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Archive for the ‘Out and About’ Category

Getting New Jersey Schools Back Up After Sandy

Friday, November 9th, 2012


Ray Pinney


My family only had to endure four days without power after Hurricane Sandy before we experienced that magic moment early one morning: we were awakened by our lights going on. The kids yelled out in joy, and I happily anticipated life with electric, heat and running water.

We had a brief letdown when there was a “click” and the power went off again. But it was temporary and we were on the road to normalcy.

But I quickly learned that normal life returns bit by bit, not all at once. I had roads to traverse, an exercise that included maneuvering around downed trees and power lines.  The stores in my town still had no power, so buying groceries was a chore.  Buying gas was a challenge. You could spot an open gas station by the long line of cars, sometimes a mile away from the station.  The other sight that was unusual, to say the least, was the number of people standing in line or walking down the street with their red plastic gas containers.

These crazy scenes, playing out in many communities across New Jersey, did not capture the full devastation of the storm. My family might have been inconvenienced by power outages, but we are well aware that other individuals and communities have lost much more.  (more…)

Let’s Turn New Jersey’s Ballots Upside Down

Friday, October 12th, 2012


Ray Pinney

For what I believe is the first time in history (or at least modern history),  in a few weeks most New Jerseyans will have the opportunity to vote for school board members in a November election, rather than in a separate April election.

A board member friend of mine sent me the sample ballot for some districts in Middlesex County.  Since this is the first time that they will have non-partisan school board elections on an essentially partisan election ballot, it took work by the County Clerk to arrange the ballot to separate the elections. On this ballot, and I am sure it will be very similar in other counties, the top of the ballot, of course, is the presidential race followed by Senate, Congressional and county races, then ending with local elections. The non-partisan school board election is separated from the rest of the ballot and has its section at the bottom.

Now I have a modest proposal. I am sure it will go nowhere, but what’s the point in having a blog if you can’t stir things up every once and a while? Here goes: (more…)

Facing the Truth of What Not to Do

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012


Ray Pinney


I was driving to work one day listening to a radio show game called The Nearly Impossible Question.  The question: 60 percent of men think having this makes them more attractive to women.  What is it?

As I drove, I could tell I was thinking like many of the callers, who guessed attributes like a good smile, a nice head of hair, money, nice clothes, or good biceps. Yet none of these was the correct answer. Finally, a caller got it right and I nearly drove off the road when I heard the answer – it was love handles!

When I heard this, I thought of two things. First, there is a big difference between females and males on weight gain. Second, and I don’t want to be too critical of my fellow men, but while we all put on a few pounds and we don’t necessarily need to be ashamed of this, thinking that putting on weight makes us more attractive is really almost delusional.

While many of us like to ignore our weight gain, if we want to lose weight we have to face the truth.

Over the next year, school districts will also have to face the truth on the new teacher evaluation models.  I have been to several meetings on the tenure reform law as well as the teacher evaluation models, and the hard truth is that while these changes seem very worthwhile, they will come at a cost in both time and money. It is also probably the case that any additional funding that districts may receive will not cover that cost.

If these changes are as beneficial as the pilot districts and the New Jersey Department of Education have indicated, then these proposals must become a high priority. (more…)

A Different Back-to-School for New Jersey School Districts

Thursday, September 20th, 2012


Ray Pinney

It was time for my kids to leave for their first day of school, and when I got to the front door, I stopped dead in my tracks.  Ever since my children started kindergarten, I have been driving them to school and dropping them off on my way to work. But this year my daughter is the proud possessor of a driver’s license and has the use of my old car.  I watched while she and her brother got in the car and drove to the high school by themselves.  I hadn’t thought about it much.  This summer seemed like every other summer (with me asking the kids every day if they had done their summer reading, and my son and daughter waiting until the end of the summer to do it).  Watching the kids drive off without me was a real jolt. I realized that life has changed for all of us.

I believe that the same could be said for all the school districts in New Jersey.  While we always have new wrinkles when school reopens, something was different this year.  After this summer’s enactment of the TEACH NJ law, the landmark tenure reform legislation, and the development of a new teacher evaluation process, the fabric of education for the teachers and other staff members has been altered. (more…)

Educational Leadership on a Budget

Thursday, September 6th, 2012


Ray Pinney


What is good leadership worth?  We all recognize the value of a good leader, but the compensation for such a leader, whether he or she is the chief executive officer of a corporation or a superintendent of a public school district, usually comes under attack from the public at some point.  But anyone who has worked in an organization with poor leadership recognizes the value of a good one.

I have a few hard and fast rules and one of them is that almost no matter who you are—a CEO, a sports star, a Hollywood star and a school superintendent—if there is a debate over your salary in the media, you rarely win the public perception battle.  Most likely, that’s because the vast majority of the readers and listeners are making less than the public figure in question. They usually have very little sympathy for individuals making six figures or more.

While the public may grumble about the compensation given to a sports star, actor or CEO, they really have no say in the matter. It’s a different story with public employees, however.  Against the backdrop of a stagnant economy, the Christie administration adopted the salary cap regulations.  In terms of public perception, it was an easy move, generating almost no pushback.

While there are differing views on whether the cap is good or not, the real issue is this: (more…)

The Missing Ingredient in Closing the Achievement Gap

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012


Ray Pinney

“Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed”

Abraham Lincoln.

