At the March 2 regular monthly meeting of the State Board of Education, the board heard a presentation by Patricia Wright, executive director of New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. She spoke in her capacity as head of the Anti-Bullying Task Force (ABTF), which recently concluded its work after three and a half years.

During that time, the task force issued a series of reports and made recommendations to strengthen local districts’ anti-bullying efforts.  In its most recent report, the task force recommended that the definition for bullying include “power imbalance,” which is a real or perceived power differential between the aggressor and the victim.  The task force also recommended that the school principal have a more clearly defined role when receiving a potential bullying matter and referring it to the school’s anti-bullying specialist. The ABTF also recommended that the Bullying Prevention Fund be funded at a level that meets the needs of districts. Finally, the task force stressed the importance of the need for districts to focus on building a positive culture and climate through the work of the school climate teams.

ESSA The State Board also heard a brief overview of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the successor to the No Child Left Behind Act. The ESSA will offer districts greater flexibility to determine interventions while still ensuring that state standards are aligned with federal law.  ESSA will still require a 95 percent participation rate on standardized assessments.  While it does away with the “high quality” teacher designation, it continues to ensure that there is an appropriately certified teacher in every classroom.

Newark School District UpdateThe State Board also received a quick update on progress in the Newark School District from its superintendent, Chris Cerf. Cerf reported that although there was a deficit in the current year’s budget, it has been closed through a series of cuts that were designed to minimize their impact on student instruction. Cerf anticipates another gap for the next fiscal year.  He hopes to address the gap by selling off unused school buildings, making bus routes more efficient and changing benefit administrators for the employees’ drug benefit plans. Cerf also said that the district’s high school graduation rate is currently 70 percent.  Newark is preparing for another NJQSAC review this spring as it continues its transition to full local control.

In other news, the State Board approved amendments to its regulations pertaining to equality and equity in education.  The regulations will now include “gender identity and expression” in its definitions.

The State Board also proposed the readoption of the regulations pertaining to the School Ethics Commission.  Should districts wish to comment on the proposal, they may do so here.

The State Board also began its consideration of the religious holidays calendar for the 2016-17 school year.  The board will take action at a future meeting on the resolution.

Finally, the state board granted the Middlesex Regional Educational Services Commission its request for a name change to the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey.