Today NJER TV unveils the first of two videos in which I interview Paula White, the new Executive Director of JerseyCAN. In this first video White describes her vision for the state’s public education system and her commitment to our children. She also talks about a “jolting and confusing incident” when in February 2018 after her first day at work as the brand-new Assistant Commissioner at the State Department of Education (DOE)–unanimously approved by the State Board of Education—Gov. Phil Murphy fired her. Both NJ Ed Report (see “NJEA Shows Murphy Who’s Boss“) and the Star-Ledger (“Under Murphy, Unions Gets Veto Power“) reported that Murphy did so at the behest of NJEA leaders who objected to her allegiance to the Obama education agenda and her former job at Democrats for Education Reform.
There’s a certain irony in White’s new position as leader of a non-profit that has as its mission “to ensure all students in New Jersey have access to high-quality education, regardless of their address.” Over the last two and a half years of pandemic schooling, JerseyCAN has become a surrogate DOE, issuing reports how to best accelerate students to recover form learning loss, polling parents on remote instruction, issuing guidance to districts on how to most effectively spend federal stimulus funds, offering New Jersey families needed information and tools (including a digital platform) to work with teachers and schools to get their children back on track academically.
These are services typically provided by any competent state DOE, not an outside organization. Yet JerseyCAN stepped into the void enabled by the Murphy Administration and gave families the information and guidance they needed. With White at its helm, It will no doubt continue to do so.
The Star-Ledger editorialized back in 2018 that Murphy’s allegiance to NJEA leaders could “cripple his governorship.” We can argue about that but here’s a plain fact: Murphy’s umbilical tie to NJEA sure has crippled his DOE. Imagine if there were a Paula White back in spring 2020 leading the Department’s response to COVID, to remote instruction, to school closures, to the digital divide, to necessary acceleration, to the importance of high-dosage tutoring?
But she wasn’t there to lead and so our children—and schools, and teachers, and parents, and districts too–were cheated out of an effective government response to a learning crisis.
Now she takes the helm at the DOE’s surrogate agency and will, no doubt, continue to perform the services the Murphy Administration fails to provide.
Here’s the three-minute video. Watch it!