required to hold a director’s position. She merely holds a supervisor endorsement, according to the resolution.

Sipp came to the district after former Schools Superintendent Paula Howard was hired. Howard resigned in June and since then the board has abolished the ‘chief of staff” position held by Angelina Chiaravallotti, another Howard cabinet member.

Tuesday’s action, along with several personnel transfers also voted on as a “walk-on” item, comes as the district awaits a monitoring report that uncovered deficiencies in all five aspects examined. The district was evaluated earlier this year under a new monitoring program called New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum, or NJQSAC. The state Department of Education looked at five aspects of district functioning - instruction and program, fiscal management, operations, governance and personnel.

Interim Superintendent Peter Carter, hired after Howard resigned, was only on the job for about two weeks when he took part in an exit interview with Union County Schools Superintendent Carmen Centuolo and the head of the monitoring team. The advance word was that deficiencies were found in all areas.

In the resolution on transfers, allusions to the need for improvement and the impending report were cited.

The transfers included the removal of Plainfield High School Director of Guidance Leola Bellazin to an unspecified position; Maxson Middle School Principal Phillip Williamson moved to District Principal – Guidance Services; Christopher Lommerin from Jefferson School Swing School principal to Maxson School principal; Janet R. Grooms from Emerson Swing School principal to Swing School principal for both Emerson and Jefferson elementary schools, both housed in the former National Starch office building on West Front Street.

The resolution on the transfers said it was due to “a myriad of reasons” why the district is in need of improvement due to indicators such as low test scores and the anticipated report.

The report may be released as early as next week.

--Bernice Paglia

Taking the LEED

The Planning Board will hear a presentation on LEED principles at its meeting 8 p.m. tonight (July 19, 2007) in City Hall Library.

For the uninitiated, LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.”

Councilman Cory Storch, who is both liaison to the Planning Board and chairman of the City Council’s Economic Growth Committee, has advocated using these guidelines in all the city’s many proposed redevelopment plans.

The LEED designation involves registration of a project and then a look to see what level of certification a project may receive.

To this writer, it seems to be like the “Energy Star” program to help consumers find the best appliances and other uses to save the most energy.

A recent Courier News article about a certified Hillsborough building described elements as simple as adding guinea hens for insect control and as complicated as solar voltaic and geothermal systems to save energy.

The Planning Board meeting has other interesting topics, including a presentation by the Plainfield Organization for West End Revitalization (POWER) group on plans for a large swath of the West End.

There will also be a discussion of the North Avenue Extension “In Need of Redevelopment Study” that could add a significant amount of territory to the already quite ambitious North Avenue Redevelopment plan to create massive amounts of housing and stores, an entertainment center and a 500-space parking deck near the main train station.

The PNC Bank block and the current city parking lot south of stores on East Front Street between Park and Watchung avenues are both under consideration as additions to the North Avenue redevelopment project led by Landmark Development.

Please note this is only North Avenue between Park and Watchung, There is another North Avenue reference for the stretch in the East End.

The Planning Board will also review NJ Transit bus routes in the city. A previous map omitted the 59 route. The board is looking for ways to increase use of public transportation.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tepper's Condo Fit-Out Planned

The City Council is expected to vote tonight on awarding a professional services contract to Vincentsen Associates of Westfield to prepare construction documents for the fit-out of the Tepper's basement.

The city took possession of the basement several months ago, but has yet to decide how to use it. The former department store has a residential component of 75 apartments and a commercial section at ground level. The basement was to be donated to the city as part of the deal with Regan Development Corp. Click here for details of Horizons at Plainfield.

Initially proposed as a space for a new senior center, the basement was rejected by seniors who clamored for a free-standing, new center. Other options for the space included a new City Council meeting place and offices, a surveillance center for downtown security cameras or storage for city documents. No decision was made, but meanwhile about half a million in federal funding to outfit the space was about to be lost.

On Monday, Councilman Cory Storch said the council was given a chance to provide input in previous discussions of how to use the space. He asked whether the council would have any say in the current plan. City Administrator Marc Dashield said a portion of the space will be fitted out in a "very flexible" way and the rest will be fitted out later on.
The Westfield firm will receive $35,000 to prepare the construction documents.
The grant, which was arranged several years ago by U.S Sen. Frank Lautenberg, must be used by September.

