Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bailey Tribute Leads Busy BOE Meeting

Tuesday’s school board meeting included a tribute to Interim Superintendent Garnell Bailey, an outpouring of support for restoring jobs of six Evergreen School teachers, changes in food service payment methods, a new student information service based wholly on New Jersey rules, a proposal to change the name of Emerson School and a multitude of staff assignments, including a new interim high school principal.

Bailey, named interim superintendent in December, was hailed for taking the district through a very difficult time caused by state budget mandates and other upheavals. Bailey was the district's Human Resources director when tapped for the higher post and has served in both capacities since January. School Board President Bridget Rivers led a presentation that included a slide show highlighting Bailey’s leadership. Rivers gave Bailey a plaque in appreciation for her service. A new superintendent, Dr. Steve Gallon III, will take office July 1.

The non-renewal of six untenured Evergreen School teachers provoked a petition campaign with 244 signatures and lots of testimony Tuesday on why they should somehow be retained. Evergreen student Jarrett Brown, 11, was perhaps the most eloquent, telling the board, “These are some of the most hard-working teachers ever.”

Rivers countered by repeatedly saying the tenure law should be abolished. Teachers who have achieved tenure can “bump” untenured teachers to save their jobs. Rivers also challenged supporters of the teachers by asking where they were when only three representatives of Plainfield went to Trenton to challenge the school funding formula that resulted in cuts to urban districts.

As speakers praised the teachers in question, the six women rose from their seats in silent witness. But others noted non-tenured teachers across the district lost their jobs, indicating the Evergreen teachers were not alone.

School board member Rasheed Abdul-Haqq suggested using surplus funds to hire back the non-renewed teachers. Rivers said possible resignations might also provide job openings for them.

The meeting, slated for 7 p.m., did not get started until after 8 p.m., and then did not get around to the published agenda until 10 p.m.

In one vote, the board approved a multitude of personnel appointments, including that of Plainfield native Brian Bilal to be interim high school principal. Bilal took the microphone to say thanks for the opportunity.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. Adding there was something he wanted to “nip in the bud,” he said, “If you want to talk about what you want to do in Plainfield, then please bring some solutions.”

Bilal said he will work collaboratively with the community and called out to former Councilwoman Joanne Hollis, saying, “Mrs. Hollis, I’ll be looking for you.”

There was no discussion of the 25 administrators who are being hired for one-month terms or why 14 principals are being reappointed without specific school assignments.

On the re-naming of Emerson School, Yvonne Taylor presented a slide show that included photos of the 1916 school being demolished and the new school that has now been completed but not yet occupied. Students had classes at the so-called “swing school” at Rock Avenue and West Front Street while the demolition and new construction took place.

Taylor said the school was named for Ralph Waldo Emerson, but added, “Our children cannot relate to this person in the current date.”

She said surveys of parents yielded a wish to re-name the school the Rosa Parks Academy of Excellence. The name, she said, would set a higher expectation of achievement for the school’s mostly African-American and Hispanic children.

Rivers asked whether the surrounding community had been consulted and Taylor said, “As far as door-knocking, we did not.”

Objectors said they wanted to keep the name of their childhood elementary school and that any change should be a community decision. But board member Martin Cox said he first suggested the new name and hoped the board would vote “yes.” However, it was not up for a vote Tuesday. The school is slated to open in September.

The board approved a new method of paying for student lunches and activities that allows parents to pay in advance with credit or debit cards. In addition, the present system of tracking students’ grades and other data will be changed, but staff must be trained to use it, company representatives said. Presenters Rich Smith and Rich Dilts said the company, Genesis Educational Services of Jamesburg, serves New Jersey districts exclusively and its programs are aligned with state Department of Education requirements. Updates of new state rules for student reporting are made at no cost to the district.

“We only do New Jersey,” Dilts emphasized in a demonstration of the program.

The hardest part of rolling out the system will be setting up a schedule to train staff, he said.

The school board will meet again at 6:30 p.m. June 30 in the Plainfield High School conference room, to discuss the contract of incoming Superintendent Steve Gallon III. Gallon was hired in February for four years at an annual salary of $198,000, but meanwhile all New Jersey superintendents’ salaries and benefits came under scrutiny in the wake of a proposed $740,000 retirement package for a Keansburg superintendent. Union County Superintendent Carmen Centuolo said Gallon’s contract had not been submitted to her for review as required. Gallon is scheduled to begin working in the district July 1.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, Ms. Rivers thinks the tenure law should be abolished. Perhaps she doesn't understand what tenure signifies, or more likely she wants to shift the focus away from the reality.

