This following note was sent to NJ Left Behind by a New Jersey Department of Education staff member who wishes to remain anonymous. In this note the staffer references an email, posted below, which is labeled “High Importance.” (The writer of this note is not one of the names listed in the email. Also, I’ve added a few links for context.)
As with any new administration, there are a lot of opportunities to improve how “the State” serves its number one constituents—students, especially the disadvantaged students experiencing a multitude of layered factors which compound the effects of COVID and remote instruction. These disadvantaged students come from families experiencing homelessness, “learning” in unsafe homes, have additional barriers due to learning another language, without embedded supports found in a school, face daunting priorities because of economic insecurities at home.
And to be clear the disadvantage is not a result of their circumstance, per se; moreover, their disadvantage is a result of a system that fails to support them as they experience their circumstances.
For this reason, it is always “interesting” (and I say this in my most cynical, stately voice) to see what is a new administration’s beginning focus for State staff—aka, the first 100 days, if we were speaking federally. For [former Commissioner Chris] Cerf, it was rethinking education as a business model and ushering in all his connections to run the business of educating. For [former Commissioner Lamont] Repollet it was social media! Tweet, Tweet, Tweet—capture everything that makes “us” or maybe just him look good. For this administration, perhaps branding? A bit of residual from her predecessor’s—One Band, One Sound?
It’s obviously still very new to rush to judgement on how this administration will perform for the good of our students and their families. Still, the first several weeks with the new administration has focused on standardizing email signatures, memos, and more, virtual backgrounds for meetings, and my favorite: “Cameras On.”
For the past nine months, we have all faced varying experiences as we face COVID—physical, emotional, mental changes impact our daily lives. We, the staff at 100 Riverview, have had to shift and pivot along with the rest of the state, country, world. To date, there has not been a single acknowledgement, concern, or formal address from leadership (definitely not from Repollet) and now not from the new administration. There hasn’t been a pause to check in with the socio-emotional state of the staff at 100 Riverview.
Instead, we continue to be inundated with emails barking changes that will be changed again and again—changes that have very little to the true work we need supported, changes that have very little with equipping the staff with the tools to do the work. Changes that will create efficiency and not bottlenecks at the Governor’s office. We have staff still anguished over the murders of Black people this year (oh, bravo, to the Department for having ONE Townhall—which by the way did not allow colleagues to connect on the chat, questions only went to the organizer—and ZERO follow-up), having their health deteriorate from the lack of proper equipment (meanwhile computers sit idle at 100), staff who have had to learn on their own had to be tech-savvy.
None of that matters, as long as Cameras are ON. Forget a policy to enact this, forget union rights (don’t get me started on them either—maybe next time), forget, at the human level, being considerate of zoom fatigue, mental health, emotional well-being. Despite what the State imposes on schools to be kind, considerate, take care of self, none of this is seldom experienced at the Department. Sad.
I’d like to stay anonymous. Thank you.