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Archive for the ‘Out and About’ Category

Sometimes Even Good Rules Need to be Bent

Friday, October 4th, 2013


Ray Pinney

It is time for true confessions.

At one time I was involved in a sports scandal. When I was twelve, I managed to make my town’s traveling little league team. A day before our first game, when the coaches were going over the logistics of when we would be leaving and who we would be playing, the coach said “and by the way you are all twelve years old.”  At first I was a bit insulted that he thought we did not all know our own age, but then he followed that up by saying that one of our players was thirteen. Obviously, the player was too old for this team and we were cheating. But the coach made it seem that this was business as usual and all the teams did it.

Laws and rules are made all the time and are nearly always made for all the right reasons.  In education it is to make sure that funds are properly spent and that student achievement is accurately measured. In high school athletics it is to make sure that the competition is fair.  While my own scandalous incident happened decades ago and it did not involve a school district, it is indicative of how many adults want to win and will break the rules to do so. That’s why  we have age rules for high school athletes. (more…)

Public Partnerships that Create Private Celebrations

Friday, July 12th, 2013


Ray Pinney


I am about to give a presentation before some new school board members on a Saturday morning in February when I hear my cellphone signal that I have a text message. It is from my daughter, she has attached a picture and it is a picture of her first college acceptance letter.  She is so excited because now the pressure is off: She was accepted somewhere.  I text right back to congratulate her.  Both of us are so excited.  When I get home, we hug and the celebration is face to face.

It is a private celebration between a father and a daughter and one that we enjoy immensely.  A few weeks ago, we had a big public celebration called her high school graduation that is shared with the entire school and community.  Yet for some reason, that private text meant more to me than even the graduation.  I am sure that my experience is not unique.  The quiet moments are some of the most special.  This private moment signified that she had accomplished her goal and that the school-family partnership, which officially ended at graduation, was successful.

For many parents, the connection to the school district becomes part of your everyday life, and it is not until it’s over that you really realize how important that partnership has been to both the parent and the student.  As we all know, when parents are engaged in their children’s lives, the partnership is a powerful one that can lift both the school and the student to higher levels. (more…)

Quiet and Subtle Reform that has a Big Impact

Friday, May 3rd, 2013


Ray Pinney


There is a nationwide focus on the achievement gap and weak academic performance in our poorest communities. It’s certainly warranted.  In New Jersey, this issue  has been at the core of the Abbott rulings by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, there seems to be the notion that to improve the educational achievement of our poorest children, we need charismatic leaders with bold ideas that will be implemented quickly, dramatically and with great fanfare. That is why charismatic educators like Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, and several years ago, Joe Clark, become overnight stars –for awhile.

What if the way to academic success in our poorest school districts is slow, quiet, and actually accomplished with some ordinary practices? That is what David Kirp, author of the book Improbable Scholars argues is probably the direction we should go. He holds up the New Jersey school district of Union City as a model.

In New Jersey, we grab headlines when the state “takes over” a district as it did with Jersey City, Newark and Paterson. Recently, the state announced that it would initiate a state “intervention” in the city of Camden. The Camden “intervention” is different than that in the other three cities because it appears that the community and the district did not object to the state’s action.  Nonetheless, it did grab headlines.

It should be noted that Union City, the star district in Kirp’s book, was itself was on the verge of a state takeover about a quarter of a century ago. (more…)

Building a Coalition of the Heart

Thursday, April 4th, 2013


Ray Pinney


As Diane Lein, a Greenwich Township (Warren County) board member, spoke before the NJSBA Legislative Committee, it was obvious by the inflection in her voice and by the pained look in her eyes that she was in a bit of distress. The kids in her district were going to be hurt by (more…)

Being Called a Bully

Friday, February 15th, 2013

 By Ray Pinney

When the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights legislation was passed, I wrote a blog entry,  A Student Solution to Bullying, that described a situation when my son stood up to a bully and I was very proud of him. I worried he’d be one of those kids who got picked on.

I’m sure that the fear that my son would be bullied was something that all parents can sympathize with. But there is another fear that never crossed my mind. It’s one that some parents are now dealing with – that your child is labeled as a bully. Two recent events have indicated to me that a there is a new concern with labeling a young person a bully.

The first concerned the Commissioner of Education ruling on two appeals of district action taken under the anti-bullying law. Interestingly, in both cases, the appeal was brought by the parents of the student accused of being the bully.

Second, the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force, which was established by the law to study the law’s impact, released its preliminary report on January 26, 2013.  We are eighteen months into the implementation of this law, so it is a good time to take a look at it and see how it is working and maybe how it should be amended.

As I stated earlier, (more…)

Seeing and Recognizing the Passion for Public Education

Saturday, January 26th, 2013


Ray Pinney


Karen, a Morris County board member came up to me after a recent Morris County meeting and with great passion, stated her objection to superintendent salary caps.  Her reasoning came down to this “I am not looking for a good educational leader to lead my district. I want the best because our kids deserve the best. I want them to excel!”

You can quibble with Karen on her objection to the salary caps but there’s no denying Karen’s motives for her beliefs. She is dedicated public servant who is focused like a laser beam on improving the education her community’s students receive. She has a passion for public education.

