Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter

If there was ever any doubt our school district is pursuing mediocrity, last night’s board meeting put those concerns to rest. Board President Demarest made her intentions crystal clear – the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District will not consider any academic standards beyond the minimum state requirements. Our board president holds the local diner to a higher standard than our kids’ education.

The stage was set by Pastor Doug Crawley. He spoke movingly of his upbringing in Alabama, how he and his friends had benefited from mentors. Pastor Crawley then described the new mentor program he was organizing in concert with the school district. When one of the board members asked about financing for the program, he said community volunteers would work for free but volunteer teachers would be paid. Somehow, the word “volunteer” means something different when applied to our district’s teachers.

Next, Jessie Zitarosa, the Director of Elementary School Accountability, gave a presentation on the Response to Intervention program. The program is based upon Reading Recovery and differentiated instruction based upon “neurodevelopmental profiles”. I had been agitating for an update on the $650,000 program since February and was hoping to see some data justifying the cost and questionable teaching techniques. Unfortunately, Zitarosa had no data. No student scores, no progress reports, nothing but how many children were enrolled and at what level.

Sure enough, Ms. Zitarosa skedaddled outta there before any community member could question her.

Then came the board’s student representative’s report. Matthew Bratsch objected to an unnamed administration official seeking to censor his public statements.

During the public comments section, several parents complained bitterly that their children were spending 3-4 hours a day on the bus commuting to the Marine Academy. Ms. Demarest indicated she was aware of the problem but would not become personally involved and encouraged the parents to keep complaining until the situation was rectified.

Then I spoke.

Last year, six of eight teachers got their masters degrees from online universities. This year, nine of twelve got their masters degrees online, all from Walden University. I asked Ms. Demarest for the board’s position on the fact that 75% of all masters degrees were coming from a single online university. Ms. Demarest said the issue was of no concern to the board, they never discussed it, and the administration had not expressed any unease.

Walden University lacks professional accreditation. Does the school board have any preference for advanced degrees with professional accreditation? None whatsoever.

Regarding RTI, what are the benchmarks for success? We don’t have any. Do we have any data to suggest the program is working? No. Do we know if students are doing better with RTI than they were without it? No. What are the program's objectives? We haven’t defined them yet. Was the program designed and implemented without first determining its objectives? Yes.

When I asked for a time horizon, Dr. O’Malley requested four years. My response – four years plus $2.5 million.

I also requested some budget forecasting since daily operations were growing faster than the 4% budget cap and the capital fund had already been depleted. They said no.

Near the end of the meeting, I reminded Ms. Demarest that advanced proficiency on a state exam only reflected a score of 75% or higher. I asked the board president whether she considered a score of 75% on a state assessment test to be “outstanding”. Ms. Demarest answered that if her kids scored 75% on a state exam, she would consider that “outstanding”.

My last question regarded the math curriculum. In the online presentation on NWEA, there’s a slide showing a calculator to solve |2X+4| = 20. I asked for reassurance that, in our classrooms, students were not using a calculator to solve 2X+4 = 20. No such luck. They do. (The presentation has since been mysteriously removed from the school website but here's a copy.)

The finale for the night was a mother begging the board to provide more science and social studies for her child. She couldn’t understand why her daughter was being pushed into a chorus class in addition to her music class. Neither can I.

A $650,000 RTI program that uses Reading Recovery and “neurodevelopmental profiles” and the board doesn’t care whether it benefits or harms the students. Nine teachers get their masters degree from a single online university that lacks professional accreditation and the board doesn’t care. 75% on a state test is called “outstanding”.

I don’t know what the board’s leadership cares about but it’s not academic excellence.
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Anonymous said...

OK it is a given that I am one who has been highly critical of our elected officials. Those who serve on the school board and beyond, and rightly so.

This latest posting by the Mr. Warren is just another prime example of why our educational system and for that matter the leadership of the State of New Jersey, is failing at every conceivable level, failing due to the lack of leadership and real reform or action to correct the failures of past administrations. Corruption in every nook and cranny of government is the true problem that is killing all of us.

This topic advising us to "Abandon all hope, ye who enter" coupled with the latest expressions of shock and awe by Corzine and others at our ever increasingly alarming financial situation has been met with the ingenious Corzine idea of increased spending at every level, just in time for the election, of course. Spread the money around just in time for the election. There is not much money left in the taxpayers pockets in this district.

Let me get back to education.

Time and time again history has shown us that throwing money at problems in our society and into our educational institutions has failed miserably, over and over again. So what is the answer to our needs and from serious questions posed to our educational leadership? More money, more money and more money. Money in this district always is met with no results, time and time again.

