Agenda: New Schools Chief Back on the Job (Again) at Board Meeting Today

John Mooney | April 2, 2014 | Education
David Hespe back at helm of Department of Education as state faces host of big decisions

state seal

Date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Time: 10 a.m.

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

What they are doing: This will be the first meeting for Acting Commissioner David Hespe since he returned to lead the department in late March, replacing former Commissioner Chris Cerf. Hespe served as commissioner from 1999-2001 under former Gov. Christie Whitman and was also Cerf’s chief of staff in 2011-2012. The agenda for the board meeting is not a heavy one, but it could be the first time that Hespe weighs in on some of the big issues before the board, such as teacher evaluation, new state testing, and charter schools.

No rest: Hespe isn’t getting much time to reacclimate to the job. One day after the first board meeting, Hespe will appear before the Senate budget committee on Thursday to defend Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget, which calls for a less than 1 percent increase in state aid to schools.

School holidays: In an annual ritual, the board is expected to give final approval to the latest list of religious holidays on which schools are allowed to give students an excused absence. The list has grown considerably over the last decade, as more holidays are added almost yearly. The list is also a fluid one, given the changing dates of holidays for some religions. This year’s list even went through some changes since its first draft last month at the behest of a Roxbury parent who petitioned the department to add three Eastern Orthodox Christian dates and adjust the date of three others.

Teacher evaluation, amended: The board last year approved new teacher evaluation regulations to match the state’s new tenure- reform law, called TEACHNJ. But the Christie administration is coming back before the board to propose some amendments that would address concerns and issues raised during a “pilot” tryout of the new evaluation systems conducted in 30 school districts over the last two years.

Charter schools, for now: The board is also expected to hear in second discussion new charter-school regulations that would effectively carry over existing regulations. The state’s charter law is a hot topic these days, with a number of bills in the Statehouse proposing some big changes. In the meantime, though, the state board is proceeding with readopting existing regulations until statute is changed. Nonetheless, there are some changes to be made within the current regulations, at least in the form of amendments, including a push to require charter schools to share more of their data with hosting districts.

Public hearing: The charter regulations will be the subject of the board’s only public hearing session after the regular board meeting.

New teacher-mentoring regulations: New regulations are expected to be adopted that would finalize changes in how new teachers are mentored. The proposals have not sparked much discussion, which is a little surprising given the debate over the mentoring law when it was first enacted under Gov. Whitman.