Failing marks for Plainfield school system; NJ aid required
Low scores in report trigger state assistance
By BERNICE PAGLIA
PLAINFIELD -- A new state monitoring report released Monday shows that the school district scored below 50 percent in four of five key areas, meaning the Department of Education must directly assist in improving the school district's performance.
Plainfield met 61 percent of the indicators for operations management, 38 percent for personnel, 8 percent for instruction and program, 11 percent for governance and 32 percent for fiscal management. Percentages greater than 80 indicate a district is high-performing, while those from 50 to 80 mean a district must file a corrective plan for the deficient area. Indicators below 50 percent trigger state help.
Officials know that there are problems in the district, which serves about 7,000 students in 10 elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school. And they also say they want to address the issues.
"I'm certainly appalled at these findings of the state about the educational health of the Plainfield public schools," Interim Superintendent Peter Carter said Monday. "However, being here nine weeks, I pledged to the community and, more importantly, to the kids that we're going to fix it."
Districts may appeal the findings to the state Board of Education if they are not happy with them, state Commissioner of Education Lucille Davy said Monday.
Board of Education members are to meet tonight for a regular meeting, but it likely will be weeks before they have time to review the voluminous, three-part report and start developing a plan to address its findings.
The report was the latest in a series of evaluations that show problems in the district, which has been decertified since 1988 under another state monitoring plan.
The Plainfield district also fell short on federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards in a report published last week. Plainfield High School and Maxson and Hubbard middle schools are several years into noncompliance. In addition, three of the district's 10 elementary schools did not improve as required by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.
The report's findings also come as district and board officials continue to deal with the aftermath of a series of major changes in key administrators that occurred after the state monitoring team visited Plainfield this year.
Victor Demming, school board secretary/business administrator, resigned as of June 1, and schools Superintendent Paula Howard resigned effective June 6. Carter was hired June 8 and was on the job June 11. He ended up having to do the exit interview with the examiners June 27.
In his first letter to the community July 2, Carter flatly said that the anticipated report would show the district had deficiencies in all five monitoring categories.
The district since has seen the removal or resignations of some of Howard's top administrators because of a lack of proper certification. Last week, the school board hired an Illinois firm to conduct the search for a new superintendent.
Davy said Monday that she was well aware of Plainfield's special situation. With a "hole in top leadership," she said, "it would not be surprising to see there are issues around student achievement."
"We know what's going on in Plainfield," Deputy Commissioner Willa Spicer said, noting "a particular set of difficulties."
Carter will serve through the end of the 2007-08 school year. He said he soon will conduct a "superintendent's forum" on the report for "anyone who wants to come," and the report will be discussed at a September school board meeting. The district also is advertising to find new directors for curriculum and instruction, and for testing and evaluation.
Davy said the district will need to "identify strong leadership and a strong team" for improvement. The DOE also has the right under the new monitoring system to name three additional members to the nine-member elected school board. Davy said Monday that such appointees could be city residents or others with the needed strengths to serve.
The DOE will review districts' progress in six months, she said.
Reports on three state-operated districts -- Asbury Park, Camden and Trenton -- along with Irvington, Salem City, Jersey City and Newark were released July 24. Paterson was added later. On Monday, reports for Atlantic City, Camden County Vocational-Technical Schools, Elizabeth, Essex County Vocational School, Lakewood, New Brunswick and Plainfield were issued.
But even as these reports are made public, an audit of the DOE raised questions of the department's ability to help districts in need.
The audit, released Thursday, was performed by KPMG at a cost of $628,000. It was required under a joint resolution of the state Senate and Assembly to assess the DOE's oversight capabilities. On Monday, Davy said resources might have to be deployed differently at some point, but she said, "We are not doing the work ourselves, it's about leading the districts."
Assemblyman Jerry Green said the monitoring report should be a wake-up call to residents, most of whom typically don't attend school board elections.
"Obviously, this report is very critical of the governing of this district," he said.
The state could appoint three new board members or, he suggested, Plainfield could revert to an appointed school board.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Read the report online at http://www.state.nj.us/education/genfo/qsac/etr/
Why should other towns have to put up with another towns problem kids? Enforce home rule, bring in dress codes (no under garments showing etc, it doesn't have to be overboard), problem kids, put in the county slammer if warranted, try giving a damn about your own community, not giving up!
Posted: Tue Aug 21, 2007 4:48 pm
I wonder, if the whole school board were turned out, would that solve the problem? Obviously, there are students in the Plainfield School District who both can and do achieve (you are an empirical example). We are not "locals" (my wife and I actually fled California because of the generally abysmal schools out there), so I don't know the history of Plainfied. But certainly in California, it's a vicious circle. Schools deteriorate, those with the financial means leave a district, the tax base erodes, the schools get worse, and the process accelerates. I assume a similar pattern in Plainfield, but could be wrong.
When we moved here, Plainfield had a quite nice housing stock, but the realtors discouraged us even looking there because of the schools, and we landed in Montgomery Township because of the school quality. This pattern re-enforces itself, don't you think?
Posted: Tue Aug 21, 2007 4:22 pm
If the citizens of Plainfield elected competent members to the School Board then vouchers wouldn't be necessary. Instead, we could consider the money we "pour down the drain" a well-worth investment in thriving school system. I have been working for the Board of Elections since I turned 18 and each year delivers the same low turnout. We need more faith and participation in our city's public school system. Without it, how can we ever have faith in own community/city?
The potential of Plainfield students must be realized. As both a teacher and product of 4 different Public Schools Plainfield I have witnessed this first hand. Even now as I'm conducting Graduate studies in Education at USC 3000 miles away(to perhaps help aid in cleaning this mess), the Plaintalker is keeping me informed on the traditions continuing. Carter sounds serious...I just pray he is. Lord knows his pay is.
People of Plainfield pay attention to what's going on!
Posted: Tue Aug 21, 2007 3:46 pm
obviously, the problems in school districts like Plainfield did not arise overnight, and this any solutions are going to be, in your words, complicated.
But equally obvious - the remedies that have been tried since 1988 have not worked. It's a cliche to say that the definition of insanity is to continue doing the same thing and expect different results.
I suggest that SOMETHING needs to be tried in Plainfield. At least for those parents/children who actually give a hoot about education, vouchers may offer a lifeline.
Posted: Tue Aug 21, 2007 2:58 pm
What private schools do you think are going to accept all of Plainfield's students?
School choice sounds great in theory, but the reality of it is a little more complicated.
Posted: Tue Aug 21, 2007 12:30 pm
Online story here. Archived here.
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