State Board Honors Past President & VP Biedron & Fisicaro, As Board Members Sworn In & Newark Marches Toward Local Control

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The New Jersey State Board of Education took time to honor past President Mark Biedron and Vice President Joe Fisicaro as several new and returning members were sworn in August 2.  The Board also approved a resolution on Social & Emotional Learning and moved Newark within one resolution of return to local control.

New & Returning Board Members

The day began with the swearing in of three new board members, Mary Elizabeth Gazi, Joseph Ricca and Ned James Johnson.  Board members, Ron Butcher, Ernest Lepore and Andrew Mulvihill were also sworn in to a second term of service.

Honoring Board Members

The Board also honored Past President Mark Biedron and Vice President Joseph Fisicaro for their service on the board over the last six years.  Biedron and Fisicaro were praised by current board members for their dedication and received standing ovations, including from the new members who replaced them.

Both men kept the tone positive in their parting remarks, never mentioning the controversy surrounding their ousters.  Biedron, who served on the board for six years, including as president the last three, admitted that, as the founder of a private school, he knew very little about public education when he joined the board in 2011.

“I had no idea how complicated, how emotional and how many points of views there were on so, so many issues,” he said. “It is a true testament to the diligence and the determination of all the members of this board and each person in the department that we actually worked through these issues.”

Fisicaro, who also served for six years, including three as vice president, said that as a group, the board “did a lot of great stuff for the kids of New Jersey.”

“I gave my best,” he said. “I hope it was appreciated by the people of New Jersey.”

Biedron and Fisicaro were respected by many who regularly attend the board meetings, including those who did not always agree with their positions.

Social & Emotional Learning Competencies

Additionally, the Board received a presentation on the benefits of the New Jersey Social & Emotional Learning Competencies (NJSEL) from Maurice Elias of Rutgers, later adopting a resolution encouraging school districts to implement them.

Social and emotional learning help students develop the understanding, strategies and skills to:

  • Support a positive sense of self
  • Promote respectful relationships
  • Recognize and manage their own emotions
  • Make responsible decisions

These competencies promote positive school climates and prepare students for post-secondary success.  SEL programs are shown to reduce student high-risk behaviors.  Students in SEL programs are more likely to attend school, less likely to have conduct problems and receive better grades.  Students with explicit SEL instruction: Gain self-discipline and initiative; Improve their communication skills and ability to advocate; Are better able to work with others, understand differing viewpoints and collaborate; and Have an understanding of social responsibility and their role as citizens.

The competencies were developed in concert with stakeholders, including principals, teachers, and other school leaders, as well as the Association over the last two years.   The work group went in the direction of ‘competencies’ rather than ‘standards’ to allow for better developmental progression and to also support educators with strategies and resources for each competency.

The competencies are meant to be implemented across the curriculum at all grade levels.  They include five (5) core competencies (Self Management, Self Awareness, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making) as well as several sub-competencies.

The competencies were amended slightly, in light of input from Board members and stakeholders alike.  The amended language is included in this NJDOE presentation:

Standards and Assessments

The Board also had a second discussion of changes to current regulation, N.J.A.C. 6A: 8, related to Standards & Assessments that will allow the incorporation of the State Seal of Biliteracy into current student graduation options.  The seal is a designation from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) identifying graduating high school students who are able to demonstrate proficiency in English in addition to one or more languages. Participation is voluntary on the part of a school district.

The program has been operational for over a year with 85 districts participating which granted 2,013 Seals to students across 20 languages.  This code provision merely codifies the strictures of the existing program

Newark & Local Control

Finally, the Board also took a major step in moving Newark back to local control Twenty-two years after being stripped of its autonomy by the state. Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington said during Wednesday’s state Board of Education meeting that she will put forth a resolution in the next month or so for the board to vote to formally start the process of developing a transition plan for the Newark school district.

Her recommendation comes as the result of Newark’s most recent scores on the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC), the state’s monitoring and evaluation system. Districts must score at least 80 percent in each of five areas: instruction and program, fiscal management, governance, operations and personnel to be considered high-performing.  Before this week, Newark had local control in the areas of fiscal management, operations and personnel, based on their scores on previous evaluations.

By maintaining high scores in those areas, as well as scoring 92 percent in the area of instruction and programming and 100 percent in governance this year, Newark is now considered high-performing.

Certification of Other School Districts

In addition to Newark, 55 (38 full reviews and 18 interim reviews) other districts were up for NJQSAC review with 7 others being certified as ‘high performing.’  Appendix A lists all of the districts and their DPR scores.  Seven other districts scored 80 percent or above in all five DPR areas, and was approved for a period of three years.  Forty-eight districts scored below 80% in one or more DPR areas and are required to develop and implement a QSAC improvement plan to address deficient indicators.