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Asbury Park Public Schools has become an emblem of New Jersey’s failure to effectively intervene in district dysfunction while local families pay the price. In fact, Gov. Phil Murphy chose its superintendent as his first Education Commissioner. Here’s a closer look at how NJ’s attempt at school improvement—throwing more money at the problem without accountability; at one point taxpayers were shelling out over $40,000 per student per year at Asbury—isn’t working. And I’m not the only one saying so.
Niche Issue in Education #9: School District Spending That Lacks Accountability
[Repost] ANALYSIS: If You Ever Needed More Proof That Asbury Park is Impervious to Improvement, Here It Is
by Laura Waters, February 3, 2023
Today the Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran interviews a man he calls “the most influential man you never heard of,” David Sciarra of Education Law Center who won a series of court cases that overhauled New Jersey’s school funding system. In the interview, Moran asks about our 31 so-called Abbott districts’ compensatory funding and notes that some of them—the example he uses here is Asbury Park—”spend huge sums and seem impervious to improvements in student performance.”
Sciarra agrees: “We have a few districts that just cannot seem to come together and figure out how to use the resources they have.” He blames the Murphy Administration’s Department of Education, which “is simply not equipped to do its job” and lacks the ability to perform “basic functions.”
So it goes with Asbury Park. So it goes with the DOE, which gives the district a pass by placing a “state monitor” in the district—your taxes pay Carole Morris $720 a day—to, I’m told, sit at her desk in the Central Office and read the Asbury Park Press.
Need more proof? Check out the latest fiasco which shows what happens when administrators regard a school district as a candy store to share with their friends.
I’m referring, of course, to the Asbury Park High School students enrolled in the Allied Health Academy who are supposed to take courses in nursing and upon graduation leave with a NHA Patient Care Technician License. But at last week’s school board meeting the public learned the program had been abruptly eliminated after the teacher felt compelled to leave and the district didn’t bother to replace her. Students have been without a teacher since December 1st and now will most likely not earn their NHA license. One student shouted out at Superintendent Rashawn Adams, “What’s wrong with you? You have nothing for us. This school has nothing for us.”
Adams and high school principal Bridget O’Neill went into damage control-mode and yesterday convened a meeting for these students and their parents in the high school auditorium. According to witnesses, the administrators blamed the debacle on the much-beloved teacher, Sarita Gogan, who resigned in November.
Here’s Adams in action speaking to the families: “She was obligated to give 60 days of service [notice] and she left the day after her resignation like smoke. I take issue with her leaving the day after. She wasn’t here for the students…she left students holding the bag…Was that her intention? I don’t know, I’m speaking of the fall-out from what she did.”
It’s true. He doesn’t know or maybe he just doesn’t care. A number of inside sources reached out and provided the real story.
Gogan was a masterful teacher who year after year got very high scores on her annual evaluation. One source told me she was named Teacher of the Year. But this fall O’Neill gave her a score so low she’d need a corrective improvement plan (“support evaluation tool”) because, well, Asbury Park supervisors and principals who evaluate teachers don’t know how to use the evaluative tool called the Danielson Rubric. After all, their training came from the new Director of Human Resources LaShawn Gibson who told them she didn’t know how it works.
In this article from last November I described a teacher victimized by her ignorant evaluator. (At the time I didn’t was this was Gogan, who was not the source for this information.)
“Another teacher works in the high school with students who want to pursue careers in the health profession, particularly nursing. As a Career and Technical Educator, her students will receive dual credits at Rutgers where she is certified to teach this class. In previous observations her score varied from 3-3.3, which means “Effective.” But when she was evaluated by new High School Principal Bridget O’Neill, she received a 2.3, which means “Developing,” a euphemism for not-so-effective. This teacher now wants to leave the CTE program where it’s very challenging to find instructors.
Gogan appealed the evaluation to O’Neill but O’Neill refused to discuss it (not kosher, by the way). So Gogan was snatched up by Neptune Public Schools and gave notice in November. At that point she was told either by Adams or O’Neill to use her accumulated sick leave and not serve out her 60 days. She offered to come back to help students keep up with the material but didn’t hear back.
Meanwhile, O’Neill “dismantled” the classroom and got rid of all the material because she wanted to convert the space into a weight room. She transferred all the students into other courses.
There’s another wrinkle here: some CTE programs are funded by federal Perkins grants. Asbury Park’s Allied Health Academy is one of them. The district has a shady history with Perkins grants: when former Asbury Park superintendent Lamont Repollet was chosen by Gov. Phil Murphy to be the new Education Commissioner, one of his first actions was to cancel all “consolidated reports,” which is what the DOE calls annual audits to assure compliance with the dispersal of federal funding like Perkins grants. Why did he cancel them?
As I reported then, he took this action because he was miffed that the DOE had found 32 ways in which Asbury Park School District misallocated federal funds and/or didn’t comply with regulations. Here’s an example:
“Finding 17: The district is not offering a coherent sequence of courses for any of its CTE [Career Technical Education] programs that are being supported with Perkins funds. It appears that the district is offering a variety of electives without regard to sequencing for program completion. Citation: N.J.A.C. 6A:19-3.1.6(i): Program requirements. Required Action: The district must ensure that a coherent sequence of courses is offered for approved CTE programs supported with Perkins funding. The course sequence should consist of those courses identified in the approved program reapproval application. Programs and course sequence information should be available for students, teachers, guidance counselors, administrators and parents.”
After yesterday’s meeting in the auditorium, Adams and O’Neill blithely posted on Instagram and Twitter their success in shifting the blame from themselves to a celebrated teacher who left because of people like Adams and O’Neill.
“They all know it’s a bunch of bullshit and smoke and mirrors,” a source told me. “That’s why you put it on Twitter and Instagram.”
Or, as Sciarra of the Education Law Center told Tom Moran, “We have a few districts that just cannot seem to come together and figure out how to use the resources they have” and a DOE that “is simply not equipped to do its job.”
This is how students, teachers, and families in Asbury Park–and elsewhere in New Jersey– lose.