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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Queen of Tenure Goes "Viral"

I didn't think the saga of Perth Amboy schools superintendent Janine Caffrey - at war with both her own school board and (hypocritically) tenure for teachers - could get any more bizarre. Then I saw this:

Gannett reports on the video:
Superintendent of Schools Janine Walker Caffrey’s determination to hold onto her job and lead reform in the urban district of about 10,000 students, has gone viral. 
A YouTube video featuring Caffrey and produced by Choice Media.TV, has been posted just days before the superintendent completes her first year and before the last Board of Education meeting of the 2011-2012 school year in which her continued employment may be discussed. 
The Board of Education regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, in the auditorium of Perth Amboy High School, Eagle Avenue. Caffrey plans to attend the meeting. 
It’s the second time in recent weeks Caffrey has used the internet to fight for her job. Several weeks ago she posted a blog on the district’s superintendent’s page to address rumors about her employment that had been circulating in the community.

The nearly 10-minute YouTube video entitled “The Superintendent Who Fought Back’’ features an interview between Caffrey and Bob Bowdon, founder of Choice Media a non-profit education news service dedicated to covering K-12 education quality and reform. The video, posted last week, had some 361 views as of late Tuesday morning. [emphasis mine]
It was up to 446 views as of this morning; not exactly what I'd call "viral." Maybe if Bowdon added a cat doing something cute, it would get more hits. (Hang on - we'll get to Bowdon in a minute...)

This is quite possibly the strangest thing I've ever seen a school official do; it's certainly the least professional. Remember: according to Caffrey herself, there is an ongoing state investigation of Perth Amboy's BOE president, Samuel Lebreault. Even if everything she alleges is true, it is totally inappropriate for her to be making accusations in the media while the state continues its investigation.

So, what is she alleging? Gannett reports:
In particular, Caffrey mentioned feeling pressured to hire certain people.
She said the superintendent makes a recommendation to the school board based on a hiring process and when she arrived, that process was inconsistent. She said that she made the process very consistent and the district has been following it to the letter.
But when she follows the process there has been pressure to give hiring preferences to certain people and her recommendations made to the board are often denied, she said. And it can mean that once a position is closed someone may ask her to reopen the position even though qualified candidates have already been identified, she said.
“I believe board members in some cases, not all, believe they should be controlling the jobs and the superintendent should control curriculum. I have dug my heels in. I have drawn a line in the sand to say I will not bow to that kind of pressure. I will not be told who to hire and who not to hire. It’s been very difficult ,’’ she said on the video.
It may well be that Caffrey is in the right here; but shouldn't we at least hear the other side of the story?
In an exclusive interview with School Board Member Israel Varela said he puts his money where his mouth is.“What is the most important to me are the students, community and school staff,” states Israel Varela. Varela was responding to the allegations brought up by the Superintendent accusing him of going to her to try to place his friends in jobs in the school system.
“If Dr. Caffrey could produce evidence of this infraction I will resign immediately. If not, I think she should resign effective immediately.”
“I do not view Dr. Caffrey as constantly going to the media as being professional.”
“Some school employees are threatened when they open up to Board Members and they are the ones that will give you the most vital information when it comes to looking out for our children. I also had a problem when it came to positions in the schools opening up and why there were not many candidates applying for these jobs. There have been people employed in the school system for years. When they put in an application for an open position they are not even considered. Even if they are considered qualified.” [emphasis mine]
I'm not saying at all that Varela is right and Caffrey is wrong; I'm saying there are two sides, and we should hear them both. In the video, Caffrey even admits (at Bowdon's prompting) that there is nothing wrong with the board recommending people for jobs. But no matter what, I don't see how it's in the best interests of the students or staff of Perth Amboy's schools to fight this out on YouTube videos.

But Caffrey seems to believe the best way to handle disputes is to go straight to the media:
During the video interview Caffrey talks about being criticized by board members in the list of 24 reasons for firing her, such as painting Perth Amboy in a bad light by talking about district issues both with the media and during internal meetings.
She has been told she should instead be the cheerleader in chief, and talk about only positive things happening in the district.
“I do talk about good things, often. I talk about good things much more frequently than I talk about the problems we are experiencing. But we can’t get better if we don’t acknowledge our problems,’’ Caffrey said.
According to Caffrey, during the 2010-2011 school year 70 percent of the district’s fifth- and seventh-grade students were not proficient in language arts and literacy. Sixty percent of the students entering high school are not reading at grade level and 40 percent of students entering high school are reading at an elementary school level, she said during the interview. 
“I feel this story needs to be told and needs to be told as loudly as possible. We have a whole generation of children in jeopardy,’’ she said. “And if we’re not screaming about that then why am I even working as an educator?’’
Except that's not what you "screamed" about when Tom Moran tried to turn you into a folk hero in the pages of the Star-Ledger. In your op-ed and subsequent hagiography written by Moran you don't even mention student achievement in your district; all of your ire is saved for tenure. Which is nothing more than the right to due process before a third party before an educator is fired. Which is, in a stunning display of hypocrisy, exactly what you have demanded and received for yourself from ACTING Education Commissioner Cerf!