"Best Pupuseria"

Dalila Flores came to the United States from El Salvador in 1982. After working for others for 18 years, she decided to open her own business.

“I was working at the Plainfield Health Center,” she said. “I was thinking, I’m going to be here all day …let me see what I can do.”

She opened her first restaurant, “Mi Ranchito I,” in 2001 on West Front Street. Four years later, she opened “Mi Ranchito II” on East Front Street.

When I saw her sign, “pupuseria,” I just had to stop and get a couple of the thick, filled tortillas that are the Salvadoran national dish. I asked for pupusas with loroco, an edible flower bud.




While the pupusas were being prepared, Flores said she worked 18 years at the Plainfield health center and Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center as an outreach worker, “helping the Hispanic community to grow up into the United States.”

Helping the community is still her favorite thing and people ask her advice on where to go for jobs, housing, and medical care.

“I’m still helping,” she said.

Meanwhile, she said, not only does she have the best pupusas in Plainfield, in all varieties, she also serves up charcoal-grilled steaks and seafood.

For more information on Salvadoran cuisine, click here.

Mi Ranchito I is located at 210 West Front Street and Mi Ranchito II is at 330 East Front Street, next to the site where 63 condos and a new senior center will be built.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

School Board Meets Tonight

There's a business meeting of the Board of Education tonight and not a word about it on the district's web site.
The meeting is 7 p.m. in the Clinton School cafetorium.
I picked up the 66-page agenda at the Plainfield Public library. It's mostly personnel matters and housekeeping, such as bus routes and vendors for the 2007-08 school year. Still for those who like to keep track of the board's actions in a time of change, a little notice on the official district web site would have helped.
The agenda includes 22 resignations and five new hires. I did not see any mention of who will be the new principal at Plainfield High School, but mnaybe there will be some "walk-on" items tonight.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Carillon Concert Sunday

Carilloneur Toru Takeo will perform at 11:45 a.m. Sunday on the Pittis Carillon at Grace Episcopal Church, 600 Cleveland Ave.
The carillon is one of Plainfield's most interesting features.
Click here for more information on the July 22 and August 26 carillon concerts.
For more information on the carillon itself, click here.
Luckily for me, I live right across the street and I get to hear the carillon quite often. It is a beautiful experience to hear spiritual music played on the bells.

Another Grace note: Mother Carolyn has a blog about her experiences learning Spanish in Mexico. It is a delightful addition to the city's roster of blogs! Read it here.

--Bernice Paglia

Council Meeting Tonight

The City Council will hold an agenda session tonight at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library.

The regular meeting will be 8 p.m. Wednesday in Municipal Court.
This is the only set of meetings in July.

Several bond ordinances will be up for second reading and final passage Wednesday. The public will have a chance to speak on each one. The largest one is for $7.03 million, for street repairs. The streets involved are Stilford Avenue, Fayette Place, Kensington Avenue, South Second Street, North Avenue, Evergreen Avenue, Gavett Place, Netherwood Avenue, Maplewood terrace, West Eighth Street (sounds of cheering may be heard), Watchung Avenue, Brook Lane, Court Place and "various streets" to be determined by the City Council.

This project is part pf a multi-year plan to fix streets most in need of repair as determined by testing. At the time of its inception, the plan was supposed to cover $75 million in repairs over 15 years. It was stated that roads had not been fixed in a comprehensive way for 20 years. In addition, the former administration proposed purchase of equipment to keep better roads in good shape. In my experience, road repair has always been a hot topic, but the actual work gets bogged down in attempts to make sure every ward gets an equal portion of repairs. This issue came up again recently, but Councilman Cory Storch reminded the council that the longterm project was based on engineering tests and ratings that made the worst roads a priority.

Other proposed bonds are $1,187,500 for information technology improvements and $1,282,500 for capital improvements at City Hall including $250,000 for the exterior, $600,000 for an electrical upgrade and $250,000 for heating and air conditioning.
As described last month, the information technology improvements will link all municipal buildings and all city departments and divisions. As city residents know, this is a long overdue project.

