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, April 20, 2012

No Experience Necessary

We have many highly qualified, experienced, and very successful superintendents in New Jersey. But when it's time to get informed opinions about our school system, we often pass them by for by for folks who are... well (to put in kindly), somewhat less experienced:
The governor also wants to change the way enrollment is counted. Students are now counted on Oct 15. The governor wants to base funding on average daily attendance, which he says will give schools incentives to improve attendance.
That change is supported by [Fort Lee Interim Superintendent Steven] Engravalle; this month, the governor appointed him to the task force that will look at how school aid is distributed.
Engravalle said Fort Lee’s enrollment fluctuates each year, sometimes growing by more than 80 students from Oct. 15 to the end of the school year. He said students from other countries often register for a few months while their parents are in the area for business or if they’re visiting relatives.
Cerf said he visited the Fort Lee school district because of its “reputation for fiscal responsibility”, and its academic successes. School No. 3 in the district was named a Blue Ribbon School last year. That national honor is given to public and private schools that are either high performing or have greatly improved student achievement. [emphasis mine]
Fort Lee schools will receive $1,946,449 in state aid under the Governor’s proposed budget for next school year, an increase of $428,847, or 28 percent.
Look, I wish Mr. Engravalle all the best. But he has been the Interim Superintendent for less than a year; I'm sorry, but he is simply not the best candidate to serve on this task force.

Joe Scarborough was happy to tout Engravalle on MSNBC, but failed to mention that Engravalle had been on the job for only four months. Could it be that Morning Joe and his favorite governor, Chris Christie, wanted to sell Engravalle as a miracle worker because the young super was happy to go on to national TV and trash his teachers' union?

The plain fact of the matter is the man really hasn't done anything yet. Any successes of the Fort Lee district should be claimed by his predecessor, who left New Jersey for New York. Why? Because Chris Christie's salary cap for "greedy" superintendents chased the man away.

Yeah, I know: "He just doesn't care about kids!" Whatever...

Again, Engravalle may turn out to be a great superintendent - I sincerely hope he does (if only for the sake of Fort Lee's kids) - but it is way, way, way too early to say this man is qualified to sit on perhaps the most important task force on education the state has ever assembled.

Of course, there is a history of putting unqualified folks on education task forces here in the Garden State. But I digress....

Meanwhile, over in Perth Amboy:
Less than a year into her term as Perth Amboy’s school superintendent, Janine Caffrey may soon be looking for a new job.
The school board plans to vote next week on whether to fire the reform-minded leader — who says she isn’t going down without a fight and has the backing of the city’s mayor.
Feuds among superintendents and school boards are not unheard of in New Jersey’s bare-knuckled business of public education, but against the backdrop of a state investigation, the Perth Amboy situation is no ordinary controversy.
While the school board has accused Caffrey of running rough-shod over them, more shocking revelations have surfaced involving possible attempted fraud by school board president Samuel Lebreault. The state Attorney General’s Office is investigating allegations that Lebreault improperly filed an application for the federally subsidized school lunch program, an application that has mysteriously gone missing.
Caffrey contends the board wants her out because she has cooperated with the state investigation and has refused to give school district jobs to board members’ friends.
In an interview with The Star-Ledger, Caffrey said she is standing her ground and expects that the board will fire her if she refuses to step down — despite having two years left on her three-year contract. She earns $172,500 a year.
School board attorney Isabel Machado Wednesday said she could not comment on personnel matters.
In the days before she took over last June, Caffrey said Lebreault and fellow board member board Israel Varela called her about giving district jobs to their friends. Both times, the superintendent said, she rebuffed those requests.
"It was crazy," Caffrey said. "My goal is to get to the point where I can do my job for the children of Perth Amboy."
Lebreault declined to comment on any personnel matters, but Varela denied ever recommending anyone for a job. He added that Caffrey made her comments about him after he questioned her about school finances.
"This board is not a vindictive board," Varela said. "The board must do what’s best for the Perth Amboy schools."
What the board has done is file 11 allegations against Caffrey, including failing to meet with school principals, misrepresenting the facts at board meetings, dividing contracts to sidestep the bidding process and bypassing the board to implement teacher-assistance and counseling programs. [emphasis mine]
I have no idea whether Caffrey is being wronged here; she may well turn out to be vindicated. In fact, I don't have much sympathy for the Perth Amboy BOE: they hired Caffrey, a superintendent who was light on qualifications, in the first place. The only school she ever ran was a tiny private school in Florida. A few additional years in the giant NYC school bureaucracy is hardly qualification to run a district like PA, and yet she got the job.

