On September 11 Brenda Beebe, a member of the Sparta BOE, wrote a letter to the editor published in the Sparta Independent entitled “Conducting business behind closed doors”.   This letter was presented under the caveat of being the opinions of Ms. Beebe and not that of the Sparta Board of Education.  This is an accurate and inaccurate statement.  It is accurate in that this was not the opinion of the Sparta Board of Education as that can only be done when the board majority votes to make such a statement.  We believe the statement to be inaccurate in that the opinions espoused in the letter are Ms. Beebe’s as a “Board Member” and not that of a private citizen.   It is our opinion that a private citizen would not be able to express opinions on the operation of the Sparta Board of Education nor explicitly infer that the Board is “conducting business behind closed doors”. 

 

This statement by the majority of the Sparta Board of Education is to clarify certain (but not all) of the assertions in the letter and to publicly refute Ms. Beebe’s allegations.  Issues that the Sparta Board of Education is of the opinion require a rebuttal are as follows:

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1.The letter commences that “The importance of the email(s) discussed at the August 25 meeting should not be focused on one sentence rather than on the email as a whole.”  Ms. Beebe is correct and the discussion at the August 25 Board meeting did focus on the entire email.  The Board members did express their offense to the personal and professional attack in that one sentence from the email sent by Ms. Beebe and Ms. Yeomans which states  “Frankly, we are dumbfounded by the board’s willingness to shirk the important responsibility of goal setting and monitoring”.  Board members then did address the 6 points outlined as problematic in the e-mail related to the proposed goal.  The first 3 points stated that the State (NJ) did not provide disaggregated data.  These points were shown to be inaccurate as the information is available in the published NJ state score cards and has been since 2002 with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.  

Point 4 which states that the goal(s) “do not allow us to gauge our district’s improvement from one year to the next” is inaccurate.  The monitoring of performance will allow us to gauge improvement.  The measurement of the goal is to “benchmark” the Sparta school district to other comparable high performing school districts.  The purpose of selecting this goal (which is identical to the goal for the 2013/2014 school year adopted by the board in [October] 2013) is to measure our performance against these comparable districts and “eliminate” variations that would occur with the changes that were forthcoming from changing (1) curriculum to Common Core Standards, and (2) implementation of PARCC from NJ Ask. 

Point 5 stated that new reports make meaningful comparisons difficult from year to year with the assertion that this is a result of the state now annually assigning peer groups reducing the number of districts for comparison.  This is a true statement, however, all of the information is available from the state report card to make such an analysis.

Lastly, point 6 states that “These Goals do not provide a fixed target, nor do they define the amount of improvement necessary to attain the goal.”  Although this is an accurate statement , the rationale this year,  as it was last year, was to establish a measurable goal (benchmarking to other high performing school districts) by allowing an “apples to apples” comparison.  This then eliminates the vagaries that will occur with the change to Common Core and PARCC.  Assigning “fixed targets” would in fact be wholly meaningless as it would not be possible to dissect test scores to evaluate any change (positive or negative) to ascertain what is related to student performance and what is the resulted impact of the changes in curriculum and the test scoring format.

 

1.The statement that “I will not be drawn into responding to personal attacks” infers that board members attacked Ms. Beebe.  No board member attacked either Ms. Beebe’s or Ms. Yeomans’ personal or professional integrity.  Board members did respond on what they felt were attacks on their integrity because they disagreed with Ms. Beebe’s and Ms. Yeomans’ views and inaccurate assertions related to the deficiency of the board goals as discussed in Point (1).

 

2. The third paragraph of the letter is wholly contradictory.  The first statement is that “The annual goal setting session was held on July 14 was facilitated by NJSBA field service representative.”  This is correct and it is the same process used in the prior year.  The field rep from NJSBA did facilitate the meeting by providing all board members their self-evaluations and commentary on both the district and the board performance thus identifying the “common issues” expressed by the individual board members. 

The next four hours were spent discussing these issues, scribing all of the raised items and finally reducing the number of issues to a manageable number.  The recommendation was to have 3-5 goals for both the district and the board. 

The statement that Ms. Beebe made when she said “These goals were not drafted, developed or discussed by the BOE, yet the BOE was asked to approve them” contradicts her statement when she admitted that the goal setting session was facilitated.  The facilitator wrote the board members’ input on the poster paper at the easel.  He was simply scripting the ideas of the board and after the July 14 meeting we received the “formal” written document from the facilitator who compiled the information.

 

3.In the third paragraph of Ms. Beebe’s letter, she references an e-mail sent out to the board of education members by the administration on Aug. 20 suggesting that the first two goals be changed.  This is not a totally accurate statement.  The academic goals of increasing student achievement were not changed.

Since the board was having difficulty in determining how to measure the two academic goals, our professionals made a recommendation of using the PARCC assessment in comparison to our peer/comparable school districts.  Ms. Beebe fails to provide the context in which the administration proposed modifications to these two goals.

At the August 18 work session of the board of education, concerns were raised that the goals, as summarized by the NJSBA rep, failed to disaggregate between general education and special education students and the issues related to using common assessments as the benchmark.

Discussion ensued by board members at this meeting, including the fact that at the July 14 goal setting meeting, the board could and should consider whether to have one or two goals disaggregating general education and special education students.  After discussion, and consensus by the board majority,  the administration did send out a suggested modification regarding the assessment and measurement of the goals.

Also stated in the third paragraph of the letter, Ms. Beebe said “One of my concerns is that the proposed goals fail to monitor student achievement for all students leaving out grades K-2 and 12.  I was unable to even bring this up for discussion because the goals discussion was shut down and we were told to vote.”  This statement is inaccurate as Ms. Beebe did raise this and replies were given that this has always been the case as under NJ ASK (or its successor PARCC), these grades are not tested.

  

4. In the last paragraph Ms. Beebe stated “…it helps to facilitate discussion by notifying board members beforehand of questions and concerns for them to consider…”  Purportedly this is in reference to the e-mail sent by both Ms. Beebe and Ms.Yeomans at 11:01 a.m. on the 25 August, the day of the board meeting for discussion at the board meeting beginning at 6:30 that evening.  There was not sufficient time for the board members to review and analyze the e-mail before the board meeting.

 

5.     Additionally, the administrators who are required participants in the discussion were not privy to this e-mail, thereby denying them the ability to adequately prepare to address the concerns of both Ms. Beebe and Ms. Yeomans.  It is the opinion of the board majority that this is disingenuous and was not designed to allow board members time to properly digest issues that were raised at the August 18 work session.  If this was the case, there was an entire week prior in which this e-mail could have been sent.   

6.     In the last sentence, Ms. Beebe states “In my opinion, I feel conducting business behind closed doors undermines the integrity of the BOE with the public.”  The only conclusion that a reasonable person/board member can reach is that Ms. Beebe is accusing all board members (or an undisclosed subset therein) of conducting board business in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.  She provides no evidence or examples that this has or is occurring.  It is counterproductive for Ms. Beebe to make such statements which allege misconduct, and impugns other board members’ personal and professional integrity, simply because she disagrees with the decision of the majority of the board.  All board member comments, including those from Ms. Beebe are always considered before final decisions are made on any issues by the board.

 

 

This statement has been read, discussed and will be voted on by the Sparta Board of Education at the September 22, 2014 BOE meeting.

Editor’s note: The letter was read, discussed and approved.