Those whom ask important and probing questions seeking results for the tens of millions of dollars spent in our district are left unanswered and bewildered. And to ask if the money was spent prudently with any provable results to be seen by the public. Do we get anything close to a truthful answer? Nope.

No, any question is answered with insulting excuses, or they are told that the information is not available, or that the cost of such programs are not in, or that such costs ($54,000,000.00 + annually)should not be used as a grading force for such programs successes or failures.

It is a good thing Mr. Warren did not use the A word at last nights meeting. The A word is of course ACCOUNTABILITY. The one word that anyone in leadership fears the most.

So with several important and probing questions posed to our educational leadership, Mr. warren walks away with NOTHING. No improved result, no progress reports and no improved test scores, once again. Nice try and thanks for trying Mr. Warren.

Once again nothing changes in our district. Again! How much do we have to pay for the next failed educational experiment? I am waiting for your answer Board of Education. Or is it Bored of Education?

Anonymous said...

Better be careful Joe. Writing on the Aberdeener can be hazardous to your job. I agree with what you say but you know that BARZA does not like people who work for the town to write their opinions, especially those critical of them. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Have the rights granted all of us under the United States Constitution been removed or suspended or barred from being used by the residents of Aberdeen? As the previous anonymous posting has said, go ahead and mess with Joe, see what you get from that. Joe has warned the school board before not to try and stop him from expressing his opinions. I would like to see the legal fight that would come from them trying to shut him up again. It would be to say the least embarrassing, as only God knows what Joe could tell us. I for one would like to see it happen just for what he knows about the school construction monies that were wasted. Go for it BARZA go after Joe for expressing his opinion.

On another subject.

Does anyone know what they are planning for the pool club? Friends of ours live in the I section and the club is right in their back yard. They tell us no one is telling them anything.

Aberdeener said...

Regarding the pool club, I don't believe anything is happening. As far as I know, they haven't applied for any variances and there certainly hasn't been any construction, yet.

My guess is that they're developing a plan for the pool club and will likely present something to the township within the next couple of months.

Anonymous said...

Having lived in Aberdeen and having met Joe several times. I have found that he will discuss anything and everything related to our school board at any time. The town and its troubles is off limits. After the whole Stewart Brown thing you could understand why he would be hesitant to discuss anything related to where he worked.

I have even been at parties he and his wife have been at twice in the past year or so and all people want to talk about is this problem and that, all related to Aberdeen. It has been a little uncomfortable to watch him try to relax and enjoy himself while trying to answer these questions. I am certain it is similar for police officers and others who work and live in the same town.

I know that I do not like to talk about computers or to answer troubleshooting questions at at dinner or when I get home or go out with friends. Do you like to talk about work when you get home?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the assist Don. Yes it is difficult to work in the town you live in especially when you work in the municipal environment. I am very proud of what I do, it is just not something that should overtake ones life.

Ironically when I accepted the position the former Town Manager Mark Coren told me the job is 24/7 when you live in town. He also said it is hard to turn it off. He was right.

By the way I have that cable we talked about at Genes party and I will drop it off to you Thursday.

Anonymous said...

RTI - this is another fine mess you have gotten us into Mr. Former Superintendent.

Anonymous said...

Skadaddle is an excellent description for Ms. Ziterosa. she does the same thing at staff development meetings. Nice-but not very knowledgable.

Anonymous said...

I find it appalling that the students who have worked their butts off to make the kind of grades it takes to get into the Marine Academy of Science and Technology are on the bus for 3-4 hours a day. Even with all that time spent on the bus, half the time they are not making it to school on time.

The run around about this that the concerned parents are getting is also appalling. There's a big game of "pass the buck" with who is responsible. The BOE should take charge in making sure the kids attending from our district are to school in a timely fashion and without having to sit on the bus the same amount of time as a part time job!

Anonymous said...

I wonder how fast the bus gets to Communications High School? I bet Ms Demerest makes sure that bus gets there on time!

Anonymous said...

Let me guess Mrs. Demarest has a child lucky enough to attend one of the special high schools. No favoritism shown there we can be sure. Right Mrs. Demarest?

How is it schools like just so happen to get kids from such people and others who are connected. Some are lucky enough to be politically connected which may be their only qualification.

Isn't AMERICA great for the few, the proud and the connected?

Anonymous said...

My guess is that if Mrs. Demarest wins the lottery she will do so becuse of her connecions.

I wonder how many of the folks that complain that the education system is failing their kids feel the system failed them too? Maybe it is the old apple don't fall too far from the tree story.

Anonymous said...

Just so you know, the MAST high school has serious testing before you can gain entry to the school. You not only have to be at the top of your class and pass a test, you have to show that you are a good citizen, too. These are county run schools. Even with connections, a child has to prove they are eligible. They just don't get a walk through.

