Putting Acting Commissioner Repollet’s Staff Picks in Perspective

May 11, 2018

After a bumpy start, acting state Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet is completing his senior staff with a mix of department veterans and newcomers.

Repollet last week won confirmation of his latest picks for assistant commissioners and deputies — and a few deputy assistant commissioners — putting the stamp on the kinds of personnel he will surround himself with while carrying out policies and initiatives for Gov. Phil Murphy.

These appointments are often as closely watched as any in state government, since the assistant commissioners typically personify the policies and practices to come. 

Playing safe

Repollet took a safe path, choosing three department veterans among the five assistant commissioners named thus far, including to the key policy and finance positions. 

Most notable was his pick of Linda Eno for assistant commissioner of academics and performance, a critical position in charge of assessment, teacher quality, and other hot-button topics. 

This position got Repollet in some trouble back in February, when he picked Paula White for the job and then suddenly withdrew his choice two days later. White had served in the department, but she moved to a pro-charter organization in Newark that didn’t sit well with the governor’s office.

Eno, in contrast, has followed a more traditional route within the department, having served as a director both in Trenton and in the agency’s county offices, as well as being a former principal of a magnet high school in the Monmouth vocational district.

Repollet retained Robert Bumpus as assistant commissioner in charge of field services, and Kevin Dehmer as his assistant commissioner for finance. Both are long-time department officials, and Dehmer especially has been at Repollet’s side in his early legislative appearances.

Now for the newcomers

The newcomers are equally notable. Repollet earlier this year named Kellie LeDet as his chief of staff and assistant commissioner for executive services, overseeing several key divisions including charter schools. LeDet most recently came from the ranks of the U.S. Small Business Administration in the Obama administration, and also has been a longstanding political advisor in the state, including working under U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez. 

A new charter school director who would answer to LeDet has yet to be named, officials said.

The acting commissioner, who himself is waiting formal Senate confirmation, also won state Board of Education approval for Carolyn Marano as his assistant commissioner for student services, the position most notable for its oversight of special-education services. Repollet brings Marano from his previous job as superintendent of Asbury Park schools, where she was director of special services. 

Repollet told the board last week that his organization chart is still evolving. One possibility is another assistant commissioner in charge of early childhood education, he said, a move that would fulfill Murphy’s vow to expand preschool in the state. 

The new commissioner also seems to moving away from “chief academic officer” and “chief performance officer,” titles that had been established under former Gov. Chris Christie and his four education commissioners, instead reverting back to more traditional assistant commissioner titles.

“I wanted to look at all the offices within the organization and think about how we can get better, how can we create a model organization,” Repollet told the board.

He said he hopes the department will move from a more compliance-based agency to one focused more on assistance and support to districts. It’s been a common refrain from new commissioners over the years, but Repollet said he will press it, especially in rethinking field and student services.

“It starts in the field,” he said, citing the creation of a new professional development office as one example. “Those are the first line of defense, those who interface with districts.”

He said a final organization chart would be presented to the board next month.

NJEA President Keshishian: Christie's teacher tenure proposals 'have no basis in reality'

April 13, 2011

Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association, the statewide teachers’ early Wednesday evening issue a statement in response to Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed seven-bill package to alter the tenure standards for public school educators, provide merit pay for good teachers and allow school districts to opt out of Civil Service System protections for employees.

“Governor Christie’s proposals should get a full public airing, so they can be debated and discussed in the context of genuine educational outcomes.

“Unfortunately, most of his proposals represent a top-down, corporate carrot-and-stick approach that has no basis in reality in the public schools. In addition, most of his proposals run absolutely counter to accepted research. They may make great bumper sticker slogans, but they won’t result in better teaching, more learning, or higher-level critical thinking.

“Evaluating teachers with a heavy emphasis on student test scores runs absolutely counter to the prevailing research, and a symposium held last Jan. 19 at Educational Testing Service supports that point. Too many factors beyond a teacher’s control affect student test scores, because they occur in the home or in the community. And the last thing we need is more testing, in more subjects, in all grades. Parents, teachers, and administrators already know there is too much time spent on drilling for standardized tests. Under the governor’s proposal, that would become a daily obsession.

“NJEA has always been willing to have teachers receive additional compensation for greater responsibilities, such as when they serve as teacher leaders in their buildings or districts. But Governor Christie’s merit pay proposal fails to understand that truly successful schools are collaborative learning communities, where teachers share best practices, good ideas, and novel approaches. If he thinks having teachers compete for a pool of bonus money will result in a better school, he doesn’t understand what makes a great school. Collaboration — not negative competition — is why effective schools are successful.

“We agree that the process for dismissing a tenured teacher should be streamlined, because right now it usually takes too long, and costs too much. That’s why NJEA has proposed a bill similar to legislation passed in Massachusetts in 1992 that will take the courts out of the tenure dismissal process, and replace judges with certified national arbitrators. If the governor believes it takes years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to dismiss a tenured teacher, this would require dismissal cases to be heard and decided in 60 to 90 days at a fraction of the cost.

“As for the governor’s latest attack on seniority, he would love to be able to replace veteran teachers with newcomers at half the cost in salary so he can cover up his cuts to public education. But experience is a valuable factor in a teacher’s ability, because veteran teachers are leaders in their schools, helping to mentor younger teachers while being major contributors to curriculum development and best practices.

“We welcome a full and open debate on these issues.”