Board of Ed Meeting and Superintendent Search Forum Engage Community In Hard Look at District Performance and Goals

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The Board of Education and the Superintendent Search has been very much at the top of local news the last two days. A lengthy Board meeting on Tuesday night highlighted the District's data via Board member Dan Benderly and Director of Curriculum Paul Pineiro regarding district performance indicators as well as the results of the district goal "Improving Consistency of Placement/Grading," and high school test results.

The district is having few issues in the area of language arts but Metuchen's math scores are low for schools in all I districts (although Benderly noted an uptick in the last year). Metuchen has grown considerably in terms of sending 97% of its graduates into college, but a high number of these students opted for a two year as opposed to four year colleges. Benderly also acknowledged that the low rate of four-year college attendance does not seem to be in keeping with the higher academic performance overall of our district. "It's something interesting for us to keep our eyes on," he said. He stressed that, although there was an uptick in some scores like SATs in our district, when compared against other districts, Metuchen's scores were not as impressive. Many of these numbers are Metuchen-specific, not gauged against the median scores of other districts so this is only the beginning of this conversation.

A discussion about family income range and its effect on SAT scores was prompted by Board member Ben Small, whose idea to survey the community regarding this issue was encouraged by Board member Jackie Gibson. Mr. Benderly said that he felt that the question that needed to be asked was "Of the 30% who didn't apply to a four-year school, why didn't they?" Board member Jonathan Lifton stated that perhaps what is most important to consider is that if the entire district at every level was focused on the point of improving this particular statistic, great strides forward could be made. Mr. Benderly also discussed the fact that, for an I district, Metuchen has many more families who have two well-educated spouses that have made the decision to survive on one salary only, a lifestyle choice. Economics were at the forefront of the continuing conversation with the community members at the meeting.

The members of the public expressed concern about the low rate of students applying to four-year colleges. Does that mean that they aren't encouraged or supported in such a way as to believe that this is the road for them or is it really a matter of economics and resources that keeps them from pursuing four-year colleges? That then became a major topic for the Forum regarding the hiring of the new district Superintendent that was held last night.


In short, the forty community members who attended the meeting with Gwen Thornton, the NJSBA mediator hired by the Board of Education to facilitate the hiring process, expressed concern about the aggressive timetable (a new superintendent is scheduled to be in place by November 1st, so that the candidate can give his or her present district 60 days notice), although there were statements that an interim could be appointed if necessary;  asked how the "Good to Great" theme can be embodied in the superintendent search and the later contract and goal-setting; sought maximum transparency, including the publishing of the answers by candidates to the four essay questions they are being asked in their application process; and supported a focus on candidates with a track record of academic improvement of a school or a district. Ms. Thornton said that she would forward these concerns and goals to the Board.

Ms. Thornton also took a great deal of time explaining the process to the attendants--there have been 49 requests for applications now that the deadline has passed. Those 49 applicants may not all complete the application for the job. Ms. Thornton will go through these applications to make sure that these candidates meet the basic requirements of the job description as posted. These applications, by state mandate, cannot be duplicated and, thus, each member of the board will have to, one at a time, read through each complete application before being able to discuss and interview these applicants. The process is long and arduous. The group acknowledged again that the November deadline seems too fast for a thorough hiring process.

The next forum will feature Ms. Thornton again and the community-at-large is invited to come and participate in this preparation for the interview process. The meeting will be held at the Metuchen High School auditorium at 7:30 PM on September 20th. A survey is online at this time for families who cannot attend these meetings in person (see this link). The essay questions being posed to candidates in their applications are at this link (http://metuchenschools.org/metuchen/Superintendent%20Search/Application%20Essay%20Questions.pdf).

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