Education in the Media
N.J. Board of Ed votes to open superintendent positions to non-educatorsJuly 14, 2011
TRENTON — It just got easier to become superintendent of a troubled New Jersey school district.
The state Board of Education Wednesday relaxed the requirements for hiring superintendents in more than 50 districts with failing schools, opening the positions for the first time to non-educators.
Backed by the Christie administration, the new regulations take effect immediately as part of a pilot program for districts with schools that fail to meet federal standards for student achievement based on test scores.
Edithe Fulton was the lone board member to vote against the measure and expressed concerns with its scope. She and former board member Josephine Hernandez, whom Gov. Chris Christie replaced in March, had both pushed for a smaller program.
"It takes more to run a school than being a successful businessman," Fulton said. "Having some contact with actual classrooms is essential."
Under the new rules, applicants will need only a bachelor’s degree and robust management experience to be considered for a superintendent’s job in a troubled district. Local school boards will evaluate candidates using a pre-determined list of criteria.
Superintendents in high performing districts must fulfill much more rigorous standards. They must hold a master’s degree and a number of job-specific credentials. Certification requires testing, an internship and work with a mentor.
Board Vice President Ilan Plawker said he is "very comfortable" with the alternate route superintendent certification, noting that he had no experience as an educator before serving on his local school board.
"These jobs require the administrative skills gained from having run a successful business," Plawker said. "Our end goal is a business product — getting our kids through school and ready for work or college."
Roughly one third of the state’s superintendents retired or accepted jobs elsewhere at the end of last school year, creating vacancies in 14 of the 57 districts that qualify for the pilot program, including Roselle, Red Bank Regional and Ewing. The program will be re-evaluated after five years.
While some board members said the new regulations will attract fresh talent to struggling districts, others argued New Jersey need only look across the Hudson, the New York City, to see why non-educators can’t run public schools.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tapped publishing executive Cathie Black last fall to replace Joel Klein, the long-time schools chancellor, despite Black’s lack of experience as an educator.
The appointment came under intense criticism right from the start and Black resigned abruptly after just three months.
During its monthly meeting in Trenton Wednesday, the state board also voted to approve a new organizational structure for the Department of Education that acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf said aligns more closely with the Christie administration’s reform priorities. The governor has said 2011 is the year of education reform and pushing his proposals will be a top priority this fall.
Under the new structure, the department will have four main divisions: one that identifies and measures goals; another to recruit, develop and retain teachers and administrators; one to ensure the state’s standardized tests are meaningful; and a fourth that oversees charter schools and other programs. That division will be led by an "innovation officer."
Cerf said Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick will be in charge of making sure the work of the new divisions reaches school district officials.