SPARTA, NJ – The Sparta School District is appealing their Quality Single Accountability Continuum or QSAC results with the state.
“A district like Sparta should not fail, especially for [instruction and program],” Superintendent Michael Rossi said. Rossi said the district has notified the New Jersey Department of Education that he disagrees with losing 41 of 100 points in Instruction and Programming in the five category review of the district. Districts must score at least 80 points in each category to pass.
QSAC is the mechanism for the New Jersey Department of Education to ensure school districts are compliant with the standards, statutes and mandates required by the state. It is used to ensure all New Jersey students receive a Thorough and Efficient Education, meeting academic achievement and growth levels with adequate graduation rates.
“It is a single comprehensive accountability system that consolidates and incorporates the monitoring requirements of applicable state laws and programs and complements federally required improvements,” New Jersey Department of Education spokesman Michael Yaple said. “Districts do not prepare new reports or implement new processes for the NJQSAC process.”
The district lost 13 of 60 points for student achievement and student growth in English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science according to state assessment data.
The district lost an additional 28 of 40 points, according to the results, because of Sparta’s administrators' failure to provide documentation that the district is following statute N.J.A.C.6A:8 requirements that curriculum and instruction are aligned to the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, World Language, Heath and Physical Education, Visual and Performing Arts. The Executive County Superintendent noted “Curriculum is currently being updated to meet QSAC requirements.”
Rossi told TAPinto Sparta the district lost the points in Instruction and Program because the state changed the criteria a few months before the review began. Public records tell a different story.
“We have the plan for the curricular changes they are now requiring for adaption and modification due to students’ Individual Education Plans,” Rossi said. He said he learned of the changes “no later than April or May in 2018" at a Sussex County superintendent’s roundtable meeting. He said there was no way the district “with 28 or 29 AP courses” and “600 courses overall” could rewrite all the curriculum to meet the new requirements before school started.
Rossi and the top district administrators should have known much earlier than the spring of 2018.
“Requirements change upon the adoption of state code, statutes and/or federal law updates,” Yaple said. “In June 2018 the adoption of NJQSAC indicators led to an alignment with existing NJDOE regulations. This adoption process was lengthy and as put before the public and during proposal, review and final adoption hearings over a period of one and a half years. Additionally, each county office of education provided support and technical assistance for school districts undergoing the QSAC review in 2018-2019. Further, the NJDOE has issued a QSAC User Manual which specifies the items that can be used for verification of compliance with each indicator in every area.”
According to New Jersey School Boards Association publication School Board Notes April 11, 2017, Vol.XL No. 34, the proposed changes to QSAC were being discussed as early as April 2017. “At its April 5 meeting, the State Board of Education discussed proposed new regulations for the state’s school monitoring system the NJQSAC.”
The article lays out specifics about the proposed changes, including a timeline indicating expected adoption in November 2017 making “them effective for September 2018 giving districts time to transition to the amended requirements,” with a link to the details. The NJDOE link is no longer available. This publication is sent to all school districts in the state.
Information from the New Jersey Department of Education shows the proposed changes were introduced to the State Board of Education in September 2017 for “communication and feedback.”
The New Jersey Board of Education approved the changes on November 1, 2017.
In February 2018 a letter was sent to Chief School Administrators [Superintendents], Curriculum Coordinators, School Business Officials and Directors of Special Services by Robert Bumpus, then Assistant Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Education Division of Field Services titled “Department Provides Resources on Revisions to QSAC.”
That letter provides information about revised indicators in the QSAC District Performance Review or QSAC DPR. “The revised DPR goes into effect on July 1, 2018,” the letter said. The letter provides a link to a website detailing the changes. The letter further says the NJDOE “encourages school districts undergoing QSAC monitoring in 2018-2019 review the new standards and begin preparing by establishing the district QSAC team to review the revisions.”
An article posted on November 2, 2017 in the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association newsletter “State Board Approves Changes to HIB Investigatory Requirements and NJQSAC Monitoring…” goes into detail about the changes. It also includes links and power point slides from the NJDOE about the changes.
The February 27, 2018 letter also says the New Jersey Department of Education will provide training and support to school districts through the Executive County Superintendent’s office. The letter included a link to a power point presentation that gave an overview of the QSAC process including the changes and “important reminders regarding the process.”
“The proposed changes will be implemented carefully and incrementally over two years while the NJDOE continues to engage parents, educators and students on how to improve the way it supports schools and districts in need of improvement,” the NJDOE’s power point presentation on the QSAC revisions said.