No, the problem the PABOE has isn't that you accurately talked about student test scores in your district. Their problem is that you told stories and made accusations members of the board say just aren't true:
Varela also stated that Dr. Caffrey has been misinforming the public. He named one case in which the Superintendent claimed that an employee of the school system was on drugs and because of tenure she was not able have her removed. “First of all if someone is on drugs they must be taken to the hospital and it has to documented and those documents must be brought before the Board. Again, show me the proof, Dr. Caffrey! (The documentations of this occurring.) And again I will resign immediately. If not, you need to leave!”
“There was also an incident where a staff member reportedly washed out a student’s mouth out with soap according to Dr. Caffrey which turned out to be totally untrue.” Varela stated that this incident occurred two years before Caffrey was hired, “And I knew who the educator was that was falsely accused. As a matter of fact, this child was acting up in school and the students grandfather showed up to the school to see what the problem was. After being told about his grandchild’s being disrespectful in class, the grandfather proceeded to take something out of his pocket and put it in the child’s mouth which turned out to be a small bar of soap. This action was done so quickly that the teacher did not even notice it. The teacher was not aware of what was actually put into the child’s mouth until the object was spit out by the student. If we Board Members did not find out the truth, that teacher would have been fired. This was just one instance of a case that Dr. Caffrey jumped the gun and was about dismiss an educator before finding out the facts.”
Again: I have no idea who is in the right here. I do know Tom Moran still won't say whether he bothered to confirm Caffrey's charges. One would think a journalist would like to get both sides of story before publishing it.

Which brings us to Bob Bowdon. Writer/director/producer of The Cartel, Bowdon now heads Choice Media, a production company whose mission seems to be to make YouTube videos extolling education reformyness. I'll leave it to Bruce Baker to explain what a piece of drivel The Cartel really is; we can assume the rest of Bowdon's work ascribes to the same standards (or lack thereof).

What I don't quite understand, however, is how Bowdon is financing his operation; it's not like there's a lot of dough in making YouTube vids about vouchers, is there? Well, it turns out Bowdon gets help from the Moving Picture Institute, a tax-exempt, right-wing outfit that supports conservative documentary filmmakers. I'd like to be able to tell you who funds these guys, but I can't... yet.

Why does this matter? Well, you'll recall that when Janine Caffrey first got into hot water with the PABOE, reformy lobbying shop B4K rushed to her aid with an ad campaign:

At first, I thought this was merely unseemly; however, it turns out there are very real connections between B4K and a vendor for the Perth Amboy school district:

Now Bowdon shows up with a video defense of Caffrey, gussied up like a piece of journalism. We know that Bowdon and B4K's Executive Director, Derrell Bradford, run in the same circles: Bradford appears in The Cartelhelped to promote it, and appears in the credits as a "post production consultant." Bowdon and Bradford are so tight, they even enjoy the occasional Karaoke night together.

Now, suddenly, after B4K has paid for Caffrey's public relations offensive, Bowdon shows up and defends her.

Sorry, but this is more than a little unseemly. A school superintendent, at war with her own board, receives a professional media offensive to make her case to the public... and the people behind it have ties to New Classrooms, a vendor for the district.

Anyone else have a problem with this? Anyone else think the good people of Perth Amboy deserve to know who is funding Bob Bowdon's defense of their superintendent?

ADDING: Oh, Star-Ledger, we can always count on you to spin things toward the reformy!
The interview was posted by Choice Media TV, an online non-profit whose mission statement is to “expose the scandal of American’s high-cost, low-performing schools.” The site is run by Bob Bowdon, who also produced the acclaimed documentary “The Cartel” about public schools in America. [emphasis mine]
"Acclaimed"? Really?
Okay… so a few people meandering through my posts over time have sought some synthesis of my gripes about Bob Bowdon’s Cartel Movie. First of all, here’s a link to a pretty good review of the film which I just found yesterday:http://www.nj.com/entertainment/tv/index.ssf/2009/10/the_cartel_movie_review_docume.html
  • The divisive, emotional and complicated debate now raging over powerful public teachers unions and “school choice” — a catchphrase that encompasses support for vouchers, charter schools and a variety of other reforms — could use a comprehensive sorting-out by a diligent observer. Bob Bowdon’s smarmy diatribe isn’t it.
  • In taking to task the sorry state of our public schools, former New Jersey TV personality Bob Bowdon employs the three R’s of bad filmmaking: righteousness, revilement and redundancy.
And these glowing reviews accept as a given, Bowdon’s “statistical” argument validating the crisis of schooling in New Jersey.

Yes, folks, The Cartel is so "acclaimed" that the Star-Ledger itself panned it!


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