This blog is not about superintendent salary caps, nor is it about Karen being a special board member, which she is. While Karen is special, she is not unique. In fact, most board members have that same passion for public education.

One of the benefits of my job is that for almost fifteen years I have had the opportunity to work closely with thousands of board members who, like Karen, are dedicated to the children of their community. Yet I would dare say that the perception that I have of board members is not the one the general public has.

While I should be accustomed to the passion that many board members display, for some reason I am always a bit surprised by it. While January is School Board Recognition month and (more…)

With School Shootings I Will Never Understand Why

Thursday, December 20th, 2012


Ray Pinney


We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years.  And each time I learn the news I react not as a President, but as anybody else would — as a parent.  And that was especially true today.  I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.

–President Barack Obama
As I entered my house last Friday evening, I hurriedly changed my clothes and turned on the TV to learn more about the events at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  I spent the 90-minute commute listening to the radio and trying to understand what had happened. As the day went on, the story evolved and the truth slowly emerged. (It is amazing how wrong much of the initial reporting was.)  While I know the news channels say we will soon learn “how” and “why” the incident occurred, I think they are wrong.

Yes, I will understand “how” it occurred, but I will never understand “why” it occurred. I don’t want to sound sacrilegious but even if God came down to Earth to tell me, I don’t believe as long as I am breathing and my heart is still beating that I will ever understand why such a senseless act occurs.

I know that the Disney parks are supposedly the happiest place on Earth, but for my money, watching kindergarten and first grade students is even better. There is something about watching students with so much hope and eagerness to learn. It seems that the smaller the child, the bigger the dream.  Every first grade class has a future U.S. President, astronaut, movie star, doctor, or Olympic gold medalist.  Not only are the kid’s dreams big, so are there parents.  So the murder of such children is inexplicable to me and always will be.

As a parent I can’t begin to comprehend what these parents are going through; the anxiety of rushing to that firehouse and hoping and praying to see your child’s face. (more…)

Hurting Superintendents by Giving Them More Authority

Friday, December 7th, 2012


Ray Pinney

Some years ago, I was in a conversation with a group of educators when an issue arose over how to prevent “micromanagement by board members.” A superintendent in the group proudly spoke up that he had a solution to the problem: “Simply give the superintendent the authority to remove a single member from the board, and that would stop that.”  I looked at him and said, “The minute he removed one board member, it would become an issue for the next election.”  The board member removed from office would come back with a slate to “run against” the superintendent, portraying him as an unelected dictator, I explained.

Look,” I said, “I have been involved in enough local elections to know a winning campaign issue – and that is a slam dunk.”  He looked at me and did not say another word.

That superintendent, while well intentioned in wanting to help his fellow administrators better handle the sometimes blurred line between managing a district and governing one, was actually hurting his colleagues.

With a recent proposal to give superintendents the authority to call school board meetings, the New Jersey Department of Education is similarly well-intentioned but misguided.  (more…)

Four Great Things We Learned From Hurricane Sandy

Saturday, December 1st, 2012


Ray Pinney

“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til  it’s gone

Joni Mitchell

I always thought that Joni Mitchell’s lyrics were so true: it’s only after something (or someone) is gone from your life that you realize its importance.

I know I am not the only one feels that way, but Hurricane Sandy reminded me that sometimes you don’t realize what you have until it is tested and demanded of you.  In four ways Hurricane Sandy dispelled some myths that persist about public education in New Jersey.

The four commonly-held myths are as follows: First, that our politicians are divided along party lines and more worried about scoring political points and helping their own political party than their constituents. Second, that local control is so strong that each district is an island and they do not collaborate enough. Third, that the adults in education, like teachers, school administrators and board members are too focused on adult issues and not the kids.  And last, that the general citizenry is apathetic and its support for public education and schools is lukewarm at best.

As we discuss public education policy in New Jersey, we operate under these myths. I believe Sandy washed away these myths just as she washed away boardwalks and beach houses.

Let’s examine each myth. (more…)

A Thank You to Marie

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012


Ray Pinney


I walked into her office and she wanted to discuss a meeting being planned. Marie looked at me and asked “whose dumb idea was this meeting topic?” I had to own up that it was my dumb idea. Then Marie allowed me to explain my thought process. She listened and I could see that while she was not totally convinced by my logic, she told me to go ahead. While she was hesitant about the idea, she believed in backing up her staff, so she relented.  I am happy to report the “dumb idea” actually worked.

That short moment in my almost fifteen years at NJSBA epitomizes my relationship with outgoing Executive Director Marie Bilik. We did not always agree on things, but we listened to each other. It is a relationship that is coming to an end (at least at NJSBA) and I have to say I am sad about that.

The chats in Marie’s office began almost fifteen years ago when I first started at NJSBA. I was hired as a county program coordinator to replace her (she had been made a field service representative). I started in the northern field office (NJSBA had field offices at the time), and I was the only man in an office filled with strong-willed, highly intelligent woman who were all passionate about public education. As it so happened, our morning ritual was to gather to discuss the districts and counties we were working with. We gathered most often in Marie’s office.

Our habit of having casual conversations about issues has never stopped and neither has my penchant for springing dumb ideas on her. I’m sure that will continue until her last day.

I hate goodbyes. (more…)