King Repollet Goes to Ghana (And Other Misadventures of the New Jersey Education Commissioner).

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As we continue this ongoing series that deals, in part, with how Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet’s tenure at Asbury Park School District (APSD), as well as Assistant Deputy Carolyn Marano’s, was a harbinger of the current decline in standards and oversight at the State Department of Education, it’s worth looking at a peculiar event in April of 2017. During Spring Break two years ago, Asbury Park Superintendent Repollet, with a contingent of companions, travelled to Ghana.

This trip was celebrated on the Monmouth County Pan-Hellenic Council website on the page called Members of the Divine 9 Journey to Ghana, “Welcome to the Enstoolment Ceremony of Sigma Brother Dr. Lamont Repollet! Kudos to the outstanding job he has done to promote the Asbury School District throughout the state of New Jersey, nationally and now internationally! Congratulations Brother Nana Dr. Lamont Repollet on your accomplishments and your new role as Chief of Education for the village of Abram Agona Ghana!”

Betcha didn’t know your Education Commissioner was royalty. (You can view the entire Enstoolment Ceremony here.)

How did it come to pass that Dr. Repollet became a King in Ghana? Who paid for this trip? How did it contribute to the academic growth of APSD students? And what does the entire adventure say about the our Education Commissioner’s priorities?

For answers, let’s look at the Asbury Park School Board public meeting agenda dated 11.17.16. On page 11 you’ll see the Board’s approal of action item #23:

Recommend Board Approval for students and chaperones to attend the 21st CCLC Ghana Project during Spring Break 2017 (April 9 2017 – April 15 2017). Oiada International will be working in tandem with Asbury Park School District to organize an outreach project centered around the Global Ambassador program.The Global Ambassadors program has been working with Asbury Park School District for the past year and half to bridge communication between MLK Middle School students and their Sister School in Ghana. One of our main objectives is to bring aide [sic] to Ghana in the form of medical supplies, clothing and even classroom spaces. The ultimate goal is to build a lasting relationship with the students and the citizens of Ghana. Funding for this project will come from a combination of sources. Those sources include; donations and 21CCLC funds. The particular account number associated with the 21CCLC funding is 20-421-200-500-74-20. This experience will prove to be a transformative experiential learning experience for the students both here and in Ghana.

Let me translate: the Asbury Park School Board approved a recommendation by Superintendent Repollet for students from the Middle School, accompanied by chaperones, to go to Ghana during Spring Break for a “transformative experiential learning experience.” There is no specific cost attached to this Board action item — which I’ve never seen before — but apparently the trip will be paid for by “donations” and a federal funding stream called 21st Century Community Learning Centers, or 21CCLC.

What is 21CCLC? From the federal website:

This program supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. The program helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and math; offers students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children.

Hmm. Seems like a stretch but maybe this happens all the time. The pertinent question for me is this: did Asbury Park students benefit from this trip to Africa? Did it inspire them? Did it enrich their academic growth, as required by programs funded by 21CCLC?

Here’s the answer: No. Why? Let’s look at the list (compiled by anonymous sources) of those who travelled to Ghana:

Dr. Lamont Repollet: Asbury Park Superintendent, now New Jersey DOE Commissioner. He brought with him his wifeMrs. Darlene Repollet and their two daughters.

Dr. Patricia Felton:educational consultant for the International Center for Leadership in Education a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Dr. R. Johnson:Facebook friends with Dr. Repollet.

Dr. Kristie M. Howard – Brought into Asbury Park by Repollet as Director of Student Services.  Also has her own law firm practice, active at least through 2018; reports are that she is rarely in her APSD office located at Asbury Park High School.  

Sancha K. Gray and her husband: now Superintendent of Schools, brought in by Repollet as his Director of Curriculum.

Ms. Demetra Peterson: APSD .Account Clerk/Ec Fiscal Specialist, Central Administration.

Mr. Larrick E. Daniels: Once an APSD Technology Coach but the position was eliminated and his current position is unclear. He was listed by the Patch as the 9th highest-paid teacher in NJ  in 2018 at an annual salary of $94,500. The district list of faculty is unilluminating.

Mrs. Linda Craddox: special education teacher at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School.

Ms. Bertha Pullen-Smith:  Currently State Monitor in Trenton Public Schools District, appointed April, 2018. Unclear what position was in APSD in 2017 or if she had a position there.

Ms. Roberta Beauford: APSD – Director of Operations, Central Administration.

