Friday, June 1, 2018

A sustainable path to school funding equity


Yesterday, Senate President Sweeney announced a bill (reportedly negotiated with Assembly Speaker Coughlin) that seeks to address school funding inequities that have existed in New Jersey for decades by bringing all school districts to 100% of their state aid over the next seven years (see media coverage below):

Announcement of School Funding Reform Bill

The bill's main elements are:
  1. The immediate removal of state aid growth caps (enrollment caps removed in 2019-20);
  2. A seven year phase out of adjustment aid and several other non-SFRA aid categories; 
  3. A tax cap waiver for former Abbott districts up to their local fair share;
  4. Authorization for an employee payroll tax per separate legislative bill; and
  5. Aid to county vocational school districts not lower than the 2017-18 amount.
This is a monumental step in a long battle: a sustainable path to school funding equity.  Reportedly, a key point in the legislative negotiations was the extension of the adjustment aid phase out from five to seven years.  For severely underaided districts, any delay in full equity prolongs a painful situation.  Seven years is more than sufficient time for districts to right size their budgets to their current enrollment needs and/or raise local taxes up to the local fair share.

Passage of this bill is expected next week, and the ball will be in Governor Murphy's court.  In his initial response to the proposed legislation, he said, "we can't solve this overnight."  Seven years is far from overnight.  A sustainable path to school funding equity is long overdue and needs this action now to continue the journey to a stronger, fairer New Jersey.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What defines a high performing school district

What defines a "high performing school district"?  Thoughtful observers realize it is impossible to capture complex processes like education only through simple snapshots such as standardized test scores.  However, the public rightfully insists upon accountability through some type of criteria-based assessment equitable to all schools and communities.

The State of New Jersey assesses its school districts using a process called the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC).  QSAC consists of five areas for review: Instruction & Program, Fiscal Management, Personnel, Governance, and Operations.  In order to be considered high performing, a school district must achieve at least 80% in each review area.

The Newton Public Schools were recently assessed by the NJ Department of Education using QSAC and passed in all five areas.  Notably, the area of Instruction & Program has shown the greatest improvement.  A major reason is that the metric used in QSAC has changed from a heavy emphasis on test score performance to a more balanced perspective that includes academic growth, curricular alignment, and other relevant performance data (i.e., graduation rate, chronic absenteeism).

And yet, the change in assessment metrics has just cast a brighter light on the real instructional improvements that have been happening in the Newton Public Schools.  Since 2013, the Board of Education has adopted annual district goals to promote more student-centered instruction, particularly through blended learning.  We have developed a vision for instructional practice and engaged in ongoing, job-embedded professional development to build skills and knowledge in current best practices. 

Our students have responded with increasing levels of academic performance and growth through a classroom environment that encourages hands-on learning, critical thinking, real-world problem solving, and data-driven interventions.

Passing QSAC is a real accomplishment, as our staff has done great work to increase student-centered learning and provide instructional supports to enhance student growth in literacy.  Our work this year (and moving forward) in mathematics should lead to comparable gains keeping us on a strong trajectory of academic improvement.  

What defines a "high performing school district"?   A consistent record of success as demonstrated by multiple measures.  In so many ways, the Newton Public Schools continue to live our mission to "educate the whole child".  Congratulations to our students, parents, staff, and community!


Monday, February 19, 2018

School safety and security is our top priority

Dear Newton Community,

It has taken some time to process the horrific events that occurred last week at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Whether it is a concert in Las Vegas, a church in Charleston, a nightclub in Orlando, a movie theater in Aurora, or one of dozens of schools throughout our great country, we continue to be reminded that we can never stop being vigilant in protecting our fellow citizens, especially our children. The safety and security of our schools and children remain a top priority for me and our staff members!

In the Newton Public Schools, we believe our safety and security is heightened by living our core values. Our mission states, in part:

We believe in the value of care. Therefore, we put trust, respect, and support at the heart of our school culture, and safety, security, and sustainability at the center of our physical environment.

What is clear to us is how important our school culture is to a safe, secure physical environment. We practice these values every day in all aspects of our school program. We encourage our students and staff to report any suspicious or unusual behavior, whether observed in person or online. We take all threats seriously and act accordingly.


We may contact you with concerns about your child. Please don’t be alarmed or defensive: we want to err on the side of caution, and work together to prevent a situation from escalating and having regrets afterward.

Our mission also states:

We believe parents, teachers, support staff, and citizens must partner in order to help children achieve their highest potential. Therefore, we organize ourselves as community schools to ensure we allocate sufficient resources to the social, emotional, and physical well-being of our students as well as to their academic achievement.


To our parents, grandparents, and other significant adults in the community: you can help us by becoming aware of signs and symptoms of violence as published by the American Psychological Association in its guide to Warning Signs of Youth Violence at http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/warning-signs.aspx.

Anyone can report concerns to me directly by phone at 973-383-7392 or by email at kgreene@newtonnj.org.

Concerns can also be reported to the Newton Police by phone at 973-383-2525 or online at http://newtonpolice.org/crime-tips/. To report any crime in progress, please call 9-1-1 immediately!

Sincerely,

Dr. G. Kennedy Greene, Superintendent

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

NJ Needs School Funding Equity NOW

Last summer's dramatic state shutdown resulted in a small but significant step toward school funding equity in New Jersey.  The gubernatorial and legislative elections that followed provided clear mandates for influential leaders who have consistently pledged to fund our schools equitably and fully.  The time has come for those pledges to become reality.

While the title of today's NJ Spotlight op-ed by Carl Golden, political analyst and former aide to Governors Kean and Whitman, is provocative, its contents point to where the politics are headed.  Here are some excerpts:

Sweeney has been both adamant and clear that any increase sought by the governor in aid to public education must be accompanied by revisions in the aid formula to eradicate what he contends are inequities that punish some districts ...

...Sweeney is in a position to make a strong and reasonable public policy argument in support of the government embracing fairness and equal treatment in the distribution of some $9 billion in taxpayers' money to local education.

Treating the state's school children equally no matter where they live or what kind of school they attend is his goal, while also providing a measure of property-tax relief to those underfunded districts. It's an argument the NJEA will find difficult to counter.

I believe these sentiments reflect the intent of the majority of our Legislature as well as its leadership.  Now in office for nearly one month, Governor Murphy and his team will be announcing a budget one month from today that will recommend resources to support his vision for the state.  We have an open moment, and it's time to do the right thing!


A growing and committed group of citizens, parents, board of education members, and community and school leaders from across the state continue to communicate and plan advocacy efforts that have included:
  • Testimony at Senate/Assembly Budget and Education hearings, accompanied at times by large groups of concerned parents and citizens;
  • Legislative calling and emailing campaigns led by parent organizations;
  • Private sessions with legislators and DOE officials to present pertinent data and address questions; 
  • Media interviews with education journalists to inform the wider public;
  • Social media posts to engage advocacy groups and other interested parties;
  • Local presentations and stakeholder discussions (e.g., BOEs, town councils, parent groups)
  • Regional meetings where key decision-makers and influencers are invited to discuss the issues; and
  • Legal action through petitions to NJDOE and filings to NJ Superior Court.

Please contact the Governor and your Legislators NOW!

Advocate for school funding equity NOW for your district and for all underaided children across the state of New Jersey!!