State Board Confirms David Hespe as Assistant Commissioner of Operations & Legal Affairs Moving Toward Acting Commissioner Status, Receive Report on RTTT Early Learning Challenge At March Board Meeting

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The State Board of Education, at their March meeting, approved the appointment of David Hespe as Assistant Commissioner in chart of Operations and Legal Affairs – a necessary move to ensure Hespe’s appointment as Acting Commissioner later this month.  The Board also received a report on New Jersey’s Race to the Top grant, approved the 2014/15 school year Religious Holiday Calendar and received input from the Department on several code provisions.

Hespe Appointment

The appointment is a stepping stone for Hespe to be named acting commissioner, effective March 20.  David Hespe is a well-known figure in the department, having served as Commissioner under the Whitman administration and then as chief of staff to outgoing Commissioner Christopher Cerf two years ago.

Yesterday’s Board meeting showed how comfortable the Board is with Hespe.

 “We welcome you back,” said Arcelio Aponte, the board’s president.

Hespe will need to go through the Senate confirmation status to move out of “Acting” status.   

Early Learning Challenge Grant

In addition, the Board received an update on New Jersey’s Early Learning Challenge Grant.  The grant, awarded under the federal Race to the Top grant program, is geared around improving early childhood program quality and services.  It runs through 2017 and covers children and their families from before birth through age eight.  New Jersey was one of six states to receive a grant.  Other states include: Vermont, Kentucky, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan.  New Jersey was awarded $44.3 million.

The grant not only involves the Department of Education but also the Departments of Health, Children and Families as well as Human Services.  At the heart of the grant is the identification and implementation of common standards across all of our agencies through Grow NJ Kids, a Quality Rating Improvement System.  The presenter described this as a “Consumer Reports” of home, center and school-based care and education programs for birth to five. The project hopes to create an Early Learning Improvement Consortium (ELIC) to draw in at least 3 colleges/universities to begin conducting the ratings of early childhood centers. 

The grant will also establish an Early Learning & Development Training Academy with three regional locations to train early child educator and serve as a resource early childhood programs in the state.  The program includes scholarship opportunities for teachers, directors, and teacher assistants to be trained.  Professional development, on site coaching and mentoring will also be available.  

In addition, it will fund “Quality enhancement grants” (budgeted at $500/room with a max of $10,000) to assist early childhood centers to bolster early learning resources.

The group also plans to increase the number of infants and young children screened for social-emotional and developmental concerns and establish county-level parent-led Councils for Young Children in all 21 counties.

Education for Homeless Children and Students in State Facilities

In addition, the Board had a second discussion on revisions to regulations pertaining to educational services for students who are homeless or in State facilities pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:7B; N.J.S.A. 18A:38-1.d and 19.  The code amendments to N.J.A.C. 6A:17 are Department initiated and are generally precipitated by federal and state statutory changes.  According to New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) statistics, in 2012/13 approximately 8,660 students were homeless in New Jersey with another 1,457 assigned to some form of state facility.  These students encompass 250 districts from around the State.  The Department also provided a Education of Homeless Children and Students in State Facilities_Matrix to assist in navigating the proposed changes.

Charter Schools

The Board also had a first discussion on the re-adoption of N.J.A.C. 6A:11, Charter Schools, without change. The chapter is scheduled to expire May 10, 2014.  The charter school rules were adopted in August 1997 and amended in May 1998, October 2000, October 2002, and most recently in August 2013.  NJPSA weighed during the 2013 amendatory process (NJPSA Testimony). 

Religious Holiday Calendar Resolution

Also approved was the Religious Holiday Calendar for the 2014/15 school year.  Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:36-14 through 16 and N.J.A.C. 6A:32-8.3(j), the Commissioner of Education, with the approval of the State Board of Education, is charged with the responsibility of establishing annually the calendar of approved religious holidays for which an absence must be excused.

Certification of School Districts

Further, the Board reviewed 25 evaluations under the provisions of the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) – 10 full reviews (districts on the second round) and 15 interim reviews in districts that scored less than 80 percent in one or more of the district performance review (DPR) areas.  Thirteen districts scored 80 percent or above in all five DPR areas and were approved for certification for a period of three years.  Twelve districts scored below 80% in one or more DPR areas and will develop and implement a QSAC improvement plan to address deficient indicators.  Following approval of the plan, the executive county superintendent will conduct an interim progress review.  Appendix A lists all of the districts and their DPR scores

Other Business

Finally, The Board honored local School Boards for their services via approval of a School Boards Resolution.