FACT CHECK: Asbury Park Acting Superintendent Says ‘Hire Me Permanently Because Student Outcomes Are Great’

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Asbury Park Acting Superintendent Rashawn Adams really wants to be Asbury Park’s next permanent superintendent. How badly does he want the slot? Badly enough to write a “letter to the community” touting his mastery of the “multifaceted approach and skillsets necessary to successfully navigate this role” and promising he will “continue to provide quality learning experiences thanks to our dedicated educators.”

These claims cry out for corroboration but first some catch-up for those who haven’t been following this story. Back in 2014 then-Governor Chris Christie called Asbury Park schools the “poster child of ineffectiveness and waste,” given its per-pupil funding and poor student outcomes. At the time, Lamont Repollet was Asbury Park superintendent. When Phil Murphy became governor, he picked Repollet as his first Education Commissioner because “what Dr. Repollet has accomplished is nothing short of a turnaround. Literacy rates are up. Test scores are up. Attendance is up. Confidence and morale among staff are up.”

So which is it? Are Asbury Park families being well or poorly served? How is attendance? How is staff morale? Are literacy rates really up? Is Adams’ intention to continue the kind of leadership established by Repollet and continued by his hand-picked successor Sancha Gray (who resigned in June) really what’s best for kids?

The school board seems to think so. After the resignation of Gray, the Board implemented a selection process that involved ignoring four current administrators who requested interviews and pitting Adams against an unsuitable candidate who dropped out after, it was said, Gray got him a different job. In the end, the Board only “interviewed” Adams even after a staff survey found that he was the last choice for the position.

But should the Board think more carefully about continuing Repollet/Gray/Adams’ educational philosophy (which Murphy scaled up statewide by choosing Repollet)? To answer, let’s drill down on the data, all retrieved from the New Jersey Department of Education website, starting with this: the district spends $33,436 per pupil per year, the highest cost per pupil in the state (excluding districts that exclusively serve students with disabilities).

That’s a lot. But it’s worth it if it’s leading to higher student achievement. Is it?

  • Percentage of Asbury Park School District students proficient in reading: 17.1%
  • Percentage of Asbury Park School District students proficient in math: 0%*

Acoording to metrics set by the State, the district failed to show adequate progress for these core subjects. The high point was 6th grade, where 23% of students were proficient in literacy. The low point was 10th grade, where 10% of students were proficient in literacy.

Let’s keep digging into this “turnaround” cited by Gov. Murphy:

  • In 2018-2019 (the last year the state tracked the data) the chronic absenteeism rate in Asbury Park was 24%, which is really high. (The state average is 9%.)
  • Average SAT scores were 420 in reading and 400 in math. Neither of these scores is close to what is considered “college and career readiness.”
  • Not a single student took an AP course.
  • Not a single student took a computer science course (despite the Murphy Administration’s computer science plan).
  • The high school graduation rate is 76%, one of the lowest in the state. It’s only that high because of the “64 Floor” scheme developed by Repollet and continued by Gray, and, no doubt, Adams. Less than 30% of students graduated through the annual standardized assessments. The rest used alternatives that are easier to pass.
  • In 2018, 45.8% of Asbury Park graduates were enrolled in any institution of higher learning. In 2019 the percentage dropped to 28.4%. In other words, almost 20% fewer students with an Asbury Park diploma are able to pass college-level work. (The state average is 76.3%.)

Enrollment in the district continues to drop as parents vote with their feet and sign their kids up for one of the area’s public charter schools or move to another district.

Finally, how is staff morale, cited by Murphy as one reason for his selection of the district’s superintendent as state Education Commissioner? From a recent staff survey (which you can see in full here):

I hate to use this terminology but it’s an absolute shitshow in this place. Repollet was ok when he started but then his cronies came in. He brought in [Sancha] Gray, [Rashawn] Adams, [Edwin] Ruiz and promoted people who did not have the experience to even teach. He made us the laughingstock of education. Then he made sure Gray came in behind him. No one questioned it, not even the union. I trusted the union to think this was right but I’m pretty sure they regret not questioning her being put in this position. Now with this survey, it seems like they want us to have a voice and I really hope the board listens.

