Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Follow-up on tenure for Travell music teacher

Friday's Ridgewood News contained a story about the non-renewal of the Travell music teacher. I wanted to share Dr. Fishbein's complete letter which was sent to Travell parents on June 30, because I think it explained the situation very well. I've received a lot of positive feedback from Travell parents on this letter:

Dear Travell Parents:

The Board of Education asked me to communicate with the Travell parents following the decision it had to make about not offering tenure to the Travell music teacher. Many, many parents had strong feelings about the “pros” and “cons” of the situation; and many articulated their thoughts by letter, by e-mail or at public Board meetings. In the end, a decision had to be made, and it was not possible for that decision to accommodate all the different perspectives expressed. The Board and I want all Travell parents to know, however, that their words were heard and given genuine consideration.

Our school district is exceptional for a great many reasons. We have outstanding students who are excited to learn, grow and achieve. We have dedicated parents who understand the value of supporting and promoting education in the home and in the community. We have teachers who are skilled, passionate and committed to nurturing and challenging our students. We have administrators who hold our teachers to high standards and commit themselves to nurturing and challenging our teachers like we do for our students.

Any staff evaluation process needs to look at the “total picture” of each employee’s effectiveness. Issues like collaboration, accountability, planning/goal-setting, cooperation, flexibility and teamwork are all components that must be assessed along with enthusiasm, content knowledge and instructional skills. Our administrators are able to see this “total picture” consistent with the tradition of excellence Ridgewood has enjoyed for generations.

In a community like Ridgewood, which is so engaged in its school system, Board members want to be as responsive to and as open as they can with their neighbors and constituents about the decisions they make. In more ways than most people know, though, the Board is handcuffed by legal mandates and restrictions. In the case of teacher tenure, state law gives no leeway in the timeframe for making tenure decisions. Tenure happens on the 1st day of a teacher’s 4th consecutive year of employment. Period. So, if the Superintendent and the Board are not convinced about a particular teacher’s “total picture” at the end of the teacher’s 3rd year of employment, they have to let that teacher go even if that teacher has shown promise or strength in some areas. What complicates the district’s decision-making in situations like this is the legal right to privacy that each public employee has. Judgments made by supervisors about an employee, whether positive or negative, are confidential information. The district can use this information to make employment decisions, but only the employee himself/herself controls whether any or all of this is communicated outside the district.

Some non-renewal decisions are easy. Some are difficult. I do not make any of them lightly, and neither does our Board of Education. We both value the knowledge and insight that comes from community input because these things ensure we are making the best decisions possible. When all the district can show the public is the end result of this decision-making process, though, all we can do is continue letting our community members know how important their involvement and support have been.

We will move forward from here. We will be vigorous in our efforts to staff Travell with strong teachers who achieve excellence in all aspects of the “total picture” as we do with all of our schools. We ask that you stay as passionate and engaged with us in this process as you have always been, because that is an essential part of what makes Ridgewood so unique and so successful.

I wish everyone a safe and happy summer.

Sincerely yours,

Daniel Fishbein, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools


Anonymous said...

What is missing from the "picture" is the fact that Margie didn't want this teacher in her school, plain and simple. And she carries more weight than all the parents combined. Since we have a BOE that does what it is told by the administrators, is it any wonder that the parents' wishes at Travell where once again ignored.

Laurie said...

Excuse me, but I can honestly say that I do not do what I'm "told by the administrators." I don't know how you come to that conclusion about me and my work on the BOE. It's a bit easy for you to make such a general claim, without backing it up. I do understand how people (I guess people like you, but I don't know you so I'll refrain from a direct accusation) will sometimes create drama or pass-on fiction in the absence of facts. I understand it may be hard to accept a decision by the Board or administration when we are not allowed to discuss it in public. Believe me, it's frustrating from this side, too. All I can do is repeat what I've said to others: when I am asked to make a decision such as this one, I look at all the information and input from all sides, including multiple administrators and parents and others. As Dr. Fishbein's letter explains, the Travell parents' wishes were not "ignored." They were an important part of the picture.

Thanks for reading and responding. Glad to hear from someone during these quiet summer days.

Anonymous said...

Was having a conversation with a teacher yesterday and his take was the same as mine. The BOE is weak and does what the administration wishes, either because it does not due its own due diligence or it believes what the hired "experts" tell them and then act upon it without knowing all the facts because the adminstration keeps information from them. Its like reading the NY Times. What they omit shapes a story as much, if not more, than what they do write.

This is not a new technique it is done all the time. Our BOE, including you Laurie, are often misinformed or uniformed by Cottage Place. I see no profiles in courage from any of our BOE members, it is all, go along to get along - let's show a united face to the public. As a governing body, the BOE is a laughing stock to all but the sycophants in the HSAs. Maybe someday we will get a few BOE members who wish to rid us of the dead wood in Ridgewood. Until that time, don't expect a lot of respect from the average taxpayer.

Laurie said...

Well thanks for your usual...vague accusations without any facts. If you have something specific you'd like to address, please share. I do. "The BOE is weak" isn't really your best argument, is it?

As you know, because I've said it many times to you in particular and everyone else, I can only speak for myself. I myself try hard not to "go along to get along." I'm honest and open about the challenges of being part of a board and my struggle with how to effectively manage public vs. "behind the scenes" action, the risk of "groupthink," etc. It's not easy -- it's certainly not as easy as anonymously posting on a blog.

Thanks for commenting, though. Would someone new like to chime in for a change? Any comments or questions from "the back of the room?"