Anyone wishing to speak on these bond ordinances may do so before the council votes on them Wednesday.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Quality of Life on Block 832

From the street, this trouble spot can't be seen at all. Even closer, it's still hard to make out what is going on here.
I went to investigate after a neighbor on Block 832 called to ask my advice about dealing with a new situation, the presence of a group of men just behind the back fence of her home on Crescent Avenue.

It turns out that these men have set up a little camp, with cinder blocks for seats. Judging by the debris, they are eating, drinking, changing clothes and hanging out just inches from her fence. She could hear their loud talk but did not know why they were there.

Since our conversation, she has been able to alert police to their presence and they have been moved along several times. The next step is to get the property owner to clean up the site and further discourage them from coming back.

I recognized at least one of the habitues as a person who oftens drinks in Municipal Lot 7, starting in the morning and coming back repeatedly. I had asked the bike patrols guys to ride through the lot occasionally and roust these guys out. Maybe inadvertently I contributed to my neighbor's new problem.

Open-air drinking and all that goes with it (public urination, litter, fights) are a big problem in many neighborhoods. In some cities, the sale of single cans of beer or malt liquor has been banned. Plainfield still seems willing to accommodate these idle men whose hour-to-hour goal is to get to the next drink.

A former police chief once told me it is difficult to solve these quality of life crimes. Sometimes displacement is all that can be hoped for.

If that's the case, we will work hard to displace this problem from Block 832, with apologies to those who live on nearby blocks and who will then inherit the problem.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday the 13th

Today is the second and last Friday the 13th in 2007.

Most of the feral cats on my block are black, to the dismay of the superstitious folks around here. They live in a little patch of urban forest behind a Crescent Avenue house and panhandle around the block.


One is the winsome, semi-socialized girl known as Little Kitty.




The cats like to hang out in an old rusty backhoe in the Crescent Avenue yard. This one is at the wheel, playing landscape contractor.




Here's a black cat from Seattle being just a bit sinister.


For more cat photos with silly captions, also known as LOLcats, click here. To avoid having a black cat cross your path, stay away from Block 832.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gallery of Summer Flowers







Daylilies and purple coneflowers are gracing our garden on Block 832 in the middle of Plainfield. The triple daylilies are from South Carolina, courtesy of our former neighbor Edna. I divided them and spread them around one of the garden plots, with good results. Closer to fall, I hope to have lots of plants to give away for neighborhood beautification.

Litter Challenge on Seventh Street

That wet spot shows where a city street sweeper passed on East Seventh Street this morning. Someone dropped newspaper inserts all along the block on both sides, causing a big mess. As traffic began to build up, the passing vehicles stirred up the papers on the sidewalk, blowing them into the street.


Here comes the sweeper for another try to keep the street clean.

It is a little-known fact that downtown streets are swept every day, but it is at such an early hour that most people don't see the street sweepers. Imagine what the city would look like without these diligent workers!

Litter cleanups are a popular volunteer activity, but in my opinion a better solution is for people to put their snack bags and other trash in one of the many receptacles downtown. If there is no nearby trash can, a civic-minded person can always hold on to the trash until there is a proper place to dispose of it.

New Signs at Apartment Buildings

Connolly Properties, which owns most of the apartment buildings in the city,

has new signs such as this one on East Seventh Street.


Here's another on West Seventh Street.

Click here to see all the Connolly apartment buildings in Plainfield.

Connolly is apparently to residential rentals what Paramount Property Management is to commercial leasing in Plainfield. Connolly bought up a bunch of Fred Tedesco's apartment buildings some time ago and acquired many other buildings since then. Paramount recently bought the Pittis Estate, the major owner of downtown commercial property, and its yellow signs have become ubiquitous.

It's interesting that these two companies now control so much rental property in Plainfield. I do not recall any comparable situation over the past 20 years. Certainly they are key players in Plainfield's future, as much as any of the developers that are in the wings.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Farm Stand Opens For the Season

Fresh produce is now as close as Watchung Avenue.
On Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to about 3 p.m., Stillman Farms of Robbinsville will set up a stand. Today's selections included peppers, stringbeans, zucchini, cucumbers, melons and many more fresh fruits and vegetables.
The stand is on the vacant lot next to the Salvation Army.

Walkabout Woes

Technical problems foiled my plan to post photos of what I saw on a walk around the neighborhood Sunday. I had to break out a few of the images separately (see three posts below).



