At its October monthly meeting last week, New Jersey’s State Board of Education honored the 2015-2016 New Jersey Teacher of the Year, Chelsea Collins, a sixth grade language arts teacher in the Woodstown-Pilesgrove school district. A state-level panel of educators selects New Jersey’s State Teacher of the Year based on a written application, video submission, and interviews with the top five finalists. The State Teacher of the Year will go on to represent New Jersey at the National Teacher of the Year competition.

Newark Update  Christopher Cerf, superintendent of the Newark school district (and former state commissioner of education), presented information on the current state of Newark schools. Cerf said that the graduation rate has increased from 56 percent to 70 percent over the last four years. The suspension rate is down 37 percent over that same period.  Newark has also increased school choice.  Some 75 percent of kindergarten parents chose schools for their children that were not their neighborhood school.

Cerf also noted that in Newark, teacher compensation is no longer solely based on time served in the district, but also partially based on performance. Further, teachers will no longer receive additional compensation merely for additional degrees but will be required to attend only district-approved graduate programs in order to receive greater compensation. Newark has also reduced its budget gap from $63 million in July 2015 down to $15 million in October 2015, and is working to eliminate the remaining deficit.

Jersey City State Control Jersey City has been under state control since 1989 and has steadily regained local control through the NJQSAC Process which measures district performance in five areas – Instruction and Program, Personnel, Fiscal Management, Operations, and Governance. At the Oct. 7 meeting, the State Board passed a resolution restoring the areas of Operations and Personnel to local control, giving Jersey City control over four of the five performance areas returned to it. Instruction and program is the only area over which it does not have local control. The commissioner is going to establish a working group focused on instruction and program, with the goal of the eventual return of full local control to Jersey City.

PARCC and Standards Review Assistant Commissioner Bari Erlichson spoke about the resources for teachers, parents and principals concerning the PARCC. On Oct. 23, PARCC will be releasing an example of the full test based on last year’s exam. Assistant Commissioner Erlichson also mentioned NJSBA’s programs for board members in understanding the PARCC scores.

Commissioner of Education David Hespe gave an update on the standards review process, and mentioned that  the comment review period  is extended from Oct. 9 until Oct. 16.

Character Education, Broadband Savings Representatives from the Old Bridge school district gave a presentation on character education during this Week of Respect. The district attributes its increase in SAT scores to its character education efforts. The district will be receiving a national award for being a district of character.

Assistant Commissioner Evo Popoff, NJDOE chief innovation officer and assistant commissioner, division of charter schools, school choice and educational technology, presented a report on the work the state is doing in conjunction with Middlesex Educational Services Commission and various broadband providers to reduce the cost of broadband to districts while increasing the availability of same. Some 145 districts have signed on and have collectively saved $89 million while reducing the cost of their bandwidth by 76 percent.