NJ Senators Booker & Menendez, USDE Secretary & Ed Stakeholders Have ESSA Discussion, NJPSA Past President Emil Carafa Weighs In On Impact of Law In NJ

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Past NJPSA President Emil Carafa had a candid conversation about implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act October 6, with US Secretary of Education John King, Senator Cory Booker and Senator Bob Menendez.  Carafa participated in a panel which included NJPTA, NJEA, and others.

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Read Emil’s Comments Below:

Comments of Emil Carafa, Principal of Washington Elementary School, Lodi, NJ

Thank you Senator Menendez, Senator Booker, Secretary King and representatives of the New Jersey Department of Education for convening this important conversation and for your support of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  As a building principal for many years, I am excited to be part of this discussion of how we will implement the new ESSA law in New Jersey.

I bring an interesting perspective to the table as I have been an educator for my entire professional career in the Lodi school district and I also serve my community as its Mayor.   I am the past President of the NJ Principals and Supervisors Association and have had the positive experience of representing my profession as a member of the PARCC Leadership Cadre as we worked to transition to this  new statewide assessment.  As you can see,   I am wearing multiple hats here today.

Positive Direction of ESSA – Local decision-making and Flexibility

I must begin by thanking Senators Booker and Menendez and the entire Congress for taking the positive step of enacting ESSA.  For too many years, we in education have lived in a state of uncertainty wondering if the unconstructive approach of NCLB, which included labeling schools as “failing” and threatening sanctions not targeted support, was going to continue to define our educational system.  Principals have no problem with accountability, but schools need to be held accountable for things we can control and influence, not those that we cannot.

When New Jersey moved to an ESEA waiver, we got some relief, but we continued to operate under a federally mandated approach to how we did things at the school and district level.  Sometimes this made sense and led to positive results for students, but in other ways the shoe did not fit and we struggled to implement locally.

Now I welcome the promise of ESSA which retains key accountability measures that help identify schools and students in need of assistance, provides that targeted support and resources, but allows states, districts and schools the flexibility we need to decide how we can best meet our goals and serve our students.

NJDOE Stakeholder Outreach

Currently, conversations about ESSA and its meaning are taking place across our state among a wide diversity of stakeholders including the state’s principals and supervisors.  Our first Council meeting of the school year focused on school leaders discussing what elements define school success and quality.   I applaud the efforts of the NJDOE to reach out to my association to lead this initial conversation and its efforts to engage a wide array of over 60 organizations that have a stake in implementing this law.  These include organizations representing educators, parents, taxpayers, the business community,  ELL/Special Education  organizations, the preschool community and   community organizations that care and advocate for our students.  The New Jersey Department of Education is raising a large tent and bringing everyone with an interest inside for these important conversations.

So What is on My Mind as a Building Principal?         

I strive to be an instructional leader in my school, yet competing demands and compliance- based activities often pull me away from my focus on improving teacher practice and student learning.  The promise of ESSA to me is that we can change this dynamic to focus on measures that promote meaningful instructional practices.

In my school, the work of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) best illustrates what I am talking about.  Instead of over-worrying about test scores, our PLCs think about and collaboratively focus on:

  • developing a viable standards- based curriculum for all students,
  • building an assessment system focused on learning not grading,  that is curriculum-aligned and includes both formative and summative assessments,
  • Working with student data- collaboratively- to improve teacher practice and student learning.

This is truly important work that requires joint meeting time, relevant data, a positive collaborative climate, shared leadership and a common focus on student instruction.  Yet, making this work a school priority is not supported by our state’s accountability system.

Similarly, issues of school climate, social and emotional learning and a holistic look at school success are issues we should be delving into as instructional and practice-based components to measure New Jersey schools.   While test scores have their place, let’s round out the discussion on accountability to fairly address these types of school characteristics that every principal knows make the real difference in student achievement.

Leadership Needs- Finally (!)  

For the past decade, I have walked the halls of Congress meeting with my representatives on Capitol Hill to promote the needs of our students.   During these visits, I have also advocated for the need to invest in leadership growth and development if we expect our principals to lead change as instructional leaders in every building.  Educational research clearly proves that effective school leadership is the second most important, in-school factor that impacts classroom instruction and student achievement, particularly in schools with the greatest challenges.  Unfortunately, Title II training dollars historically passed principals and other school-based leaders by.

The passage of ESSA shows that you were listening.

Today, I urge New Jersey to take advantage of the ESSA provisions (Section 2101(c)(3))

that provide real opportunities for leadership development by allowing states to reserve up to 3% of district allotments for statewide school leadership efforts.  New Jersey has led the way in developing a strong pipeline for the recruitment, mentoring and support of novice principals through the NJPSA/NJDOE partnership program New Jersey Leader to Leader (NJL2L).  Since 2005, New Jersey has inducted over 4,000 new principals through this program.

Yet there is more work to be done for school leaders once they are settled on the job.  NJPSA has already proposed new ideas and partnerships to the NJDOE which are set forth in the attached letter.  These partnership proposals focus on:

  • the preparation and support of school leaders in high need schools,
  • building instructional leadership capacity linked to our state’s educational vision,
  • expanding the reach of the New Jersey Leadership Academy which focuses leadership training on teams of superintendents,  principals and supervisors,
  • Providing long overdue assistance and support to principals and leaders responsible for early childhood learning programs to ensure alignment with elementary schools, effective transitions from preschool to kindergarten, staff support and increased parent and community engagement.

These are just a few of the statewide needs and issues that would be addressed with this set aside and I believe that the investment will reap great rewards in the instruction provided in our schools.


Thank you for beginning this important conversation on New Jersey’s implementation plans for ESSA.  NJPSA and I look forward to working together in the best interests of all New Jersey students.

Submitted by:

Emil Carafa, Principal

Washington Elementary School

October 6, 2016