New school year heralds teacher evaluations
After years of debate, a new statewide evaluation system will for the first time measure teachers by their own and their students' performances.
The change comes at the same time that new national curriculum standards continue to make their way into New Jersey's classrooms and to reshape the state's approach to testing.
Add the ongoing financial pressures on schools and the range of new and revised government mandates. And that doesn't even include the special pressures on the state's most troubled districts - including Camden, the latest district to come under state control.
It's been talked about since the new teacher tenure law was enacted in the summer of 2012 - the day that every school district would need to have in place a system to annually grade teachers on a four-point scale from "ineffective" to "highly effective."
Ready or not, that day is here. Now, the question is how districts will incorporate the evaluations into their schools' daily operations and ultimately bring more accountability to their teaching forces.
A big part of the equation will be determining how well each teacher's students perform, be it on state tests or based on new "student growth objectives" that in many cases are still to be decided.
Even with the deadline here, this could still take some time - especially when it comes to student performance measures, which have yet to be really tested, let alone verified.
State officials have said not all districts are necessarily even prepared to implement new classroom observation systems.
Officials in many of the districts that had a head start on the process say that, at the very least, the discussions about teacher and student performance have proven fruitful in changing the climate and culture of their schools.
But that's before actual ratings start to be handed down for individual teachers, which will happen at the end of this school year, with teachers' tenure protections at stake.
In this first year of state control of Camden public schools, what impact will the Christie administration and its new, young superintendent have on the district?
It's put-up time for Gov. Christie and his pledge to improve what is arguably New Jersey's most troubled school system, with the state's takeover announced last spring and his August appointment of 32-year-old Paymon Rouhanifard as Camden's superintendent.
The appointment was an interesting choice. Rouhanifard was a central office administrator in New York City's vast public school system, followed by a one-year stint in Newark. Including two years spent teaching, he has had all of six years of experience in public education.
But handpicked by the governor and his education commissioner, Chris Cerf, Rouhanifard drew praise from reform-minded groups as the innovator needed to turn around a district where only about a third of the students pass the state's tests.
The reaction has been polite but cooler from the Camden community, although with none of the hostility that greeted the state's takeovers elsewhere, especially in Newark.
Camden will provide an early test of what and whether Rouhanifard learned from his short stay in Newark.
The administration has done some advance work, with five new principals already on the rolls, a full inventory and budget analysis completed, and a number of other programmatic changes underway.
But he'll also have the extra challenge of overseeing a district that likely will be shrinking before his eyes.
In 2014, Camden will be home to the first of the state's "Renaissance schools," a new form of charter-like schools slated to ultimately draw more than 2,000 city students. The continued growth of traditional charter schools is expected to further deplete enrollment in the public-school district.
This isn't foreign territory to Rouhanifard, who oversaw charter school co-locations in New York City, but the flip side is far fewer resources available for the schools he is charged with improving.
For more education stories by John Mooney, go to njspotlight.com.