Ms. Wanda Smith: APSD, retired teacher.

Linda Craddox: special education teacher at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School and her husband Bishop John Craddox , Presiding Bishop and Pastor of Praise Temple Ministries of Neptune, New Jersey.

Alicia DeLorenzo:  APSD,  Social Emotional Learning Coordinator.

Edwin Ruiz: APSD Director of Curriculum, brought in by Repollet.

Angela Thomas: Vice Principal of Asbury Park High School and her daughter, Sarah Thomas, preschool teacher at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School.

Janice Kroposky – APSD, Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, Central Administration (brought in by Repollet).

Genise Hughes: Coordinator of College and Career Readiness, Asbury Park High School.

Kay Harris: substitute teacher.

Carol Jones: Asbury Park Board Of Education Board Member.

Officer Tyron McAllister: Asbury Park Police Department.

Sonia Irizarry: APSD Community/Parent Involvement Specialist, Bradley Elementary School.

Louis Jordan: District Security Manager, Dorothy McNish Parent Center.
Susan Gauzy:  educational consultant for the International Center for Leadership in Education.

What jumps out at you? Maybe what jumps out at me: These are all adults, some only tangentially connected with the school district. (I’m not counting Repollet’s two daughters.) I was told by several sources that, contrary to the School Board action item, only two Asbury Park middle school students attended the trip. This is the one picture I was able to obtain that might be of the whole group. I assume Repollet’s daughters are next to him and his wife. I think the two middle school students stand behind Dr. and Mrs. Repollet.

I was told the two students had fun even though they had to stay behind in a hotel room while the rest of the group went ziplining. Maybe their parents hadn’t given approval for that particular program that, according to 21CCLC guidelines, would “complement their regular academic programs” and offer “literacy and other educational services.”

The story doesn’t end here. After Repollet and his colleagues (oh — the two students too!) arrived back home, a flurry of post-trip fundraising began. Board members, staff members, maybe the State Monitor were forced to cop to the obvious: this trip did not meet the requirements of 21CCLC funding and there was no academic benefit to students.

Hence, on the May 25, 2017 School Board Agenda (see pages 14-16) there is a list of “donations.” These come from the Asbury Park Education Association ($500), from “Iota Chi Sigma Chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity” ($3,000), from the North Jersey Shore Chapter of The Continental Societies ($500), from Joyce Repollet ($3,500). There is also a Superintendent recommendation, duly approved, for a “Ghana Photo Gallery fundraiser at House of Independent 572 Cookman Avenue Asbury Park on June 8, 2017 from 6:00pm-9:00pm. House of Independence rental fees not exceed $5,000.

I’m not sure how much money they raised. Then again, I’m not sure how much the trip cost. Roundtrip airfare from New Jersey to Ghana for 30 people? (Kayak says between $814 to $1,500 per person.) Hotel rooms for a week? (This one is about $300 a night for the cheapest room.) Enstoolment for King Repollet aka Nana Lamont? Maybe that was a freebie.

This past December I wrote a post about the misuse of — you guessed it — 21st Century Learning Centers federal funding. This time it wasn’t in Asbury Park but the NJ Department of Education. You can read the whole thing here. In a nutshell, Repollet ordered his Division Chief of Student Services, Carolyn Marano, to “adjust” the list of grant winners in order to include a grant applicant that hadn’t made the cut, St. Peter’s University.

While researching that post, a DOE staffer told me, “we’ve never been asked to do this.” Another said, “we could lose all the allocations, and that will hurt kids.” Another said, “I feel like we’re on a really bad reality show. A week doesn’t go by that we don’t think, ‘this is like Trump’s White House.’  It’s all about ‘trust’ and ‘loyalty.’ The joke is that next Sarah Huckabee Sanders will walk into the room.”

People show you who they are. Lamont Repollet showed us who he was in Asbury Park by, for example, artificially raising the high school graduation rate through a scheme that makes it impossible for teachers to fail students (see “The 64 Floor“). We see the same pattern of repetition — what happens in Asbury Park happens at the DOE — in the misuse of federal funding streams as well as favoritism, patronage, and an indifference to accountability.

These are not qualities normally sought in a public schools chief. Then again, there’s nothing normal about this.

Who really pays the price? Students and families who rely on transparency, the proper use of funding, and privileging children over adults.

There’s more on this story. I’ll keep at it, with everyone’s help.

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