School head finalists to meet the public
‘No Child Left Behind’ could play role in superintendent selection
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Jun 10, 2012 | 3397 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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Parents and other members of the community will have an opportunity this Friday to meet two candidates selected as finalists for superintendent of the Jersey City Public Schools. The forum, which will be held at the Martin Luther King Jr. School (PS 11), will be divided into two 75-minute sessions, with blocks of time devoted to each candidate.

The public meeting will be the community’s first chance to ask questions of the candidates and learn about their plans for the Jersey City school district, if hired. The meeting may do little, however, to quell anger from some in the community who believe the superintendent search process may have excluded other qualified candidates, including acting School Superintendent Franklin Walker.

The forum will be held June 15 from 6 to 8:45 p.m. The Martin Luther King Jr. School is located at 886 Bergen Ave.
‘Part of what we’re looking for as parents is the opportunity to see what kind of people we’re going to be working with.’ – Felicia Palmer
On June 1, the Board of Education announced that two finalists – Dr. Debra Brathwaite and Dr. Marcia Lyles – had been selected from a national pool of applicants. After several rounds of interviews with two search firms and members of the board, Lyles and Brathwaite were selected from the total applicant pool of 48 candidates.

Even before the announcement was made official, some parent groups were miffed that Walker, who has a long history as an administrator in the school district, was not among the finalists for the superintendent post. Walker has served as the interim school superintendent for the 2011-2012 academic year and was an applicant for the permanent position. Some of these parents and other Walker supporters say they plan to question the superintendent search process at the June 15 forum and at the school board’s next regular meeting on Tuesday, June 19.

There are, however, other parents who believe the search process should move forward quickly, with the selection of either Lyles or Brathwaite, so a permanent superintendent can begin planning for the upcoming school year. As the search process shifts from the Walker controversy to Brathwaite and Lyles, the women’s track records as school administrators are being scrutinized and questioned. Each woman comes from a “failing” school district, leaving some to wonder if they have the skills, leadership, or vision to improve Jersey City schools.

First glance

According to board spokeswoman Paula Christen, Friday’s forum will likely be moderated by members of the Board of Education and will primarily focus on written questions from the community. Residents will have the opportunity to meet Brathwaite first, from 6 to 7:15 p.m., followed by a second Q&A with Lyles from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m.

Some details of the forum were still being worked out last week.

Brathwaite is currently serving as deputy superintendent of the Richland County School District One in South Carolina, a position she has held for the last four years. The K-12 district has 23,000 students, according to Richland County.

Brathwaite previously served five years as deputy superintendent of the Dayton, Ohio, school district, a system that had about 16,000 students, and was also an assistant superintendent in Cleveland for two years. She also worked in the New York City public school system for 26 years.

Lyles served three years as superintendent of the Christina School District in Delaware, which has about 17,000 students. Last week it was discovered that Lyles resigned from this position last December. (The bio supplied by the Board of Education does not indicate this, however.) Like Brathwaite, Lyles also has experience in the New York City school system, where she worked for 37 years.

“We really want to see how the candidates respond to the questions, and to the public, to better determine who would be the best fit,” said school board member Carol L. Lester.

Parents also want to see how Brathwaite and Lyles respond to Jersey City’s sometimes confrontational, in-your-face style, according to Felicia Palmer, PTA President for the Frank R. Conwell School (PS 3), located downtown.

“Are they going to be offended? Are they going to get upset? Are their feathers going to be ruffled by some of the things that are said? According to their resumes, they’ve been around the block. But the PTAs, the SEOC [Statewide Education Organizing Committee], Parents for Progress, the Jersey City Education Association – we’re not going anywhere,” said Palmer. “We’re the people they’ll be dealing with. Part of what we’re looking for as parents is the opportunity to see what kind of people we’re going to be working with. So, it’s better to get acclimated now.”

Failing district = failing leadership?

In the days since Brathwaite and Lyles were announced as finalists, some in the community have questioned why the school board selected candidates from school districts that are considered to be “failing” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and its Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) goals for local school districts.

Passed in 2001, No Child Left Behind established annual standardized testing mandates in reading and math that are aligned with core curricula approved by state departments of education and the federal government. These standardized tests begin in the third grade. Each state – and each school – is now held accountable for ensuring that every student is “proficient” in reading and math. Student proficiency is measured against “Annual Yearly Progress” goals set up by the states. Schools that don’t meet state-mandated education goals can either be taken over by the state or they can be closed.

The law has been controversial. Critics of No Child Left Behind say it unfairly labels students and schools as failures, and actually undermines academic achievement. Still, AYP reports in Delaware and South Carolina were the first resource Jersey City parents turned to when Lyles and Brathwaite were announced as finalists.

“People say Walker wasn’t selected because he’s been an administrator in our school system for a number of years and the district is a failing school district,” said Robert Knapp, board chairman of the Jersey City Employment and Training Programs. “But these two candidates also come from failing districts, not that that can be attributed to them. But if that was held against Franklin Walker, why was that not a concern when these two candidates were selected?”

The Jersey City Employment and Training Programs runs several job and skills training programs for local high school students, dropouts, juvenile offenders, and teen parents.

According to the Delaware Department of Education, of the state’s 19 school districts, the Christina School District was the only one that did not meet its AYP goals last year and was considered to be a “failing” district. All of the other 18 school districts in the state either met or exceeded their AYP goals. Until December 2011, Lyles was the school superintendent in Christina.

According to the South Carolina Department of Education, AYP goals also weren’t met in Richland County School District One for the 2010-2011 school year. Of the district’s 48 schools, only 13 met their individual AYP goals last school year. Brathwaite currently serves as the deputy superintendent for Richland County School District One.

“Neighbors, parents, and journalists ask me why we would consider a person from a ‘failing’ school,” said Lester. “Most people equate AYP scores with the success or failure of a school, a district, and of the superintendent’s leadership. However, the value of AYP scores has been called into question. By 2011, nearly 80 percent of the nation’s schools, even in blue ribbon districts, [were considered to be ‘failing’ and] were at risk for closure.”

Lester acknowledges that Jersey City has too many students who are performing below their grade level, or who are dropping out of school.

“I want a person who wants to take on valid measurements of student achievement, teacher performance, and curriculum assessment.”

E-mail E. Assata Wright at

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