Newark Superintendent Is Advising School Board Members to Lie to the State

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Just when you think Newark Public Schools District can’t get any more dysfunctional, another perversion pops up.  Example: today Chalkbeat reports that during October’s board of education meeting Superintendent Roger Leon advised school board members to give the district top scores on the state’s method of evaluating compliance with regulations and student academic progress.

During the October board of education meeting, board members said they ranked themselves high in each area of the self-evaluation. Superintendent Roger León added that the board’s responsibility is to say ‘we’ve met 100 points,’ meaning the highest level of performance the district can reach based on all five components of the monitoring system. ‘Our job is not to say, oh, it shouldn’t really be less than 100 points,’ said León during the Oct. 27 board meeting. ‘That’s the state’s job. That’s the job of people who don’t want the district to demonstrate greatness.’ 

Holy guacamole. Either Leon misunderstands the state monitoring system or he’s deliberately misleading the public. Either option is bad and both are probably true.

Bear with me. The state system, mellifluously labeled New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum, or QSAC, is a bear. School districts dread the every-three-years slog of endless documentation of everything from student achievement scores to obscure regulations to whether taxpayer dollars are being spent appropriately. (You can learn more about it here.) In brief, QSAC is divided into five categories: Instruction and program, Fiscal management, Governance, Operations, Personnel. There are multiple compliance checks within each category. If a district meets the metric, it can receive up to 100 points in each section; 80 points is a passing score. After it’s filled out the school board signs off that it’s accurate. From there it goes to  County Executive Superintendents, who check the math, and then to the state.

It’s not unusual for a higher-up to shave a few points off a category but if everything is aboveboard there isn’t much discrepancy. And the process, while onerous, serves the  purpose of keeping everyone honest and the public well-informed. 

Until it doesn’t.

Welcome to Newark.

This is the school board that blithely accepts the superintendent’s recommendations for five staff members to go to a non-education-related conference at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas (it was on “women’s empowerment”) even though administrative code says “travel taken by school board members and school staff to be “educationally necessary” and “directly related to and within the scope of the employee’s or board member’s current responsibilities.” This is a school board that seems unconcerned that 13% of Newark students are proficient in math, 27% are proficient in reading, and 7% are proficient in science. This is a school board that no doubt will give Leon a top-notch evaluation when the most important job of a school board member is to provide oversight of the superintendent. 

Yet here we are with board members listening dumbly to a “leader” who appears to be reshaping QSAC from a tri-annual accountability exercise into a self-promotional skirmish with those who “don’t want the district to demonstrate greatness.”  

That’s the key: when Leon references “the district” he’s not talking about the children of Newark, nor their parents who, according to QSAC rules, must be given the opportunity to have input into the final document. He’s only talking about himself, about his narcissistic Trumpy quest to be perceived as royalty. (Photo above from the 50th birthday party he threw for himself.)

Will the board play along? Probably. Now it’s up to the community—parents and students who pay the price for Leon’s self-indulgence and the school board’s indifference—to speak up. They’ve started to do so. They’ll get louder.

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