North Brunswick School Superintendent to Head Education Effectiveness Task Force

John Mooney, Education writer | October 29, 2010
Brian Zychowski to lead team tasked with devising statewide system for evaluating teachers and principals

Brian Zychowski was an intriguing choice to lead Gov. Chris Christie’s new task force charged with devising a statewide system for evaluating teachers and principals.

At one point said to have been on Christie’s short list to be state education commissioner, the North Brunswick school superintendent said he’s open to the ideas of merit pay for teachers and better ways of linking teacher performance with student performance.

“I do think there is a value to rewarding teachers who make a difference,” he said yesterday.

Then it gets complicated. North Brunswick uses a hybrid evaluation system that includes teachers documenting their own and their students’ progress.

And for any system like this to work statewide, Zychowski said the state would need accurate and indisputable measures of that progress. That is something certainly not being served by the single tests now given.

“It can’t be X for teachers who are rated good and Y for those who are not unless you have a really good instrument, and I haven’t seen that yet,” he said.

Such will be the challenge for the man named yesterday to chair Christie’s Education Effectiveness Task Force, a diverse group thrown together in the last month as part of the Christie’s sweeping bid to overhaul how the districts judge, retain and pay their teachers and principals.

Initially slated to be a 37-member committee that included representatives of all the state’s major education groups, Christie winnowed it down to nine – and an intriguing nine at that.

The committee includes a Perth Amboy teacher with the American Federation of Teachers, but none from the New Jersey Education Association, by far the state’s largest teacher union.

It has a former Elizabeth school board president, but also the head of a noteworthy parochial high school in Newark and another from a Newark charter school. And maybe the most controversial choice was Derrell Bradford, the head of Excellent Education for Everyone, the advocacy group that has pressed for private school vouchers in the state.

The NJEA, which would have had at least one seat on the committee under its previous incarnation, was expectedly critical of the choices.

“We’re disappointed but not surprised that the governor has once again put politics over policy in assembling this panel,” said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the NJEA. “With only one teacher and one principal from the public schools, he really strips out the voices of those who will make the system work.”

Zychowski said it will provide for some interesting meetings. “It’s certainly an eclectic group, probably designed to get us stimulated,” he said.

And he does expect some controversial ideas to come out of it. “Something has to happen,” Zychowski said. “The demand is from the public.”

But that won’t much lessen the challenge, especially with a charge to have recommendations ready by March. “With such a short timeline, it’s going to be a very difficult task,” he said.

In addition to Zychowski and Bradford, the others appointed yesterday were:

  • Jesse Rector, Clinton Hill Campus President of North Star Academy Charter School;
  • Ross Danis, Associate Dean of Education at Drew University;
  • Donna Chiera, an Executive of the American Federation of Teachers and Special Education Resource Teacher;
  • Rafael Fajardo, former President of the Elizabeth Board of Education;
  • Rev. Edwin Leahy, Headmaster of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark;
  • Jane Cosco, retired teacher and Director of Operation Goody Bag;
  • Peggy Sue Juliano, Executive Board Member of the Lacy Township High School PTA.