They are just advertisements at this point, but the first job postings for senior New Jersey education department positions are giving some of the first looks at acting Commissioner Chris Cerf’s expected reorganization of the department.
Advertisements went online this week for three positions, all new titles, with some new roles as well:
Assistant Commissioner – Chief Academic Officer
Assistant Commissioner – Chief Innovation Officer
Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships
Neither Cerf nor his spokesman would comment on the jobs this week. State Board of Education (BOE) President Arcelio Aponte said he received notice of the postings yesterday and was glad to see Cerf moving on filling critical posts in his leadership.
"If you think about it, he hasn’t been there that long a time and he’s had a lot on his plate, but we’re pleased he’s moving forward," Aponte said last night.
The job descriptions are interesting in themselves, a departure from the department organization chart now in place. Under the current chart there are at least a half-dozen key positions open, including three assistant commissioners and deputy commissioner.
There are some similarities between the new positions and their predecessors. For instance, the new Chief Academic Officer is largely akin to the existing assistant commissioner for standards and assessment, helping schools adopt to the state’s curriculum standards and develop the assessments around those standards.
But the position also puts heavy emphasis on working with the state’s own participation in the national Common Core State Standards, a new national initiative that will likely lead to the rewrite of New Jersey’s curriculum guidelines.
The Chief Innovations Officer is more of a departure. The officer is in charge of the state’s charter school office and overseeing the expanded inter-district choice program.
The job description indicates that the officer will also oversee the state and federal governments’ Turnaround Schools initiatives for New Jersey’s lowest-performing districts, as well as a new "office of Online and Virtual Learning." It also speaks of an Innovation Zone, not yet defined.
"This office will be responsible for building or replicating innovative ideas that work in New Jersey and around the country," the ad reads.
Other senior jobs are still apparently up for deliberation, or at least not being publicly advertised as yet. The state has nine or more openings for executive county superintendents, the lead field officers in each of the county offices.
But Cerf has said they will all be part of the larger reorganization, a process that he broadly touched upon in testimony before the Senate Budget Committee on Monday.
He spoke of a trip last week with senior staff to Louisiana to learn from that state’s education department, one that has helped totally revamp the schools in and around New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. A vast expansion of charter schools was among the initiatives.
"Theirs is an extraordinary vision of what a Department of Education might look like, and I learned a lot from that trip," Cerf said.
As for his own department in Trenton, the acting commissioner said it would likely shift from an agency focused on holding schools to rules and regulations to one that will focus on academic achievement for all children.
"If you go over the department today, it is based overwhelmingly on regulation and compliance and telling districts what to do and coming in with a white glove and seeing if they’ve done it," he said.
"I envision an organization based on very clear objectives, where every person in the organization doesn’t operate in a silo -- where one is doing federal audits, one is doing special education -- but every person is organized on delivering on very concrete results," Cerf said.