During an interview with TAPinto Sparta, Rossi learned he could challenge the district’s QSAC score, as stated in Bumpus’s letter to Rossi. Rossi also indicated he might consider accepting Executive County Superintendent Rosalie Lamonte’s offer to redo the arduous process when he learned a failing QSAC score could have a negative impact on property values in the town.
“I don’t want that to happen,” Rossi said but he also did “not want to make the district employees do all of that work again.”
Every three years New Jersey School districts must undergo a QSAC review that takes a close look at Instruction and Program, Finance, Operations, Personnel and Governance. The district forms a committee to fulfill the reporting requirements including a self-score. The Executive County Superintendent then reviews the report and the supporting documents to create her own score for the district. In Sparta it is Rosalie Lamonte’s score that counts. Sparta’s scores:
- I & P - 59 “Meeting the state’s measure for student performance and progress and graduation rates; analyzing data aligning curriculum to State standards; and providing tiered systems of support.”
- Finance - 99 “Maintaining monthly reports and standard operating procedures; satisfying annual audits; managing grants and capital funds; implementing facilities plan; conducting annual safety reviews; preparing and analyzing fiscal year cash flow; and employing a certified facilities manager,”
- Operations – 84 “Developing aligned curriculum, overseeing budget process developing policies evaluating superintendent and reviewing administrative contracts,”
- Personnel – 100 “Implementing policies on student conduct, attendance, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs; HIB; reporting data to NJ SMARET and the electronic violence and vandalism reporting system; maintaining a positive school climate and providing transportation,”
- Governance – 95 “Providing high quality professional development; aligning staff evaluations to TEACHNJ; supporting novice teachers; promoting quality supervision; Tracking of staffing information; continued implementation of important compliance activities.”
Rossi said his appeal is based on two issues. The first is that the district did not have adequate time to implement the changes to meet the new requirements. The second is that districts in other counties faced with the same circumstances, were given the full point value for curriculum because they were able to show they had the plans for the changes, even though they had not yet implemented them.
“If we were in a different county, we would have gotten all of our points [in Instruction and Programing],” Rossi said. He did not share the names of the districts that received that treatment.
According to Yapel, there are 212 school districts in Sparta’s cohort of schools that underwent QSAC review at the same time. Of those 212, currently 75.2% of districts passed, receiving at least 80 points in each area, according to Yapel.
The district is required to report the QSAC results in public. According to Rossi, only the board president Kelly McEvoy was immediately notified of the results received in the June 27, 2019 letter. Other board members were given the information Monday, July 8 at the committee meetings.
Rossi has been the superintendent in Sparta since December 2016, after Dennis Tobin retired. He came to Sparta in the middle of his three year contract with Madison School District, hired by then board of education President Karen Scott and Vice President Jack Surdoval. Rossi holds a Doctor of Philosophy from Seton Hall University, Master of Arts in Social Science from Montclair University and a Master of Arts in teaching from Tufts. He began his career in education at Randolph High School, was an elementary principal and then superintendent for Lopatcong School District.
Rossi’s current contract expires in June 2020.
The Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Staff Development Patrick McQueeney is the person in charge of overseeing Instruction and Programing. He joined Sparta in June 2018. Prior to talking the curriculum job in Sparta McQueeney was the principal at Willow Grove Elementary School in Rossi’s hometown of Hackettstown. McQueeney had been a vice principal in Hawthorne and Randolph High Schools. He was also a physics and chemistry teacher at Mount Olive High School and Lenape Valley High School. He has an MBA from Centenary University, masters in Manufacturing Engineering from Rutgers University and bachelors degree in Physical Science from Rowan University.
Dan Johnson held the position from August 2015 until McQueeney took the position. Johnson’s time in the curriculum office covers nearly two of the three years of the QSAC review. Johnson was the Sparta High School principal before moving to the Sparta School District central office as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Staff Development. Johnson left Sparta to become superintendent in Butler School District in June 2018.
Sparta first went through QSAC in 2010 when there were more than 300 indicators in the five areas. By the second round in 2013 the QSAC process was dramatically decreased to only 84 indicators in the five areas. According to Business Administrator Pam Hinman Sparta was “waived” from QSAC in 2016.
Yaple said districts may not waive out of QSAC but can apply for an equivalency. A district can apply for an equivalency or waiver through the Executive County Superintendent’s Office.
Rossi said he plans to attend the next state board of education meeting in Trenton and wants to get people from Sparta to go along to support his appeal.
Board president Kelly McEvoy responded she was away on vacation when asked to comment on the QSAC results.
The July board of education meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 22 beginning at 7:30 p.m. Typically board of education meetings are held at Sparta High School during the summer months but that has not yet been announced.