Jersey City superintendent finalists face parents
JERSEY CITY – In a four-hour meeting held Friday, June 15, Jersey City parents and other residents had their first opportunity to hear from Dr. Debra Brathwaite and Dr. Marcia Lyles, the two finalists in the running for the school superintendent position.
Before a packed auditorium at the Martin Luther King Jr. School (PS 11), Brathwaite and Lyles answered written questions regarding their positions on vouchers, charter schools, teacher tenure, cuts in special education funding, how to improve drop-out rates and student achievement in failing school districts, and their plans for the Jersey City school district, if hired.
Many supporters of Interim School Superintendent Franklin Walker also attended the meeting and held up signs that questioned the school board’s candidate selection process, which identified Brathwaite and Lyles as the top applicants for the job. Walker, who has worked in the Jersey City Public School District for years, applied for the permanent school superintendent position but was not selected as a finalist. He was in attendance at the June 15 meeting with Brathwaite and Lyles.
The June 15 session was divided into three blocks of time. Separately, Brathwaite and Lyles were each given about an hour to answer a series of written questions from the audience. Later, the school board took public comments from community members who wanted to address them directly regarding the two candidates and Franklin Walker’s exclusion as a finalist.
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.
For the past three years Lyles has been the superintendent of the Christina School District in Delaware, which has about 17,000 students. Like Brathwaite, Lyles also has experience in the New York City school system, where she worked for 37 years. In December 2011 Lyles gave notice to the Christina School District that she intends to leave her post at the end of the current school year.
Since both Lyles and Brathwaite come from school districts that are considered to be “failing” under Adequate Yearly Progress goals set forth under the No Child Left Behind Act, one of the most important questions of the evening had to do with whether or not they have the ability to improve Jersey City schools.
“The truth of the matter is I went into this business because I wanted to go into places that have not been a success for children,” Lyles responded. “Every opportunity that I’ve had I’ve gone to a [school district], or I’ve been drawn to a place because it had, indeed, not been where it needs to be…The measure is not whether we are yet at this point where we have exceeded [state achievement goals], but have we made gains. Because it’s about closing the [achievement] gap, not only for students, but it’s about closing the gap for schools.”
For the 2011-2012 school year, Lyles said that in the Christina School District students in grades three through 10 have met “most key goals” in reading and math assessment tests. This was achieved, she said, by reducing class sizes and adding tutoring and other resources to schools that were not meeting assessment goals.
Brathwaite took umbrage to the term “failing,” saying, “I’ve always worked in districts that needed to be improved….I don’t know what a failing district is. I know what a growing district is. I really take exception to anyone saying or implying that Richland One is a failing district. And if I come to Jersey City, I defy anyone to say this is a failing district.”
This school year, Richland One students in grades three through eight improved on state standardized tests in all five academic subject areas, Brathwaite said and high school students improved 13.9 points on other mandated tests.
When asked about her opinion on charter schools Brathwaite said, “I am a public school advocate…I believe that if we do a good job as a public school entity no one is going to talk about privatization [of the schools].”
Lyles later agreed with this sentiment noting that while her own children graduated from public high schools, they attended parochial elementary schools.
“If a parent wants to make that choice then that is what they have to do…I do not believe the public should support the private,” said Lyles. “The real challenge is to improve the schools to give parents a real choice. The real challenge is to improve the public schools so that parents don’t need or want to go elsewhere.”
Brathwaite and Lyles each stated flatly that they have in the past closed schools that had poor track records over a period of several years.
Parents who attended Friday’s forum with Brathwaite and Lyles had mixed opinions of the two candidates.
“Nothing against them personally, but I don’t feel too comfortable with the way they were presented to us,” said Sheryl Mays, the mother of a second grade student. “I’m a parent. I’m supposed to have a say [in selecting the new superintendent]. Two weeks ago I read about them in the newspaper. Prior to that, it’s not we heard anything about the other people they interviewed…If they’re in these other districts and they’re improving those districts why don’t they stay there? Why are they leaving those children behind? Are they going to come here and do the same thing to our children?” – E. Assata Wright
County prosecutor tapped for possible judgeship; may be replaced with Republican
HUDSON COUNTY -- Hudson County Prosecutor Ed DeFazio, 59, was nominated last week for a seat as a state Superior Court judge by Gov. Christopher Christie, who apparently wants to replace DeFazio – a Democrat – with a Republican prosecutor in Hudson County.
DeFazio previously served as a Superior Court judge in 2001 prior to his taking over as prosecutor. His second five-year term will end next month.
“A little premature; there hasn’t been a formal nomination,” DeFazio said, when asked for a comment on Tuesday.
The nomination would then have to be approved by the state Senate Judiciary Committee – on which State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack is a member. Stack has close ties to Christie. If approved, then the full state Senate would have to vote on the appointment.
“I’m here and I love this office,” DeFazio said, speaking about his role as prosecutor.
The timing, however, is short and a formal nomination and vote might not transpire before the legislature suspends activity for the summer.
The Senate Judiciary Committee would also have to approve the next prosecutor for Hudson County.
“If it doesn’t happen next week, it won’t happen until the fall,” DeFazio said.
The last Republican Prosecutor was Fred Theemling, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Christie Whitman in 1996.