Saturday, February 16, 2008

Superintendent in the Wings?

News hounds are hot on the trail of a big story – who will be the next schools superintendent – and a number of other stories that may take longer to break.

All signs point to a vote Tuesday on the finalist for schools superintendent. The board appears to be on track with the schedule set by the search firm. Now all we have to do is get hold of the agenda or, if the item is not on there, wait around Tuesday for a walk-in resolution. The meeting is 7 p.m. in the Plainfield High School library.

Since the last month of the 2006-07 school year, the district has seen numerous changes at the top and middle ranks of administration. Former Schools Superintendent Paula Howard quit unexpectedly in June and was quickly (maybe hastily) replaced by Peter E. Carter, an ebullient leader who formed a capable team. But this was no simple “interim” assignment – Howard and former business administrator/board secretary Victor Demming left the district just before the state Department of Education issued findings that Plainfield was inadequate in four of five performance areas.

Carter and his team took charge and began addressing the problems uncovered in the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum report. But they had some sort of falling-out with the board and all quit midway through the 2007-08 school year instead of staying on until the end. Human Resources Director Garnell Bailey is now also the interim superintendent.

Among other loose ends, the board has yet to produce the minutes of a June 8 emergency meeting where Carter was hired and board counsel Raymond Hamlin allegedly failed to disclose to the full board that Carter was his client in a lawsuit. The technical assistant that the DOE wanted Plainfield to hire to help Bailey has not yet been named. A search for a new high school principal failed last fall and is supposed to be reopened this spring.
The board and administration submitted a response to the state on the NJQSAC report and will face a review in a few months.

The community has high hopes and expectations for the new superintendent, as presumably they had for past superintendents – 18 since 1969-70, according to a list made by a veteran teacher. Improving student achievement is the most pressing need for the district. Click here to see the search firm’s ad and here to see the executive summary of the desired profile. Will we see the winner’s name Tuesday?

On the city side, residents are still waiting for upgrades of the municipal web site and local cable channel, two vital avenues of communication that are still faulty two years into the mayor’s four-year term. There is no director for the largest of three city departments, Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services. A permanent chief financial officer is needed. The Public Safety director wants the title of police chief abolished. Conditional designations for major redevelopment projects have expired. A five-year road improvement plan seems to be on hold and streets rated as “very poor” are becoming nearly impassable. There’s more, but let’s leave it at that.

--Bernice Paglia


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