SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – While the majority of South Plainfield’s teachers and employees knew last month that they would be returning to the school district in September, the grade – and even the school – they would be teaching at was not announced until this week. 

On June 4, building principals informed teachers throughout the district of their assignments for the 2018-2019 school year and, at a special business meeting Wednesday night, the South Plainfield Board of Education voted 9-0 in favor of various changes among its seven buildings. As a result, approximately 25 of the district’s 300+ teachers will start the school year in either different schools and/or different grades. 

“All of the teacher assignments are recommended in an effort to create stronger instructional teams across the district, ensuring our students have the best possible opportunity for success,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Noreen Lishak told the residents and more than 30 teachers gathered at the June 6 meeting. 

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“The administration team, comprised of central office administration, building administration, and department supervisors didn't make these decisions half heartedly. All recommendations were made based on what we believe are the best instructional plans for improving student achievement,” continued Lishak. 

According to the superintendent, district officials met with Diana Joffe and Sandy Doyon, president and vice president, respectively, of the South Plainfield Education Association (SPEA) to ‘discuss the rationale for the moves and the district’s plan to build strong academic teams district wide.’

 “We discussed the opportunities to utilize our teachers in the academic areas we felt best serve our students and apply their experiences as educators,” Lishak said, admitting that while Joffe and Doyon were not fully in agreement throughout the process they were ‘willing to listen to the rationale behind the moves.’

Joffe, taking to the podium during the public comment portion of the meeting, stated that while she did not dispute the district’s legal right to make the moves – a clause in the SPEA’s collective bargaining agreement states that involuntary transfers are legal –  her issue was with the manner in which the moves were made. 

The agreement, she said, states that ‘those affected have the right to a meeting with the superintendent or designee’ and that a ‘meeting’ is defined as ‘a place where information is discussed between two or more people and a solution is found.’ She stated that, in this particular case, the teachers being moved were called into a meeting held only with their principals and told only that they were ‘being transferred to such and such a school or such and such a class because it is in the best interest of the kids.’

“They got not much more of an explanation than that… The reasons given by the principals were shallow, perfunctory, and evasive at best,” said Joffe, adding that if scores and performance were the underlining reasons for the move than the building principals should have communicated as such.  

“The chain of command was less than orderly and by the end of the day there was chaos versus orderly transition,” she said. “Administration should have been upfront and truthful. These teachers are professionals and they deserve better than that. They are bright, well educated and should be respected.”

Lishak, who spent much of the day Tuesday meeting with all those affected, told Joffe that ‘things would be handled differently’ in the event transfers need to be made in the future.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, those in attendance also had the opportunity to express their feelings about the moves to the board. Tyler Spina, a second grader at Riley Elementary School, asked the BOE not to move his teacher who is ‘honest, treats others fairly and is kind’ to kindergarten. 

Parents Tara Soto and Lynda Toczynski also took to the podium to express their opposition to the Franklin teachers being transferred – either to different schools or different grade levels. 

“These teachers are not defined by a test score based on a few hours of a student’s life. They are defined by the overall academic success of their students and the confidence their students possess. They are defined by their parent communication and emotional support… their volunteer hours and commitment[s]… This is proof that a good teacher is beyond a score,” said Soto, an educator herself, adding that other factors – such as home life, jitters, health and/or class makeup – can have an effect on a child’s test score. 

“No one thinks of that,” Soto told the BOE. “Instead, you give these educators a number and take away their name, their identity.”

Toczynski discussed the positive influence the Franklin second grade teacher being transferred had on her son, who is autistic, and family. The school system and special services, she said, ‘lied and cheated and changed documents’ when she was fighting for an IEP. It was his second grade teacher, Toczynski said, that helped.

“This is crazy. You think that this is the right thing to do but they are doing good where they are. Test scores are nothing…I just think you are all wrong and need to rethink things,” Toczynski said.

“As an educator, I feel I have always given my all to my students. They are always my priority and it means more to me than anything to see them succeed…” Kiersten Bohl Ravi, a Franklin second grade teacher being transferred to Riley in the fall, told the BOE Wednesday night. “My students are more than a test score and I am proud of them and proud to be their teacher.” 

Ravi, who herself attended Franklin, added, “I know wherever I go I am going to do a good job, but my home is Franklin and always has been. This is a community; this is a family. To rip people out of that just doesn't feel right.” 

According to Lishak, the administration team believes the realignment of teachers has created the ‘best possible prospective for student success district-wide.’ “I do realize it is difficult and change is scary but change is also necessary for growth and growth is good,” said the superintendent. 

“It is our intention to provide the best possible opportunity for our students and teachers to achieve success…I am confident this realignment of faculty and staff will allow our students to achieve their fullest potential,” added Lishak. 

To view the 2018-2019 teacher assignments, visit https://bit.ly/2JlONVY

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