Tenure is EARNED by teachers after three years and one day of satisfactory service to students, as evidenced by annual observations performed by principals or other appropriate adminstrators. If the administrators do THEIR jobs effectively, poor performing teachers will not remain long enough to earn tenure. That's an important administrative function that may account, in part, for the higher salaries earned by administrators.

I don't want an ineffective teacher teaching our kids any more than Ms. Rivers, but it is the board and the administration that can do something about those teachers in their first three years in the district.

Incidentally, tenure is NOT a job guarantee. Any tenured teacher can be fired by the district, but the board must first prove the person is derelict in their duties as a teacher, or has been subordinate in some way. That sounds reasonable to me. Admittedly that is a lengthy and expensive process, but I submit veteran, tenured staff in this or any district have earned the right to due process when they have dedicated a good portion of their lives and careers to the children in that district.

Tenured, veteran teachers also earn significantly more than newer, non-tenured staff. Could THAT be the reason Ms. Rivers wants to see the tenure law abolished? Hmmm...

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Plainfield students should be introduced to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson....renaming the school is a joke.

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Bernice,

I respectfully disagree with Ms. Taylor's quoted statement regarding Ralph Waldo Emerson and the possible renaming of Emerson Elementary School: "Our children cannot relate to this person in the current date." That is a huge assertion (and assumption) to make with no evidence about whom the children can or cannot relate to. Emerson remains a PROFOUNDLY important figure in our history, as a poet, philosopher, essayist, educator, abolitionist, minister, and transcendentalist. I suggest that the community read his seminal essay "The American Scholar" before coming to a conclusion that the children of Plainfield cannot "relate" to him--the point of education is for teachers to help students make connections and relations outside of their immediate sphere--read Emerson's ideas about the theory of "relation" in "Nature." Emerson continues to have an enormous influence on our culture, and I think a better idea would be to discuss why this is so. As you can see, my bias is in favor of literary figures and educators. Besides, a school full of young Transcendentalists wouldn't be a bad thing, would it? By the way, guess who the author of "Invisible Man" was named after?


P.S. No disrespect for the memory and struggle of Rosa Parks and our other civil rights legends.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous SM said...

if the students don't know Emerson, isn't that a pretty damning statement on the curriculum coordinator? The fact that the students don't know some of the most renowned American writers?

11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bernice,

Did anyone notice that a non-tenure vice principal, R. Salinas who is also the wife of board member Christian Estevez, who also received a pink slip was appointed to vice principal of science. Who do we need teachers or vice principals? TBD????? Can you say NEPOTISM.

7:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a fairly recent graduate of Plainfield High School and have just recently graduated from Duke University. I am now in the management intern program for a large organization and am currently living at home with my parents. I have been looking to get active in the school district and was told to check out this blog to find out what is going in the school district. I was struck by the previous comment about R.Salinas because she was my sister's science teacher at Maxson school a couple of years ago. My sister had no interest in science until Ms. Salinas taught her class. The turnaround she made in my sister's life was tremendous and I would hope for my children to have teachers as caring as Ms. Salinas was. I don't know who she's married to and I don't think it should matter---did you ever think the woman was just qualified to fill the position??

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tenure should be abolished. What other organization can you work where you are told that after 3 years your job is pretty much guaranteed. Yes, teachers are underpaid and very valuable but they need to be just as productive as any other employee in the public or private sector. A teacher can be outstanding for his/her first 5 years. What happens when the teacher decides, for whatever reason, that he/she no longer has a passion for the job and doesn't give 200%?? Anyone earns the right to due process when his/her job is questioned. A previous blogger said that firing a tenured teacher is a lengthy and expensive process. WHY??? Why is it any different than in any other organization where there is no such thing as tenure??? A teacher is not performing and there is sufficient documentation, I don't care how long the teacher has worked for the district, he or she needs to go...PERIOD. Why should that be expensive? My childrens' futures are at stake and I will not tolerate any low performing teachers. Don't get me wrong, I know there are very good teachers out there who work hard every day, however, there are many teachers who don't. Is my child suppose to pay the price of an administrator who is probably no longer even living who gave tenure to a teacher who just shows up for a paycheck?? I'm sure there are 6 tenured teachers within the district who should have been replaced by the 6 non-tenured teachers at Evergreen but the law says otherwise, now doesn't it??

12:15 AM  

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