Education

Concern Expressed Over Common Core System and Privacy Issues, Plus Over Renewing Principal's Contract, at Byram Board of Education Meeting

Resident Michael Bohr speaks out about privacy issues. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
The audience begin to gather for the meeting. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Allyson Van Dyke speaks regarding Tom Barnard. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Susan Wise and Theresa Linksey listen to Allyson Van Dyke. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Keri Fleming addresses the board. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller

BYRAM TOWNSHIP, NJ - Parents and teachers gathered on Thursday, April 25, overflowing the library of the Byram Intermediate School, for a nearly standing room only meeting. 

One of the main topics of discussion was the Common Core System, and the concerns involving invasion of privacy due to it.
The Common Core System, known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative, is a standardized educational system, intended to align individual state curricula. Standards have been developed for language arts, and mathematics, with standards for social studies and science still not released. 
 
Out of the 50 states, 44 have formally adopted the standards, including New Jersey. 
 

The standards have come under some criticism, with concerns that it is a "top down" takeover of education, of which the state and local levels may eventually lose control.
 
Organizations, such as the Pearson Foundation and inBloom via the Gates Foundation, have raised eyebrows of concern not only nationally, but in Byram as well. Pearson Foundation has faced investigation with the New York State Attorney General's Office for concerns about its lobbying activities. A lawsuit was filed against inBloom for the database it maintains with Gates Foundation funding, containing information about millions of children, with the possibility of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has being breached, and third parties are able to access sensitive information about students. 
 
"You're the only one who should have access to my child," said resident Michael Bohr. "I have complete confidence in the teachers." 
 
Bohr said he has heard inBloom has had free access to student records, records he said should not leave Trenton.
 
He is worried the access to the student information may be a violation of The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
 
Bryan Hensz, the school district's superintendent replied to Bohr, and said another parent emailed him recently with a similar concern. Hensz said he learned a school has to buy into a program like the inBloom, for them to have access. 
 
Bohr also said he had heard reports of students having nervous breakdowns, due to overwhelming preparation for the tests, and not having adequate time while taking them to complete the exams. He also said that teachers need to teach to the test, and after talking to parents across the country, that test preparation is monopolizing time that could have been dedicated to teaching basic skills to students.
 
In other business:
 
The board announced the passing of retired teacher Margaret Swentzle. 
 
Two parents addressed the board regarding their concerns about members of the school administration, namely in the Byram Intermediate School. One was about the resignation of Jennifer Morris as Assistant Principal of the Byram Intermediate School. Morris had started in September, and will be leaving to take another position in another district.
 
"What procedures do you have in place?" asked Keri Fleming, who said a perceived pattern has developed of this position becoming a "stepping stone." 
 
"I think the kids are upset, and they get confused too," Fleming continued.
 
"The goal is to have someone stay, " Hensz replied, and that the board did not know she would only stay on for one year.
 
Before speaking on the topic of privacy in regard to the Common Core System, Bohr suggested a policy be implemented that a candidate hired commit to a three-year term, with the first year as probationary.
 
The second matter was addressed by Fleming, and also Allyson Van Dyke, regarding the intermediate school principal, Tom Barnard. Neither Fleming, nor Van Dyke agree that Barnard's contract should be renewed, and cautioned the board about doing so.
 
Both Fleming and Van Dyke referred to a letter of "no confidence," they were aware of that had been written against Barnard in 2006, by the teachers' union, at the Morris County School of Technology, based on a Daily Record article they obtained from April 27, 2006 (click here for a partial online copy of the article). That article noted that within a 10-year period at that school, there were six principals, with all but one, not making it past the two year mark in the position. Banard ended up as the school's principal for six years.
 
The Daily Record, however, reported Barnard was granted tenure in a May 9, 2006 article (click here), by unanimous board of education approval, in spite of the teachers' union opposition.
 
Van Dyke also brought up concerns that when Barnard was terminated in 2009 from the school, he signed a release from the school that he would waive his right to future employment there, and acknowledge his name would be removed from the recall list. Van Dyke said the document was obtained via an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request.
 
"It's a highly unusual practice," said Van Dyke, of the waiving of rights. "I had concerns of the separation letter, especially."
 
NJ.com reported in 2009, the superintendent and principal positions would be merged the following year. Click here to view. One commentator posted in the comment section of the article that teachers were enthusiastic about the reorganization, while another commentator noted they could not understand it, when Barnard appeared well-liked by students, and was frequently visible at school events. Barnard had been principal there since 2003.
 
Prior to his employment in Byram, Barnard was principal at the New Alliance Academy of Parsippany, from 2010 through 2012. 
 
He received a Master's Degree in School Counseling in 1992 from Montclair State University, and was a school counselor at Essex Valley School from 1987 to 1994. After earning his Master's Degree in Education Administration from Rutger's New Brunswick in 1994, Barnard began his career as a school administrator. He was the Assistant Principal at William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge from 1994 through 1997, then Parsippany High School as Assistant Principal, from 1997 to 2003.
 
Van Dyke expressed to the board, in her opinion, she hoped they would use better hiring practices, which she thought they neglected to use in the case of hiring Barnard.
 
She said during a private meeting with the board in October, which also included Fleming, the board asked them if they believed in allowing second chances. Van Dyke said she has had time to reflect since October, and her answer is now, "No." 
 
"I think Byram Intermediate students and parents deserve better," she said.
 
Fleming requested the board be more cautious in the future, so that cases like Morris' resignation will not happen again, and also if they choose to renew Barnard's contract.
 
"I personally feel the person running our Byram Intermediate School is not the proper person," Fleming said.
 
She also said she could not understand Barnard's signing away of his rights.
 
Following the meeting, the board entered into executive session, with personnel and legal matters up for discussion, as well as policies. Susan Wise, the board president, commented no action would be taken during executive session. 
 
When The Alternative Press asked Barnard if he would like to comment about the statements made by Van Dyke and Fleming, he replied, "Not at this time," and indicated he would be staying for the executive session.
 
 

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