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Agenda: State Board of Education

The board dishes up a full plate, with teacher quality, school choice, and online charters on the menu.

Date: Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Time: 10 a.m.

Place: NJ Department of Education, 1st floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton

What they are doing: For the first week of school in most New Jersey districts, the State Board of Education takes up a host of major policy issues, including a crowded session of public testimony. On the agenda are charter schools, teacher quality, and interdistrict school choice. With the Christie administration launching new turnaround strategies for low-performing schools, its new staffing and other programs for these schools may also come up.

Charter regulations: After a record amount of testimony this summer on the administration’s proposals for new charter school regulations, the public will have another chance to speak on the latest revisions today. The administration did tweak some of the language in the proposal, extending the input of local districts on charter applications and toughening some standards for new schools. But the most contentious item allowing online charter schools looks to be intact, and sure to draw more opposition today.

New format for public: The state board will also hear testimony on new regulations for interdistrict school choice, state monitoring, and teacher evaluation, all in a format that will be tagged to the end of the board’s meeting. This is a change from when the board had a set time for testimony, usually at 3 p.m. Now, it will come whenever the business part of the board meeting ends.

Not everyone happy with it: The stated intention of the format was to simplify the day for both board members and speakers from the public, not making everyone wait until late afternoon for the testimony. But eliminating a set time makes the day’s schedule somewhat open-ended, worrying some activists that it will only make it harder for the general public to participate. “To schedule public testimony at an unknown time is tantamount to uninviting us,” said Deborah Cornavaca, an organizer with Save Our Schools NJ, a grassroots group that has been especially critical of the administration on charter school policy.

Personnel changes: Two years on the job, state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf continues to see turnover in his top staff, with two key people announcing in the past month that they will be leaving. Assistant Commissioner Penny MacCormack is leaving to become superintendent of Montclair Public Schools, starting November 1. Chief of Staff David Hespe, a former commissioner himself, is leaving even sooner to become president of Burlington County College, and today’s meeting will be his last.

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