The walk itself yielded a lot of information, some of which must be followed up with phone calls or a trip to City Hall (what exactly is going on at that lot on Roosevelt and Second?). On Field Avenue, the vacant house where the body was found Friday reminded me of our own block's struggle with homeless people and drug activity. My neighbor and I think we might know the young woman as someone who frequented our block last summer.



It was good to see a promise of activity at the senior center site and interesting to come across some quirky things like a City of Orlando municipal vehicle on West Fifth (where the building ordered to be demolished several months ago is still standing).


Blue chicory could be seen in abundance on Sunday morning alongside the Roosevelt Avenue lot. One patch had white chicory, something I have never seen before.

A visit to Mi Ranchita on West Front Street for pupusas will be the basis of a future story.

All in all, the walk was eye-opening and a good distraction from the oppressive heat that came later on. Two more hot days are forecast before the heat wave ends. Maybe two more morning walks are in order.

--Bernice Paglia

Senior Sign

The sign proclaiming the new senior center/condo complex has been turned around to face the street. Now there is a backhoe on the site as well as a construction trailer. So far, no fence. I was able to get onto the site along a well-worn foot path from East Second Street.

Flagpole Painting on Sunday


I came upon this flagpole painting operation Sunday outside the main post office. The painter was in a bucket operated by another person on the truck. Here he is starting at the top of the very tall flagpole.

On my way back an hour later, he was almost finished.


.

A Sad Story's Details Expected Today

A red candle and a flower are on the front stoop of a vacant Field Avenue house where the decomposed body of a young woman was discovered Friday evening. Law enforcement authorities have not made her identity public but may do so today.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Senior Center Groundbreaking

Here are some pictures from Tuesday.
Senior Center President Charles Nelson in his commemorative T-shirt.
Police Chief Edward Santiago and driver Gary Van Liew assist seniors who took the bus to the site.

Most seniors marched from 305 East Front to 400 East Front.

Seniors assemble in the tent.

The T-shirt lists city officials and the Building Committee.


Developer Glen Fishman is financing the center and the 63 condos.

Groundbreaking.

Surveyor Robert Necklen of Somerville marks boundaries for a construction fence.
Former center director Patty Bender raised a question to me on July 3 about the size of the new center.
"The elderly population keeps growing, but the size of the center, every time we hear about it, seems to be getting smaller," Bender said.
Bender said the current center is 8,000 sqaure feet with 7,000 square feet of basement storage.
"Storage is very important," she said.
For the record, there have been various dimensions mentioned over the months from the first announcement to the final site plan and agreement, both of which used the figure of 12,770 square feet. I have used that number in writing about the new center.
However, when it was first announced in July 2006, the figure given was 14,670 square feet. Patty Bender challenged that figure, saying it was approximately what the seniors had in the present center, counting storage.
Both reporters at the July event used 17,000 square feet in their stories, but that was the square footage for the rejected Tepper's basement site. Bob Bender used 14,670 square feet in an e-mail he circulated on the event.
A site plan submitted in November stated the size as 13,400 square feet. On Jan. 4, developer Glen Fishman said it was 12,000 square feet and an associate said it was 12,880 square feet.
But on Dec. 7 at the time of site plan approval, the figure was 12,770, as it was in the agreement between Dornoch Plainfield LLC , the city and the Union County Improvement Authority.
Patty Bender questioned my story for the Courier News, in which I used the final number. However, both Patty and Bob are on the Building Committee and have had a year to seek answers from the developer. Shoot the messenger if you wish, but I am sticking with the final number for purposes of reporting.
I asked officials what will become of the $600,000 in Urban Enterprise Zone funds that was committed to a new center when prior plans called for it to have a commercial component. The answer is that the funds will most likely just revert to the fund for other projects. The fund, made up of sales tax collected in the zone, may be drawn on for improvements within the zone, which stretches east and west roughly along Route 28 and includes the central business district.
Another pot of money, about half a million dollars committed to the Tepper's space, was supposed to be used by July 1. The last I heard, an extension is being sought. I do not have official details.
I hope today to visit the site of the proposed new center to see whether the fence is up and any equipment is on site. On Tuesday, Glen Fishman said construction was supposed to start Thursday with preparing the land beingthe first step.
--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Give Press a Chance

Friday (July 6, 2007) brought an example of how not to interact with the press.

