[OPINION] Perth Amboy Schools Need Leader With Vision

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by Diane Crawford and Pam Campbell

Perth Amboy school superintendent Janine Caffrey has been put on paid administrative leave for the third time. Whether Dr. Caffrey will be returned to the district again or not, she has already announced her decision not to apply to be rehired for next year.

The opportunity exists for a visionary educator-leader to work wonders in this challenging urban district. It will not be easy in a district that has struggled through a tumultuous relationship between teachers, the Board of Education and the superintendent of late, but a smart hire of a qualified candidate would go far towards healing wounds and keeping an emphasis on educating a vibrant, diverse student population.

Perth Amboy is one of five municipalities in the state where the percentage of children living in households with incomes below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level increased by at least 10 percentage points between 2007 and 2010 . The city’s Hispanic population is 78.1 percent, the second-highest percentage among municipalities in New Jersey as of the 2010 Census, ranked only below Union City. Accordingly, nearly three quarters of students report languages other than English spoken at home. It is not an excuse for poor performance, but a reality that students come to school disadvantaged by poverty and often lacking language skills.

More time than is currently allotted is needed for our students to grasp enough English to then succeed in Math, Social Studies, and Science. In our decades of classroom experience, we have seen students who know the answers being frustrated by the inability to express them. Students in our district need a reconstituted, strong bilingual curriculum. This is not to segregate children from mainstream classes, but to provide educational support to build grade and age appropriate subject matter skills while they improve their English reading and speaking.

The incoming candidate should have the critical acumen to evaluate the structure of the district and see where administration needs to bring in expertise from outside the district and where relying on internal resources is preferable. Having worked in the district for more than 30 years, we have seen less experienced personnel brought in to model best practices which really were not, which has caused a disconnect in our critical professional development programs.

There is a pressing need to collaborate with the implementation of national common core curriculum with its stated goal of providing a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help.

While this seems basic, we have seen students and teachers fail because courses were offered without appropriate curriculum and resources, including up-to-date textbooks, necessary for success. In some districts access to books is not an issue, but in Perth Amboy students are lacking the basics. Many also lack Internet access at home to work around outdated or unavailable print materials so this situation is urgent to address immediately for a new superintendent.

Students, parents, teachers, Perth Amboy leaders and the faith-based community are depending on the search committee to find a candidate who can implement provide consistent leadership. Representatives from each stakeholder group, including a high performing junior and senior high school student, should be included on the search committee.

Collaboration is a key word if progress is going to be made in Perth Amboy.

If the incoming candidate is going to demonstrate a commitment to the best interests of the districts’ children, he or she will embrace collaboration on implementing common role curriculum. This means engaging with all those important to the children from the support staff to the building principals and including teachers as valuable partners.

Diane Crawford is president of the Perth Amboy Federation-American Federation of Teachers and Pam Campbell is district representative for the Perth Amboy Federation-American Federation of Teachers

Originally published at http://aftnj.org


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