5 questions for education comissioner David Hespe on Newark schools

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on January 13, 2015

File photo of State Board of Education Commissioner David Hespe during a meeting of the State Board of Education.

 

NEWARK — Last week was tumultuous one for Newark public schools superintendent Cami Anderson after lawmakers grilled her on the district's controversial reorganization plan as well as her relationship with residents and civic leaders.

NJ Advance Media spent a little time talking with State Education Commissioner David Hespe about Anderson's meeting with lawmakers and other issues facing the superintendent. Here are few snippets of our conversation. The interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Q. Legislators on the joint committee on public schools expressed a lot of frustration with the superintendent. How would you say the district has handled relationships with state legislators that committee and those who are interested in what's going on in Newark Public Schools?

A: Two points. I think the first point is this is very difficult territory. There is some built in conflict regarding just the very nature of state intervention and how the superintendent is appointed. So I think there is built in conflict on these issues. And they are sometimes very complicated and sometimes communication flow doesn’t happen because they are so complicated... So that’s why I thought last week was so productive. There was a long period of time where legislators were able to get on the table their issues and have them dealt with, with a really good exchange...You can go back 15 or 20 years and still see the same type of antagonism and conflict in relationships back in the late 90s just because of the nature of state operation (of the school district). You got to look at both of those together and come up with a true picture of why I thought last week was so productive.

Q. Where do we go from here? We heard from legislators the superintendent has not been responsive and repeatedly ignored requests to appear before the committee. Is there are anything new that's going to be done to ease their concerns?

A. I think the number one thing that can be done in the district and I think this is a bridge is to have a conservation you want to have regarding local control is to make certain our transition plan regarding the return of the finance area is meaningfully implemented. That’s all about relationship building is the way I see the return of local control in finances. We will be successful if we focus on that point and not just see the return of local control as the shuffling of paper but as a commitment to improving the lives of school children in Newark.


Q. Newarkers often talk about wanting local control over the school district. Ultimately, governance would give them the most impact over the district. What do you think it would take for the city to get there?

A. Our standard has been pretty consistent over the years. You really have to show three things. The first thing you need to show is that you have substantial improvement in that area. The example that you was used was governance. So we want to see substantial improvement in governance scores. Get over 80 percent...The second thing we would want to see is that’s sustained over time because your QSAC( Quality Single Accountability Continuum used to determine the performance of school boards) scores can bounce around. We want to make certain that they are sustained overtime so its not a one-time or snapshot effect...The third thing and often understated in its importance, but I think it's very very important, which is a confidence level that the district developed the capacity to ensure that progress will continue into the future...If you look at the transition plan, that’s what the transition plan is all about is to provide a comfort level that the success that the district has in terms of finance will continue into the future by us building capacity in terms of expertise, in terms leadership, and committee structures. So that third element is very important. When we see those three things then I think we’re ready to return additional areas for local control.

Q. NJ Spotlight reported that superintendent Cami Anderson is eligible for a bonus under the contract before last that was approved if she meets certain goals. Is that something you think is likely?

A. I’m not ready, Naomi, to discuss that yet. I just don’t think that we’re far enough along to be able to discuss the likelihood of her achieving her goals or not. We certainly from the onset believe that all the goals are achievable. But how far along she is to actually achieving them I really can’t say as of this moment in time.

Q. Do you see any tweaking of the direction of the reforms taking place in the One Newark plan? Have you been happy with the results?

Certainly her implementation of One Newark was one of the high points I think of the fall. Certainly a lot of people were predicting doom and gloom and it didn’t happen. I think she still has a lot of work to do in terms of implementing One Newark and she is certainly busy doing that. We’re in a role of working with her on those issues. There is still pieces of the One Newark plan that need to be moved forward. I know that much.

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