Sunday, May 24, 2015

New Jersey DOE descends on Camden Tuesday

A New Jersey Department of Education team of 28 specialists in various fields, including curriculum and instruction and finance, will be conducting an "in-depth analysis" of the Camden school district, following an abysmal state-mandated performance review.

New Jersey DOE descends on Camden Tuesday

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The New Jersey Department of Education’s troops will be descending on Camden Tuesday.

A team of 28 specialists in various fields, including curriculum and instruction and finance, will be conducting an “in-depth analysis” of the district.

In the latest Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) performance review, the district received failing grades in four of the five categories — instruction and program (7 percent); operations (47 percent); personnel (9 percent), and governance (33 percent). It received 79 percent in fiscal management.

The QSAC is a lengthy check-list that simply scores a district on whether it does certain things. For example, one of the subcategories under Instruction and Program asks if “the district board of education has annually approved written curriculum that clearly and specifically aligns with the most recent State Board adopted version of the NJCCCS (2004).” Four points are given for each of the nine content areas (arts, math, health, etc.)

Now the state will go in and actually ask how the teacher uses the approved curriculum, according to state officials. Or if the educator does not use a board-approved curriculum, then what curriculum does the teacher use?

After two weeks of information-gathering, the state team will go back to Trenton and assemble a report, which will be the basis for what the state will do with the district.

In my story Sunday, there is some background on what the state could have done in prior years and what it could do this time around.

The school district has seven days from Feb. 6, when the letter was sent out to Superintendent Bessie LeFra Young, to appeal the abysmal scores.  Seven days is today but it is not clear whether the district plans to file an appeal. Young has not returned calls for comment.

Several of the school board members, including Board President Susan Dunbar-Bey, had not yet seen the scores when contacted Friday and Saturday.

When told of the scores Saturday, board member Barbara Coscarello was shocked at the single digits and requested an emergency board meeting to discuss the findings.

She said no meeting had yet been scheduled. (The board president has to schedule it, Coscarello says.)

Dunbar-Bey said Friday that she and former board member Jason Gonzalez filled out the “Governance” section for the self-assessment QSAC last year.

“We put what we thought was right,” she said. The pair gave their board 67 percent in governance. But the state handed them 33 percent.

“Governance issues continue to plague the district. Some board members do not follow protocol or confidentiality,” acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf said in his QSAC letter to the district.

When read the line on Friday, Dunbar-Bey responded: “I agree with that. Anyone who watches our meetings knows that.”

However, she wants to review the details of the scoring to see if there were other factors she could appeal to bring the grades up.

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About this blog

Allison Steele writes about Camden’s schools, government and businesses. Most importantly, she writes about the city’s residents. She is a former crime reporter who covered the Camden and Philadelphia police departments for the Inquirer. A Philly native, she has been with the Inquirer since 2008.

Send comments, tips and story ideas to asteele@philly.com, call 856-779-3876, or reach out on Twitter @AESteele.

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