Maybe the BOE in PA should have looked at a few more resumes, huh?

The fact that Caffrey hadn't done anything as an actual superintendent didn't stop the Star-Ledger's Tom Moran from trying to turn her into a folk hero. And it didn't disqualify her from testifying at the NJ Senate hearing on tenure reform. But it should have. Again, I wish her the best, but she just isn't qualified to opine on these things; she doesn't have a substantial record of success (at least, not yet). And now, she may be headed out the door.

Michelle Rhee drives our national debate about "reform," but she's never done anything of note. Steve Engravalle is the sole school superintendent on an extremely important committee on school finance, but he has little record of success as an education leader. Janine Caffrey is interviewed as an expert on tenure reform in the press and before the state legislature, but she hasn't done the job even for a year; further, she's already in a swirl of controversy.

Inexperienced people are informing our school policies. Isn't it obvious that this is a recipe for disaster?

ADDING: A little more on Engravalle; here's an article from June of 2010, when he first came to Fort Lee as an assistant superintendent:
Steven Engravalle is 32 years old and has only worked as an administrator in the education sector for six years, but officials are optimistic that Engravalle, the current superintendent and principal of the Hamburg school district in Sussex County, will bring great value to Fort Lee when he takes over as the assistant superintendent for the 2010-2011 school year. 
One clear challenge is the fact that Engravalle will be moving from a one school district with a little more than 300 students in Hamburg, to Fort Lee, which educates approximately 3,500 students within six elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. 
"He hasn’t had the experience of working through other administrators to the extent that you would in a larger district," Bandlow explained. "But the advantage of course is that he’s been responsible for all those functions and has had first-hand responsibility that many of the people he will supervise have." 
"There’s always a learning curve for anyone and we know there’s going to be a period of adjustment," Bandlow added. "But he also has a lot he can contribute right away."
Less than two years later, he is now running the entire district. There was concern about that last fall:
Colbath said the board was acting too quickly in appointing Engravalle when there are other options and that public input had not been taken into consideration. She said that while she believes Engravalle has a bright future ahead of him, he is not, in her opinion, right for the position of Acting Superintendent of Fort Lee Schools at this time.  
“He’s young; I think he’s going to be doing great things,” Colbath said Tuesday. “He’s energetic; he’s enthusiastic; he’s smart. He’s going to go places, but I don’t think he’s qualified today to run a district with our diversity; with our issues; with our referendum and with the number of schools.”
Again: I wish the man the best (a word of advice, though: cool it with the union bashing. You're not the governor; you actually have to work with your teachers and their local).

But this task force on school aid is very important. Maybe after a few years, he'll have a record of success that qualifies him; right now, however, he's just not ready.


Oh, my...

I would have loved to have embedded this, but I can't. And no commenting. Huh.


Unknown said...

Disaster is the goal of our reformy elites. Public school superintendents have to fail to justify this ridiculous agenda that is making many, many people very rich.

Edspecial2012 said...

Jazz, you really should just google before you post. Engravalle's resume comes up on LinkedIn, first result.

He was Assistant Superintendent at Fort Lee during all the good stuff you cite. He was Superintendent of another New Jersey district before that. He was a Principal before that in New Jersey. He was a Vice Principal in New Jersey before that. He was a College Professor in New Jersey before that. He was an English teacher in New Jersey before that. He went to college in New Jersey. He went to high school in New Jersey. He grew up in New Jersey.

I don't know what sort of resume you want. He is hardly an outside corporate reformy guy.

He is by all accounts a good guy. How can you possibly put a headline "No Experience Necessary" on this guy? You are having a sloppy week, dude. Maybe you own Steve an apology.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Edspecial2012, perhaps you should have Googled a little more to find out that his PhD is from a very poorly rated online school whose brick and mortar campus is no better, graduating less than 30% of it's freshmen. This is probably why he is the "interim" superintendent and hasn't been hired for the permanent position. There are quite of few schools located here in NJ that certainly have higher ratings than Nova-FL and offer online doctoral programs. Why didn't he attend one of them?

Looking at his background info, I guess he'll be the specialist regarding mainly white and asian kids who come from towns that whose median income levels are twice that of the state's. Just these demographics alone account for the school's academic success. It is no secret that SAT and other student tests have a direct correlation to family income. Which would also mean that those kids would likely be high performing if they had a canned ham as a super.

His background HARDLY makes him a specialist on low income kids or their particular educational needs. I think Jazz was spot on here. Like all of Christie's appointees, I'm quite sure that it was WHO he knows instead of what he knows. I'm sure it'll come out in the wash sooner or later.