Agenda: Camden School Takeover to Get a Close-Up

John Mooney | December 6, 2016 | Education
New federal education law and school accountability requirements also on the agenda for State Board

Date: Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016

Time: 10 a.m.

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

Year-end meeting: The State Board of Education will hold its last meeting of 2016 on Wednesday and bring attention to some big issues, while putting off some others. On the agenda will be the annual report from Camden public schools, which the state took over in 2013. Administration officials will also report on the latest from Washington and the new federal education law, known as the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” and how that impacts New Jersey. Not on the agenda — for at least this month — will be any further discussion of the administration’s controversial charter school regulations, although it looks like there is plenty of debate still to come on that topic.

Camden progress: Appointed by Gov. Chris Christie three years ago, Camden superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard is expected to present the district’s progress report to the State Board, an annual rite of passage for the state’s four takeover districts. But while Newark, Paterson and Jersey City seek to move out of the state’s oversight, Camden is in the thick of the state’s intervention and provides evidence of what is happening on the ground. Student test scores have been a mixed bag, but the administration has touted other measures that show clearer progress. Overall, these presentations are typically positive showcases for the district, but the report will shed light on where improvements have been made and the challenges that remain.

New federal law: The new ESSA act has so far drawn little attention in state circles, but the election of Donald Trump as president has raised questions on all kinds of federal policies to come. The new law calls for a host of changes to the accountability rules for states and schools, including around student testing. But there is plenty of uncertainty still as to what those rules will be in New Jersey, and the presentation from the Christie administration will start to lay out the options. Sure to be included in the report will be input from hearings and public meetings the department has hosted across the state.

Charter regs on hold: One of the hottest topics before the State Board is new proposed regulations for charter schools that would scale back requirements on the schools. It’s been a big initiative of Christie’s to help further expand the reach of the charters in the state. But, at least for now, the State Board is taking a wait-and-see approach. The board has a busy agenda as it is, officials said, but there is clearly considerable debate to come. One of the most contested ideas is a proposal that would effectively clear the way for charters schools to hire uncertified teachers, all while the requirements are being raised on non-charter teachers.

Awards ceremony: The State Board is expected to announce a number of new statewide awards for the year, including school superintendent, principal and school board member.

Accountability for private schools: The State Board will continue to take up its new financial accountability rules for schools, this month focusing on private schools for the disabled. The sector is always a controversial one given the high costs for the outside schools.