It seems there was a very significant ceremony going on at City Hall Friday morning, but authorities did not seek coverage until the event was actually taking place. I received a phone call from the mayor's office at 9:45 a.m. to cover the event. Now, if I hadn't already had another assignment at 10 a.m., I could have sprinted the half-block from my home to City Hall and made an effort to get the story.

As it was, I had to go on with my scheduled assignment.

Optimally, media requests for planned events are made at least a week ahead of time. Properly, the request goes to the editor, who then assigns a reporter. Calling a reporter at home to show up immediately is not acceptable.

The media's inability to respond to a "positive" story at the last minute is not a show of disrespect for those involved, it is simply a matter of logistics. Except for breaking news, most of a newspaper's content comes from scheduled assignments. Requests for coverage are best made in writing or by e-mail, listing the time, date and place of the event and why it is newsworthy. In this case, the ceremonies included swearing-in of the city's first female firefighter.

I retired as a reporter just about four years ago. The blog started two years ago. It is only recently that I have also been freelancing. With changes in the newspaper industry, there is much more leeway for community interaction with the print media. Still, there is some protocol to be observed.

What happened Friday is likely to be misunderstood by some as yet another slight by the media, even as city officials are condemning journalists and bloggers. Others may understand that news gatherers need some modicum of cooperation from those who want coverage. In this case, the firefighters and their families must have had some advance notice of the event. Expecting a reporter to respond on a moment's notice just doesn't seem right.

--Bernice Paglia


Thanks to all who helped get this utility pole on East Seventh Street repaired. The bottom photo shows the splintered base and the top photo shows the metal "corset" now bracing the pole's base. Readers personally intervened to make PSE&G aware of the damaged pole. The top of the pole holds equipment and wires serving both sides of the street, so having the pole braced takes away the fear of possibly losing service in the neighborhood. Good work!
--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Carp, Carp, Carp


One sidelight of the senior center groundbreaking Tuesday was another dig at newspapers and blogs.

In introducing dignitaries, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs called Assemblyman Jerry Green “my mentor” and “my partner.”

She told the crowd that Green loves his District 22 constituency, but he is “absolutely in love with Plainfield.”

When it came his time to speak, Green said of the mayor, ”Isn’t she awesome?”

Referring to newspapers and blogs, he said, “You keep on doing what you are doing, and mayor, you keep on doing what you’re doing.”

“The city has taken on her personality,” Green said. “Everybody feels good about everybody.”

Everybody except those pesky journalists and bloggers, it seems.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Dornoch Starts, North Avenue Next


I covered the senior center groundbreaking for the Courier News Tuesday. Later I will give some blog thoughts on the experience. The project, with the senior center and a veterans’ center on the first floor and 63 two-bedroom condos on three floors above, is expected to be completed within a year. It is the first big project to get to the point of construction since Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs took office 18 months ago.

Next up is the North Avenue project. I actually had to review my own blog to remember what happened in May. The City Council held a closed executive session May 7 and an agenda session at which there was no mention of North Avenue. But on May 9, a redevelopment agreement for North Avenue was up for a vote. It was among nine items that were apparently discussed in closed session and then added to the May 9 agenda under Corporation Counsel items.

There is nothing sinister about this. Matters involving litigation or contracts are normally settled in closed session before a public vote is taken. It was just that the bland wording – “Resolution authorizing the execution of a redeveloper’s agreement with redeveloper for the North Avenue Historic District Redevelopment Area and designating a redeveloper” – told the public nothing about the significance of the vote. The City Council was about to agree to a proposal to place more than 400 residential units, a 500-car parking garage and an entertainment center next to the city’s original, historic main train station.

Councilman Cory Storch, perhaps for the benefit of the public, asked Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson to explain the nine items briefly. Besides some legal settlements and requests for legal defense for police officers, five of the items had to do with redevelopment. Several were of high significance, including authorization of an “in need of redevelopment” study involving almost 100 properties around the Netherwood train station.

Regarding North Avenue, two important additions may be made to the original redevelopment area. One involves the PNC Bank block and the other covers a city parking lot off East Second Street as well as buildings on Park and Watchung avenues, extending the North Avenue redevelopment area north and west.