One of my favorite hobbies is cooking.  I do most of the cooking at home from breakfast for the immediate family to an extended family dinner for twenty people. The main reason I love to cook is that I love to eat. While I love creating recipes and dishes, I often follow recipes. Sometimes this strategy is less successful than I would like, usually because halfway through the process I realize I am missing a key ingredient in the recipe. For example, once I didn’t have baking powder when I was making cornbread. It is amazing how missing a few teaspoons of one key ingredient can change the outcome. The cornbread, normally soft and fluffy, was positively brick-like.

In education reform we sometimes get caught up with a single strategy or philosophy and believe that one factor is the sole ingredient for success. We know that no single strategy can raise student achievement and close the achievement gap alone, whether that approach involves higher standards, tenure reform, merit pay, charter schools, or any of the other reform strategies.  It takes all those ingredients. But there is another key ingredient needed for successful education reform that is often overlooked: the support of the public.

I thought of this as I read a report in NJ Spotlight that Commissioner Cerf and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) were thinking of creating one large statewide “achievement school district” that would put all of New Jersey’s lowest performing schools under state control with the state getting unprecedented authority in these schools. My first reaction was (more…)

Virtual Education Needs a Solid Foundation

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012


Ray Pinney


It wasn’t too long ago when I said I would never need a cell phone.  I didn’t need to have access to everyone at all times, I thought.  Now I have two cell phones and I have a hard time not glancing at my Droid every ten minutes.  I had the same reservations about Facebook and now I check that site nearly every day.  So when I think about the major reservations I have about New Jersey’s foray into virtual charter schools, I wonder if I’m just resisting new technology again?  Is the push-back against virtual charter schools just a fear of change?

I do not believe so. The reservations I and others have are definitely more than a fear of change or being unnecessarily afraid of new technology.  In fact, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I have been a user of the new technology such as blogs and podcasts for a while now.  I am not afraid of technology. I see its benefits but I am also aware of its pitfalls.

What really concerns me is that we are entering the field of virtual education with a system that was designed for brick and mortar buildings. The virtual charter schools being proposed are currently governed by the old charter school law which was drafted fifteen years ago and did not really deal with the issue of virtual education. Some might even argue that the existing law is a bit antiquated even for brick-and-mortar charter schools, but that is a separate issue.  (more…)

Wily E. Coyote, Roadrunner and the Power of the New Jersey Governor

Friday, June 8th, 2012


Ray Pinney


As a child one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons was Roadrunner. If you remember the cartoon, Wily E. Coyote, Roadrunner’s nemesis, was always attempting elaborate schemes to catch the Roadrunner – and the schemes usually involved something the coyote had purchased from the “Acme” company.  The plot was predicable: Roadrunner was never caught and the coyote’s plans always seemed to backfire and cause him harm.  I loved the show, despite its predictability and the fact that there was no dialogue, other than Roadrunner’s occasional “beep-beeps.”

Sometimes watching New Jersey politics seems a little like watching the Roadrunner cartoon. The outcomes seem similarly obvious and the elaborate plans to do something are fated to fail, but, as political theater, it is still entertaining to watch.  As I am watching the state budget political drama play out, it seems that the governor has laid out his plan and the Democrats in the Legislature are scrambling to come up with their own plans.  The governor, in this case, is like Roadrunner in that he is holding the upper hand.

Even though the administration’s revenue projections are coming under scrutiny, it appears that Gov. Christie may get two important victories out of this budget.  (more…)

Educational Success That a Test May Not Measure – Celebrating Special Education Success

Thursday, May 31st, 2012


Ray Pinney

The young man of 15 walked up to me. His shoulders were straight and his posture almost had a military bearing. He extended his hand and introduced himself with a firm handshake.  He asked if I wanted to know about his district’s SEALS (Students Empowered for Advocacy and Leadership Skills) program for students who are eligible for special education services.  I was impressed with his poise, and with the poise of a young lady who is also in the program, as they talked about how much better they feel being a leader and active participant in their own IEP meetings. They had gained the kind of confidence and ease with advocating for themselves that all students—not just special education student – would benefit from.

I was at the Innovations in Special Education awards ceremony and 10 New Jersey schools were being honored for having creative and effective special education programming. The awards are jointly sponsored by NJSBA and ASAH, a non-profit organization that represents private schools serving students with disabilities.

As I wandered the hotel lobby looking at the impressive array of programs that were on display, (more…)

Everyone Says Tenure Reform is Needed – But Will it Get Done?

Friday, May 18th, 2012


Ray Pinney


One of the amazing things about the legislative and political process in New Jersey is that everyone can agree that there’s a problem, yet nothing happens to address the issue.

There is often a great deal of discussion. There is even some action when bills are proposed. But in the end, very little happens.  You might think it would be easier to come to a consensus when there’s agreement on the problem, but that’s not always the case.

I am beginning to feel that tenure reform may be one of those issues that gets a lot of discussion, but very few results.  I have observed several legislators at events and have read enough newspaper accounts to see that both Democrats and Republicans agree that the current tenure system needs to be changed – and soon.

I even heard one Democratic legislator say that she believed that the public is also very supportive of tenure reform. I agree with that legislator’s view.  I know that on two separate occasions I had the opportunity to poll parent groups using a polling device, and in those groups, most parents opposed tenure.

So if Democrats and Republicans both agree, and the general public agrees that the system needs to be changed, than why aren’t we any closer to a change than we were a year ago?  (more…)