Jersey City parents are questioning the integrity of the search for a new superintendent of schools now that the state has appointed a professional monitor to supervise the public school district’s day-to-day operations under interim school superintendent Franklin Walker. The Board of Education gave Walker a six-month contract to serve as interim school superintendent through the end of the 2011-2012 school year following the departure of former Superintendent Dr. Charles Epps on Dec. 31.
For the past two months, the school board has been conducting meetings throughout the community to gather input from parents and other residents regarding what they want to see in the next school super. Six such meetings have been held, and a seventh community meeting was to have been held on Friday, Jan. 20 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. School.
‘I think she’s being put in the perfect position, by the state, to take the superintendent job.’ – Alexandria Jerez
However, the Jan. 13 appointment of Cathy Coyle by the state Department of Education as a professional monitor has parents concerned that the move is an effort by the state to play a role in the selection of the next superintendent, and could possibly be an effort by the state to force Coyle into the position.
Coyle expressed interest in becoming superintendent of the Jersey City public schools in 2010 when it appeared as though Epps’ contract with the district would not be extended.
Currently, the state has given Coyle a six-month contract to serve as a professional monitor. Her contract expires June 30, the same date that Franklin’s contract expires as interim superintendent. Coyle is specifically tasked with monitoring school operations, personnel matters, and instruction.
Angry parents express concerns
The state took over the Jersey City schools in 1989 due to low test scores. Over the last few years the district was transitioning from state control back to local control, with some district matters under the jurisdiction of the locally-elected school board, and other matters still under the jurisdiction of the state.
Members of the school board have recently stated that the selection of the next school superintendent will be a local, not state, decision.
“The school superintendent will be selected by the members of the Board of Education,” school Trustee Marvin Adames said at the Jan. 7 community meeting on the superintendent search process.
But parents question whether that will still be the case now that Coyle has been appointed.
“We elected our current board. They felt that Franklin Walker was qualified enough to be the interim superintendent,” said Alexandria Jerez, a mother with two children in the school system. “I think she’s being put in the perfect position, by the state, to take the superintendent job.”
Expressing support for Franklin, Jerez added, “I hope that we can keep him in his current interim position and possibly see him go into the superintendent role.”
Jerez was among several parents who attended a rally called last week by the Jersey City chapter of the Statewide Education Organizing Committee. About 15 people picketed outside the school board office to protest Coyle’s appointment.
Another parent who attended the protest, Elizabeth Perry, who has one son in high school and three grandchildren who also attend the city public schools, said she was suspicious of the state’s motives.
“We finally have a board and a superintendent that respect the superintendent search process as it should be done and has involved the community in the process,” Perry said. “We’ve been getting together, coming out to the community meetings, giving our suggestions and ideas on what the criteria should be. And now the state wants to slip Cathy Coyle in and tell us she’s going to be the ‘skilled professional’ who’s going to oversee any decisions that are made by the interim superintendent, who the community has trust in. We’re suspect of this appointment.”
Perry added that, in her opinion, Epps – who was appointed by the state in 2000 – made “all kinds of decisions that crippled our children. But the state didn’t see a need to put a ‘skilled professional’ in the district at that juncture.”
Thus far, the school board has been mum about what impact, if any, Coyle’s appointment will have on the superintendent search process.
Spokesperson Paula Christen last week issued a statement from the school board that said, “Ms. Catherine Coyle has been assigned to the Jersey City Public School district as a Highly Skilled Professional by Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf. She will work collaboratively with the interim superintendent, Mr. Franklin Walker, and the board members to provide support in several administrative areas, which will ultimately benefit the students of Jersey City.”
Two companies, West Hudson Associates and HYA Associates, were recently selected to help the BOE identify applicants for the superintendent position.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.