Even if they did, these are schools with high academic standards. A kid wouldn't last long there if they couldn't keep up.

It pains me to defend anyone on the BOE, but let's not sell kids short just because of who they are related to. Aren't we just as bad as they are if we do?

Anonymous said...

Gee, Ms Demerast had 2 children lucky enough to attend this speciality school. You know, these schools that only take one, maybe two,children from each town.
What a gifted family they must be!

What should we make of her statement: "if any of her children achieved 75% on an advanced placement test she would consider it outstanding" ???

I guess that is just good enough for the rest of us, and our children. Her kids go to a HS whose average SAT score in 06-07 year was 1,880.
Our kids at MARSD attend a HS where the average SAT score in 06-07 year was 1,414.
A whopping difference of 466 points! 33% higher on average, than MARSD

And she doesn't want to raise the Matawan Aberdeen's academic standards beyond the minimum state requirements. Whose kids does she care about,(other than her own)?

Believe me, I know how hard the kids at MAST, and Hgh Tech High work to get in and to stay there. My comments are only to question Ms Demerest commitment to the children of the MARSD; the district where SHE IS the President of the Board of Education, but has no intention of raising the academic standards beyond the state minimum requirements.

Anonymous said...

to clarify my comment above, I meant to say
"a socre of 75% on a state test to qualify as advanced proficient"
Ms Demerest would consider outstanding"

Anonymous said...

SOmeone mentioned accountability...... that Zitarosa makes over 100k per year as do her other 2 accountability people. The head of testing makes over 120k. Not to mention the other people in the building on Crest Way. They talk about financial responsibility and btwn the super, the asst. super., and the afformention dodo's plus the business office person make close to 1 million bucks themselves.... check it out...... it is the truth and that is not NEW MATH.....

I have no problem with what my kids are doing in school as of now, I am just afraid of those who are leading them..... Has anyone ever talked to one of these people? I have and it is a joke...

Anonymous said...

It recently came to my attention the blogging that is done here. I had to see for myself. How sad that people would have nothing better to do with their time than to post comments about school board members children. My guess is that based on the tact or lack of in these comments, your children don't really stand a chance no matter what the school board is doing!

Anonymous said...

From today's Star Ledger....
N.J. lawmakers advance 'diploma mill' ban
by The Associated Press
Thursday October 02, 2008, 3:01 PM
The state's Senate Education Committee today advanced a bill that would bar educators from obtaining a bogus master's or doctorate degree from a non-accredited university then collecting the pay raises and promotions that come with enhanced education.

Senate President Dick Codey and Sen. Shirley Turner, chairwoman of the Senate education panel, are leading the charge to outlaw teachers and school administrators in New Jersey from being reimbursed for so-called "diploma mill" degrees.

"It is unfortunate and regretful that we have school administrators enriching themselves by securing phony doctoral degrees through means which render them guilty of nothing short of educational malpractice," Turner said at the start of today's hearing. "It has to stop. And I am sure there is sufficient sentiment in the Legislature and in our communities that it will stop."

Turner said lawmakers first became aware of the problem this summer with the discovery that three top school administrators, including the superintendent of the Freehold Regional School District in central New Jersey, had obtained such degrees.

Jane Oates, executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education, told the panel the diploma mills are businesses that sell academic degrees but require little work from students. She said some grant 500 Ph.D. degrees a month, but that New Jersey was still assessing how widespread the use of diploma mills is here.

"Apparently, a resume and a two-page paper was all that was required for an acting superintendent in Asbury Park to earn a master's degree," said Turner.

"These people are gaming the system to enrich themselves, and these are the very people who serve as role models for our children," the senator added.

Codey said he has asked the Attorney General to investigate possible misrepresentations and possible abuses, and he is calling on the administrators who received fake diplomas to reimburse the perks that came with bogus educational advancement.

"This is a matter, if we allow it to go unchecked, will undermine the foundation of our educational system," Codey said. "At the very least, we have a very serious case of misrepresentation on our hands, and at the worst, you may be looking at fraud."

Sen. Jen Beck said she found out to her "astonishment" that diploma mill degrees are legal under the contract signed with administrators in the Freehold Regional School District.

"Their attendance at Breyer State University, a university which has been kicked out of pretty much every state in the union, which is titled as both a diploma mill and a phony college, was the college/university of choice for the folks in this school district," said Beck. "They received pay increases, they received tuition reimbursements and it was all legal."

She said taxpayers should never be asked to fund higher education for administrators from phony colleges.

Officials from Breyer State did not return a phone message today.

The bill now heads to the full Senate for a vote.

The Senate education panel also approved a bill reducing the one-year notice required to inform school superintendents that their contracts won't be renewed.