I regret missing the mayor’s redevelopment forum, where I understand more was revealed about the scope of the North Avenue proposal.

The mayor has made a point of informing seniors every month about progress on the Dornoch Plainfield LLC senior center/condo proposal. The redevelopment forum may have helped the North Avenue merchant constituency understand the Landmark Development Corp. proposal. As Netherwood moves through the redevelopment process, starting with the needs study, business and property owners there deserve more information.

As a constituency, seniors are easily accessible. The mayor makes scheduled visits on first Tuesday of each month and 100 or more seniors are right there. For other constituencies, gathering for information is not so easy. Retail merchants and business owners don’t have a place to get together. So far, information has spread largely by networking on the phone, by e-mail or by distribution of flyers. Plaintalker tries to help out by sharing redevelopment news.

The forum appears to reflect the mayor’s increased desire to inform the public above and beyond the legal minimum of public hearing notices at stages of the redevelopment process. Future success in sharing details of each redevelopment scheme will most likely depend on the continued good will of the administration, the organizing power of the affected constituencies and the ability of news gatherers to research redevelopment documents.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Carter: DOE Report Faults District

In a conversation Monday, Board of Education President Patricia Barksdale directed my attention to Interim Superintendent Peter Carter's latest letter to the community.

Carter promised a monthly letter and this second one since his advent in June did not contain good news. Read it here for yourself.

The district was evaluated earlier this year under a new monitoring program called New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum, or NJQSAC. The state Department of Education looked at five aspects of district functioning - instruction and program, fiscal management, operations, governance and personnel.

Carter says that in a June 27 exit interview, the Lead Monitor (unnamed) and County Superintendent Carmen Centuolo revealed aspects of a report that will be made public later this month.

"Let me not beat around the bush, the district has received a poor evaluation," Carter said. "The state found deficiences in every aspect of the school district."

NJQSAC replaced an older monitoring system that decertified the district in 1988. The district has never yet achieved full recertification. Now it appears there will be much more work to be done. Under the legislation that produced the new monitoring system, remedies can be as far-reaching as state takeover if improvement does not take place.

But Carter says, "The good news is that repair and recovery is imminent. In fact, the post 6/11 team of Carter-Donow-Rusak have already righted several wrongs."

I leave it to the reader to decide what to make of the "post 6/11" tag. June 11 was the day Carter took over after the emergency meeting on Friday, June 8 at which Carter was hired and in turn recommended to the board the hiring of Michael Donow as school business administrator/board secretary to replace Victor Demming, who resigned as of June 1. On June 19, the board approved Carter's recommendation to hire Walter Rusak as assistant superintendent through December.

There will be a lot more to learn in coming weeks about the school district's situation. Plaintalker will try to keep readers informed of meeting dates, times and locations. Once the report is released, either as Pressgrrl or Bloglady I will be writing about it.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, July 02, 2007

A Must-Read Blog

For those who haven't seen it yet, Dr. Gregory Palermo's new blog will be a delightful surprise.

Those who have read it from the first entry in April already know it to be a gem of information and entertainment, guaranteed to make the reader appreciate trees more than ever.

"Plainfield Trees" is not a blog of ruminations or hype. Each entry is based on research and personal investigation. Seen through Greg's eyes, each tree species is fascinating, each specimen a celebrity in the neighborhood.

Readers can see why members of the new Shade Tree Commission (including me) were glad that Greg got the five-year term out of a set of staggered terms starting at one year. His passion for trees and the city's own community forest is evident. The commission also chose him as its first chairman.

The commission needs a few more members. Anyone who has previously submitted an application to be a member is urged to follow up with the mayor's office on the status of the application. Others may download the application from the city's web site, complete it and turn it in at the mayor's office. Keep a copy so you can follow up if there is no response.

Entries on Plainfield Trees are copyrighted and I hope they will be published in print form one day. Meanwhile, bookmark this blog and keep it high on your list of favorites. As blogs go, it stands out like solid oak next to veneer. This is not to demean the daily bloggers, but to recognize the scholarship and thought that go into Greg's work.

Plainfield pride takes many forms. Some people prize its housing stock, others its diversity above all else. How interesting to find someone willing to share a personal absorption with the city's trees, those living beings that tower over us as we go about our human endeavors in the Queen City.

--Bernice Paglia