A public meeting was held at 6:00 PM this Tuesday 1/28/2014 in the Penns Grove High School auditorium with a dozen members in attendance including two members of the press to discuss concerns regarding the selection of a new superintendent for the Penns Grove – Carneys Point Regional School District.
The small number of attendees was contributed to multiple activities happening throughout the school district at the same time including a high school basketball game and family night at Field Street. The bigger concern regarding community participation expressed by attendees was that the advertising of the meeting was very poor. I, myself, only found out because teachers in the district sent me messages during the day and many of the other participants had just learned of the meeting at the previous night’s Board of Education (BOE) meeting.
The meeting was facilitated by the district contracted New Jersey School Boards Association Field Service Representative Terri Lewis. Lewis, who has already held meetings with the staff, administration, and BOE, will be involved in the interviewing process, as well. According to Lewis, the BOE will meet Monday night to review a pool of candidates that number in the 20s for the first round of interviews with the goal of the completed process and new superintendent in place by July 1, 2014 which would coincide with contract dates.
The diverse congregation of community members voiced their opinions on qualifications that they would expect from a potential candidate and future leader of the district. Though, the colors and backgrounds of the audience varied, the voices were nearly unanimous in their opinions that the best candidate would be culturally diverse, multilingual, empathetic, student centered, and a seasoned veteran of a lower socio-economic school district. There was, also, much discussion on the need for someone to be transparent, honest, and open with the faculty, children, and community which is something the entire group feels is sorely missing from the whole of the district.
Speaking to a teacher and an administrator that were in attendance, it would seem that the private sessions held with their groups echoed many of the same qualifications and concerns. One administrator stated, “I would hope that they make a decision based on a person who will make an impact and that will not only sound good but actually move the district forward.” The administrator said they would ask the candidates, “What are you bringing here for my kids? How are you going to work with the existing staff?” The feeling that the often stated “The kids come first” has just become a meaningless political cry were voiced throughout the room.
There was a divide on some issues. Some people believe the candidate would be best from another area preferable with inner city experience while others believe that appointing someone that is from the area would provide a true investment in the well being and care of the students.
The chatter of diversity came up not as a point of race but as a point of reflection. Too often, people hear things like affirmative action and tune out but consider these numbers: In Dr. Massari’s ten year tender as the PG – CP superintendent there were 417 hires. Of that 417, when looking at positions for administration or faculty, only 13 were of hispanic or African-American decent. That figure represents roughly 3% and is in stark contrast to the make up of the student body.
I brought up a recent article written by journalist and author of the book Race-Baiter, Mr. Eric Deggans, which discussed TV and media casting to include more people of color and diverse culture. The article stated the thought that networks and production companies are starting to see profits by casting features with diversity because the audience grows in turn. Simply put, by giving a wider group of people on the screen, you’re giving more people at home something to relate to. I added this to the discussion because I believe the need for diversity is hugely important and that students who can have a diverse staff to look up to and relate to have a much better chance for success.
By no means does this translate into hire someone because the pigment of their skin happens to match whatever tone you might prefer. It does, however, suggest that hiring role models of all kinds of backgrounds would only help the very diverse student body and community have someone they can relate to and open the minds and hearts of all those involved. Does that mean we need to have a teacher of Turkish decent hired because we have a Turkish student enrolled in the district? Hardly. Where the community present at last night’s meeting focused their intention and the general concern was that by having an administrator or teacher that may have been from another country or spoken another language can help a family and child know that there is someone who understands their challenges and can help them get through.
The choice, though input was given from the public to Field Service Representative Lewis, remains in the hands of the embattled BOE. According to regulations, the successful candidate for the superintendent position will require a majority vote of the entire BOE body. You count 9 members of the BOE and understand that 5 votes would be a majority. It gets interesting in that, according to Lewis, 3 members of the BOE have to abstain because they have relatives within the district. The conversation amongst community members was if BOE member Hudson would have to be excluded as well due to his relationship and shared living space with recently appointed teacher Jeanette Jackson. Though no answer was provided in the meeting, this would mean either 5 of 6 or 5 of 5 members must vote a single candidate in for the position; a feat that seems nearly impossible for this BOE to accomplish.
Lewis stated, “I’ve never seen a situation like this one before.” Recent BOE meetings feel more like a circus with the solicitor interrupting the constant infighting to issue warnings to BOE members. Lewis said that if ultimately no candidates could be chosen, she would expect the county superintendent to step in and make a decision though there isn’t a law dictating such to her knowledge.
By the end of the meeting it was clear that the community was indeed concerned and their focus was just. We can only hope that the process is done fairly and swiftly through the BOE as Lewis hopes too.
We will continue to provide updates on the story as we have them.