How about the morale of school leaders? Here’s Thurgood Marshall Elementary School Principal Reginald Mirthil (in a letter he wrote in May that led to his suspension):

The curricula does not drive our instructional program.  The lack of comprehension regarding the use of the program and human capital due to our leaders’ inexperience has caused a delay in services.  Our math program had been absent from our curricula however, our curricula was misrepresented to the public as fully updated.  This adversely impacted the district’s credibility as well as causing professional deficits to staff during planning and eventually evaluations.  This also ultimately caused academic setbacks to students…I  cannot recall a time when politics didn’t interfere with the everyday operations to negate years of planning and progress; only benefiting the few with political ties to this organized crime syndicate/gang.

Kudos to the School Board for surveying the community as they prepare to do a search for a permanent superintendent. However, no one told the staff about the survey; the local union notified them after someone found the survey on the district website.

Finally, I’ve been told by five sources that Repollet and Gray are concerned about an independent school leader coming in who could reveal patterns of corruption, nepotism, and questionable fiscal decisions. That’s why they’re pushing Adams: he willl protect Repollet and Gray’s reputations.

Here’s Adams’ letter (emphases his own):

It is my great honor and privilege to introduce myself as acting superintendent of the Asbury Park school district. I look forward to meeting and working with each of you during this transitional period of our district. I am extremely excited to spend the coming months of July and August speaking with our dedicated Board of Education members and supporting the many talented students, dedicated teachers, hardworking district/building leaders, committed and involved parents, and collaborative community partners. Although I am entering my seventh year in the district, this new role and responsibilities require transactional thinking. I am especially appreciative of my time working with previous Superintendent Dr. Sancha Gray. These crucial interactions allowed me to witness firsthand the multifaceted approach and skillsets necessary to successfully navigate this role and will undoubtedly ensure a smooth transition.

Thus far, this experience has — and continues to be — very positive and welcoming. I thank you all! My intention from this day forward is to build a bridge to span the tide of this transition while “Building A Brighter Future” for our students. My obligation is also to our families as it is my duty to uphold the traditions and values of my profession to ensure that we provide everyone with a quality education within a social-emotionally supportive environment each day. I believe that this will be accomplished through our unrelenting commitment to students, collaboration with all district stakeholders, transparent communication, and consistent systemic accountability.  I assure you that I will show up daily with a resolute commitment to service. The educational choices that I will be tasked to make will be in alignment with New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) policy/procedures, New Jersey law, and Asbury Park Board of Education policy/regulations. Also, please know that the crux of all of my decisions will focus on what is in the best interest of Asbury Park’s students.

During this summer transition period, ensuring that all our schools are safely and effectively ready to resume full-time, in-person learning in September 2021 is paramount.  Additionally, we must work with a sense of urgency to acutely address the academic needs of our students that were magnified during the pandemic. I am certain that we will have success in mitigating learning losses as we continue to provide quality learning experiences thanks to our dedicated educators.

Below I am sharing my transition plan so that you will better understand the identified targets that will guide my actions during my first 90 days.

§     Ensure students are first in each decision made;

§     Build collaborative relationships with all stakeholders including but not limited to the Board of Education, Asbury Park Principals and Supervisors Association (APASA), and Asbury Park Education Association (APEA);

§     Increase efficiencies to ensure strong support for our schools; and

§     Establish a culture centered on effective best pedagogical practices of teaching and learning and transparent and honest communication.

As the chief learner in the district, I welcome the opportunity to grow, to lead better, and to listen to your ideas, hopes, and dreams for the Asbury Park School District. In the upcoming months, I will announce several Listening and Learning Sessions that I encourage you to attend.

Dr. Rashawn M. Adams is acting school superintendent of the Asbury Park school district.

*The state leaves the field blank when the number is very low to “protect pupil privacy.”

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