Under current law, a superintendent's contract is renewed automatically if the one-year notice is not given by a local school board, Turner said. Under the new law, 30 days notice are required for each year of a contract, meaning a three-year contract could be terminated with a 90-day advance notice.

The education committee approved the change unanimously. It now goes to the full Senate.


On a personal note, I am glad to see that the State Education Committee is interceding and taking an action on this matter (something the Aberdeener was trying to have addressed locally by our own BOE). I am extremely annoyed that our tax dollars are used to pay teachers a higher pay scale for advanced degrees when "bestowed" from non-accredited universites (a.k.a. Diploma Mills) And, that this is allowed to happen, it's appalling. I would love to hear what Joel Gladstein has to say about this as it is he who makes the determination as to what qualifies as an advanced degree. Joel...just another overpaid, entrenched, "old guard" type employee that doesn't have this district's best interests as his priority. "What's in it for me" is all I see in him. As for my opinion on Central Office, it's sad and disturbing to know the money spent for all those overstated, high titled employees that are paid a helluva lot more than they give in return. And, we have Bruce Quinn's legacy to thank for bloating the staff and salaries at Central Office. Let's not forget those he hired (into great paying) patronage jobs. Sickening!

An open appeal to Dr O'Malley...
Keep on each and everyone of those overpriced administrative employees and get them to earn the salaries that are so very fortunate to get from this district. Each and every day, they should be thanking the taxpayers of this community for their bloated salaries. It's easy to see why it takes 63% of our tax bill to support our school system. It's time for accountability and results! It's way overdue! When can we expect to get what we pay for?

A taxpayer that thinks enough is enough!

KrisMrsBBradley said...

It's not cool to attack BOE member's children (which I am in agreement with), but it's okay to attack the people who comment here's children?

No, it's not. And to do so is hypocritical.

Let's keep people's kids out the comments.

Aberdeener said...

Another masters degree from Walden University (page 7). That makes 10 out of 10 online masters degrees this year from Walden University.

Anonymous said...

Go Back and read the comment that was originally made. The point was, Mrs.Demerest stated at the school board meeting that she doesn't wish to raise the standards at MARSD beyond the state minimum. I question her commitment to the children of this district, especially the high school, when she doesn't have her children attend this high school. It is not a comment about her children, it is a comment about her commitment to the rest of the children of this district.

Read further, the rest of the annon. blogs by Baraza supporters, those comments are always putting down the children of anyone who disagrees with Bazara. With their remarks of "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree", "the unique children in this district", etc, etc.

It's funny, one moment they are calling us elitist, then the next moment they are insulting our intelligence and that of our children.

Go back and read the entire comment!

Anonymous said...

Actually, in most cases your children are brighter.

Anonymous said...

Apparently you have nothing to say on the issue other than to continue to insult anyone who wants higher standards for all of the children of Matawan and Aberdeen. Business as usual!

MCVSD Grad said...

"Let me guess Mrs. Demarest has a child lucky enough to attend one of the special high schools. No favoritism shown there we can be sure. Right Mrs. Demarest?

How is it schools like just so happen to get kids from such people and others who are connected. Some are lucky enough to be politically connected which may be their only qualification.

Isn't AMERICA great for the few, the proud and the connected?"
I'll have you know that luck has nothing to do with getting into any of the county magnet schools. I speak from experience as a graduate of Communications HS and having gone to school with Ms. Demarest's kids there. We MCVSD students work so hard to even just get a B+ average because our work is more highly scrutinized and held to a higher standard. If Ms. Demarest's kids didn't get into the magnet schools on their own merit as you allege, then they would have been gone from the Monmouth County Vocational School District within a year because the schools have a way of weeding out the academically unmotivated and those unworthy of being there.

We certainly did not wake up at 5:00 AM everyday to catch a very early and cramped bus to our respective schools everyday in every kind of weather because we were receiving any special treatment or getting easy grades. We could have just as easily stayed in the MARSD and earned A's and battled each other out for valedictorian at a lower standard, but we didn't. We toughed it out and earned our C's and B's and occasional A's because we knew our education was more than about numbers and test scores and class ranks. It is about assessing our talents, discovering our passions, and pursuing them and learning to do them well.

Whoever you are, your allegations that the MCVSD is crooked and benefits only the well-connected is an insult to Ms. Demarest's kids, myself, and all the other talented and hard-working students from Matawan and Aberdeen who rightfully EARNED admission to a highly selective school district known for its scholastic excellence and its passionate educators, of whom many work for salaries far below that of the average teacher in the MARSD. Insult and criticize the school board members all you want, but please don't disrespect and drag any board members' children into the mix, especially if they have proven themselves academically outstanding.