I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Bad Cup of Joe

UPDATE: If you want to see what a courageous educator looks like, scroll to the bottom.

FURTHER UPDATE: I have confirmation that there was NOT a threat of a written reprimand to teachers if they attended the Morning Joe program in Fort Lee on Friday.

I have neither the time nor the stomach to take on all the mendacity and stupidity that spewed forth from MSNBC's Morning Joe during their education "town hall" on Friday. But I will point out a few low lights. Let's start with this:

There were two New Jersey superintendents on the show: Interim Superintendent Steven Engravalle of Fort Lee, and Cami Anderson of Newark. Engravalle was appointed just this last November: he's been on the job four months, but the show ran a piece about how he's changed the "culture" of the schools, and test scores are up. Yes, that's right: four months, when there hasn't been even one administration of the NJASK. That's even faster than Michele Rhee claimed success.

Engravalle replaced outgoing super Raymond Bandlow, who left for a gig in New York, which doesn't have a cap on superintendent pay - a cap that was put in place by Chris Christie and has led to a brain-drain in school leadership across the state. Christie loves the new guy though, because he toes the company line; in this clip, he bad mouths the union:

So, the NJEA should return some dues money to teachers, because first year teachers don't make enough. Of course, the reason they don't is that Chris Christie is cutting their benefits and pensions while telling taxpayers to vote down school budgets if teachers don't open their contracts and take pay freezes cuts. Forgot to mention that, didn't you?

Cami Anderson has been the super in Newark since last May. In that time, she's managed to enrage entire neighborhoods with an ill-conceived school closing plan that looks like it was hatched on the backs of cocktail napkins. She loves to talk about "leadership," yet she appeared to be completely clueless when discussing the student populations of her district's schools and how they affect test scores. Maybe that's because, when other school leaders were actually leading districts, she was spending her days running Teach For America.

Look, I don't want to bust too hard on either of them. Engravalle is a young guy - 33 - and this is probably his first time on national TV. He may well grow into the job, and I wish him the best (for the sake of the children and teachers of Fort Lee). I've said before that Anderson may well turn out to be the best super Newark ever had; I wish her the best as well.

But dear lord: they barely have a year's worth of superintendent's experience between them. There are dozens of superintendents with decades of knowledge in New Jersey; did no one think to call them up? Why is it that the media seems to love superintendents who haven't accumulated track records of success - like Janine Walker Caffrey in Perth Amboy, darling of the Star-Ledger, and on the job less than a year herself?

Note to the media: Michelle Rhee didn't stay in Washington, DC long enough to get anything serious done. She is not a good role model for picking superintendents to speak about education, because she never put in the time, as a superintendent or as a teacher. Stop talking to neophytes like her, and start taking to the veterans.

Its clear that Chris Christie got to pick the supers he wanted for the show. I guess that's how the "news" is run these days. But if the folks at MSNBC really wanted to inform their viewers, maybe they could have interviewed this guy:

Nearly a decade leading New Jersey schools... but he actually bothers to think about this stuff and challenge reformy orthodoxy. Guess he doesn't quite fit Christie's MSNBC's bill.

ADDING: Obviously, I can't confirm this, but one of my commenters leaves this note:

A friend of mine who works at Fort Lee told me that when they found out that their school had been chosen for the TV show, they were warned to stay away...any employee who showed up at the gym was going to receive a WRITTEN REPRIMAND!!
Holy cats! Can someone from Fort Lee confirm this?

I have heard from a teacher in Fort Lee that there was no threat of a reprimand if teachers attended the Morning Joe broadcast on Friday. Glad to hear that.

Sporting his now trademark Superman socks, which he proudly showed off when asked to do so, Engravalle talked about how Fort Lee schools have improved in the past couple of years.

ADDING EVEN MORE: Well, looks like there was a reason the local union for Fort Lee wasn't allowed to have their president appear on the show. Turns out the president of the local, Gary Novosielski, doesn't drink the Christie Kool-Aid:
Is it a rumor that Christie cut millions from Fort Lee’s budget, then restored only thousands? If a burglar stole a thousand dollars from me, then returned a hundred dollars of my own money, I doubt that I would thank him. Is it a rumor that the cuts to state aid were matched almost dollar-for-dollar by a cut in taxes for millionaires? Is it a rumor that his proposed budget once again includes windfalls for the rich and crumbs for working men and women? Is it a rumor that Christie has capped growth in school spending at 2 percent per year while, over the period since his inauguration, tax payments of the average property owner have risen by over 20 percent? With friends like the governor, who needs enemies?
In that same time period, the Fort Lee Education Association agreed to give-backs, saving the district and its taxpayers over $8 million over the course of our current contract. This dwarfs any rumored enhancements promised by the governor. And unlike the governor’s seeming largess, our contributions came directly from our benefits, not from some other tax source.
If Chris Christie was really the blunt-talkin', straight-shootin', man's man that Joe Scarborough seems to think he is, he would have gladly met this courageous teacher and union leader and debated him in an open forum. But he never, ever engages his critics unless he controls the mic.

Mr. Novosielski, you are a man of principle and a true educational leader. Every teacher deserves a representative like you.


Anonymous said...

I caught 10 minutes before I left for work today. Saw the glossy lipped/dolled up Rhee talk about the reforms so far in DC. Got rid of tenure, LIFO, seniority,etc. Nothing to really help the kids. I went to school today to do what she hasn't. Help the kids. DVR'ed the rest after FIOS issue and got about 2 hours to view. Will be watching this weekend with aspirin and cell pre-programmed for rescue squad.Hope neither is needed.Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

The superintendent in the video clip is leaving NJ. Can anyone blame him. He may be followed by a Broad Academy clone. Broad Academy "FELLOWS" are, infiltrating across the state. Some as Superintendents, some as Chief Officers, One as Acting Commissonerof Education, and a few others as consultants for the NJDOE and state controlled districts. The consultants are getting extremely pricey contracts to implement the reforms! This a total scam!

Anonymous said...


A friend of mine who works at Fort Lee told me that when they found out that their school had been chosen for the TV show, they were warned to stay away...any employee who showed up at the gym was going to receive a WRITTEN REPRIMAND!!

Duke said...

I love my commenters!

#1 - Hope you have a strong stomach.

#2 - Earl Kim is leaving?! Unbelievable.

3# - Wow, that's amazing. Will add to post.

Anonymous said...

Re: Earl Kim

Anonymous said...

Most of the teachers in fort lee weren't even told about the show. They found out when it was on the air. Engravalle has been assistant superintendent for a year and a half and acting super when the former superintendent left in November to go to a higher paying job in New York. They don't go into classrooms and have no idea how the teachers teach. They are very impersonal to the staff. We have many great teachers and they have no idea. They often don't even say hello to teachers when he passes them in the schools or in public.